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While there are many souvenirs you can take home to remind you of the journeys you take, we recommend you get yourself an ao dai–the Vietnamese national costume. If you’re worried about it just sitting in your wardrobe–don’t. It’s a beautiful outfit that can be worn on special occasions and even casually. Here are the best spots you can get your hands on an ao dai.
An ao dai is an essential outfit in every Vietnamese woman’s wardrobe. It is an outfit that embodies beauty, grace, and elegance, made of two parts–a long-sleeved, curve-hugging tunic and a pair of trousers. As the ao da is made to fit over the woman’s body perfectly, the best thing to do is to get one tailored. It’s rare that an off-the-rack ao dai will fit you perfectly.
Ready-to-buy ao dais are available everywhere, and it’s hard not to buy them. Curb your temptations and make the decision to spend a little bit more to get one tailored. While Hoi An is known as the tailoring capital of South East Asia, Hanoi does have many decent tailors.
First, you need to think of material. While most tailor shops do have stacks of material, the choices are a little limited, and the prices are a little high. Head over to Hang Gai Street in the Old Quarter–this is known as silk street. You will find plenty of fabric stores with a broad range of materials and prints.
Another great place to buy material is of course at the fabric market. Cho Hom is known for offering the most extensive collection of fabrics in Hanoi. It is a popular spot for local tailors to purchase materials, such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, tweed, brocade, satin and nylon, all stacked up in colorful piles. It’s best to come here with pictures of what you wish to get tailored. The vendors are so kind that they will tell you what pattern will suit best and just how much you need. They often also quote honest prices, so you don’t really need to bargain your way through. A yard of silk costs about VND$100,000 (US$4.46). Browse around for a bit and choose your favorite fabrics.
Cho Hom Market, Huế, Ngô Thì Nhậm, Hà Nội, Vietnam, +84 24 3825 6172
Once you get that sorted, head over to any of these following tailors to get yourself a nice ao dai made.
Ao Dai Minh Duc specializes in designing and making traditional ao dais and is a great brand when it comes to both quality and price. At Minh Duc, you will have your ao dai hand-embroidered by the extremely adept tailoring team who are also wonderful hosts. They do sell off-the-rack ao dais made in store if you are short on time, but to get one tailored, it will take about 3-5 days. Depending on the material you want your outfit to be (silk, velvet, etc.) and the complexity of the texture and patterns on the dress, the price will vary, but expect to pay over US$100.00 for a piece.
In addition to ao dais, you will see many beautiful traditional gowns on display too, and you can get these tailored as well, along with shirts, wedding dresses and evening gowns. Browse their Facebook page to check their stunning selection of items. You really are spoiled for choice here, and you can not go wrong with Ao Dai Minh Duc.
41 Đặng Tiến Đông, Trung Liệt, Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam, +84 24 6276 2064
Ao Dai Thanh Mai has been operational for over 10 years in the city and has earned a reputation for being one of the best ao dai makers in town. Thanh Mai offers a wide range of styles that range from the more traditional ao dai to those with a contemporary look. Lace and other materials, sleeveless or not, you can browse their website for your preference.
Besides making custom-made ao dais, Thanh Mai also offers rental services, allowing you to rent a piece for a few days at a price. Usually renting an ao dai will cost you from VND$150,000 (USD$7.00) – VND$500,000 (USD$22.00).
428 Bạch Mai, Trương Định, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam, +84 24 2212 2859
Van Phuc was established over a century ago and is located five miles (eight kilometers) southwest of Hanoi’s center. It is a village associated with traditional silk weaving and high-quality products and is one of the most visited craft villages in Vietnam, quite similar to Thanh Ha Pottery Village in Hoi An. Products from Van Phuc are exported countrywide, regionally, and even to the European market.
Shops in Van Phuc sell many products made of silk, such as shirts, dresses, blouses, and of course, ao dais, and all of these are made by local artisans using traditional looms. Other souvenirs such as bedding and tablecloths can be found here too. What’s great is that ao dais can be bought here for as low as USD$15.00.
The Old Quarter is a maze of ao dai stores that are dotted along its 16 streets. Head over to Luong Van Can, a street that is just 980 feet (300 meters) in length, yet every single shop here seems to sell ao dais. These vary from shop to shop when it comes to material, design, styles, and prices. The cheapest will cost you around USD$15.00 and the pricier ones can go upwards of USD$200.00. Since this is located in the Old Quarter that is full of tourists, bargaining is a little essential. Luong Van Can is where you should head to if you have no time and are in a rush to get yourself an ao dai.
You have many options to get yourself an ao dai. Remember, as a general rule in Vietnam, you get what you pay for. Happy shopping!