Shopping for Silk in Hanoi

by Sarah Tilton, Oct 1, 1996 | Destinations: Vietnam / Hanoi

My first experience with Vietnamese silk was in 1990 on a visit to Hanoi. I had admired a friend's ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese fitted tunic over flowing pants, and asked my friend for the name of a good tailor. A good tailor who wasn't too expensive, spoke English and could make something in a couple of days. My friend took me to Le Minh at 79-111 Hang Gai Street and I have been shopping there ever since.

Hang Gai, or Silk Street, is the obvious place to shop for silk in Hanoi, but choices can sometimes be overwhelming. Located on the edge of the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hang Gai consists of two or three blocks of small shops that all specialize in silk and embroidery. The merchandise at the various stores is similar, however, the prices, selection and service vary. Whether you are looking for a silk t-shirt or a custom-made suit, Le Minh has it all.

Le Minh has been offering quality tailoring at reasonable prices since 1954. The shop is run by two sisters, Bich Hanh and Thuy Ha, who learned their trade from their parents and hope to pass it along to their own children. The moment I walked into the store it was clear that Le Minh has one of the city's best selections of silk. Bolts of fabric in every possible color, texture and pattern are stacked from floor to ceiling. There is raw silk, patterned silk (similar to Liberty prints) and Danang silk (it looks tie-dyed). If you want to have something made, you can choose from one of Le Minh's existing designs, bring your own clothes to copy or just show them a picture (simpler is better).

It takes two days to make a silk suit and costs about forty-five dollars depending on the fabric which can cost anywhere from three to nine dollars a yard. The store can rush and have a suit ready in twenty-four hours, but it's safer to allow more time for second or even third fittings to make sure your outfit is perfect. It took two days to make my ao dai and I had two fittings. The final product was delivered to my hotel so I did not have to make a special trip back to the Old Quarter. Total cost: thirty dollars.

If you don't have time to have something made, never fear because Le Minh's ready-to-wear inventory is extensive. There are Western and Vietnamese clothes. Their most popular item is the Vietnamese-style shirt in raw silk with a mandarin collar and traditional frog closures. The shirts run about fifteen dollars. Raw silk pants are about ten dollars. Tailored jackets with self-covered buttons cost twenty-five to thirty dollars. There are silk t-shirts for about twelve dollars, pajamas for fourteen dollars and scarves for ten dollars.

Le Minh is also where I usually end up buying most of the gifts for friends at home because it offers one-stop shopping. There are silk ties starting at just a few dollars. In addition to clothes and fabric they have embroidered tablecloths (ten to twenty-five dollars), placemats, napkins and wall hangings.

Once you've made your selection and are ready to go, Ha and Hanh give their customers one last helpful hint'written instructions on how to care for their purchases. Ha explains that if you want Vietnamese silk to last and retain its beauty you should wash it by hand with mild soap and hang it in the shade to dry. They recommend dry cleaning for jackets only. Le Minh is open daily from 8:30am to 7:30pm and accepts major credit cards.

Le Minh 79-111 Hang Gai Street Hanoi Vietnam