Dana Filek-Gibson scours the city for Saigon’s best Christmas gifts. Photos by Vinh Dao.
By the time this magazine makes it into your hands, the vocal stylings of Mariah Carey will have become a daily presence in your life. Safari animals festooned in mistletoe will stand watch in Tao Dan Park, and skinny, wide-eyed kids will don faux fur-lined Santa suits with – you guessed it – flip-flops. Scarves will suddenly be in fashion. Everyone will crank up the air-con and pretend it’s cold. That’s right: Saigon’s unique brand of Christmas is here.
Staring down a month-long parade of hotel buffets, extended happy hours and bad sweater opportunities, there is plenty to celebrate. After all, we’ve made it through another year full of surprises in one of the finest cities in Southeast Asia. And yet, there is one facet of yuletide festivities that never fails to send us into a panic: Christmas shopping. As you continue to put off your holiday purchases and whittle down the number of people for whom you’ll buy Christmas gifts this year, take a look at these five shops for a sample of Saigon’s best presents.
16-18-20 Thu Khoa Huan, D1
08 35 208 179
8am – 9pm
If you’re at a complete loss on where to start, House of Saigon is a good place to get the ball rolling. Just behind Ben Thanh Market, this split-level shop comes off as a bit touristy in the beginning, but persevere through the first few displays and you’ll find an array of gift-worthy items, from locally-made homewares to buffalo horn jewelry, children’s clothing and practical items with a Vietnamese touch, like the notebooks covered by colourful Dong Ho folk paintings or Very Ngon’s host of Vietnam-inspired kitchen items. On its upper floors, House of Saigon also displays a collection of mens and womenswear from Vietnamese designers like Dieu Anh, which will give a bit of local flair to your Christmas gifts this season.
23 Ly Tu Trong, 1st floor
012 36 310 099
9am – 9pm
A brand new outfit tucked away at the far end of Ly Tu Trong, Corner Boutique is off to a good start with its unique selection of local products. Here you’ll find an eclectic array of women’s clothing, shoes, handbags and small trinkets, all expertly arranged and curated by Quyen Le, the very fashionable shop owner, herself. While there may be plenty of small, independent boutiques around town, it’s rare to find one that covers so many bases so well, showcasing a range of quality homewares, clothing and accessories at affordable prices. A few beauty products and locally-made ceramics also grace the shelves, giving you plenty of gift options from which to choose.
A Banker’s Secret
Propaganda, 21 Han Thuyen, D1
09 06 664 135
Mon to Tues, 11am – 6pm; Wed to Sat, 10am – 8pm; Sun, 11am – 7pm
Though it’s still relatively unknown, A Banker’s Secret shows great promise as an all-natural local beauty label, a rare find in Saigon. The company, founded in 2012, sells everything from soaps and body scrubs to lotions, lip balms and natural oils. Pamper yourself with the exfoliating sea salt and turmeric scrub, a fragrant top-to-toe moisturising oil, the refreshing mint tea lip balm or cleansing beer-and-coffee soap. While A Banker’s Secret offers online shopping and delivery right to your door, you can also check out their products in person at Propaganda, where the label has just opened a pop-up shop that will run through mid-February. Shoppers can also find A Banker’s Secret products year-round in a small retail space on the ground floor of Cafe Me, 8A Luong Huu Khanh, D1.
Toyville & Art Box
32 Tran Ngoc Dien, D2
08 35 194 282
8.30am – 8pm
Popular among the city’s youngest expats, a pair of shops just inside Snap Cafe’s main entrance are your best bet when it comes to gifts for the little ones. All the Legos, Nerf guns and Radio Flyer tricycles of your youth can be found at Toysville, a shop which specialises in educational toys for kids of all ages, not to mention dozens upon dozens of Playmobil sets, action figures and other gadgets. Just next door, Art Box stocks a decent collection of craft supplies and activity books for young artists, not to mention stickers and other odds and ends to keep the kids occupied on rainy days.
Thien Ngan Camera
46 Nguyen Hue, D1
09 09 489 778
8am – 9pm
While its locale currently isn’t the best place to be in town, serious photophiles will appreciate Thien Ngan Camera. A small shop squeezed between Fahasa Nguyen Hue and Lucky Plaza – and, inexplicably, fronted by a sandwich cart – Thien Ngan stocks a host of photo equipment, including everything from simple point-and-shoots to high-quality DSLRs to an array of lenses and flashes with which to outfit your camera. The owner, a photography geek himself, knows his gadgets, and perhaps the most impressive section of the shop is its shelf of vintage cameras, which holds dozens of old Leicas and other antiques.