What is silk?
Silk is a natural protein fiber produced from the silkworm’s cocoon, and some forms can be woven into textiles. It takes around 3,000 silkworms consuming 104 kilograms of mulberry leaves to produce two pounds (one kilogram) of silk; the process lasts over three days. The result is a material that is light weight, soft and very absorbent, making it an ideal fabric for warmer countries.
Silk was once considered extremely luxurious and thus available only to noble families. Now the fabric is widely used, and beautiful silk products are affordably to anyone. They make great souvenirs. It will cost you at least VND$70,000 for a meter of silk and at least VND$100,000 per meter for premium kinds. Be weary of buying silk for prices lower than that since they can be of questionable quality.
The three main cities to buy silk in Vietnam are:
Located on the edge of the Old Quarter of Hanoi is a silk haven that goes by the name of Hang Gai Street (or Silk Street). This is the go-to place for silk shopping, and this street has a handful of small shops that all specialize in silk and embroidery. You will find similar merchandise being sold in these stores, but at different prices, which may confuse you. Yet, due to the authenticity of what you are getting, it is still better than negotiating for silk at the market.
If you are looking for a silk T-shirt or custom-made suit, head over to Le Minh, store number 79-111 at Hang Gai street. This store has been in operation since 1954, handed down through generations, and offers quality tailoring at very reasonable and affordable prices. This store has one of the best selections of silk in the city, and you can either get something tailored here or find many read-to-wear items from the inventory, such as shirts, trousers, pajamas and scarves. You can even get silk ties, embroidered tablecloths, napkins and wall hangings to take back home as a souvenir. You will even be given written instructions on how to care for your purchases so you do not end up damaging them.
Hoi An is known as a tailoring mecca. The old town itself has around 400 tailor shops dotted along its alleyways. If you want to buy silk here, head over to The Cocoon Silk for a very educational and enjoyable shopping experience. The owner is extremely knowledgeable and helpful here, teaching you all about the silkworms and processes. There is even a display where you can watch young live silkworms feed on mulberry leaves and older ones spin their cocoons. There is a wide variety of silk displayed on racks, priced and graded, so no bargaining is involved. You don’t have to worry about authenticity here either as the silk test will be done right in front of your eyes — a flame is held to the fabric, but it will not ignite and only giving off a smell of burnt hair.
The Cocoon Silk, 40 La Hoi, Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam, +84 235 3962 979
The Hoi An Cloth Market is also a silk dream come true, and you will find some of the finest silk in Vietnam on sale. There is wide range of silk to be bought here; you can later take it to a tailor to create your dream silk outfit. Check out BeBe Tailor who can produce just about anything.
Alternatively, head over to the Hoi An Silk Village, once a silk hub in Hoi An 300 years ago involved in the silk trade. Now you will find dozens of local artisans manufacturing and weaving silk into garments and tapestries using ancient looms. You can buy the material or any finished product. This is also a resort and restaurant all in one.
28 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam, +84 2353 921 144
Ho Chi Minh City
Contrary to popular belief, Ben Thanh Market is where you should not go if you are looking to buy authentic silk for a reasonable price. Chances are that you will end up buying fake silk at outrageous prices. Granted some stores do offer the real thing, but the information you get is mixed, so it is best to stay away altogether. The cloth market at Tan Binh or Tan Dinh are better alternatives, as is Chinatown (Cho Lon).
For a hassle-free experience, check out Toan Thinh Silk, a professional silk manufacturing enterprise that supplies silk not only to customers but also to designers in the Vietnam fashion market and also overseas. It exports fabric to Korea, Japan, Thailand, Denmark, France, England and the U.S., so you are guaranteed the real thing here. There is a large variety of silk available and all prices are fixed, so no haggling is involved.
12 Pham Phu Thu, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, +84 28 3864 2402
Thai Tuan Silk is another leading Vietnamese textile producer and supplier, having been in the fashion textile industry for over 23 years. The products here are trusted by locals and foreigners alike. Just like Toan Thinh Silk, the prices are fixed, and you will have a wide range of silk to choose from. There is an outlet in Hanoi as well.
419 Hai Ba Trung, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, +84 28 3829 5629