There are just too many things to buy in Vietnam. I mean, sometimes you probably might feel as if you can wrap the entire country in a roll and put it in your backpack. But then again, every country in the world is culturally rich. Since we can’t afford to buy everything in Vietnam, we can consider buying just the things that are so common, significant and unique to Vietnam that don’t exist anywhere else on Earth.
And no I’m not talking about buying stuff at souvenir shops. I’m talking about buying stuff that has been uniquely a part of Vietnamese culture and lifestyle for long, yet often overlooked (sometimes outright ignored) by tourists who are fond of more mainstream things to buy like bamboo chopsticks or other traditional goods at conventional gift shops.
If you want to truly own something that isn’t mainstream, common in daily life yet very unique and special to Vietnam, let’s see what they are:
Top 4 Things To Buy In Vietnam
1. Tò he (toy figurines)
Oh man, the favorite of every Vietnamese child ever.
When I was little I thought I couldn’t eat this stuff since they look like clay, and boy I was so wrong. Yes, you can EAT the figurines! They are made from rice powder, so eating them is completely harmless.
They come in different sizes, shapes and colors, and are extremely appealing to younger kids.
Needless to say, crafting tò he is an art form that only exists in Vietnam, but they only last for about a few days (or a month, depending on how well you preserve it) as the material is edible.
Still, they taste good!
You may not be able to bring one or two of this back to your home country, but having them in your list of things to buy in Vietnam during your trip and eating them later on will make your experience in Vietnam more unique than ever.
2. Mu coi (Vietnamese army pith helmet)
Ever saw people wearing safati-style green helmets on the streets of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city or elsewhere? That is the Vietnamese army pith helmet. Of all the unique things to buy in Vietnam, this one probably shines the most.
A relic of the past, it is a common sight today. It originated from the colonial era of Vietnam, when it was common among French military personnel. The Vietnamese Army later on adopted the helmet and molded it with a “Vietnamese style” variation.
Symbolically representing Vietnam’s modern history and warfare, today the helmet is still in use by Vietnamese military cadets and officers, law enforcement personnel, students attending compulsory basic military training courses, et cetera.
The purpose of wearing the pith helmet today is not just for protection, but also to highlight the Vietnamese people’s martial pride.
If you’re in Hanoi, there are plenty of street vendors on Le Duan street that sell pith helmets and all kinds of Vietnamese military wear.
The helmets may sometimes look new, but somehow they can give you the feeling that they have gone through countless treks through the Ho Chi Minh trail, covering brave soldiers from bomb shrapnel and the ills of nature on the Truong Son mountains.
3. Dep to ong (Vietnamese honeycomb sandals)
These sandals are just as iconic as the pith helmet. Millions of Vietnamese people have been wearing them for decades since the trying time of post-war economic hardship. These sandals, in comparison by history to other unique things to buy in Vietnam, is relatively young.
The sandals are so popular that the Japanese and the Chinese have adopted and molded into variants of their own, but there’s no other place on Earth where a pair of honeycomb sandals, if found, can look like the ones made authentically in Vietnam.
No, really. I’ll show you:
Wearing these at home is also comfortable. Just like everything the Vietnamese made during times of hardship, they’re ridiculously durable, yet they look so simplistic.
You can wear them on the streets, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, during your travels, and so on.
Everyone that grew up in Vietnam in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s owe something to these sandals. They’ve been a part of my grandparents’ lives, my parents’ childhood, and my own childhood as well.
Their enduring presence into the era of globalization and technology is a showcase of defiance against time.
4. Vietnamese bamboo smoking pipe
Among the unique things to buy in Vietnam, this is one we really can’t miss.
Nobody knows when did the Vietnamese people begin to smoke pipe tobacco, but modern research showed that in centuries-old folklore proverbs and quotes of ancestors that smoking pipe tobacco was, and still is, a popular pastime in Vietnam.
Bear in mind that this isn’t the curved, elegant pipe that you see in Western spy films. In Vietnam, the pipe looks like this:
Yes, they’re made from bamboos.
Craftsmen use other materials to make them, too, but the bamboo variant sticks to Vietnamese culture the most. Basically, you can almost always find someone smoking with one of these at a random drink stall in big cities or in rural provinces. They have this pipe literally everywhere.
Here’s a picture of a typical drink stall with bamboo pipes:
I guess I can’t stress how popular it is even today. Back in colonial times, everyone including men, women, elders and children all tried smoking this at least once. Today men are the majority smokers, but women also occasionally take a shot (with funny consequences sometimes). Even if you don’t smoke at all, if you manage to bring one of this home as a souvenir, you can be rightfully proud that this is a souvenir like no other.
Overall, these are my picks for the most special things to buy in Vietnam. Their common presence in the daily life of the Vietnamese people highlights the history and living culture of Vietnam itself.
So simple, yet so…”Vietnam”.
Contact me at my work e-mail: email@example.com if you’re interested in buying any of these 🙂