Conical Hat – Nón Lá
This iconic headwear brings to mind vast rice paddies and murky rivers snaking through them. They’re about as Vietnamese as it gets, and there are countless places throughout the country to buy them—from plain, cookie-cutter varieties, to those with hand-crafted scenes painted on them. You can pick and choose to match the person.
When the Americans finally scattered at the end of the Vietnam War—or as it’s called in Vietnam, the American War—they didn’t take everything with them. They left behind Zippos, coins, helmets, patches and so much more, now for sale in Ho Chi Minh City at the Dan Sinh Market.
Dan Sinh Market, Yersin, Nguyen Thai Binh, Ho Chi Minh City +84 28 3825 1130
The recipient of this gift might not find too many occasions to wear it, but it would certainly stand out among the other gifts because of its beauty and the long tradition of Vietnamese fashion that’s behind it—a sure way to make Christmas morning just a bit more memorable.
Billboards and posters with oddly-faced proletariat working for the common good can still be seen around Vietnam, but you might get in a bit of trouble if you try to steal an authentic version. Instead, head to a souvenir shop and pick up a poster. They’re creepy, hilarious and definitely a great gift for any comrades back home.
The robusta beans that grow in the highlands of central Vietnam make for some delicious coffee. They’re best brewed in a French press, or in a slow-drip Vietnamese set-up, either of which would also add to your gift. And, since Christmas morning usually happens earlier than people normally care to wake up on a day off, an aromatic brew of Vietnamese coffee would be the perfect gift.
There are several pearl farms throughout Vietnam and many shops and jewelers producing quality pieces nearby—often within sight of the cerulean waters the little hardened spheres were plucked from. A string of authentic pearls is a treasured possession anywhere in the world, so bring back a new heirloom from your holiday in Vietnam.
You can pretty well get silk anywhere in the world nowadays, but Vietnamese textile markets are filled with prints and designs you won’t find anywhere else.
These glossy pieces are sold throughout Southeast Asia, among other places, but the ones in Vietnam display local art. They add an exotic flair to any room they’re displayed in, so gift them to those eclectic friends or relatives of yours.
This gift will probably scare the hell out of a few people on Christmas morning, but a bit of adrenaline can liven things up. You can find a variety of snakes and scorpions posed artfully in decorative bottles, and don’t worry, the venom is rendered ineffective by the ethanol. The mental battle the person goes through before accepting a drink from your gift is a different story, though.
From barrels of decomposing fish parts to the kitchen of somebody special, fish sauce is an acquired taste—but once you have it, you crave hints of it in your meals. You could be the person to introduce somebody to this interesting flavor.
You can get paintings anywhere in the world, but they won’t depict Vietnamese beauty and traditions. There are a wide assortment of styles represented in shops, which you can find near any touristy area. So, browse until you find one to match the personality of that somebody back home.
The best places to find unique embroideries are near remote ethnic tribes, especially in the North around Sapa. These colorful pieces are handmade, complex, and beautiful.
Pajama outfits – Áo bà ba
These outfits are Vietnamese versions of what people wear to bed back home, but in Vietnam, these are stylish fashions, ripe with flashy designs and practicality. You can buy them off-the-shelf, but one of the many tailors in the country would be more than happy to stitch one up for you to bring home and slide under the tree.