What to buy during your stay in Vietnam?

Look, there’s no denying it: Finding unique travel gifts for yourself or for someone can make you want to punch yourself in the face. If violence looms, may we suggest casting your eyes over these meaningful gifts and souvenirs. One thing’s for sure: these will spark wonderful memories of your adventures in Vietnam whenever you look at or use them. 

1. Coffee

Does coffee hold a special place in your heart? You need your daily brew otherwise you hate life and hate society? Allow us to introduce you to Vietnamese coffee. 

Can you smell that, reader? 

It’s a strong aroma with unique bitterness of fresh roasted coffee beans. Vietnam has different types of coffee beans (from weasel to robusta to arabica) and coffee styles. You can add sweetened condensed milk, avocado, whipped egg yolks, coconut cream to plain black coffee.

The choice can be a bit overwhelming. So what are we to do? As far as coffee goes, we think Trung Nguyen – a qualified authentic coffee brand in Vietnam is tops. We highly recommend you buy products of this brand.

2. Tea

The best thing about holidaying is swanning around in a robe, nibbling on scrummy baked goods and sipping a fragrant cup of tea. Nothing elevates elegance and quiet repose quite like tea. Tea or “Trà” in Vietnamese is an inherent part of Vietnamese culture for over 2000 years, integral to our daily lives and special occasions (such as weddings, ritual ceremonies and so on). Vietnamese like their tea plain. Vietnamese green tea has a very bitter first taste, sweet and refreshing aftertaste that reflects the Vietnamese soul: tough and thorny on the outside, sentimental and faithful on the inside. 

Our tea etiquette is less complicated than the Japanese or Chinese. Every household has a jar of dried tea leaves and an insulated bottle of boiling water to have tea in the morning, after meals and to serve guests. The host or the youngest person at the table is often the one who serves.  

3. Cashew nuts

It’s imperative that you know, dear reader, that Vietnam is the world’s largest cashew nut processor and exporter. The quality of our cashew nuts is second to none so grab these enlightened treats and bring them home. Let’s take healthy indulgence to a whole new level (or not – if you have nut allergies). 

4. Rice paper 

Sure, it’s called paper, but it’s edible and won’t result in any forests being chopped down. You must’ve tried rice paper rolls before, at Vietnamese restaurants in your country. Rice paper or ‘bánh tráng’ is a typical food in our country. Briefly soak one sheet in a bowl of water, it’ll soften immediately and become transparent. Then you can wrap vegetables, Vietnamese pancake, meat or even fish with it to make a roll. Dip in fish sauce or peanut sauce. Delicious. Where do I find it? Rice paper is very common, available in any grocery store, local market or supermarket in Vietnam.

5. Fish sauce

If your nose starts to wrinkle at the idea of fish sauce as a gift to bring back home, well it’s because you haven’t used fish sauce in your cooking yet! Brace yourself as you’re about to board a train to Flavourtown. Fish sauce or  ‘nước mắm’  is made from fresh anchovies that had been salted and fermented for up to a year. It’s used in numerous Asian cuisines, particularly in Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and China to enhance the umami flavors and add an extra oomph to the dish.

Coastal cities in Vietnam make their own fish sauce. Amongst them, Phu Quoc fish sauce from Phu Quoc Island has an absolutely divine taste. Give it a go, start with small quantities in your sauteed, your soup and gravy. Next thing you know, you’d have to stop yourself from putting fish sauce in everything!

6. Ao dai 

‘Ao Dai’ has become a symbol of Vietnamese feminine beauty, the source of inspiration for many poets and artists. Where exactly it came from is still controversial though. It’s thought to be influenced by the imperial Chinese garb of the Qing Dynasty, known as ‘Cheongsam’. Unlike ‘Cheongsam’, however, its body-hugging top is split all the way from the waist down, contouring the pants. Today, ‘Ao dai’ is worn mostly by women on formal occasions (such as Tet, weddings or graduation ceremonies) or even as the uniform for female students in some high schools and universities in Vietnam. 

Maybe it’s because it flatters every figure and creates the most graceful look; or maybe it’s because it’s super comfortable and easy to move in, but we’re rather smitten with our Vietnamese traditional dress. You can get it tailored to fit your shape to go outside in public. Who knows – the neighbours might be impressed. 

7. Conical hats

Vietnamese symbolic conical hats or “Nón lá” are hand-made from available materials such as wild palm leaves and bamboo. Do you think conical hats are just ordinary head-toppers? Well, you’re sorely mistaken, friend. We forgive you though. You’ll be flabbergasted to learn that they serve various functions to carry things around, shield from the sun, fan yourself when it’s hot and keep as a souvenir. Previous generations of Vietnamese women like to wear these hats together with their traditional dress ‘áo dài’. Wonderful, isn’t it? It’s a nice, memorable and wallet-friendly gift for friends when you go back to your country.

8. Lotus

You can’t go wrong with flowers when looking for the perfect gift. They bring joy to those who are lucky enough to receive them, to make them feel loved and appreciated. Lotus or ‘Hoa sen’ is extra special though. It’s a national icon of Vietnam. Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed the logo of Vietnam Airlines is a ‘Golden Lotus’. 

Why lotus? The lotus is the most enduring and meaningful symbol of Vietnamese people because this plant grows from the bottom of the mud, slowly emerges to the surface and bursts out into a beautiful and fragrant blossom. Vietnamese people see it as overcoming obstacles and darkness while remaining good and unaffected. We grow through hardships, learn lessons along the way to unfold (as petals unfold) and flower into something sweet and beautiful. 

Its remarkable beauty has inspired a famous poem: 

“Trong đầm gì đẹp bằng sen

Lá xanh bông trắng lại chen nhị vàng

Nhị vàng, bông trắng, lá xanh

Gần bùn mà chẳng hôi tanh mùi bùn”

In English, this poem translates as:

“Nothing in the pond is more beautiful than the lotus

Its leaf is green, its flower cup is white with yellow pistil

Yellow pistil, white flowers, green leaves

Near mud but it does not stink like mud”

9. Bamboo product

Bamboo trees grow 10 times faster than a regular tree, naturally without any pesticides. That’s why bamboo products get their brownie points for being environmentally friendly. High five! Knowing this, people use bamboo to build houses; make furniture, musical instruments, cutlery, straws and plates… Pretty cool, hey? You could live comfortably in the knowledge you’re reducing dramatic amount of waste while saving money at the same time. 

10. Ceramic products

Have a look at these pretty things, won’t you? Hand-crafted in remote villages in Vietnam using traditional techniques. Ceramic products not only make nice gifts  for your friends and family back home but also can wow your guests who pop round for tea. If you’d like to pick one up – each sale benefits the makers directly, which is rather nice. 

11. Lacquer painting

Each lacquer painting or ‘Tranh son mai’ in Vietnam is made of beautifully detailed resin from Son tree. Nature is definitely a guiding inspiration for lacquer paintings, with its many forms, textures and expressions. Each piece is unique, handmade with passion, and intended to be enjoyed in moments of pause.  A painting can be polished many times until the painter is satisfied with it.

12. Embroidery products 

Embroidery is a long-standing traditional handicraft in Vietnam. Ao Dai, handkerchief, wallet, clothes and shoes are often embroidered in exciting, bold colour combinations which takes months to complete. Vietnamese artists have a deep respect and admiration for their craft and have perfected the complex and time-honoured techniques of embroidery. 

So where to get these fun, unconventional and marvellous creations? Head to Hoi An where there’s a village specialises in embroidering and pick one up. They’re ready to be part of your everyday adventures! (Prices are varied and reasonable) 

13. Silk 

Vietnamese people began practicing breeding silkworms and weaving silk 5000 years ago. Many moons later, they invented soft and delicate silk products and mastered their craft. With plenty of soft colours, floaty fabrics and an elegant vibe, we have half a mind to ditch the rest of our wardrobe and just get around in silky outfits. They’re pretty swish, don’t you think? We likey very much. 

14. Calligraphy

Calligraphy or ‘thư pháp’ is a traditional art of Vietnam that holds important cultural value. ‘Thư’ means script, ‘Pháp’ means ‘rule’. Together, the term means ‘the rule of writing‘. At the start of the year, people like to buy well wishes written beautifully on red papers. People believe that displaying them at home will attract the positive things to their family. For example: Peace, Wealth, Health, Luck, Happiness, Success,…etc. 

Sadly, this custom is slowly fading because of other culture influences and foreign languages. There are a number of workshops to encourage young people to learn and practice traditional calligraphy. 

However, the image of an old scholar assiduously dipping his brush in black ink and writing up a masterpiece on the street will forever stays in the humble hearts of Vietnamese people.  There is a poem by Nguyen Dinh Lien, named ‘Ông Đồ’ (The old scholar) featured in our literature textbook:

 “Mỗi năm hoa đào nở
Lại thấy ông Đồ già
Bày mực tàu giấy đỏ
Bên phố đông người qua”

Which can be generally translated as following:

Every spring comes and peach flowers blossom, 
The old scholar was seen
Who displays ink and red paper
To give calligraphy to many passersby”.

15. Grilled coconut cake

If we’re honest with you (and you’d better believe we are), these grilled coconut cakes are our all time favourite snack. It’s a delicacy of Quang Nam people, made of coconut flesh, glutinous rice, vanilla and sugar. It’s sweet, crispy, flagrant and super refreshing. This delicious specialty is popular among many foreign visitors too.

Fancy a trip to Vietnam to snap up some of these awesome things? Mosey on over to our private tour page and you’re all set.