Art in Hoi An: The budget bargains

Everyone loves some good art – some like it classic and monochrome while others like me, well I love kitsch and colours and all things bright and beautiful! My home has never been monochrome, its filled with colours for they speak to me!

So for a person like me, discovering Hoi An was like someone telling me that there are more like me who revel in colours! And for those like me (again!) who bring back bits and bobs from every travel to begin stories with “This little one here was picked up from xx when we barely had enough dollars to get back to our hotel, but we had to have it!”. Well, most stories are not this dramatic, but travel souvenirs for me have never been about just picking up random things from souvenir shops either!

So here’s a small list of things that I think you could check out if art of any kind are travel collectibles for you!

  1. The lanterns at Hoi An night markets: How can you not buy one of these – especially when they come in all possible shapes and sizes – covered in silk and cotton, chintz and brocade in paisleys and plains. Just about in all imaginable forms. And if you’d rather carry something back that you made, well there are classes in lantern making too!

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2. Art by local Hoi An artists – There are several art galleries across the old town, and most prohibit you from taking photos of the art inside – perhaps to prevent it from being mass produced and sold as cheap souvenirs? But then when they are in such picturesque locales, you sneak a photo – of the dog! See. The shopkeepers don’t mind some good-natured bargaining, but they are firm about the prices that they can offer you as well when the haggling begins. Pick up more pieces and the shopkeepers are happy to bring down their prices – after all, tourism is the mainstay of most of these shops.

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And since these shops largely cater to tourists, most stock affordable art – what I found amazing was that most galleries had very unique displays, unlike what I’d seen in say Prague or Paris, where you’d expect to stumble upon more of the same mass-produced pieces if you went art-shopping with just a teeny-tiny budget. For the super cheap souvenirs, there are traditional scenes painted on rice paper that are sold in most stalls – However, look out for some artists in these lanes – the paintings they sell are not touristy cheap, but they would leave a lingering memory of your Vietnamese holiday! And if you love lacquer, there are several artists who do great lacquer paintings as well!

3. Framed tapestries: If you’d like something more unique, then there is a workshop that employs women in the old quarters that recreates images and paintings through embroidery – creating wonderful tapestries that you can carry rolled up or as pre-framed pieces.

4. Papier Mache Masks – By the old town riverfront is a shop where a laughing master sits on most days – except Sundays – making the most amazing papier mache masks – not just traditional Vietnamese puppetry masks, but also those that are modern. There are takers for all kinds, he says. He also conducts mask-making classes, if you decide to try out your skills with paper, glue, brush and some paints!

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5. Other bargains shopping besides art:

Vietnamese Ca Phe and the filter to brew it: Bring a box back if you are a coffee lover and while you in Vietnam, learn to brew it right – the best way to drink it is the way the locals do – strong with condensed milk topped till the brim with ice cubes. And if you’d like to see how its made – I have a video on another post.

Hoi An has some very old leather shops and tailoring shops on the High Street. Ask your hotel or the guide to direct you to a reliable place – don’t fall for touts who you will chance upon everywhere who promise to stitch you a dress or a shirt in one hour flat!

You can also find an assortment of things to bring back – if you do end up buying the really touristy but very interesting knick-knacks, remember not to buy it at the first shop. Ask around, get an average price and then pick it up at the vendor who charmed you the most. And if you don’t mind twinning with your significant other and the kids too, there are several places that sell you stuff that make for some fun photos..(pssst.. this photo has been repeated from this post!)

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There are places that sell fakes of almost all luxury bags and of other big brands too! But that, I’d say stay away – fakes begin looking like poor copies five minutes after you have bought it – its the law of cruel payback!

And spend the bucks on getting the good stuff -if its cheap, it ain’t original!

🙂 Holds good for everything in life, doesn’t it?

D

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