Shopping in Hoi An – A Complete Guide to Vietnam’s Shopping Capital
Hoi An directly translates to ‘peaceful meeting place’, a name emblematic of the city’s history as a trading port and fitting for its current reputation as a tourist mecca. Today, shopping in Hoi An is a big reason why tourists continue to flock here in droves.
The city is a shopper’s delight with a wealth of high-class merchandise here for the taking. Whether it’s arts, crafts, clothing, shoes, bags, or any number of other items, you won’t have to look far for treasures to take away. Shopping in Hoi An has many facets but it’s best known these days for high-quality leather, tailoring, lanterns, and silk, all of which can be traced back centuries.
Hoi An and the Silk Road
From the 16th to 18th Centuries, during the years of the Maritime Silk Route, Hoi An was a bustling port welcoming people from all around the world. So bustling in fact, it became known as the centre of the legendary Silk Road. Visitors came from China, Japan, Europe, and even the Arabian Peninsula, brought products to trade, leaving their stamp on the city.
Over time, Hoi An has become a blend of countless cultures, bearing both indigenous and foreign influences. It shows in the architecture, the skill of the craftsmen and women, and even the lanterns dancing across the Hoi An skyline.
By the late 18th Century, though, the trade route tempered. Turmoil in Vietnam kept visitors at bay for several years. But eventually, when tourism picked back up, Hoi An held on to its reputation as the place to buy. In 1999, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and now it is full of tourists. Evenings in the Old Town teem with tourists dazzled by its preserved ancient history, and eager to take a piece home. Most are seeking more than just souvenirs: looking instead for quality merchandise.
Leather Shopping in Hoi An
Leather has been popular since 3000 BC when the Romans used it for boat sails, weapons, and even body armour. In Hoi An, it’s a trade that endures.
Hoi An first got its reputation as a leather provider in the Middle Ages during the days of the Maritime Silk Road that brought goods of all kinds in and out of the city’s bustling port. Over time, Vietnam’s leather production grew steadily and in the 1980s the world shifted from Europe to Asia for its leather. Now Vietnam is the fourth largest leather manufacturer in the world, behind China, India, and Brazil. Most of those products, however, are made in factories, automated by machines—not in Hoi An.
Hidden Hint: Ask for the lighter test. Genuine leather doesn’t burn. If your vendor will hold a lighter against the leather to prove the best quality, that’s a sure sign it’s authentic.
Watch Your Custom Leather Garment Being Made
While folks around the world might be wearing genuine Vietnamese leather and not even know it, Hoi An’s visitors have the opportunity to not only custom order leather products, but watch them being made. At a fraction of the price than they would be elsewhere. The city’s leather-making is as hands-on as it’s ever been, with custom made shoes, bags, clothing, and more. All you need is a picture or two, and leather makers will design, cut, sew, and forge it by hand in a matter of hours or days. It’s one of the joys of shopping in Hoi An.
For details on leather making in Hoi An, where to go and what to look out for, click here.
Best Hidden Gem Leather Shop in Hoi An - Hoan An (Quy)
Address: Shop 12, Hoi An Market – Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Leather making has been in Quy’s family for years. Her brother makes the shoes while Quy and her sister work the market. Hidden described their design ideas; we’ve brought photos, descriptions, and even an existing shoe for matching. All three of which Quy (pronounced ‘we’) inspects and then writes in her notebook.
Hidden Hint: Ask for reinforced stitching. While Quy’s shop automatically did this after the first fitting, many don’t include it in the price.
Quy’s brother makes two sandal variations and a suede pair of high top sneakers that are fabulously unique. But it’s Quy who personifies the shoe shopping experience. She’s energetic and friendly, repeating Hoi An’s favourite phrase throughout our meeting: “Why not?” Indeed, why not? Prices at Quy’s leather shop range from 276,000 VND (12 USD) for a pair of sandals with a leather base and cloth straps, to 1,449,000 VND (63 USD) for custom made high top sneakers. Easily 20% less than higher-end leather shops without sacrificing quality.
Hoi An Tailoring
Like its leather-making, Hoi An’s tailoring history also dates back to the Silk Road. During the war, though, few travellers came through Vietnam and tailors remained small, family-owned businesses–albeit stretching back generations–with a modest customer base.
Even in the 1990s and 2000s when tourism picked up, Hoi An’s tailors remained relatively underutilised. People tended to visit only once and tailors saw few return customers. Clothing costs have always been a bargain in Hoi An, offering customers much lower prices than they’d find in Western countries, but tailor quality varied drastically. Even if a tourist found a hidden gem, there was little opportunity to get the word out. It was the Internet that changed everything, and fast.
Not only could customers peruse online catalogues for their specific preferences, but they could also review their favourite (and not-so-favourite) tailors online. This upped the ante amongst tailors and many stepped up to the competition, bringing in heftier equipment and more manpower to meet the increasing demand.
Hidden Hint: If you can dream it, Hoi An tailors can make it. But when communicating designs be specific, and talk slowly. Accompanying your idea with a picture helps avoid potential misinterpretation.
Hoi An the International Tailoring Shopping Destination
Now, Hoi An is a tailoring mecca that competes with Hong Kong and Bangkok as tailor destinations. Many come for wedding attire, tuxedos and suits, silk gowns, while others get everyday sundresses or jumpsuits. Breeze into any shop with as little as an idea of your desired garment (or as much as an exact copy) and walkout two days later with the garment itself custom made just for you. A tailor is easy to find, you can’t go a block without passing a shop. However, for the best results, do your research on the best tailors in town before you hit the streets. Along with our Hidden Gem recommendation below, read about our experience of making a custom Ao Dai (traditional Vietnamese dress) with Bebe Tailor.
To find out more about shopping at Hoi An’s local tailors, including what to expect and what to look out for, you’ll find it and more here.
Best Hidden Gem Tailor in Hoi An - Da Phuong
Address: Shop 50, Hoi An Market – Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
With countless fabric options—silk, cotton, denim and more—in endless prints, the cloth market is well equipped for all your tailoring needs, if you can bear the heat. The tailor shops in the market work together. So if you don’t see a fabric you like, they’ll walk you to the stall next door to comb through their selection, adding up to an abundance of fabric that should get your imagination churning.
After scouring TripAdvisor for the best of the cloth market, we landed on Da Phuong because they had over 350 reviews and five stars. There were four women working when we arrived, ducking from the scorching heat to stand beneath stall 50’s two ceiling fans. We were greeted immediately with bottles of water and smiling faces.
What set stall 50 apart from others was their customer service. The ladies there patiently took us through catalogues and followed our online whims. When it came time for fittings, they took in armpits and shortened length happily, note we didn’t see in other shops visited in the cloth market who once the garment was made seemed to discourage alterations. The ladies at Da Phuong are also extremely proud of their work; one later made her daughter an exact replica of the denim dress she tailored for us!
Hoi An Lanterns
The lanterns that paint Hoi An’s skyline aren’t just for decoration.
There’s a wealth of history behind them dating back to the 16th Century when Japanese settlers brought them over. At first, they were just for practical use, lighting up porches around the Old Town, but their beauty soon became a staple in the area. It wasn’t long before locals were hanging lanterns in front of homes and restaurants too.
Lanterns have become so celebrated in Hoi An that in the late 1990s the city declared the 14th day of each lunar month a lantern festival (also known as the Full Moon Festival). On this night, lights in houses and businesses are replaced with more decadent, hand-crafted lanterns made of vibrantly coloured silk and the city is ablaze with colour.
The Development of Hoi An’s Lanterns
The style of Hoi An’s lanterns has changed over time. Those the Japanese brought over were influenced by Chinese designs some 500 years earlier. Then Hoi An locals adapted them even further until Vietnamese lanterns became a thing of their own. Lantern designs have a spiral structure, wrapped in fine Vietnamese silk, or sometimes cotton. In Japanese traditions, their colours symbolised a special meaning. So over the years, the Vietnamese adopted their own colour scheme, too. Yellow for prosperity and happiness, red, luck and love, while white symbolises purity, or sometimes death, and so on.
Hidden Hint: Perfectly circular lanterns are Chinese designs. The a-symmetrical ones that look like bells, large on top with a smaller base, are the more traditional Vietnamese style.
Today, shopping in Hoi An for your very own lantern is easier than ever. With collapsible lightweight bamboo frames, lanterns slide easily into luggage. Their costs are small too, ranging between 100,000 to 500,000 VND (4 to 22 USD). Choose from coloured kinds of cotton, painted styles, or the sensational silk ones that twinkle from countless shops in the Old Town.
Best Hidden Gem Lantern Shop in Hoi An - Handmade Lantern Shop Hong Van
Address: 10/22 Bach Dang Street – Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (no classes after 4 p.m.)
Van is 34 and she’s been making lanterns for 15 years. Sitting on a stool beside her wall of colourful glowing lanterns, a string of ready-to-make-lanterns at her feet, Van describes her lantern making workshop. It’s a 45-minute class where customers make their own lanterns, but it’s easy to see that the joy of the class is also in spending time with her. “For me too!” Van says, laughing. She learned English from working in the market and she appreciates when her customers teach her new words.
Van’s handmade lantern shop is tucked around the back of Hoi An’s cloth market between a banana clothing shop and a jewellery store. A small hand-painted silk lantern from Van costs around 100,000 VND (4.35 USD) while the medium-larger sized lanterns are from 200,000 VND (8.70 USD) to 300,000 VND (13 USD), depending on the material. The workshop is 100,000 VND (4.35 USD), and participants walk away with a small cotton lantern. Although she likes all lantern designs, the cotton painted bells are Van’s favourite. “Better for the light,” she says, holding one up and beaming back at it.
Hoi An Silk
Shopping in Hoi An today is incomplete without taking home some silk. While plentiful and pretty, it too has a long and colourful history.
Silk also became one of the city’s top commodities from the 16th to 18th Centuries. Then, Hoi An was a hub for quality silk, and producers made it in the most organic manner possible—farmed directly from the silkworms themselves. Production took place in the nearby Silk Village, and silk harvested from a specific species of silkworms, the Bombyx mori. The Bombyx mori is the caterpillar of a domesticated silkmoth and the most popular used in the production of gossamer material. Commercial silkworms come in two varieties, white and yellow. This determines the colour of the silk cocoon, and consequently the colour of the thread.
Hidden Hint: Test silk quality by rubbing the material for sound and warmth. Real silk sounds like walking on fresh snow, and if it gets warm, that’s a good sign!
The Hoi An Silk Village
Due to local competition and mechanisation, though, silkworm caterpillars are no longer used when producing Vietnamese silk. Their history is still an interesting part of Vietnam’s culture. You can see it in action at the Silk Village just a kilometre from the Old Town where silk production is uniquely preserved. The Silk Village was once home to dozens of craftsmen and women who worked in the production, manufacturing and weaving of silk solely using silkworms. But production became unprofitable almost 100 years ago, and now the village is more like a working museum. A visit expands your silk knowledge by feeling original silk threads spun directly from the cocoons. You see the notable difference between pure silk and fake silk fabric which is key when you are considering a purchase.
Even without the worms, silk remains a hot commodity in Hoi An, and there is no shortage of stores offering customers fine silk at great prices.
Best Hidden Gem Silk Shop in Hoi An - Metiseko Boutique
Website – Address: 140 Tran Phu Street – Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Most are familiar with silk’s virtues: it’s lightweight, elegant, fashionable, and, well, not cheap. What Metiseko sells is all that, plus a story and a memory.
Next to the plaza commemorating Polish architect and monument conservationist Kazimierz Kwiatkowski, among the mustard coloured walls and enticing shop fronts in Old Town, Metiseko is a calming, living tribute to Vietnam. Its eco-friendly, sustainable silk products are hand-printed from silk originating in Bảo Lộc, near Dalat. Manager Oceane Batallion notes, the products are all 100% natural silk, not mixed with other fabrics like cotton or polyester diluting the quality.
Metiseko’s women’s’ clothing and accessories (sorry guys, you have to shop at Metiseko’s Organic Cotton store next door) includes dresses, scarves, blouses, earrings, and even cushion covers and quilts. Many come in unique styles and prints such as maxi dresses which tell the stories of going to a temple and lotus flowers blooming. Scarves cost 1.69m VND (72 USD), blouses from 2.50m VND (107 USD), and maxi dresses from 5.90m VND (253 USD).
Metiseko, Batallion says, prides itself on providing a complete shopping experience and a memory of your stay in Vietnam; not just selling a product. The shop’s two-level design is inviting with a polished interior, music, and soothing courtyard complete with fountains and seating where you can relax with a beverage from the in-store coffee shop.
Shopping in Hoi An is one of the many pleasures of visiting If you’re looking to take home more than just a cheap souvenir, there are quality, locally made products that with a little care will last for years. Hoi An’s tailors and leather, lantern, and silk vendors are proud of their work that in many cases has been passed down through generations. While technology may have changed over the years, the quality of their workmanship has not. If you’re after inexpensive, low quality, mass-produced products, then Hoi An probably isn’t for you. If, however, the thought of owning beautiful hand-crafted items that reflect the individual skills, traditions, and ambitions of their makers, welcome.