What Do Tourists Buy?
I spend a whole day with groups of tourists led by tour guides to observe what are the most popular shopping items for Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and European tourists. As International Women's Day is approaching, I pay special attention to women tourists.
Among the tourists who consider HCM City and Vietnam a shopper's paradise are Japanese. According to some tour guides, the shopping choices of Japanese are similar to their Koreans neighbors in one way or another.
Both Japanese and Korean tourists are enthusiasts of fashion items made of silk, especially the ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress. They often make a choice among silk of different colors, the most attractive of which are brown, red, purple, green, blue and indigo.
Some women tourists prefer ready-made ao dai at silk shops on Dong Khoi Street, such as KhaiSilk, Hong Silk and Hoang Silk. Some choose fabrics and have them tailored during the day. Most Japanese women spend part of their budget in Vietnam on an ao dai. Shishido Rika, a university student, says she buys the dress to "wear at parties in the coming summer." Shishido Koko, a 70-year-old lady, says she will wear the dress at festivals.
"I expect to surprise many when I enter a Vietnamese shop back home," Rika says. Mrs. Koko says, "I always buy traditional costumes for women in places I visit on my trips."
Apart from the ao dai, other favorite silk items include garments, Western dresses, scarves, handbags, footwear and wooden shoes covered with silk. Many women tourists buy silk ties as gifts for their husbands. As a veteran traveler who has visited more than 30 countries, Mrs. Koko makes this remark, "Vietnamese silk is the most attractive!"
Ho Thi Yam, an expert on Japanese tourists at Fiditourist, says Japanese and Koreans are lovers of handicrafts. The most common goods they choose are embroidered products; wallets and handbags made of brocade; trays and cosmetics boxes made of bamboo or rattan; glassware and tableware made of porcelain; and bags made from color plastic grains. A special product which is also attractive is any ornamental item made of a water buffalo's horns. "These are the products chosen by at least half of the members of any group of Japanese tourists," Yam says. "And young tourists are the most enthusiastic shoppers."
Rika says she likes Vietnamese products because they are beautiful and inexpensive. Some ornaments are as fine as those sold in Japan. "But Vietnamese goods are much cheaper," she says. "With the same money for an item in Japan, I can buy five pieces in Vietnam."
Tour guides of Vietravel say the choices of Taiwanese tourists are much narrower than those of Japanese. An item of special interest is Buddha statuettes of all sizes made of marble or wood. Each tourist buys from three to five statuettes. Next are bracelets or necklaces made of jade, amber, agate or aloe wood powder.
On a city tour organized by Fiditourist for a group of European tourists, I notice they have strong interest in statuettes of Vietnamese women. Most of them gaze at the showcase in a shop where wooden statuettes are. These stylized statuettes, some with conical hats, are covered with a red-brown varnish. "Almost all tourists want to have a statuette as their Vietnam souvenir," the tour guide accompanying the group says.
Nguyen Thi Quang Minh, an expert on the European market at Fiditourist, says lacquerware products are the "must-haves" of many tourists from Western Europe, including lacquered paintings, flower vases, ashtrays and ornaments. Both traditional and modern products are popular.
The owner of Tay Son lacquerware shop on Vo Thi Sau Street, one of the addresses for European tourists, says, "Vietnamese lacquerware is cheap and has distinctive local characteristics."
Tailored garments are also a favorite of some tourists from Europe. Sy Tan or Vinh tailor shops on Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3, can deliver clothes within the day.