1. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Boutique shops in Phnom Penh are often associated with good causes. In an old shophouse, Open Book bookstore (41 St 240) has been set up to fund youth literacy programmes. Some children’s books, by local writers and set in Phnom Penh, make great take-home gifts. Craft Peace Cafe’s (14 St 392) handicrafts featuring Cambodian designs and inspirations are made by artisans with physical challenges. Women from impoverished rural villages are behind Mekong Quilts’ colourful cushions and quilts (below). They also sell homemade children’s toys and sustainable bikes made from bamboo. Rehab Craft’s products, including leather wallets, silk scarves and clothes made from checkered Khmer fabrics, are made by victims of landmines.
How to get there: Phnom Penh is a two-hour flight from Singapore. Singapore Airlines subsidiary SilkAir flies up to 18 times weekly non-stop from Singapore to Phnom Penh.
2. Bangkok, Thailand
First stop for newbies to the Thai capital is Chatuchak Market, a chaotically atmospheric outdoor space with around 15,000 stalls selling antiques, indie clothing and ethnic crafts. For a more luxurious souvenir, Almeta Silk sells exquisite contemporary Thai-style fabrics and a line of resort wear and accessories. Get similarly styled at Jim Thompson (below), a place for elegant silk accessories and smart casual wear designed for the tropics. In a huge replica warehouse complex on the river, Asiatique (2194 Charoen Krung Rd) is a lively night bazaar and market with 1,500 stalls selling apparel, IT accessories, handicrafts and jewellery. Part of the fun is arriving by river boat.
How to get there: Bangkok is a two-hour, 25-minute flight from Singapore. Singapore Airlines flies 6 times daily non-stop from Singapore to Bangkok.
3. Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An’s beautiful heritage old town is a boutique shopper’s love-in. Metiseko (below) sells beautiful silk clothes with a Vietnamese backstory along with contemporary homeware and bed linen. O Collective is jammed with homeware, accessories and keepsakes. It also flies the red-starred flag for emerging Vietnamese apparel brands including 0-Thala and Mamba Soul. Hoi An is the place for tailor-made clothes and shoes with dozens of options, but Yaly Couture tops the lot. It has a couple of outlets including one boasting a lovely terrace with typical Indochine decor, and staff that treats visitors like royalty.
How to get there: Singapore Airlines’ regional wing SilkAir flies once a week from Singapore to Danang via Siem Reap and up to 6 times weekly non-stop from Singapore to Danang (two-hour, 40-minue flight), from where you can catch a 45-minute taxi ride to Hoi An.
4. Shenzhen, China
This haven for happy hagglers is an antidote to the more pricey Hong Kong. Luohu Commercial City has more than 100 shops selling apparel, handbags, shoes and accessories, plus gadgets, fabrics and toys. Get new lenses at Anna Optical or quality tailor-made suits at Yaqi Western-style Clothes. Dongmen Pedestrian Street’s (below) fabric market is known for custom drapes, tablecloths and bed linens. For the walls, Dafen Painting Village is dedicated to paintings. Get a photo expertly copied or watch as Van Gogh’s sunflowers are miraculously recreated. Also stock up on paint brushes and art supplies.
How to get there: Shenzhen is a four-hour, 10-minute flight from Singapore. Singapore Airlines subsidiary SilkAir flies once daily non-stop from Singapore to Shenzhen.
5. Hong Kong
Founded in Hong Kong, Shanghai Tang is your go-to for Chinese-inspired luxury clothes, gifts and souvenirs. Think colourful cheongsams, dragon cufflinks and silver-plated chopsticks. Down a market street, Vickie Shoes (3 Queen Victoria St, Central) has interpretations of the latest foot fashions with colour and style swatch books so shoppers can have their favourites custom-made. The city’s creative entrepreneurs have made heritage PMQ (below) in Sheung Wan their home, with 130 shops-cum-studios dedicated to handmade and home-grown ceramics, jewellery, clothes and leather goods. For the perfect suit, Sarto Lab is a distinguished modern tailor shop using Italian fabrics, with collars, cuffs and ties to die for.
How to get there: Hong Kong is a four-hour flight from Singapore. Singapore Airlines flies 7 times daily non-stop from Singapore to Hong Kong.
6. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Lifestyle stores don’t get better than L’uisine’s (below) three outlets, all in lovingly renovated older buildings with excellent cafes. Curated fashion collections include in-house labels Trois Filles and Tinwell + Bismark, plus a veritable gallery of gifts and accessories. You could deck a whole house out in contemporary Vietnamese design with a visit to Sadec District. It stocks homeware that favours natural fibres, such as pottery tea sets, colourful rattan baskets, blown-glass vases and wooden breadboards. Thuy Design House spices up its clothing line with vibrant Vietnamese fabrics and creative cuts, be it silk ao dai with stand-up shoulders or dragon brocade trousers.
How to get there: Ho Chi Minh City is a two-hour flight from Singapore. Singapore Airlines flies 17 times weekly non-stop from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City.
– TEXT BY PENNY WATSON
PHOTOS: L’UISINE, PMQ, JIM THOMPSON (THAILAND) FACEBOOK, MEKONG QUILTS FACEBOOK, PMQ, METISEKO FACEBOOK, 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.