Mark Rapoport, a former New York pediatrician, and his wife moved to Hanoi in the early 2000s and immediately started collecting the cultural antiques of the ethnic tribes. Their gallery, 54 Traditions, is now the only one in Vietnam devoted to the arts and crafts of the country’s fifty-four ethnic groups. Visiting their multi-storey shop, co-owned with Nguyen Thi Nhung, is like shopping in an Ali Baba’s cave of treasures, except that this one comes with an incredibly knowledgeable and passionate collector guide who will tell you the story and pedigree of each object and provide a detailed fact sheet to go with it. (He will also package, ship or mount your object and have it delivered to your hotel or the airport.) Many of their original finds are now in museums including the Metropolitan and American Museum of Natural History in New York, Musée Branly in Paris and the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi. Among their specialties: tribal textiles and costumes, Buddhist statues, tribal jewelry, power swords, ritual scrolls and ceramic boxes salvaged from shipwrecks that are more than 500 years old. Be sure to look out for the Chimera jewelry, which incorporates ancient beads. Prices range from under $25 to many thousands and pieces are marked with colored dots to indicate the ranges. Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time here as Mark is true to his motto of offering “an education not just an object.”
Read Local Legends: Mark Rapoport
Art Vietnam Gallery
Expats and collectors agree that this gallery run by Suzanne Lecht showcases the best selection of emerging artists.
Ben Thanh Market
This bustling market, in District 1, which has occupied this corner since 1899, is listed in every guide book, but it’s very touristy. Beware: the wares sold here are mostly made in China, and there’s a rampant pick-pocket problem. If you love prowling markets, ask your guide to take you to an authentic one in one of the residential districts.
Silk is sold in boutiques all over the Old Quarter but this little shop just up the street from the French Cathedral specializes in linen and cotton.
Catherine Denoual Maison
Similar to another famous Catherine (Paris’ Catherine Memmi), Denoual specializes in exquisite linens for the home. Denoual worked in Paris as a fashion editor before relocating with her family to Vietnam in 1995. Her gorgeous creations are not inexpensive but quality-wise there’s nothing that rivals the wares of this boutique. Don’t miss the lovely baby clothes.
For women who like dramatic, colorful statement pieces, CoCoon offers exquisitely made silk pieces, ranging from evening dresses and wrap jackets to long tunics and even fabric chokers. Hand made embroidery work and vivid colors are their trademark. They do couture work as well.
The sister shop of Things of Substance, Contraband sells a similar mix of casual cotton wear.
If you’re visiting the Temple of Literature, come to this nonprofit cooperative, located right across the street, for a selection of Vietnamese crafts, including products handmade by ethnic minorities like the Hmong. The small two-story space is packed with products like lacquerware, silk notebooks, beaded handbags, blankets and cushion covers, making it great for one-stop gift shopping. Plus, you can feel good about supporting local artisans: the store is quite selective about whom it features, focusing on craftsmen and -women who are economically disadvantaged or socially marginalized.
Do Anh Tuan Photography
Just around the corner from the Sofitel Metropole is a lovely small gallery of photographer Do Anh Tuan who captures Vietnamese traditional life in a poetic way.
Green Palm Gallery
Opened almost twenty years ago, Green Palm Gallery is one of Vietnam’s most prestigious art galleries and sells the work of both established and up-and-coming artists. There are two locations: this one right around the corner from the Sofitel Metropole and another in the Old Quarter. Among the artists that they carry are Van Tho, Du Duc Khai and Hong Viet Dzung.
The owners of this silk shop on Hang Gai Street will proudly tell you that Hillary Clinton has shopped here as well as many other foreign dignitaries. As the name suggests, silk is their specialty, and you will find tons of scarves, ties, dresses and blouses in silk prints as well as linen and embroidery. The styles are quite traditional but their real strength is the their custom tailoring so it is best to bring in a design that you love and have it copied in their silks, but, of course, that will take a few days.
This lovely shop specializes in traditional Vietnamese crafts but with a contemporary design. The owners supply many companies in France, Japan and the US with ceramic, brass, rattan and bamboo products. Look for horn necklaces, rattan bags and baskets, lacquer trays and boxes, bamboo bowls and deliciously delicate ceramic bowls and pitchers.
Huong Nga Fine Arts
The shimmering lacquerware sold at this boutique comes in many colors and swirling shapes. The designs include everything from small bowls to large trunks, and the beautiful patterns run the gamut from traditional (red-black) to edgy (modern monochromatic). The gallery works with twenty-two artists and three designers, and the range of lacquer is striking and better than you will find anywhere else. If you fall in love with a larger piece, the gallery is happy to arrange for shipping.
A fair trade boutique with multiple branches in Vietnam, including in Ho Chi Minh City and Sapa, Indigo sells the crafts of different ethnic minorities. It was founded in 2001 by a Japanese visitor, Mr. Yoshizawa, who wanted to help preserve traditional crafts, especially the rare, hand-woven indigo textiles for which the store is named. The offerings have expanded to include clothing, accessories, jewelry and souvenirs. When you purchase here, know that you are helping to support diverse communities and ancient craft techniques. There are locations in the Old Quarter as well as in the Sheraton and Nikko hotels.
The whimsical bags of designer Christina Yu, a Hong Kong native who worked as an attorney before launching Ipa-Nima in 1997, are now internationally known, with outlets like Anthropologie in the U.S. But to see her newest lines, visit this girly boutique; its walls are lined with Yu’s glitzy creations. The selection ranges from wallets and slender embroidered clutches to oversized leather bags. Yu is known for mixing and matching materials and colors, then embellishing the results with rhinestones, mother-of-pearl, brass, horn, embroidery or beads. The look is flashy and eclectic not understated.
The selection is not as extensive as the one found in the Hanoi flagship, but devotees of Christina Yu’s whimsical designs should not miss this chic store. The selection ranges from wallets and slender embroidered clutches to oversized leather bags. Yu is known for mixing and matching materials and colors, then embellishing the results with rhinestones, mother-of-pearl, brass, horn, embroidery or beads. (There’s a second branch at 76 Le Lai St., District 1.)
Definitely the most sophisticated of the shops on Silk Street, Khaisilk brings a distinctly European flair to their designs and to their boutiques. In addition to a huge range of patterned and pleated silk scarves, the men and women’s fashions include ready-to-wear and custom pieces as well as silk and cotton knits.
Opened in 2010, L’Usine remains one of Saigon’s most popular hot spots. The eatery-cum-concept shop is located on Art Arcade alley, and was one of the first speakeasies to open in the city. Housed in a transformed warehouse, L’Usine boasts an industrial décor, floor-to-ceiling windows and a curated selection of wares from international and local designers. The walls are lined with contemporary artworks and a selection of small finds ranging from hip prints to artisanal chocolates and hand made jewelry.
Long Vy Lanterns
The oldest one of its kind in Hoi An, Long Vy specializes in handcrafted lanterns made with silk. Guests can also enroll in a lantern making class.
The über-cool interiors of this fashion boutique looks like it took a wrong turn from New York’s Lower East Side. The edgy, industrial space showcases splashy, original art work, a glowing chandelier, framed retro propaganda posters and several motorcycles. This provides the backdrop for the edgy fashion and accessories created by Mai Lam, a former boat person who fled Vietnam to Australia. The designer returned to her home country and quickly made a name for herself in the fashion world. Her fashion and accessories feature sumptuous embroidery and hand-stitching on natural fabrics.
The Vietnamese owner of this well-regarded boutique, My Ha, recently hired a French designer, Rebecca Bargas, to inject new spirit into the label. Opened more than ten years ago in the Cathedral quarter of the Old Town, Marie-linh has always merged a vintage French sensibility with a modern Asian touch to reflect her own heritage of French and Vietnamese parents. The light cotton fabrics evoke delicate Liberty prints and are finished with lovely embroidery and motifs for a timeless, feminine look. There are two boutiques on Hang Trong, so be sure to check out the stock in both shops.
This elegant boutique specializes in turning stunning, traditional fabrics into modern designs. There are heavy silk jackets, asymmetrical tops and embroidered blouses. It’s a great spot for style mavens who want a Vietnamese-inspired design but can’t commit to the traditional aodai.
Moniq by M
In a similar vein to the styles at Marie-Linh, Moniq by M merges a French vintage aesthetic with an Asian twist. The owner collects vintage fashion from Europe for inspiration.
Behind the lilac colored façade on Nha Tho street is a jewel of an accessories shop. MU sells fun and inexpensive jewelry including wrap bracelets with gold beads and tiny rings with symbols.
Nagu means comfort in Japanese and the owners of this shop, which also has an outpost in Ho Chi Minh City, focus on comfort clothes and accessories. Their most popular item is the cloth teddy bear (in many fabric patterns), but they also sell women’s clothing and accessories and delightful children’s fashion. The aesthetic has a vintage, country French feeling that is perfectly mirrored in the colonial two-story shop.
Like its sister boutique in Hanoi, this cavernous boutique carries everything from antiques to handmade accessories. It’s set up like a market, with lots of tables, racks and bowls overflowing with the goods.
Rue des Chats
Some of the country’s stylish designers, Anhuong Tran and Le Minh, have made this two-story boutique a chic stop for those looking for Eurasian fashion in slim sheath dresses and silk blouses