Gifts to Bring Home from Vietnam
By Margaret Weeks
What to shop for when traveling in Vietnam.
One of the things that was the most overwhelming for me about Vietnam was the amount of things for sale there. There aren't many different ways for people to make their living, so there are many, many stores everywhere you go. At first, the number of stores, and the amount of goods for sale made it tough for me to concentrate on what I wanted to buy to take home.
I had several different purchasing needs. Most importantly, I wanted to buy things for my daughter to give to her as gifts for her birthday and other special occasions throughout the next 10 years. For this purpose, I wanted things that were significant to Vietnam, or were made in Vietnam. I also wanted to purchase things for our home that were distinctly Vietnamese. Lastly, I wanted to buy small things to take back as gifts to friends.
Gift buying can be tough in Vietnam for several reasons, the sheer volume of things for sale, the inexpensiveness of most things, and I know that I felt very strongly the need to take things back so that one of my daughter's cultures would be well represented. Since I have returned from Vietnam, a number of people have asked me what kinds of things I got, and why. So I thought this list might help others think before hand of what they might want to look for. Be sure to look for the labels on some things to make sure that they were made in Vietnam, if that is important to you. Many of the things for sale in Vietnam were made (sound familiar?) in China!
The Vietnamese are known for several special things. Their lacquer items are lovely, and you can get many things that are lacquered. ( I heard of one family who bought a dining room table and chairs and had them shipped home!) They are also famous for their silk embroidered paintings, which are amazing. (I was slightly troubled by the whole indentured servant labor aspect of these places, but my desire to have something for my daughter that was "truly" Vietnamese won out, I'm afraid.) They also have many shops with beautiful linens that are embroidered with traditional Vietnamese scenes, symbols, etc. And I loved the woven crafts that were made by the hilltribes in the Central Highlands.
3 ao dais (traditional Vietnamese dress, one for my mother, myself, and the baby. I had them make the baby's for a 2 year old.)
Several outfits for my daughter at different ages
3 silk embroidered paintings
Several T-shirts (the quality of most T-shirts was poor, so check around)
Hand-woven wallets, various sizes to give my daughter as gifts
Hand-woven wall hangings
Vietnamese coin collection (bought from a street vendor)
Vietnamese stamp collection (also from a street vendor)
Vietnam postcards (I bought lots of postcards from street vendors, and will have some of them laminated to give to my daughter to play with, and others I will put in an album for her. It is always a good idea to buy postcards of the places you see in case your film doesn't develop. That way you still have a picture of it!)
Vietnamese children's video (our guide helped me pick the following items out)
Vietnamese tape of traditional children's songs
3 CD's of traditional Vietnamese music
Several holiday ornaments in the form of Asian dolls
Children's books ( I got a variety of books, some in English of Vietnamese stories, some in both English and Vietnamese, and some books like Winnie the Pooh that were written in Vietnamese.)
A woven reed basket.
Dolls (Almost everyone in our group wanted to take home a traditional Vietnamese doll, but we discovered that Vietnamese children don't really have dolls the way we think of them in this country. You can find dolls in fancy ao dais, often in glassed in boxes, the kind meant to display on a shelf. I had more luck finding the type of doll I was looking for, one that she could hold and play with and drag around with her, in this country.)
A silk embroidered tapestry of the ABC's with Vietnamese symbols for each letter
Embroidered bibs (for special occasions)
Musical instruments (a bamboo flute, a bamboo xylophone, a "noise maker" that sounds like the noise the "soup kids" make in the streets.)
A good map of Vietnam and HCMC
Embroidered gift bags
Several plates to be displayed on a wall (a bamboo plate , jacktree plate, rosewood
Plate, and a large lacquered plate)
A painting of a village scene
1 special lacquered scrapbook
Linen embroidered placemats and napkins
Various linen items (all embroidered, clothes, bibs, table runners, etc. All had special Vietnamese scenes on them.)
Many lacquered boxes in various shapes and sizes
Several sets of chopsticks and chopstick holders, including a child's set of chopsticks.
A child's conical hat
A wooden, carved statue of a Vietnamese women in a conical hat and ao dia
Various Vietnamese prints
There is a mineral that is mined in HCMC, I'm sorry that I can't locate the paper which has the name of the mineral on it, but ask around. I bought a turtle carved in this mineral, I thought it was a neat representation of HCMC.
Someone on the Internet gave me the name of a great book, Que Huong My Homeland Vietnam by Nguyen Manh Dan. It is a book of photographs of Vietnam by Vietnamese photographers that also contains Vietnamese songs and poetry written in both English and Vietnamese. It is reported to be a lovely book, and apparently you can't get it here in America, so you may want to look for it in Vietnam. It is heavy though, so it will weigh you down, but it sounds worth it!