For your Yangon spree, you’ll need cash (very few places take cards), high energy levels, and determination. Here goes:
Oddly, for the capital of a craft-skilled-paradise, it isn’t that easy to fill your suitcases in Yangon with things you want to take home. In fact, Kalinko was partly born out of an impulse to tweak the colour and function of the things made here to Western taste. However, with a bit of insider knowledge and determination there is some great shopping to be had.
The obvious start is bustling Bogyoke Market, which is bursting with fabrics, souvenirs, jewellery and more flip flops than a flip flop factory. But if you want something more special, head up to Augustine’s and delve through his treasure-trove. He’s been collecting antique lacquer, ceramics, silver, statues and scrolls for over 30 years, and can arrange shipment home to you if you buy too much to carry.
While you’re shipping things home, don’t miss Yangon Vintage. Clever Jess finds old colonial furniture and restores it to its former glory for a very reasonable price. You can visit by appointment, so send her a message and see if she’ll be in before you go.
If you’re a bookworm, roll up your sleeves and dive into New Vision Books on 37th Street, a second-hand book shop of dreams. With patience, you’ll find first edition Orwell, but even with 10 minutes you’ll find some of the prettiest book-covers out which look great in a frame.
For a more eccentric shopping experience, pick through the piles of broken glass at the cyclone-battered Nagar Glass Factory. Destroyed in by Cyclone Nagis in 2008, the bonkers owners lather you in mosquito spray before ushering you into the jungle to rummage. You’ll be astonished by what you find, from immaculate glass chess pieces and tumblers, to huge jugs and hurricane lamps.
To add to the thousands of photographs from your trip, you’ll find all sorts of things you want at Myanmar Deitta, a photography gallery with some knock-out pieces which you can roll up and frame at home.
And for something really special, and to make sure you empty your wallet before going home, seek out Mangosteen Mansion, hidden in the middle of leafy Golden Valley. This is the stunning home of Patrick Robert, a French interior designer and architect, where you can buy some of his gorgeous silver jugs and lacquer trays, and ogle at his magnificent house and gardens while you’re at it.
Saigon, by comparison, is a shopping breeze, but you’ll still need to dig deep for the good stuff. Don’t let the drive from Ton San Nhat airport into downtown put you off – beyond the plastic chairs stacked floor to ceiling, and racks of neon nylon pyjamas, Saigon is a treasure hunting paradise.
If it’s the Saigon of yesteryear you’re after, a mosey down “Antique Street” (Lê Công Kiều), is a tour through Vietnam’s recent history – boxes of old black and white photos collect dust among record sleeves from the swinging sixties and traditional blue and white ceramics – haggle hard and be wary of the liberal use of the word “antique”.
For a touch of the surreal head to Dan Sinh market, which is not only a DIY-er’s dream (nuts and bolts galore and all manner of spanner, saw and screwdriver), but also home to an army surplus store – pick up an authentic GI’s uniform, or a mess tin for your packed lunch.
Turning our credit cards to fashion, Saigon has long held out against the high street, and as such is home to a thriving community of young designers and makers. For a contemporary take on the traditional Ao Dai check out Thuy Design House, a veritable kaleidoscope of finery. Just down the road, Lam Boutique has been selling its brand of understated Saigon chic for over twenty years and is a go-to for women in the know in Vietnam. And if you fancy a more DIY approach, head to Toan Thinh on Ly Tu Trong, the silk supplier to the city’s designers. Spools of silk in a rainbow of colours line the walls and the sales girls will help you decipher your chiffon from your crepe de chine.
For a more contemporary take on Vietnamese homewares, head to District 2, and you’ll be tripping over stores selling locally produced ceramics, glassware and textiles, that will have you paying for extra luggage. Particular favourites are Amai and Sadec District, both on Xuan Thuy.
And finally, for the big ticket item that you will have to move mountains to get home but will be so glad you did – the Huy Cuong Antiques Emporium is a must-visit. In a warehouse tucked under the highway on the way into District 2 is a treasure-hunter’s nirvana. Ceramic elephants, Chinese medicine cabinets, noodle seller’s carts, shutters torn down from colonial piles, tiles taken up from palatial pads – it is almost impossible to walk out empty handed. And while the flight home might be a little uncomfortable, you’ll be thanking us for years to come. It’s those little treasures that make your home yours.
And if South-East Asia is a bit of a stretch any time soon, have a browse at our products. It’s as close as you’ll get to buying direct from the source, we’ve just done the hard work for you. Happy Shopping!