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Saigon, Vietnam, Offers a Range of Shopping Options

Saigon, Vietnam, Offers a Range of Shopping OptionsSaigon, Vietnam, Offers a Range of Shopping Options

For a truly unique shopping experience, I recommend a trip to Saigon, Vietnam. Officially known as Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), locals and residents still call it Saigon. The city in the south of Vietnam offers travelers warm weather, friendly people, and some amazing shopping experiences.

I just returned from an Asian adventure that ended in Saigon, and I enjoyed the city immensely. I found it a wonderful blend of Asian exoticism with Western commerce and amenities. The city has a vibrant, commercial pulse that seems to contradict its communist reality.

Markets

The city's big market is called Ben Thanh, and it's filled with everything a tourist (or local) could want. Local crafts and textiles, souvenirs, artwork, and a large food section, as well. There's a large selection of questionable designer goods along with household goods and hardware. Tourists can find all kinds of gifts and jewelry, along with clothing and general knickknacks.

For cool stuff for the home or for gifts, don't miss the War Surplus Market, also known as the Dan Sinh Market (Thap Muoi Street, District 6). This market is in Cholon, or Chinatown, and is much more of a wholesale market. I found it much more fun and interesting than Ben Thanh, and it reminded me of Los Angeles' downtown wholesale district, where I live.

Saigon, Vietnam, Offers a Range of Shopping OptionsSaigon, Vietnam, Offers a Range of Shopping Options

Malls

Diamond Plaza (34 Le Duan St., District 1) and Saigon Centre (54 Le Loi Blvd., District 1) are both good choices for high-end luxury and name brands. Saigon's Rodeo Drive, Dong Khoi Street in District 1, offers some of the the city's best upscale shopping, with stores like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Some of the cool, upscale Vietnamese shops in this neighborhood are also fun to check out.

Suits

Like other cities in Vietnam, men can get bespoke suits for around $200. A bespoke suit is made from scratch; customers choose the fabric, a tailor takes a whole bunch of measurements, and the customer returns a day or two later to pick up a fully personalized suit. There are many storefront tailor options, especially along Pasteur Street in District 1. The tailors also make dresses and women's clothing for equally low prices.

Bargaining Tips

Never pay full price -- and I think sometimes the best technique is to offer a fair price, then walk away. If the price you offer is reasonable, the shopkeeper will eventually follow you and accept the price. For small statues, gifts, T-shirts, and other small items, I never pay more than $2 to $3. Vendors accept American dollars and Vietnamese dong; be sure to bring small bills so change is not required. For larger items, a basic rule is to offer about 25 percent of the first quoted price and pay no more than 50 percent.

Saigon, Vietnam, Offers a Range of Shopping OptionsSaigon, Vietnam, Offers a Range of Shopping Options

Getting There

Saigon is served by many major international carriers and many low-cost Asian airlines, as well. I flew Cathay Pacific's premium economy class from Los Angeles and then connected through Hong Kong via its DragonAir subsidiary. A cab from the airport to the city center costs only $10.

Where to Stay

I recommend the InterContinental Asiana Saigon (Corner Hai Ba Trung, District 1). The hotel is within easy walking distance of the Ben Thanh market and the major tourist sites like the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Opera House. It was also an easy walk to the War Remnants Museum, a must-see, especially for American travelers. Like every InterContinental, the Asiana Saigon has an excellent concierge staff, and they can assemble a personalized shopping tour based on specific wants and needs. Room rates start around $190.

Travel Tips for Vietnam

American travelers need a visa to visit Vietnam ($95), and that visa must be obtained in advance. The procedure is easy and involves applying to the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C. The tourist infrastructure is good, and the country is very safe. Like in any big city, visitors should avoid flashy clothing or jewelry, leave expensive cameras and electronics in the hotel safe, and always be aware of and protect personal belongings.

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