Ben Thanh Market
These first pictures are from Ben Thanh Market, which is located in the center of Saigon (offically, the city is named Ho Chi Minh City). You'll find everything from pyramids of fruit to stacks of shoes to piles of motorbike parts inside the covered building. Here's my friend Hien among the maze of fabric stalls. Hein was born in Vietnam, grew up in Canada, and recently returned to Saigon. He showed my boyfriend, Dustin, and me around when we visited in November 2006. We had come to Ben Thanh Market because Dustin was looking for wool to have a coat made, but we weren't having much luck finding it. When we asked the proprietors at this stall, they scurried off and returned with two types of beautiful brown wool. If we had bought the four meters needed for the coat, we definitely would've bargained. No prices are fixed at any market in Vietnam.
Vietnamese women wear silk to keep cool and look stylish. You'll see it sold everywhere. Kenly Silk, a few minutes' walk from the market, is one of the nicest places I've come across. The staff is very friendly, and the store has a huge range of silks from which you can make pajamas, dresses, shirts, overcoats--just about anything. This is the kind of shop that both teenagers and grandmas will love.
Nhut is a classic Vietnamese men's tailor--no nonsense, very stripped down. It's known for suits made exclusively from cashmere blends and shirts constructed out of high-thread-count Italian cotton. There are books of swatches along the wall full of options.
Tricia & Verona
This sleek boutique is called Tricia & Verona. It's located right across the street from the Sheraton Hotel on Dong Du Street, which is lined with bars and restaurants. The store was opened in early 2006 by sisters Tuyen and Vy, who look remarkably alike. They have bags full of fabric samples and piles of magazines to help generate ideas, and many fun, fashionable items to buy off the rack or to have copied. Dustin and I had several items made here (this is him getting measured for pants), and encountered lots of well-heeled expats picking up glamorous silk jackets and dresses during our visits.
Around the corner, on Dong Khoi Street, you'll find rows of boutiques and souvenir shops. This store is run by Minh Khoa, one of Vietnam's up-and-coming designers. He specializes in fabulous, one-of-a-kind cocktail dresses and wedding gowns. The store's racks are organized by color and anything can be copied. Minh will work with customers to design the perfect dress, and his shop sells the costume jewelry to go along with it.
If you're looking for modern twists on traditional Vietnamese styles, check out Minh Hanh. The designer specializes in delicate embroidery, trimming everything from dresses to coats. This velvet jacket is edged with embroidery made by the ethnic minorities of northern Vietnam. Sapa is the main town in this mountaineous area, where you'll see women stitching as they walk, with babies bundled on their backs.
Si Hoang is located in a grand three-story colonial building, and it's decorated with traditional Vietnamese furniture. The store is named for its owner, an artist who's turned his talents to designing ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress. Ao dai are comprised of long, fitted tunics paired with flowing pants. They're worn for weddings, special events, and as uniforms at some businesses. Many of the fabrics at Si Hoang are hand painted. These two women are working on a design that will take them a few weeks to complete. The shop also has a line that's exclusively for kids. The designs were drawn by children in orphanages and schools. If you're looking for a taste of local culture to round out the day, come by the shop around 8 P.M. A free fashion show with tea, music and singing takes place almost every night.