Hanoi is like Bangkok for the sport shopper: a good choice for the last destination before flying home, if you want to easily buy and fill an extra suitcase in just a few days. Note that affordable, knockoff bags are for sale on the northeast end of Hoan Kiem Lake (where Lo Su St. terminates at lakeside). Most airlines on long-haul flights have high weight limits for each of your two check-in bags (some airlines allow as much as 36kg/79 lb. per bag), but do note that regional flights, particularly on Vietnam Airlines, impose more strict limits; you might be able to bring just two 20-kilogram (44-lb.) bags with you to Bangkok, while it's double that if you go on directly to Frankfurt. Just be sure to check.
Hanoi is a fine place to shop for silk, silver, lacquerware, embroidered goods, and ethnic-minority crafts. Silk is good quality and an easy buy. (If you're unsure of the quality, pluck a few strands and burn the fibers; if it smells like burned hair, it's silk.) Shops will tailor a suit in as little 24 hours, but allow extra time for alterations. Many of the shops are clustered along Hang Gai Street, whose name translates as Hemp Rope Street. It once housed ship-rigging shops but is now unofficially called Silk Street. A silk suit here will run from about $35 to $75, depending on the silk, and a blouse or shirt will cost $15 to $20. Virtually every shop takes credit cards (MasterCard and Visa). Bargain hard for all but the silk; offer 50% of the asking price and end up paying 70% or so.
Traditional Items, Antiques & Souvenirs
For silver, antique oddities, and traditional crafts, try Hong Hoa, on 18 Ngo Quyen St. (tel. 04/3826-8341). Giai Dieu, 82 Hang Gai St. (tel. 04/3826-0222; also at 93 Ba Trieu St.), has interesting lacquer paintings and decorative items.
For fine ceramics, look to Quang's Ceramics, at 95 Ba Trieu St. (tel. 04/3945-4235), in the Old Quarter.
For decorative items and souvenirs, look to the streets surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake. A good place to start is Nha Tho Street, also called "Church Street," as it terminates in the town's largest cathedral. Here you'll find silk and housewares designers in and among quiet cafes. Delta Deco (12 Nha Tho St.; tel. 04/3828-9616), a large dealer of lacquerware and fine furnishings, is a popular choice. Its Chinese-influenced modern designs are especially attractive. The area all around the lake is lined with budget souvenir shops offering the likes of lacquer painting of the French cartoon character Tin Tin and carvings and trinkets. Other outlets are listed separately.
Antique Regulations -- Note that the sale of antiques is a simple matter, but carrying them out of the country is another question, and many tourists have gone smiling through Customs to declare their Buddha -- only to discover that they can't bring Siddhartha home with them. Dealers are not always forthcoming because they're more concerned with making the sale, but for larger, more expensive purchases, a dealer will get involved and help with the process.
Clothing, Accessories & Decor
For luxury foreign goods, and/or for a glimpse of Vietnam's burgeoning mall culture, check out Trang Tien Plaza, a large, three-story complex on the southeast corner of Hoan Kiem Lake. The top floor features budget clothing, and lower floors are all real name-brand fashion and electronic goods, the likes of Levi's and Sony.
Hang Dau Street, on the northeast corner of Hoan Kiem Lake (near the intersection Lo Su), is positively "shoe heaven" and carries a wide selection of men's and ladies' shoes. The lads will be sad to note that you won't find many sizes over 43 centimeters (about an American size 9), and the sneakers and tennis shoes are often "pleather" and not the best quality, but ladies, particularly those ascribing to the Imelda Marcos school of shoe acquisition, are in heaven with these underpriced (bargain hard) creative outlets. Most are good knockoffs or rejects of goods made in factories east of Hanoi. Also throughout the area, especially where Lo Su Street meets the lake, you'll find bag sellers with loads of medium- to good-quality reproductions of your favorite brands, like North Face or Adidas. Five dollars gets you a reasonable copy of a bag that might cost $100 or more at home, but the zippers give out pretty quickly.
Little Hanoi, once a bastion of hard-line Communism and rigid control over a corrupt free market, is now giving way to fashion. Led by its pop-culture benefactors -- nearby South Korea and Hong Kong -- Vietnam is growing its own base for pop culture alongside a burgeoning (Uncle Ho wouldn't like it) middle class of consumers, and areas like Hanoi's Nha Tho Street are leading the way. Close on its heels, in the expat district near West Lake and popular Vine restaurant, is Xuan Dieu Street, which has quirky, Western-friendly stores. Meanwhile, high-end flagship stores like Burberry (oddly enough, across the street from midrange San Francisco chain Esprit) are congregating at the corner of Ly Thai To, between the Metropole and the Hilton.
Silk & Embroidery -- Consider Thanh Ha Silk, 114 Hang Gai St. (tel. 04/3928-5348), and Mavena Hanoi, 28 Nha Chung (tel. 04/3828-5542).
Vietnam has a flourishing art scene, and Hanoi has many galleries of oil, silk, water, and lacquer paintings. Don't forget to bargain, and know that, in most cases, the paintings you buy are not originals, but copies of well-known Vietnamese artists. Even places that like to offer a "certificate of originality" are selling you a line of bull along with the certificate and a copy of a work by a famous Vietnamese artist. The good news is that the better galleries do carry the originals, and Vietnam is now home to some international names. Try to meet the artist, if you can, and stick with the larger dealers, who are less likely to pull a fast one. All galleries will ship from door to door at a cost of about $150 for a medium-size canvas. Listed below are a few reliable stops. Galleries are mainly in the Old Quarter and along the shores of central Hoan Kiem.
For foreign books in Hanoi, check out one of the many shops lining Trang Tien Street, the only place where you could find a book, even a simple English or French grammar, during the years of austere Communist control. Nowadays there are a few large state-sponsored bookstores, each with a simple collection of English-language books, a few shelves of the classics, and a useful section with books about travel and the culture of Vietnam, as well as a selection of coffee-table books and language-learning texts that are geared to the local market.
The Bookworm (15A Ngo Van So, south of the lake; tel. 04/3943-7226) is a longtime expat favorite and carries a good collection of international bestsellers, classics, and books on culture and travel. It's your best bet for unique finds (short of swapping with fellow travelers). They do trades of the two-for-one variety, and the expat staff is friendly and helpful (there's also a useful bulletin board of local events and things for sale).
In the Old Quarter on Ba Be Street, you'll find backpacker book repositories; it's a good place if you're looking to trade books (especially if you find another traveler there doing the same and can make a private deal; otherwise, it's usually two-for-one at the store counters). Try Love Planet Tours and Books, 25 Hang Bac (tel. 04/3828-4864), a longtime traveler favorite (they'll try to sell you all kinds of tours along with your tome, too). Also try one of the similar budget shops on Bao Khan Street, a popular nightlife area on the northeast corner of the lake.
Infostones (41 Trang Tien St.; tel. 04/3826-2993; www.infostones.com.vn) has a great selection of cooking books and the latest international magazines.
Note that most high-end hotels have lobby book nooks with some palatable volumes and international news sources.
Also note that Hanoi's wandering booksellers, once the plague of the city, especially near Hoan Kiem Lake, where the hassle of tourists was legendary, are less in evidence these days. These lads sell the likes of The Sorrow of War, by Bao Khanh, as well as popular phrase books, guidebooks, and the obligatory Quiet American, or now the popular In Retrospect, by the Vietnam War's architect, Robert McNamara. Just $2 gets you a photocopied edition (some are rife with mistakes), and the biggest fun of all is bantering with these kids, all of whom have a good, funny line or two to get your money out of your pockets. If you haven't read these classics on Vietnam, this is a good place to pick one up (or a map or a postcard). It's almost obligatory, or at least your savvy salesman will make you feel like it is.
Dong Xuan Market is the city's largest traditional market and a highlight of a visit to the Old Quarter. A massive indoor pavilion is surrounded by streets teeming with sellers day and night (early morning is best to visit). Find lots of Chinese knockoff goods, produce, and stuff for everyday use in homes -- but there are plenty of neat trinket shops tucked down the narrow lanes of this maze of commerce, and just the experience of walking around (or photographing the chaos) is a reason to visit.
Cho 19-12 (the 19-12 Market) is one of Hanoi's most interesting markets. Just west and in the shadow of the Melia hotel, you'll find this labyrinth of local goods, produce, and oddities. On the south end of the market, near the main entrance, is the "whole roasted dog" aisle, with crispy Fidos stacked one atop the other. A bit of a shock, really. In the heart of the market are all kinds of che (Vietnamese custard) shops and local food stalls, as well as meat and produce stands. You won't be able to get over all the dogs here.
Got a memory card full of images that you want to print or back up on CD? Looking for good film cheap, or good processing equally cheap? Hanoi's many photo stores can do it all. Try any of the following, all within a baseball throw from the lake: A Dong Photo Company (128 Hang Trong St.; tel. 04/3826-0732), Konica Digital Photo Center (3B Le Thai To St.; tel. 04/3825-8517), or Nguyen Cau Digital Camera Lab (1 Ba Trieu St.; tel. 04/3936-1516).
To pick up good snacks for a long train or bus ride, check out Intimex (tel. 04/3825-6148), down a small alley at 22-23 Le Thai To St., on the west side of Hoan Kiem Lake. With groceries on the first floor and a small department store on the second level, you can find what you need and pay prices that are fair and marked (no bargaining). The joys of retail.
For Western wines and canned products from home, try the aptly named Western Canned Foods (34 Cua Nam St; tel. 04/822-9217), in the basement level of the Vietin Bank Building. For fine wines from the choicest regions of the world, as well as any kind of liquor or aperitif, stop in at La Cave (35-37 Trang Thi St.; tel. 04/3934-4083). In the heart of the Old Quarter, the Warehouse (59 Hang Trong St.; tel. 04/3928-7666; www.warehouse-asia.com) also has an extensive wine selection. The Gourmand Shop (56 Ly Thai To; tel. 04/3826-6919, ext. 8702) is located on the first-floor area on the east side of the grand Sofitel Metropole hotel and carries a fine collection of wines, cheeses, treats, and gifts. It's open from 7am to 9pm, and whatever they don't have, they can point you in the right direction to find.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.