I recently visited our old home in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. I was reminded of what a fantastic place for makers to be in; I totally took it for granted when we lived there.
I thought a much overdue shopping guide would be a suitable resource for sewing travellers.
Firstly some background on what you will find there. Vietnam is a sportswear manufacturing powerhouse. The textiles produced in Vietnam are mainly for this industry. Apart from traditional textiles and locally woven silks, Vietnam doesn't produce a lot of woven fashion fabrics, unlike China, Japan, Korea and India, where you find abundant local materials.
Vietnam, however, manufactures a lot of clothing and imports a considerable amount of textiles. What you will find at the market is a mixed bag. Some are for wholesale or retail or will be factory overrun. The latter is often the better quality.
In the two years since moving away from Vietnam, I found the dead stock treasures were a bit harder to find, and the linen supply was of a lower quality than before Covid. A few of my favourite stalls were either gone or moved. I'm guessing the economy has shifted, and you can see how that reflects in trade at the market. Not that it's not worth going; it absolutely is.
The three main markets I'd suggest going to are;
Tân Bình - the wholesale market in District 9
Chợ Tân Bình Lý Thường Kiệt
Phường 8, Tân Bình, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Not to be confused with the market Ben Thanh (that is a tourist market personally I'd avoid, but some love it)
It's a hike, and if you're not planning on buying 10 + meters, I suggest just going to Tan Dinh Market (see below).
Streets of little textile and trim stores surround the main market square. These stores are filled with treasures. It is a wholesale market area, so the expectation is that you will buy larger quantities or bags of buttons. Prices are cheaper, and the fabric is presented on a roll, but usually, there's a swatch display—shoes off inside the stores. The market building itself isn't so great.
You will find a lot of printed cotton of pretty good quality, heaps of linen, embroidery anglaise, and some stores dedicated to factory overruns or Korean textiles. Look out for signs saying 'Han Quoc'; this is Korean in Vietnamese, and the quality is often excellent. You will find buttons, threads and trims here too.
Chợ Đại Quang Minh - Trims Market in District 5.
31,33,35 Đ. Châu Văn Liêm, Phường 14, Quận 5, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
This is my favourite market stop. A lot of the product is pre-packed and presented in a way where buying wholesale quantity is preferred. On my last visit here, I stocked up on interfacing in different weights and buckram; I bought bulk packs of threads: buttons, press studs and the tools to apply them. You can find bulk pins, chalk, rulers, beads, ropes lace, lingerie trims, zips, yarn and embroidered patches. It's just dazzling and inspiring.
This market is in Cholon, an area with many streets dedicated to particular products. There is also Soái kình lâm market nearby, another fabric market I went to once and was underwhelmed, but it could have changed, or I was overcooked from having been at the trims market prior. The area is pretty interesting to explore. 'Lantern Street' nearby comes to life pre-Tet Vietnamese NY.
Chợ Tân Định - Market in District 3 near the Pink church.
336 Hai Bà Trưng, Phường Tân Định, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
This is a local Market with a considerable textile section. It's a lot easier to access and has a lot to choose from. The fabrics are folded, and you can see the edge. Some stall holders are excellent and will pull anything out for you to inspect, some less so. There is a lot of gold in those piles. The stall holders usually hold 3-10 metres of each fabric. The prices are higher than the wholesale market. Each stall usually has its specialty, printed cotton, linen, knits etc. The trims and tools are unremarkable, and the market can smell like an open-air butcher. It is closer to District 1 and near The Pink Church, worth seeing.
Silk is a big deal in Vietnam
I really recommend visiting Vietnam Silk House it's a mix of fabric and Vietnamese design also near Tân Định Market. and the Bao Loc silk showroom has some stunning silk too.
- Make a loose plan before you go what you want and how much you can carry back home as the overwhelm is real once you're there.
- Firstly Check your luggage allowance! and the cost of adding extra if you need to. You will get between 5-10 meters of fabric per 1 kilo.
- Expect to pay between 70,000 - 150,000 Dong per meter for cotton and linens and 300,000 to 800,000+ Dong for silk or anything really special.
- You can also post internationally using the local postal system or DHL stores. The Saigon Central Post Office is a tourist attraction, so that you can double duty on that. International shipping is expensive. It's usually the same to bump up your baggage allowance. The Vietnam Post website could be more helpful; if you want to get a postal price go in but skip lunchtime, it's shut.
- If you need more suitcases or the weight must be distributed according to airline requirements, pick up a box and some packing tape. There's no shame in travelling with a makeshift case.
- Get lots of cash out! Most ATMs will only allow you to take out 3 million Dong (approx USD 125) at once, so you might need to withdraw several times depending on how much you plan to buy.
- Book a car for 4-6 hours with a driver. Grab is an app like Uber. It has the option to book a car for an extended period. This way, you can drop your shopping off in the car and keep going if it gets too heavy. Bear in mind the heat makes everything more challenging, and the retreat of an air-conned vehicle will be worth it.
- Get the driver's phone number as backup and plan to be picked up from the exact location you were dropped off at. They can't usually park and wait for you. It's just too congested.
- Make sure you're hydrated and have been to the toilet before you go; public toilets aren't a thing. You can aim for a lunch stop at a cafe afterwards.
- Lunch is pretty adhered to in Vietnam, so skip going over lunchtime or take a lunch break like everyone else.
- Take any swatches or photos of products or tools to show stall holders. Most people are happy to direct you to what you want.
- Fabric descriptions are loose. "Silk" can be silk-looking, "cotton" a blended fabric etc. I have taken a lighter to do burn tests, but always ask and do it outside. I thought I could feel a polytextile content without failure, but the humidity made everything feel a bit greasy, and I made some mistakes.
- Make sure you have a few operational cash cards. Some ATMS spit the dummy, and some credit card companies will see unusual transactions and block your cards - even when you've registered that you're travelling, it's super annoying.
- Don't leave your card behind in a machine. Some will give cash first.
- Get a Mobifone sim card on arrival. You will need your passport. It takes about 20 mins to set up. I do recommend Mobiphone over others for connectivity and customer service. They have stores in D1 and D2 HCMC.
- Download the Grab app and set up the app after you have your sim set up.
- What's App is often used, set it up and keep your home number the operational number after you've inserted the Mobiphone sim.
- I'll always choose to stay in Thao Dien, District 2 in HCMC. We lived there. It's easier to get around, and there are heaps to do. You can get a car into D1 to do the touristy things pretty fast. Dining and street life are super vibrant in Thao Dien. There are a lot of boutique stays, resorts and Airbnb's.
- Google Translate is super helpful.
- Facebook is used a bit like a search engine/business directory. If you are hunting for something local, try searching in Vietnamese.
- While there, follow the local area hashtags on Instagram for events and pop-ups.
Travel Inspo- Gemma Cagnacci - just gorgeous.
Local artist - Psyche
Dining - Clay Saigon
Coffee - Bins in Thao Dien