Try to Wear This Hat Backwards!

Our XO Tours ladies wearing their traditional Ao Dai and Non La (Vietnamese conical hat)..

Our XO Tours ladies wearing their traditional Ao Dai and Non La (Vietnamese conical hat).

Nothing portrays iconic Vietnamese fashion more than the long flowy dress and the conical hat, otherwise known as the Ao Dai and the Non La.  To many, it may just seem like a hat people wear in this part of the world, but the non la is more than just a functional headpiece – it’s a symbol of Vietnamese history, art and culture.  But how much do you really know about the conical hat?  In fact, many tourists see the hat worn everyday and even buy it as a souvenir, but as we said before, it’s more than just a hat! It’s a cultural symbol that you will see during your Vietnam trip. Let us tell you a bit about what the conical hat truly represents and enrich your cultural knowledge of Vietnam.

It is very easy to find Non La hat around Ho Chi Minh City

The Trong Dong Ngoc Lu drum with intricate carvings depicting characters wearing the conical hat.

The Trong Dong Ngoc Lu drum with intricate carvings depicting characters wearing the conical hat.

A Brief History

The exact origin of the non la is hard to pinpoint but legends and stories dating back thousands of years talk about the conical hat.  The hat is depicted as a drawing on two famous ancient relics, the Trong Dong Ngoc Lu (a drum with an intricate pattern carved onto it) and the Thap Dong Dao Thinh (a decorated bronze jar from the Dong Son people).  Both these relics are between 2500 to 3000 years old, indicating that the non la is at least that old, if not older.  What is for certain is that the hat has been an essential part of Vietnamese culture.  Farmers to labourers to ordinary men and women have been using it for utilitarian purposes and will continue to use it for many years to come.


What’s it for?

Vietnam is a sub-tropical country so it gets quite hot – upwards of 40 C in the summer!  The hat provides good protection from the sun and heat.  During the rainy season, the hat is a good shield for the rain.  Farmers often wear it when they are in the sun for extended periods of time.  But nowadays, it’s also a fashionable accessory and a great souvenir!

People aren't the only ones that wear the 'non la' in their everyday lives. :)

People aren’t the only ones that wear the ‘non la’ in their everyday lives. 🙂

How’s it Made

You may find the design very simple, but the construction is far from it.  Remarkably, all the conical hats in the world are hand made!  There is no machine dextrous enough to create this work of art.  The hat is made from two materials – bamboo and the leaves of palm trees.  The frame is made from 16 concentric rings (after much research, 16 has been found to be the magic number!) joined by perpendicular bars of bamboo.  The leaves are then sun-dried, ironed very strategically, and then precisely sewn and woven into the frame.  The needlework required to make the non la is also very intricate and takes years of experience, not to mention extreme patience and dextrous hands.  There are entire villages in the northern part of Vietnam where every person in the village is dedicated to the manufacturing of conical hats!

Workers in the Chuong village creating the hats by hand.

Workers in the Chuong village creating the hats by hand.

Regional Variations

As if the construction of the hat wasn’t complicated enough, hat makers have found ways to make it even more intricate.  Specific regions have their own way of making the hat unique.  For instance, the people from the Lai Chau region make their hats flatter than the regular non la.  In our opinion, the most beautiful variation of the non la comes from the Hue region.  Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam and is an incredibly romantic and artistic city.  It is the birthplace of many famous Vietnamese poets.  So it’s only fitting that there are verses of poetry inserted between the layers of leaves as a sunken design so the words are only visible in sunlight!

Beautiful 'non bai tho' with poetry and images imbedded within the leaf layers, visible only in sunlight.

Beautiful ‘non bai tho’ with poetry and images imbedded within the leaf layers, visible only in sunlight.

The conical hats in the Lai Chau region are a variation on the regular 'non la' shape.

The conical hats in the Lai Chau region are a variation on the regular ‘non la’ shape.











Some things you should definitely know…

  • The non la is a serious fashion statement on the runways.  Designs like Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton have used the conical hat in their shows!

    Many fashion designers have used the hat in Asian-inspired shows on the runway, and supermodel Kate Moss wore it in a magazine shoot!

    Many fashion designers have used the hat in Asian-inspired shows on the runway, and supermodel Kate Moss wore it in a magazine shoot!

  • The fashion trend has now trickled down to mainstream stores!  American Apparel sells the hats (paddy hats, as they call it) for only $15.99. 🙂

    Far away from Vietnam, ordinary people have taken up the trend!

    Far away from Vietnam, ordinary people have taken up the trend!

  • If you’re wondering how one would store such a unique shaped hat, you can purchase this beautiful case for it, which just happens to be 10 times the cost of the hat that goes in it!

    A beautiful leather hand crafted box to store your palm leaf hat!

    A beautiful leather hand crafted box to store your palm leaf hat!

  • Celebrities just love it!  Even Lady Gaga has invented a very unique interpretation of the conical hat. 🙂

    The one and only Lady Gaga recently wore the 'non la' during a public appearance, but of course she put her own spin on it.

    The one and only Lady Gaga recently wore the ‘non la’ during a public appearance, but of course she put her own spin on it.

This is another fun snapshot of Vietnamese culture brought to you by XO Tours, the most talked about motorbike tour company in the media! Or read more about Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

How to Spend One Day in Hoi An – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

Hoi An is one of the unique cities in Vietnam.  The Old Town portion of the city is a UNESCO heritage site and the old architecture is superbly preserved and displayed.  Hoi An is an extremely popular destination for tourists, but because of the high number of tourists here, it can be overwhelming.  Nevertheless, we recommend having one full day in Hoi An as it is definitely worth visiting.  As part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series, here is a guide on how to spend one day in Hoi An.

Besides Hoi An, we also have Custom Itineraries in Ho Chi Minh and Ha Noi so you can get the best out of your trip in Vietnam:
Things to do in Vietnam – How to spend 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City
Things to do in Vietnam – Custom Itineraries for 2 days in Ha Noi

how to spend one day in Hoi An

A Day with Custom Itineraries in Hoi An can be really fun!



  1. Tailor some clothes, bags or shoes
  2. See the countryside
  3. Go for a stroll and explore the Old town
  4. Enjoy the scenery
  5. Enjoy Hoi An’s regional cuisine
  6. Visit the Lantern Market and enjoy the Nightlight entertainment

1. Tailor some clothes, bags, or shoes

Custom tailoring is a huge industry in Hoi An

Hoi An Suit Shop

Custom tailoring is a huge industry in Hoi An.  Hoi An is home to more than 400 tailoring shops and thousands of tailors who are not only talented at making clothes but are skilled in making shoes and handbags as well!  Average turn around time for full suits is a day and about 4 hours for handbags or shoes!  If you are interested in getting custom made items, try to find a shop of your liking as early as possible during your visit.

Of course, the quality of the goods comes into question when the turnaround time is so quick.  The truth is that the opinion on this varies from person to person, item to item, and shop to shop.  Even shops with a solid reputation have been known to make sub-par products.  A lot of times, the key is to be completely clear on what you want and to communicate it effectively with the shop owners.  If you happen to be in Saigon before your visit to Hoi An, we recommend that you buy the fabric and materials in Saigon as the choices are more plentiful and usually of better quality.

Here are recommendations for where to go for custom-made items (these are places where we have had good luck, and as much as we want you to have the same positive custom tailoring experience as us, we cannot guarantee it)

Shoes, Handbags:  Friendly Shop Hoi An [1] (please find links in the footnote)

Shoes, Clothes, Jackets, Suits: Ms. Anh (093 570 5655).  She works independently and sometimes collaborates with different shop and stall owners.  Her tailoring knowledge and know-how are superb.  She will meet you at your hotel once you contact her.


2. See the countryside

Hoi An Country-side exploring

Hoi An Country-side exploring


The countryside and rural areas of Vietnam are simply stunning.  Visiting these areas gives you a glimpse of the romanticized vision of Vietnam – the rice fields, the conical hats, the quaint architecture, the friendly faces… As the cities have become more industrial and cosmopolitan, these rural areas have become more remote and harder to reach.  Fortunately for Hoi An, it is still quite small in size compared to other big cities in Vietnam so the countryside is more accessible.

There are several types of tours which take you to the countryside for sunrise or early morning glimpses of Vietnamese rural life.  This is also an opportunity for you to pursue some of your interests while traveling.  For instance, if you are fond of photography or of biking, there are tours that are catered specifically to your needs.  XO Tours offers a fantastic countryside motorbike tour called “Riding with the Nguyens”  that explores the areas around Cam Kim Island. On this tour, you’ll not only get to see areas of the countryside that are virtually untouched by tourism but also be given to interact with the local people in homes and places of work.



hoi an countryside

hoi an countryside


3. Go for a stroll and explore the Old Town

Once you return to the city after the tour, the afternoon is the perfect time of day to see some of the famous sights within Hoi An.  But first, before you set out on foot to discover the city, we recommend that you grab a Banh Mi sandwich to fuel you for the afternoon.  The Banh Mi sandwich in Hoi An is both famous and different from a sandwich that you will get in other parts of Vietnam.  The bread and fillings are unique to the region and is a great first insight into local cuisine.  We highly recommend Madam Khanh’s stand [2], who has been dubbed the Banh Mi Queen in Hoi An!

After you grab a quick bite, check out the famous bridges in Hoi An. Among 5 best Hoi An historical sites, The first is the historic Japanese covered bridge built by Japanese merchants when Hoi An was an important trading port.  The second famous bridge is simply a foot and motorbike (and whatever other vehicle fits) bridge that connects two parts of the downtown area.  The architecture of this bridge isn’t historically relevant but the way that the bridge is situated makes for a great photo-op!  If you are a museum enthusiast, you can visit any of four famous museums in the old town area.  Or, for a greater insight into the history of Hoi An, visit some of the Assembly Halls built by Chinese merchants.  You can buy a composite ticket that allows you entry into one bridge, one assembly hall, one old house, one museum and one other place of ‘intangible culture’.  All these sites are within the Old Town of Hoi An and are within walking distance from each other.


4. Enjoy the scenery

Hoi An is surrounded by a series of inlets and small channels and some residents of the town have capitalized on this by offering boat rides along these channels.  Although this may initially seem like a very touristy thing to do, it is actually one of the best ways to view the old colonial architecture from afar.  Many boat owners sit along the boulevard closest to the water and offer boat rides.  Feel free to ask several different boat owners to find the one who offers the best price.  Often times, their initial price will fall dramatically if they feel that you will take a boat ride with one of their competitors.

Beautiful Hoi An from above

Beautiful Hoi An from above

If boat rides don’t interest you, you can enjoy the scenery in a different way.  The ocean is not too far away from the main city so a 100,000 VND cab ride will get you to An Bang beach, one of the best beaches in Vietnam.  This particular beach was also named in CNN’s 100 Top Beaches [3] in the world so if you happen to be in Hoi An during the right time of the year, we recommend checking it out!


5. Enjoy Hoi An’s regional cuisine

As we mentioned earlier, the regional cuisine around Hoi An is unique, and we recommend that you take the opportunity to try it out.  Hoi An has an eclectic mix of restaurants and you will have plenty of dining options.  Look for Cao Lau on the menu, which is a noodle soup unlike pho and other noodle soups you will find in Vietnam.  Also be sure to try white rose dumplings, which are shrimp dumplings shaped with the translucent cover formed in the shape of a rose.

Though Hoi An has both famous and budget eateries where you can try these dishes and more, we recommend Streets Restaurant Cafe [4].  Not only is it a restaurant serving up delicious food, it is also a social enterprise that helps disadvantaged youth to develop new skills and solid work experience.

If you want to get off the beaten path and try some unique local dishes you won’t find in Hoi Ancient Town, you might consider taking a walking tour to enjoy the “Dinner with the Nguyens”.


6. Visit the Lantern Market and enjoy the nightly entertainment

After dark, the Old Town in Hoi An transforms into a mystical row of lights and lanterns.  In fact, Hoi An is a big centre for paper lantern manufacturers and merchants.  Every shop or establishment will have a few lanterns outside, but the real sight is the lantern market.  Here you’ll be able to see how these lanterns are made and will have a plethora of choices should you wish to take some home with you. Visit our footnote for the location of Lantern Market

After a stroll through the market, check out the outdoor traditional theatre.  You will have a chance to see Vietnamese folk dancers and musicians perform traditional pieces.  The theatre runs from 9 pm to 10 pm at a square on Nguyen Thai Hoc street.  It is completely free and open to the public so it’s interesting to see, even if it’s just for a few minutes as you pass by.  Before you retire to your hotel, be sure to light a candle box and set it in the water.  Many kids sit along the banks of the channel and offer candles to you – remember to make a wish!

Hoi An Lantern Market

Hoi An Lantern Market



[1] Friendly Shop Hoi An

[2] Madam Khanh’s stand,

[3] CNN’s 100 Top Beaches

[4] Streets Restaurant Cafe

[5] Location of Lantern Market

For more custom itineraries or Vietnam travel tips, check our XO Tours Blog frequently.



How to avoid getting sick while eating and traveling in Vietnam

How to avoid getting sick in Vietnam

How to avoid getting sick in Vietnam

One of the fastest ways to ruin a vacation is by falling sick!  As a traveller in a new country, it can be difficult to know what to eat, what to drink, and how to go about your activities while staying as healthy as possible.  Here are some great tips on how to stay healthy during your time in Vietnam.

Besides health, another headache for tourists are the various scams here. There are dangerous tours (thankfully there are safe food tours too), questionable places to eat, there are even people on the street who just want to charge you as much as they can. Travellers should know about these tourist scams and safety hazards before traveling to Vietnam.

Top tips to avoid getting sick in Vietnam:




Drinking Water

Bottled water.

As a traveler, water safety is a very serious issue.  Like many other countries, Vietnam has an underdeveloped water treatment infrastructure in place.  Contaminated water is a major source of illness so it’s very important to understand what you are getting into.

  • In Vietnam, avoid tap water as much as possible and only drink bottled water.  Generally, even locals will avoid tap water and will drink boiled or filtered water at home.  Bottled water is almost always available at any local restaurants and hotels.
  • If you want to drink something refreshing at a restaurant other than water, an alternative is iced tea (“tra da”, pronounced “cha da”), which is cold green tea with ice.  Since it is a tea, it has been steeped in boiling water and then cooled, thereby killing any critters that may make you sick.  Most locals will drink ‘tra da’ at restaurants over water simply because it’s safe, more refreshing than lukewarm water, and cheaper than anything bottled!

Iced tea.


  • As for the ice, use your judgment.  Yes, ice outside may not be safe because it may have been made with contaminated water.  However, many restaurants buy ice from companies rather than manufacture it themselves, in which case it is quite safe. Many people, both locals, and foreigners, are able to enjoy drinks with ice in them without consequence.

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Pho (Beef noodle soup).

Food-borne illness is also a major concern for travelers, so the meal you eat should be hot and completely cooked! Food restrictions  are easily satisfied.

  • Soup-like dishes are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cuisine so there are many opportunities to contract some sort of illness.  Make sure that the bowl of Pho that you order is piping hot!
  • Eat only cooked foods and steer away from raw meats.  Although many sushi restaurants will prepare the fish properly, it is not worth the risk if you are only here for a short time. You can try them in countries with higher standard of hygiene in Asia such as Japan, Korean, etc
  • Even eating salads and raw vegetables are not the best idea.  Adding raw herbs to your hot pho is usually fine but again, you will have to use your judgement.  Note that restaurants will flash boil the raw vegetables and herbs for you at your request.
  • Be cautious of fruit – eat fruits that have an inedible skin (i.e. bananas, oranges, watermelon, etc.) and avoid fruits like apples and sugar cane.


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Street Food

A lot of travelers ask about street food in Vietnam.  Is it safe to eat?  Will I get sick?  The answer is not so simple.  For instance, our XO Foodie Tour takes you to street stalls and open-air restaurants where the food quality and safety procedures have been thoroughly scrutinized and held to high standards.  Here are some things that may help make your decision when considering other street food stalls.

  • The turnover and volume at the street stall is an important consideration.  The more people who frequent a stall, the fresher the food will be.  A lot of these stalls do not have a means for refrigeration so they seldom prepare food ahead of time.  As an example, the stalls inside Ben Thanh market serve a very high volume of customers so a lot of their prepared food gets consumed on the day they make it.  That is not to say that you will avoid getting sick but the risk is less.

    The food stalls in Ben Thanh market sees hundreds of visitors a day so they tend to go through their food quite quickly in comparison to other food stalls around the city.

    The street-food stalls in Ben Thanh market see hundreds of visitors a day so they tend to go through their food quite quickly in comparison to other street-food stalls in other areas.

  • You can also observe the hygiene at the street stall you are considering.  In many cases, you can see your plate being made and if it’s not up to your standards, it is not worth the risk.
  • Be observant of the vessels they use.  If you see them wash the bowls or plates in tap water and they are still wet when putting your food in it, maybe this isn’t the street stall for you.  For this very reason, “banh mi” (Vietnamese sandwich) is one the safest street stall foods you can eat because there are no vessels or utensils involved!

A Banh Mi vendor.

  • If you really want to eat street-food during your time in Vietnam, reviews from other travelers may be a good source – if many people go to a particular establishment and none of them has become ill, you may get lucky as well!

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We’re very proud to offer our customers the safest insured-motorbike tour in Vietnam! 

Air Pollution
Ho Chi Minh City is not overly polluted but you can still feel the difference in air quality when compared to other cities around the world.  Protection against air pollution is a must when your body simply isn’t accustomed to it.

  • If you are spending a lot of time on a bike, you may want to don a mask to protect against dust and pollution.  This is useful if you are going to spend several hours on a bike on a regular basis such as long rides across the country.  For shorter bike rides like on any of the tours offered by XO Tours, you will be just fine without one.
  • Pollution and dust can also affect your eyes so definitely wear sunglasses or goggles on these long rides because your eyes can start to burn.

If you try to avoid air pollution, you can always escape for a day trip to the nature of Can Gio Mangrove – UNESCO Biosphere Reserves for some green and peaceful environment. Another option is to getting away to these beautiful beaches around Vietnam

Many motorbike riders in Vietnam wear masks to protect against dust and pollution.

Many motorbike riders in Vietnam wear masks to protect against dust and pollution.

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Tap Water

As trivial as it may sound, many people get concerned about how to brush their teeth and if tap water is safe for brushing.  As we discussed earlier, tap water may be contaminated so it is not safe to ingest.  Here are tips on how you can go out this everyday task and still stay safe.

  • If you are in Vietnam for a short time, it is not worth getting sick so we would recommend using bottled water to brush or no water at all to brush your teeth. If you are unsure how to say it: nước (is water in Vietnamese)
  • For extended stays, brushing your teeth with tap water is said to be a good way to get used to the local bacterial fauna.  Many tourists brush their teeth with tap water successfully without getting sick.  Again, this is only worth it if you will stay in Vietnam for a longer period of time.
  • You may also want to check at the front desk of where you are staying because many of the higher end hotels have an internal filtration system.  Keep in mind that the goal of this filtration is not to make the tap water safe for drinking but marginally better so that small tasks like brushing your teeth are hassle-free.

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Sun and Insects
With much of Asia being in a tropical climate, it is important to consider sun safety and insect protection.

  • The sun rays are very potent so please protect yourself with the use of a hat and strong sunscreen.

Vietnamese ladies cover their body to avoid sunlight.

  • As for insect-transmitted diseases, malaria and dengue fever are the two you should educate yourself about. In Vietnam, the prevalence of malaria is contained in rural areas but dengue fever is more common throughout the country.  Both are transmitted by mosquitos so an insect spray that contains DEET is a must!

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Stray Animals
One feature about Vietnam you may find different than other countries is the number of stray animals.  As you travel around, you’ll see dogs, cats, chickens and more.  An incredibly important point for you to be aware of is that Vietnam is not a rabies-free country.  Besides rabies, there are many diseases transmitted through animals.

  • Simply steer clear!
  • It is imperative that you do not touch or pet any of the stray animals, no matter how cute they are!

    Stray animals are commonly found out and about on the streets, but it is best to not pet them or come into contact with them.

    Stray animals are commonly found out and about on the streets, but it is best to not pet them or come into contact with them.

Want a worry-free tour? Our Friendly Vietnam Tour Guide will keep you safe on sound!

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MONEY TALKS – How to use Dollars, Vietnamese Dong, Credit and Debit Cards in Vietnam

One of the foremost things on every traveler’s mind is money at the destination.  Where to get it, how much to keep, how to exchange it, or how to pay for things are all questions that one must think about and understand before visiting a foreign country.  In Vietnam, and generally in the rest of Asia, cash is king, but a complicated one at that!  Before you arrive in Vietnam, take a few minutes to read through this information so that your Vietnamese trip goes without a hitch!

These are what we are going to show you:

How to Spend Your Vietnamese Dong?

500,000VND Note front

500,000VND Note back

500.000 VND = 21.95 USD l = 29.07 AUD (May 2018)

200,000VND Note front

200,000VND Note back

200.000 VND = 8.77 USD l = 11.59 AUD (May 2018)

100,000VND Note front

100,000VND Note back

100.000 VND = 4.38 USD l = 5.80 AUD (May 2018)

50,000VND Note front

50,000VND Note back

50.000 VND = 2.19 USD l = 2.90 AUD (May 2018)

20,000VND Note front

20,000VND Note back

20.000 VND = 0.88 USD l = 1.16 AUD (May 2018)

10,000VND Note front

10,000VND Note back

10.000 VND = 0.44 USD l = 0.58 AUD (May 2018)

Vietnam offers many opportunities to spend money, whether it be on shopping, travel or delicious food! You can pay for things in Vietnamese dong (VND), US dollars or by credit card.  Spending in VND is often the best way to go to ensure that you get the best price.  Be careful with the bills – even though all the denominations are different sizes and colours, it can still be hard to differentiate.  For instance, the 500,000 and 20,000 dong notes are both slightly varied shades of blue, and the 200,000 and 50,000 are shades of red. It is entirely plausible to confuse one for the other.  At the markets or local shops, make sure you carry small bills (less than 100,000) because they may not have change for you.  Many places also accept USD but you will usually not get a very good rate since the merchant can set their own term.

Several Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fee.

Some large stores, hotels and restaurants may accept credit cards but most of them will not!  Make sure you check beforehand.  Firstly, any establishment that allows credit card purchases will generally only accept Visa and MasterCard.  You may have some difficulty in finding places that accept American Express, Diners International or credit cards from other charge card companies.  You will most probably be charged a 2-3% transaction fee for credit card purchases.  On top of that, you may be charged an international transaction fee through your credit card bank or company, usually 3-5% of the purchase price.  If you are an avid traveller, it would help to save a lot if you have in your hand one of these card with no international fee.  The best ones are the Discover It Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or the American Express Platinum Card.

In many instances, paying by credit card may not be an available option or may not be cost-effective, but there are certain advantages to paying with a credit card.  The first is that Visa and MasterCard give you the best exchange rate of the week.  The exchange rate that they will give you will be better than what you will get for cash at the banks.  Another important consideration when paying for things with credit card is that there is often inherent insurance provided by either the charge card company (Visa/MasterCard) or your credit card company.  For large amount items such as hotels or flights, it may be beneficial to use your credit card, just in case there is a discrepancy or emergency.  Depending on your coverage, you can claim or dispute all sorts of things if you pay by credit card – hotel burglary, fraudulent transactions, insurance for jewelry purchases and more.  However, be very, very aware of the transaction fees and the associated costs, because the cost of using your credit card in Vietnam may not be justified.

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How to Exchange Money to Vietnamese Dong?

Although it is becoming more rare, the practice of exchanging USD at gold and jewelry shops is still prevalent in Vietnam. The exchange rate used to be significantly higher than banks and currency exchange booths but the difference is much smaller now.

Although it is becoming more rare, the practice of exchanging USD at gold and jewelry shops is still prevalent in Vietnam. The exchange rate used to be significantly higher than banks and currency-exchange booths but the difference is much smaller now.


If you come with some foreign cash, you can exchange it for VND at banks or currency exchange establishments.  You may get a slightly better rate of return at banks but you will always lose a little bit in the exchange.  The disadvantage of going to a bank to exchange money is that you need to show a passport for identification and you need to fill out a form first.  It can be a hassle when you want to do a quick exchange and then go.  Alternatively, at currency exchange booths you can exchange money instantly.  For USD and CAD, exchange money in increments of $100 to get the best exchange rate.  The currency exchange booths around tourist locations such as Ben Thanh market may charge a higher transaction fee so it is best to avoid them unless you are in a hurry.  Also please note that many exchange places will not accept old or torn bills.  Bring new and crisp bills in order to get the best exchange rate.  If you happen to have damaged bills that no one else will accept, simply go to a bank and exchange it for a new note for a nominal fee.

Another place to exchange USD to VND is at the many gold shops in Vietnam.  This practice is technically illegal but if you have lost or forgotten your passport, banks are not an option for you so you will have to exchange money at booths or gold shops.  It used to be the case that you would get a significantly good exchange rate at the shops than at other places but now the exchange rate is no longer that different.

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How to Obtain Vietnamese Dong from ATM?

ATMs are found throughout the city so you will be able to take out cash almost anywhere you are. But remember to check the rules beforehand so you know how much your credit card company and the ATM will charge you for the withdrawal. Keep in mind that Techcombank and HSBC bank machines allow the most amount of money to be withdrawn at one time.

ATMs are found throughout the city so you will be able to take out cash almost anywhere you are. But remember to check the rules beforehand so you know how much your credit card company and the ATM will charge you for the withdrawal. Keep in mind that Techcombank and HSBC bank machines allow the most amount of money to be withdrawn at one time.


To obtain more cash, you can always go to any of the ATMs around the city, but first you must know the rules of your bank and your debit or credit card.  There are many credit and debit cards that will charge a hefty fee for withdrawing cash overseas and it can get very expensive!  You will also have to find out what the transaction limit is per day for your card.  As for the ATM associated fees, the withdrawal fee is usually around 20,000 Dong (about $1 USD).  Some people have reported that DongA Bank ATMs do not charge a transaction fee but in our experience there is always a nominal fee.  That said, withdrawing from a credit card will cost you a lot because not only will you be charged for an international cash advance, that amount will start accruing interest immediately.  We recommend withdrawing funds through a debit card.

Most HSBC and TechCom ATMs allow a per transaction maximum withdrawal of 5 million to 6 million dong.  Other ATMs allow around 2 million dong.  For large withdrawals, the ATM will dispense 500,000 dong notes which you will then have to exchange for smaller bills for small purchases.  The ATMs around the city are generally safe but, just as anywhere else in the world, try to avoid ATMs in convenience stores and bars.


If you need really large sums of cash, Western Union is the best way to go.  It is less expensive and more hassle-free than bank wire transfers, and there are hundreds of locations within Ho Chi Minh City alone.  Depending on the amount, you may pay less in a Western Union transaction fee than on international cash advance fees through your bank or credit card.  Simply get a friend or family member to go to a Western Union branch back home and fill out the appropriate paperwork.  Be sure that the spelling of the name of the recipient matches exactly as it is shown on the passport – even one letter off is grounds for refusal.  Note that the money they send to you will be from their own account rather than yours, unless they have power of attorney or joint status for your account.

Remember that no matter what, be safe with the cash that you have.   Avoiding carrying large amounts of money and use a money belt if possible!

Hope you enjoyed another great travel tip brought to you by XO Tours, the most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam! 🙂

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The Ultimate Hanoi Shopping Guide – What to buy and where to buy it

We wrote a very popular article focused on Ho Chi Minh City shopping awhile back, and have since had many requests for a similar piece for shopping in Hanoi. Shopping posts are difficult to do, however, because there are so many unique things that you can buy in Vietnam that it’s impossible to include everything in a single article. We think this blog post offers a fairly comprehensive list of things that most people will want to buy while shopping in Hanoi however.

While shopping in Vietnam, please keep in mind that although many shops in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are starting to accept credit cards as payment, cash is usually the currency of choice in the rest of the country. This is a general rule though, as more and more shops are comfortable with cash-free payments; things like bitcoin are not yet legal currency in Vietnam however. If you’re uncertain, don’t be afraid to ask before you get into bargaining!

Shopping in Hanoi Guide

Shopping in Hanoi Guide

What to buy when shopping in Hanoi:

  1. Silk Goods, Clothing
  2. Lacquerware
  3. Do Paper
  4. Embroidery
  5. Souvenirs
  6. Products of the Ethnic Minorities
  7. Bamboo and Rattan
  8. Lacquer Paintings and Cloth Paintings
  9. Luxury Goods (Real and Fake)
  10. Housewares and Ceramics



1.Silk Goods, Clothing

Silk is everywhere in Hanoi. Scarves and sleeping bag liners are available at every tourist shop. Raw fabrics are rolled and stacked, waiting to be turned into a creation of your choosing. Finished dresses, men’s ties and Ao Dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, are so plentiful that shops have to display excess wares on the sidewalk.

Tailored clothes are another local specialty. Tailor shops will recreate designs from samples or pictures,and can make intricate dresses or high quality business suits in a matter of days. Check reviews online to determine a tailor’s quality, and be sure to leave enough time for multiple fittings and adjustments.

The best known area in Hanoi for silk is Hang Gai, aka “Silk Street”. Expect to pay 25-50 USD per outfit for dresses and ready to wear clothes. Be sure to drop into Khai Silk (96 Hang Gai) and Duc Loi (77 Hang Gai). Another option is the three-story Hang Da Market (1 Hang Da st). On the ground floor you will find flowers and wine; the upper levels contain fabrics and vintage clothes upstairs. Visit early and keep an eye out for Ao Dais and goods made from Do Paper.

For larger quantities or better deals on silk, cut out the middleman and take a trip out to the villages of Van Phuc or Ha Dong. Both of these villages produce silk and carry wide selections, and with skillful haggling a better deal can be gotten. Van Phuc is famous for silk sheets and is located in Ha Dong District, about 10 kilometers away from the centre of Hanoi. For other fabrics, try Ninh Hiep village.

Location of Hang Da Market

Hanoi Shopping1




High gloss tableware is one of Vietnam’s best known crafts, one that is recognizable to many people from around the world. Introduced to the world in 1930s Paris, Vietnamese lacquerware offers a better selection and is usually of a better quality than offerings from other Asian countries. Unfortunately, many low quality mass-manufactured offerings have flooded the market. If you have a discerning eye, try your luck browsing along Hang Trong, Hang Hom and Hang Manh streets. For a more curated selection, visit MARENA Hanoi (28 Nha Chung). Minh Tam (2 Hang Bong), a 10 year old family business, offers top quality lacquerware. To buy directly from the source, visit Ha Thai village.

Location of MARENA Hanoi

Location of Minh Tam

Hanoi Shopping2



3. Do Paper

Do paper, (pronouned yaw), comes from the bark of a wild river plant known as the Do tree. After a three month process, the bark is transformed into a durable, high quality paper. This paper is then turned into all manners of goods for you to enjoy. You can browse postcards, notebooks and stationary sets, all costing under $3, along Hang Gai or Hang Bac or check out at Craft-Link (43 Van Mieu). Another traditional craft to keep an eye open for is Dong Ho paintings, which celebrate the Lunar New Year. These woodblock prints on Do paper are made in the village of Dong Ho.

Location of Craft-Link



4. Embroidery

Northern Vietnam produces some stunning embroidered cottons and linens. From the patterns of the many ethnic minorities to the fine art quality work found framed and hung in galleries, beautiful embroidery can be found on any budget. A large selection can be found at Dong Xuan Market (Dong Xuan St and Hang Chieu St).

For better quality purchases, a trip to a specialty store may be in order. Tan My, the oldest embroidery shop in Hanoi, is located at 66 Hang Gai, but watch out for similarly named shops nearby. Once there, enjoy the plentiful selection of pillow cases, tablecloths, placemats, dresses and more. Everything in this shop has amazingly detailed designs, all of which are made 100% by hand.

Two more highly recommended shops are May (7 Nha Tho) for the a nicely displayed selection and Chi Vang (17 Trang Tien) for the unbeatable quality.

Location of Dong Xuan market

Location of Tan My



5. Souvenirs

Hanoi is full of interesting souvenirs; you are sure to find the right gift for everyone on your list, as well as something unexpected for yourself. For wooden puppets, paper lanterns and paper fans, wander the areas close to the Water Puppet Theatre (57b Dinh Tien Hoang). For t-shirts exalting Vietnamese traffic, milk coffee, and pho, browse along Ly Quoc Su st.

If you’re looking for something more unique, try out musical instruments at Thai Khue, (1A Hang Manh) or browse Communist Party propaganda posters at The Hanoi Gallery (several locations, try 17 Nha Chung).

Vietnam traditional conical hats make great gifts. If you need to purchase a few thousand of them, try Chuong village. Here you can also find the flat-topped hats, often with intricate embroidery, known as Non Quai Thao.

Location of Thai Khue

Location of The Hanoi Gallery

Propaganda art

Propaganda art



6. Products of the Ethnic Minorities

Vietnam has over fifty ethnic minority groups, more than any other Asian country. Most of them hail from mountain villages in the north. If you’re not making a trip to Sapa, you can still find some of the clothing and handicrafts of these industrious peoples for sale in Hanoi.

Browse the woodwork, lacquer paintings, ceramics, textiles, carved Buffalo horn goods as well as a selection of clothes, bags and scarves at Craft-Link (43 Van Mieu). This not for profit organization specializes in fair trade products of a better quality at comparable products. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, visit their second location, which carries a different selection of products.

For more crafts and home furnishings, as well as fair trade coffee, try Indigenous (36 Au Trieu) who donates profits to disadvantaged children.

Another not for profit organization, Mekong Quilts (13 Hang Bac) focuses on offering employment and developing the community through the making of quilts. Growing from selling quilts in her friends homes, owner Thanh Truong now employs over 340 women in the northern provinces.

Location of Craft-Link

Location of Mekong Quilts

Hanoi Shops

Hanoi Shops



7. Bamboo and Rattan

Bamboo and rattan are incredibly versatile materials. The multitude of things you can find fashioned from them is astounding. From tiny chopstick rests to intricately woven full size chairs, rice paper drying trays to three meter tall vases, seemingly anything can be fashioned out of these materials by skilled craftsmen. A good place to browse these offerings is Bamboo Shop (4b Hang Hanh). Bargain hunters are advised to look for bamboo shops along Quang Trung st, near Tran Nhan Trong st.

To see the craftsmen at work, take a trip to Bang So village, famous for bamboo work. Another option is a short 35-km trip from Hanoi to Phu Vinh, well known for crafting rattan products.

Location of Bamboo Shop

Hanoi Shopping

Hanoi Shopping



8. Lacquer Paintings and Cloth Paintings

As the traditional artisans and craftsmen left Hanoi, a void emerged and today that void is filled by fashion and artwork. Lacquer paintings bridge the two worlds, creating contemporary art with ancient techniques. Hanoi has no shortage of art galleries featuring the glossy, richly colored, beautifully layered lacquer paintings, as well as high quality cloth paintings by local artists. Stroll down Trang Tien st between Hanoi Opera House and Hoan Kiem Lake and you are sure to find a number of galleries worth peeking into. One gallery you should definitely visit is Thanh Binh Gallery (25 Trang Tien), well known for high end contemporary fine art.

If history’s greatest artists are more to your tastes, Hanoi has a number of painting shops that offer recreations of famous paintings by the masters. Many of these shops take requests and will work with you to create something specific.

Location of Thanh Binh Gallery

Hanoi Shopping

Hanoi Shopping



9. Luxury Goods (Real and Fake)

Do Manh Cuong is the most successful fashion designer to come out of Vietnam, and his Do Manh Cuong Boutique (88 Nguyen Huu Huan) is the best place to find his designs. After working for Christian Dior and Dominique Sirop in Paris, DMC returned to Vietnam, where he can be found judging on Project Runway and Vietnam’s Next Top Model.

High end fashions can also be found at Ipa Nima (73 Trang Thi, 2nd location on Nha Tho). Ipa Nima carries in house designed and made handbags from Hong Kong designer Chistina Yu, as well as Spanish designed fashions from Chula (6 Ven Ho Tay) if the latter’s West Lake location isn’t convenient.

Another can’t miss area in Hanoi for high end fashion is along Trang Tien st south of Hoan Kiem Lake. Be sure to check out Trang Tien Plaza, which has a large number of designer stores on the ground floor. Just watch out for locals taking wedding pictures on the sidewalk in this area. Speaking of weddings, if you’re preparing for the big day, check wedding fashions at David Minh Duc or Thu Huong, both on Yet Kieu street.

If your budget isn’t as high, there are an endless supply of fake North Face backpacks and clothing in Hanoi, mostly near Hoan Kiem Lake. Be sure to pull on the seams and slide the zippers before buying though.

Location of DMC Boutique

Location of Ipa-Nema

Hanoi Shopping

Hanoi Shopping



10. Housewares and Ceramics

Hanoi is full of interesting, high quality home decorations available at low prices. Check out Vietnamese House (192 Hang Bac) for a nice selection of stone carved vases and boxes. For birdcages, some with birds in them, find the small shop at the intersection of Hang Da and Hang Dieu.

Mosaique Decoration (6 Ly Quoc Su) has three floors of home furnishings, from trinkets to bedroom furniture. Nearby La Casa (2 Ngo Bao Khanh) also carries beautiful locally made furniture from Italian designers.

For a better selection of ceramics, take a trip to Bat Trang village. You can easily explore it on your own, as it is located just outside the urban districts and can be accessed by a taxi or bus (number 47 from the Long Bien bus station). It is a small village with endless shops. The prices are much more reasonable compared to those in the city.

Location of Vietnamese House

Location of Mosaique

Here are a few other things to round out your shopping trip:


Shoe lovers will find paradise just off the east side of Hoan Kiem Lake, listed under the name Hang Dau st. This street is nothing but shoes and sandals, many direct from the factory with minor imperfections equalling large discounts. Fake luxury brand handbags can be found at the intersection with Lo Su street.

Location of Hang Dau

Jewelry and Silver:

Hang Bac, which translates to Silver St, is a dazzling maze of silver of all shapes and forms: from plain, simple rings and necklaces, stylish teapots, beautiful décor plates; to worshipping articles, such as incense holders and the four sacred animals. Silver is considered a powerful element to drive away evil spirits in Vietnam, so it’s no surprise that the silver industry prospers so much.

For a finer selection, visit Phuc Tin (Hang Gai Street), a high quality silversmith with traditional Vietnamese jewelry.

Location of Phuc Tin


Bookworm (44 Chau Long) is the best place in Hanoi to refill on reading material before a long flight or bus trip. This decade-old English language bookstore is located near Truc Bac lake.

Location of Bookworm




O Mai and Banh Com are special treats commonly offered by Hanoians to their guests during the Tet holidays.

O Mai was originally used as a remedy for sore throats in Vietnamese traditional medicine. It is made from dried apricots, seasoned with salt, sugar, ginger, chili and licorice, which gives it a nice mixture of many flavors. Nowadays, O Mai is not only a favorite treat for the Hanoian, but also a best-seller souvenir for any Vietnamese tourist visiting Hanoi. Aside from apricots, many other fruits are now used to make O Mai as well.

Banh Com is another variety of glutinous rice products. Banh Com has a soft and chewy texture, with light sweetness and a hint of the trademark “cốm” fragrance. Banh Com is normally made without any preservatives, so eat it within 5 days after purchase.

Shops selling these treats are found mainly on the Hang Duong Street (Street of Sweets/Candies). Some of the older and more prestigious shops are Hong Lam (11 Hang Duong Street), Toan Thinh (15 Hang Duong), Van Loi (34 Hang Da).

Location of Hong Lam

vietnamese traditional snacks

vietnamese traditional snacks



A guide to the Old Quarter:

For tourists of all ages, Hanoi’s Old Quarter can provide a fascinating look into the culture and history of Vietnam, making it a can’t miss destination even if you don’t plan on buying anything. For shopaholics and souvenir seekers, however, this is one of the best area to wander, browse and haggle. Famously known as the 36 streets, this neighborhood’s roads are named for the guilds that use to occupy them. This is something unique about Ha Noi old quarter that you can never find it somewhere else. Even when you visit Hoi An Ancient Town. In Ho Chi Minh city, you will have to go to Binh Tay Market in Chinatown to find this structure.

Villagers in Vietnam’s small towns ofter produced one thing per village. When craftsman and merchants moved from these villages to Hanoi, they would end up living on the same street, selling the same products. Eventually, the streets of Hanoi’s old quarter came to be known for the guilds occupying each street. Salt, sugar, copper, and tin were all more than items on a shopping list, they were locations for where to find these items. Today, some of these streets retain the products of their ancient guild. Some of them have evolved to sell similar products, and some have no relationship to the past, but nearly all retain their ancient names.

The following is a list of streets in the Ancient Quarter. In italics is the guild or product this street used to be known for. Following that is what is currently sold on that street, if a common theme exists. Streets marked “Same Same” still carry the goods they were named for.

Bat Dan / Wooden Bowls

Bat Su / China Bowls

Cha Ca / Roasted Fish / Same Same (Cha Ca La Vong is world famous)

Chan Cam / String Instruments

Cho Gao / Rice Market

Gia Ngu / Fisherman / Underwear, Socks, Scarves (Asian Sizes)

Hai Tuong / Sandals

Hang Bac / Silversmiths / Same Same

Hang Be / Rafts

Hang Bo / Basket

Hang Bong / Cotton

Hang Buom / Sails

Hang Bun / Vermicelli

Hang But / Brushes

Hang Ca / Fish

Hang Can / Scales

Hang Chai / Bottles

Hang Chi / Threads

Hang Chieu / Mats

Hang Chinh / Jars

Hang Cot / Bamboo Latices

Hang Da / Leather / Produce Market

Hang Dao / (Silk) Dyer / Ready Made Clothes

Hang Dau / Beans, Oil Extracts / Shoes and sandals

Hang Dieu / Pipes

Hang Dong / Copper

Hang Duong / Sugar / Jam and Candied Fruits

Hang Ga / Chicken / Same Same

Hang Gai / Hemp / Clothes, Scarves, Handbags

Hang Giay / Paper & Shoes / Candles, Incense, Famous Beef Jerky

Hang Hanh / Onions

Hang Hom / Cases

Hang Huong / Incense

Hang Khay / Trays

Hang Khoai / Sweet Potato

Hang Luoc / Comb

Hang Ma / Counterfeit Papers / Votive Paper Products

Hang Mam / Pickled Fish / Tombstones

Hang Manh / Bamboo-screens / Traditional Musical Instruments, Cushions

Hang Muoi / Salt

Hang Ngang / Transversal Street / Textiles

Hang Non / Conical Hats

Hang Phen / Alum

Hang Quat / Fans / Funeral and Festival Flags, Religious Paraphernalia

Hang Ruoi / Clam Worms

Hang Than / Charcoal

Hang Thiec / Tin / Sheet Metal, Mirrors

Hang Thung / Barrel

Hang Tre / Bamboo

Hang Trong / Drum

Hang Vai / Cloth

Lang Ong / Herbs and Spices / Same Same

Luong Van Can / Children’s Toys / Same Same

Lo Ren / Blacksmiths / Same Same

Lo Su / Coffins

Ma May / Rattan / Tours, Hostels, White People

Ngo Gach / Bricks

Thuoc Bac / Herbal Medicine / Same Same

To Thinh / Wood Turners Street / Same Same


We hope you found this post about shopping in Hanoi helpful. For more great Vietnam travel tips, please check back with us often.

If you need help shopping in Ho Chi Minh City, please consider booking our famous Vietnam Tours! XO Tours is an all female scooter tour company and our famous “Foodie” tour was recently named 1 of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine! You can contact XO Tours by visiting our homepage at: