‘I’m not a backpacker, so why do I insist on carrying this old rucksack with me every time I go on a trip?’
I had been thinking for a few weeks that I wanted a leather bag made to replace my rucksack but I had no idea where to start. There are plenty of shops all over the Old Town advertising ‘real leather!’ or ‘bespoke for you!’ but I wanted to make sure I was getting a good deal. And it wasn’t helpful seeing leather goods advertised as ‘real!’ (usually in a loud, colorful font) – when I see that I’m immediately suspicious. When you’re looking at prices from $100 to $200 USD, you want to make sure you’re getting the real deal.
If you want the best value shopping in Hoi An, research is everything — and I’m not talking about a glance at Trip Advisor. Talk to locals, expats, and even ask shopkeepers ‘who are your competitors?’
Two Types Of Leather Shops
There are two types of leather retailers in Hoi An and it is important to know one from the other. The majority of shops you see with many goods propped up on display in big stacks source their leather from China.
While they sell real leather, it is much thinner than what you would find in a made-to-order shop. Most items are pre-made and there are very few customization options, if any. The shopkeepers are generally upfront about this. If you doubt the authenticity of the leather you can always take a whiff or ask the owner to hold a lighter against it – real leather does not burn.
While these lower-end shops are not a bad option for someone who is in a time crunch or on a budget (as these bags retail for half the price of bespoke leather bags), they didn’t have what I was looking for.
The second type of shop sells higher quality leather sourced from Vietnam and Laos. Many of these shops have bags on display that you can customize to your liking.
In the end I settled on the Friendly Leather Bag Shop, the sister shop of the Friendly Shoe Shop, both owned and operated by Ms Thong.
‘You can choose the leather type, the strap, the zipper-style, the buckles, and also the lining’ the manager told me as Ms Thong watched from the flanks of the shop. She pulled out large rolls of leather and spread them out on the floor for me to inspect. She helped me decide on a lining color, laying the switches of fabric on top of the leather.
Two days later I received my bag and was blown away by the quality. While it was not perfect, it was amazing quality for the total price I paid, 3,150,000 dong ($141 USD) and it smelled wonderfully leathery. A bag of this size and construction would easily be over $600 USD in the West.
On leaving, Ms Thong reminded me that the Friendly Leather Shop offers a one year warranty. Should anything happen to the bag, she will refund the money (via Paypal if you are overseas) or make you a new one if you are in Vietnam.
Where Should I Go?
The Friendly Leather Bag Shop
I ultimately decided on The Friendly Leather Bag Shop because of their long-standing reputation for the use of high quality leather and the production of reliable products as attested by locals and expats. I have nothing but good things to say about my experience with Ms Thong and her staff at The Friendly Leather Shop.
$130 – $140 for highest quality carry-on sized duffle bag.
Tu-Chi Leather Bags
The new guy on the block, Tu-Chi Leather Bags has been making a name for itself among backpackers for producing quality bags (and lederhosen) with a quick turn around. While still growing, Tu-Chi Leather Bags has earned overwhelmingly positive reviews on Trip Advisor.
$130 – $140 USD for highest quality carry-on sized duffle.
22 Phan Boi Chau
+84 090 521 65 15
Thanh Van Cloth Shop
Recommended by expat Jürgen Joost who has worked in the fashion industry for many years, Thanh Van Cloth Shop also deals in leather shoes and bags. They also have a good reputation for using high quality leather and pleasing their customers.
$100 – $200 USD for highest quality carry-on sized duffle.
72 Tran Hung Dao
+84 235 3864 777
Recommended by Hoi An expat Sue Davis, Pham Cam does great leather work for both shoes and bags. Sue has had five pairs of quality shoes made at Pham Cam Leather Shop and a sturdy handbag made for less than $30 USD.
No. 39 Inside Hoi An Central Market
+84 093 500 8276
Hoi An Central Market Leather Vendors
There is nothing you can’t get at the market — just beware of fakes. Ms Ha, Hoi An Now’s office manager, suggests taking a look around the market and seeing what you can find before committing to any store in town. Great deals can be found for genuine leather goods if you are willing to haggle, but don’t forget to bring your lighter.
Small hand bags can be commissioned for about $30 USD.
Tran Quy Cap Street