“Must” and “maybe” souvenirs from Vietnam

No matter you like to travel with a small bag or big luggage, most probably you still buy some “touchable memories” (souvenirs) from visited places? Some of us have a collection of fridge magnets, others bring whatever they like or something specific only from that country. Personally, I like to bring something small and practical, which can be used in daily life. For example, carved tray for a cup from a specific village, candlestick from specific that place materials and etc. (depends on what I’m missing at that moment at home).

Here are the lists of MUST and MAYBE (as well specific ones) souvenirs from Vietnam that you can consider to bring back home. It’s based on my personal suggestions from what I saw in the streets and what recommended my Vietnamese friends.

MUST souvenirs from Vietnam

SILK

Even if you can buy it in Thailand, Malaysia as well (like those countries “unique” souvenirs) but if you are in Vietnam you should think to buy a scarf, silk painting (which is quite unique, an iconic art form in Vietnam) or even suit the clothes from silk (tailor can suite it during ~15 hours).
Silk in Vietnam is made on traditional handlooms. You can find beautiful patterns, different colors, and sizes. Even if you can buy silk anywhere in Vietnam but one of the best places is Hoi An city, silk village Van Phuc (near Hanoi). The price will be better, more options, and quicker service (sewing). Prices begin at about $ 3.00/per meter for 90 cm wide material.

Silk shop - souvenirs from Vietnam
The tailor’s place in Hoi An city

LACQUER WARE

Is special in its style of using resin from the son tree. It’s said that high-quality lacquer products go through 20 stages of development and can be used to craft dishes, bowls, vases, and more in beautiful colors and intricate designs. Very special is lacquer paintings – sơn mài. Prices begin at $ 1.00 for a small dish, $ 3.00 for a large dish and etc.

VIETNAMESE EMBROIDERY

An art passed down from ages, embroiders in Vietnam make use of Chinese techniques mostly. Become a master in this art can take 8-10 years. If you are visiting Sa Pa – you can buy really exclusive embroidered clothes, scarfs, small bags and etc. from different villages. You can see how it’s made straight in your eyes in the evening market in the main square. A good pair of pillowcases or a set of bed linen, both on a white cotton base, should cost around $ 6.00.

Sa Pa market - souvenirs from Vietnam
Women from Sa Pa region preparing for the night market, where they will sell their works

DO PAPER postcards, notebooks

“Do” paper is made from the bark of the Do tree, a wild plant commonly found around local riverbanks. It was popular for many years before the modern paper came. Now Do paper is only used to make Hanoi’s ethnic greetings cards, watercolor, folk paintings, and bamboo-bound notebooks. Do paper cards with embroidered squares, hemp covered notebooks cost more or less $ 2.00, bamboo bound notebooks are from $ 1.50. Better to search in book stores.

Do paper - souvenirs from Vietnam
You can see those drawings in hotels as well like it’s very famous painters works.

GUOC MOC (wooden clogs)

Are traditional footwear for males and females in Vietnam. Before females were wearing these with the traditional Ao Dai dress. Now it’s not so traditional wear, but you can still buy these in stores. I saw some such clogs in Bangkok as well but it looked like brought from Vietnam.

AO DAI dress

Recognized as national wear for females in Vietnam. It’s a tight-fitted long dress worn over long pants. The Ao Dai costs about $32.00 for a plain finished product. If you want a more detailed or custom made Ao Dai, you can buy some fabric and have a tailor make it for about $70.00.

SNAKE WINE

There’s not too much “wine” – the snake is infused in grain alcohol – but you get an exotic view. The bottle cost ~ $20.00.

BOOK “Que Huong my homeland Vietnam” by Nguyen Manh Dan

It’s a book of photographs of Vietnam by Vietnamese photographers and you will find their Vietnamese songs, poetry written in English, Vietnamese. Unfortunately how hard I was trying to find it in Hanoi book street (even with a local person) – didn’t manage. If you will be lucky to find it, I think you will be very happy to have it.

MAYBE souvenirs from Vietnam

If you like to travel to Asia or plan a new trip there, I suggest considering maybe not to buy in Vietnam souvenirs which I’m mentioning below. You can find them in other Asian countries as well (in some countries even cheaper).

CERAMIC

You can easily find ceramic vases, lacquer vases, and more such variety in a plethora of sizes, shapes, and colors. A good quality plate costs ~ $2.00. Can be an idea to buy a small teacup set. But ceramic you can bring from any other country as well: Indonesia (for example in Yogyakarta there is area Kasongan, where most crafts are from ceramic), Thailand and etc.

Ceramic souvenirs from Vietnam
Tea cup set

BAMBOO AND WOODEN PRODUCTS

You can buy beautifully carved bamboo hats or salad bowls, trays, baskets, and more such items made out of bamboo and wood. Apart from being cheaper alternatives, they are also eco-friendly. It’s a costs from $13.00 to $45.00. But the same you can buy in any other Asian country where bamboo is growing, for example in Thailand it will be cheaper.

CONICAL HATS

Referred to as leaf hat or non la, these are a symbol of Vietnam and can be seen on drums as old as 3000 years. The same can be used as an umbrella during rains and sun protector during summers. Such hats but with different names you can buy anywhere where are rice paddies: Indonesia, Thailand and etc.

Conical hat
Conical hat used in Vietnamese daily life

RICE

How not to buy a small package of rice from rice country? Brown, white, different shape, mixed and etc. The price will be ridiculous and straight from the rice paddies. But the same you can buy in any other “rice” country.

TEA

Good quality tea can be bought in specialist shops in large cities. Kilo of top-quality tea can cost ~ $8.00, if lightly flavored ~$5.00, without flavoring ~$2.00. But in each other country, you can buy tea as well: Japan, Indonesia, China and etc.

COFFEE

Even if Vietnamese coffee quite famous for its preparation and taste (strong, instead of sugar they put condensing milk) but you can enjoy it in the coffee shops in Vietnam. To buy it like a souvenir you can but then need to buy special tools to prepare it in the right way. Good quality “Trung Nguyen” coffee 1-kilo Robusta beans costs ~ $4.00, Arabica will be more expensive.
But as well in Indonesia, you can buy coffee, even more, a popular one, the most expensive in the world “Kopi Luwak”.

HANDMADE WOVEN PRODUCTS

For example in Vietnam scarf costs ~$2.00. A garment, such as a woven, embroidered, or appliqued jacket can cost ~ $15.00. But handmade woven products you can buy in any other Asian country (for example Indonesia, Lombok island).

JEWELRY, PEARLS

Other popular souvenirs from Vietnam. Most jewelers are made of local gemstones. But the same things you can buy in Indonesia as well, where gemstones really popular and one of the places for pearls can be in Lombok island near the port to Gili Meno, Air or Trawangan islands.

CLOTHES

If you want to buy Asian style pans or other clothes, before buying them check if it’s really made in Vietnam. I had an experience when bought pans in Vietnam and in Indonesia met a girl with the same pattern dress what she bought in Thailand. The conclusion that all things made in China. By the way in Thailand clothes are much cheaper than in Vietnam.

Clothes from Vietnam and Thailand
I bought pans in Vietnam, girl bought dress in Thailand. But both of them made in China.

Specific souvenirs from Vietnam for specific interests

  • WAR SOUVENIRS – you can buy coins, zippers, and other old things that remain war time in Vietnam.
  • MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS – here you can buy a bamboo flute and miniature bamboo xylophone.
  • INSTANT NOODLES – like I live in Indonesia where instant noodles are eaten everywhere. I wanted to bring my friends in Indonesia to try Vietnamese instant noodles. It’s really different from Indonesian ones or those that you can buy in Europe.
  • FAKE THINGS – some people like to buy famous brands fake copies. Here you can find whatever you want.
  • CARVED WOODEN STAMPS – you can optionally require craftsmen to carve the characters that you liked or a meaningful icon. If you are not too picky, just select the template and change some details or even purchase the stamps which have been carved already here. It can be a great souvenir for friends with their name letter. It’s not so practical but fun.
  • VIETNAMESE JACKET – nowhere else I saw such jacket – mostly it used driving on a motorbike but can be used in daily life as well. Can be quite unique gift (you can choose different colors, materials).

Of course, you can buy as well other souvenirs from Vietnam: magnets, stamps, postcards, traditional music CD. But buy them not in touristic places, go to bookshops and smaller shops out of touristic areas.

Here some tips on how to buy souvenirs from Vietnam and the 10 best shopping places in Hanoi:

What to buy in Vietnam
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SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

  • Found some other souvenirs from Vietnam that are worth buying? Share with us
  • What kind of souvenirs do you like to bring from your travels?
  • Is Vietnam on your bucket list? What you would like to see, do or try there?

 

 

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Yogyakarta attractions: how to enjoy time & save money

If you are planning to visit Yogyakarta city on Java island most probably you already know what you want to see there? If not, you will find suggestions to visit the famous Hindu temple Prambanan and Buddhist Borobudur temple, Sultan palace and Water castle, Malioboro street and etc. But there are more Yogyakarta attractions which you can visit if you have just a bit more than 2 days to stay here.

Here are some practical tips for visiting Yogyakarta attractions. Hope it can help you to save some money, avoid scammers and enjoy the Yogyakarta tour.

Most popular Yogyakarta attractions

Borobudur, Prambanan, Ratu Boko temples

        • If you have a possibility, don’t plan to visit these temples during weekends or the Indonesian holidays. Then you can avoid a mass of people and especially Indonesians, who will ask to take a picture with you. If you have time and it gives fun for you – then don’t think about which days to visit, just go when you can.
        • It’s worth visiting Borobudur temple during Vesak day. First of all, you will see a beautiful Buddhist ceremony which will end with lanterns in the sky. Second, if you will donate money (what is ~100 000 Rp – ~6 USD), you will get a lantern and free entrance to Borobudur (that usually costs 20 USD). But if you want to enjoy the whole ceremony you should plan a whole day to stay Borobudur area, like the ceremony starts in the morning and ends in late-night ~1-3 am. During day time, you can visit Mendut, Pawon temples as well. And don’t be shy to go inside the monastery beside Mendut temple, the atmosphere there so magical.

Candi Prambanan

        • Some people go to see the sunrise in Borobudur temple (a more expensive entrance ticket). But you can come exactly at 6 am buy a regular ticket and be in a hurry to go to the top of the temple. You will still see the sunrise. Just not all the time sunrises are breathtaking that you can see in the pictures – it’s nature, that you can’t predict. So why buy more expensive tickets? As well to see sunrise people go not far from Borobudur on Setumbu hill from which you can see a small silhouette of Borobudur, enjoy nature view and if interested visit Chicken church.
        • If you will visit the Prambanan temple in the evening, check if they have a Ramayana performance there. Somebody thinks that it’s too boring, but it’s a part of Indonesian culture. See this performance in Prambanan open theater and especially during full moon something magnificent.

Buddha statue in Vesak day

        • If you will buy Borobudur, Prambanan tour from the travel agency (certificated one) you can get tickets with a discount. But those 2 temples you should visit for 2 days with the same agent.
        • Not far from Prambanan temple you can visit Twin and Ratu Boko temples. To see the sunset in Ratu Boko temple cost more than a daytime ticket but as well you can buy a package of Prambanan and Ratu Boko, that in total will cost you less.
Ratu Boko sunset
Waiting for the sunset.

Kraton – Sultan palace

        • Each day in Kraton there is different performances that you can enjoy: traditional dance, wayang kulit (shadow theater), gamelan and etc. So you can check what is more interesting for you and visit Kraton on an exact day.
        • Inside Kraton there are no English descriptions, so you should make “homework” and read about it before if you want to understand everything or hire a local Kraton guide, who will explain all the things for you.

Yogyakarta attractions - Kraton

Taman sari – Water castle

        • Like in Kraton, here you won’t find any descriptions in English, so you should make again “homework” or hire a local guide who will tell you everything.
        • Usually, the guides standing in front of the entry and suggesting their services. The price depends on how good you are in negotiation. Before taking a tour, agree clearly the amount of money that you will pay. Please don’t forget that salary in Indonesia is low and people try to earn money. Don’t negotiate the price too low, give a chance to them to earn for their work.
        • Taman Sari has 2 entrances. 1 is for free but you won’t see there anything just ruins, where youngsters like to date during the evening and 2 the main one (paid entrance). The free entrance you can recognize by the market in front, the main entrance has a big parking area in front.

Yogyakarta tour - Taman sari

Malioboro street, Beringharjo market, “ladyboys” performance

    • Malioboro street is the main street where you can buy souvenirs, batik clothes, see “ladyboys” (“waria”) in “Mirota Batik” performance, try street food, exchange money in good rates (in “Mulia money exchange”, inside “Garuda” hotel area).
    • If you want to see “ladyboys” performance and have better places to sit, come at least ~1 hours before (like many people go there). But don’t expect too much. By the time I was there, most of the songs were Indonesian and only Indonesian people understood the jokes. As well sometimes the separate performances not so quality (I think in Thailand they are much better but more expensive as well).

Malioboro st. during daytime

  • Malioboro street becomes like crazy in the evenings because many people hang out there, as well there are many hotels around. But more crowded and interesting there during some holidays. For example Chinese New Year, Javanese New Year and etc.
  • Even if common that in markets the prices should be cheaper but I found that buying batik in Beringharjo market is more expensive than in shops opposite this market. Probably because of the name (like its touristic attraction) they put higher prices. And not all batik is handmade, mostly made in a factory. In opposite shops, you can find as well the same variety of batik things and a bit cheaper.

Scammers

        • If you don’t take a local guide in Water castle, local people inside can just come by the way to you and start to tell some things about objects. You should know that later they will ask for money for that. So if you don’t want to have not nice situation – first say to a person that you don’t need his service or if you will decide that he can be useful, agree about the price before continuing the tour.
        • Many becak/object drivers near Water castle or Sultan palace will suggest you a drive from one place to another. But honestly, the distance between these objects is a maximum of 15 min. by walk. You can just have a walk or use their services, but again before the start, the trip agrees about the price. It can cost ~10 000 – 20 000 Rp depends if you will choose ojeck with motor or becak (pedicab).
        • Some scammers will say that they can lead you to secret entrances and etc. for extra money. But there are no secret entrances, only the main entrances.

Other Yogyakarta attractions

It’s just a couple of things that sometimes people choose to see, do or at least thinking about it.

Parangtritis beach

It’s ~ 1 hour from Yogyakarta city center. But honestly, it’s quite a dirty beach with grey sand and without the possibility to swim there. But most of the time sunsets there amazing. If you are an extreme lover, you can try sand-boarding (really fun, I tried) or paragliding there (if you have time).

A photo posted by I’m Ria – (@lifeinbigtent) on

I’m trying sand-boarding

Trekking in Merapi volcano

Most of the travelers trekking there during the night to see the sunrise. It’s possible to organize the trip by yourself but better take a tour – will be faster and easier (especially if you don’t have too much time). As well after sunrise some go to Kaliurang and have a lava jeep tour around the area. If you want to do all these things you will need an almost a whole day for it.

First colors of sunrise in back of mount Merapi

What else to do in Yogyakarta?

Try dishes from cobra meat

I have been in Kobra Imperial Kitchen (Jalan Hayam Wuruk 19, Yogyakarta). The place not fancy, very simple but they have quite a lot of different dishes from cobra meat, drinks as well as Chinese food. The price is good and the food delicious.

Try in Yogyakarta - cobra meat

Try your luck going between twin Beringin trees

It’s located at South alun-alun (Sultan’s square). People say if you can pass between these trees with closed eyes your wish will come true. I tried twice, but not succeeded. But I found on the internet some information about how works our brains about such kinds of walks.

Have a night drive around Alun-Alun selatan Kraton

It’s quite a busy place in the evenings, full of Indonesian people, street food vendors. You can have fun riding with a sparkling and loud music car.

Yogyakarta night drive

 

Yogyakarta attractions pinterest
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Of course, there are many more Yogyakarta attractions: Kota Gede (area of silver making), rafting in Elo or Progo rivers, Tugu Yogya, workshops of batik, silver, poetry, leather, beaches in Gunung Kidul and etc. Everything depends just on you, how much time you have and what is your interests.

In any case, if you are visiting Yogyakarta, check events, to attend them could be a quite an interesting experience.

 

Are you planning to visit Yogyakarta soon? Do you know what you would like to do there? Maybe have been here and would like to suggest your discovered Yogyakarta attractions?


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Disappearing and resurgent street art in Penang

Which destination comes first to your mind when you think about Malaysia? Probably Kuala Lumpur and Penang island? No? Something else? Then, great! :). Of course, there are more places to visit but my 2 mentioned are advertised most and more information you can find about it.  This time my outlook goes to street art in Penang island (how to get there).

One of the reasons why Penang became famous, is because George Town was included as a protected UNESCO heritage site in 2008. As well, lately, George Town streets were “decorated” by the interesting, unique murals. Some people think that street art in Penang ruins the heritage, others – that it’s the thing which attracts more people to come and also should be developed in the future. Like in the rest of the world – you can adore street art or hate it: D. So how is it? But maybe before answer, you should know how street art came to Penang streets.

In the very beginning

As written in timeout.com – Kuala Lumpur based art company, “Sculpture at Work” won the rights to the state government’s commissioned art challenge “Marking George Town: An Idea Competition for UNESCO World Heritage Site” in 2009. Sculpture’s creative director Tang Mun Kian knew this was the start of the largest art assignment in the state. “Marking George Town’s” brief was a matter of “we have this city, what can you do with it?.
“The streets of George Town were named after the trades, people, and events, which means every street has its own unique story. With the rising rental, many of the original inhabitants moved out and with them, the stories as well” Tang discovers. “So, the idea is to put the stories back into the city” he adds. Within the confines of their workshop, every single steel diorama was bent and shaped to bring stories and inspiration to life.

Even if some murals were made during 3 years period. The first step which made street art in Penang famous was the project “Mirrors George Town” for George Town Festival 2012. In this festival  Lithuanian young artist Ernest “ZACH” Zacharevic was invited to lead this project (and it seems it was the beginning of his international carrier). There are 6 murals made by him for this project (at least those who are named – hope he left more marks there that people still need to discover and be surprised:)). Truly, his 1st mural in “Love Lane” street was made in 2011, before he attended the project. It was a portrait of an Indian woman but people’s response wasn’t so positive back then. The rest of the 6 Zach murals were made already under the project. After it, even the BBC called him “Malaysia’s answer to Banksy”.

I’m happy that Ernest is making the Lithuanian name famous in the world (like I’m originally as well from Lithuania :)). Honestly, the first time I heard about Ernest when I saw the news in Lithuania, in 2012. It was a presentation of his works for street art in Penang. At that time I thought “Malaysia it’s so far”, so I just forgot it. Only coming to Penang and see some of his murals (first I didn’t know that it’s his works) I was really amazed by the concept, playful, colorful, and joyful murals. It made me smile and later become more interested in the authors,  it was time to remember Zach name again. And then I thought – “Wow – we (Lithuania) have really talented people”. Just somehow Lithuanians doesn’t know or forget talented people easily :( (in George Town festival 2014 participated and another Lithuanian artist – Antanas Dubra).

How street art in Penang looks now?

It’s growing! You can find murals, other works in the busy street markets, shops, and undiscovered corners of famous attractions to surprise you.
Without first works now in Penang you can see as well groups of projects (it just part of pictures):

  • “101 lost kittens” – exhibits of 12 cats, the work of a group of artists which calls themselves ASA (Artists for Stray Animals). It was created under George Town festival in 2013.
  • “Marking George Town” – it’s 52 iron structures abundance throughout George Town, and were actually commissioned by the Penang tourism board to provide a fun pictorial anecdote about the history of the street it is located on and is a rather fun way to learn a little bit about Penang’s heritage. As well was a “product” of the 2013 year festival.
  • 16 new murals “Urban exchange” made for the 2014 year festival out of Georg Town.
  • Others: There are many different street artworks besides those listed above, some by random artists and others commissioned by the local tenants. As well some of the works made under project aims, others just originate by not known people (I could describe like “illegal” once) :).

What are my discoveries of street art in Penang?

First, my idea was to go by the mapped route of murals (you can find printed maps in the Tourism information center, almost in all staying places) but then I changed my mind. I started the walk and discovered that I can see more just looking around. Here are some murals I saw and I couldn’t find information about them. I believe that when you will go to Penang, you already will find new pieces as well. I really liked how souvenir shops, cafes were trying to adapt to the street art concept and made something unique in front of their places.

Of course, I saw and the famous murals but not all :). Unfortunately, some of them already vanishing so you can pass by without seeing them. But if you see groups stopping somewhere – it can be a hint – that there is something to see :). So you need to hurry up if you want to see all murals from 2012. As well some the places even if the market in the map – not so easy to find – you need to go inside the yards, go to people living places.

 

TIPS:
  • You can make a street art tour by walking, renting a bicycle (rentals are easy to find, price ~15RM), or using local transport trishaw.
  • Tour better to start in the early morning, it’s not so hot and doesn’t forget to take with you water.
  • If you want to go by street art route according to the map – you can see all places within half of the day (if you like to walk fast or want to rent a bicycle). If you want to see more places, have just a relaxed walk – then 1-1,5 day for this can be enough.
  • Be curious and go inside small streets, turn to yards and everywhere where your eyes will see – then you can discover more.
  • If for you won’t be enough just street art – visit as well “Hin Bus Depot Art Centre”.
  • There are many places you can stay in Penang, we stayed in 75 Travellers Lodge, Central George Town. It’s a good location, cheap place (dormitory and private rooms).

So what do you think – should street art in Penang be allowed in such old parts of town or should be protected?

Honestly, I’m for street art that has a concept and coalesce with a surrounding. It gives more value, shows the history and modern art collaboration. But if it’s made just for fun, without an idea, made in a bad way and destroy heritage – then for sure no. Even in some parts of street art in Penang, I saw some “works” (probably made by youngsters) that didn’t have any charm at all.


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