Vietnam's sole currency is Vietnam Dong - VND, which comes in notes and coins though the latter is barely seen today. Vietnam Dong notes come in denominations of:
VND 500; 1,000; 2,000;
VND 5,000; 10;000; 20,000;
VND 50,000; 100,000; 200,000; 500,000
At present the exchange rate is about VND 21,000 for 1 USD.
US dollars can also be used for your purchase while you are in larger cities' tourist areas but try to avoid doing so. Since late 2011, Vietnamese government has banned all price listing in dollars. Adding to that, Vietnamese sellers will charge you unfavourable rate if you pay in dollars.
Vietnamese currency is not common beyond Vietnam and Asia, so your banks will not have them in stocks if you are in North America or Europe. You can always get some as you land at one of the Vietnam's airport.
Hang Gai Street, just some steps from Sword Lake and where many silk shops are located, is surely the place you want to go. Here, you can find a lot of eye-catching silk clothes which are diverse in color, design and size. Especially, many shops here offer guests one-day-tailoring service that provides guests with customized silk clothes within one day only.
Just come here, speak out your wish and get your dream clothes done.
On a side note, if you dare venture outside of the city for better deals, Van Phuc Silk Village may be a worthwhile option too. You can combine making your clothes into a half day trip as there are plenty to see in this hometown of silk. Read more about Van Phuc Silk to have all the information you need.
You can use American dollars for sure, though in major tourist cities such as Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. When you get to Vietnam, you can change the currency to Vietnam Dong, which will help your shopping time a lot. Most shops and stores will apply very low rate when you pay in dollars so we suggest you to avoid using the dollars whenever possible.
Some shopping venues that you should check out: Personally, I highly recommend Saigon Square (77-78 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street) which is the heaven for shopping with good prices. The shopping center is just a step away from Ben Thanh market. Yet, where to shop also depends on what you want to buy. For example, for camping facilities, you could only find at Dan Sinh market.
In terms of spa, Spa Tropic is great place that provides you the best mind-healing treatment. (http://www.spatropic.com/). Happy Ending Massage Yuan is also a good choice for travelers with tight budget (about $10-15 for food and body massage) and it is quite central ( on Le Thanh Tong street). Good luck !
A camera store can be easily found in the city center. Just walk along Le Loi street, Nguyen Hue Street or Le Thanh Ton street, you can find what you need to shoot a perfect image such as: lenses, films, chargers, battery, tripods.
If you use traditional cameras which use Fujifilm and need a lab to process, you can find one at 82 Nguyen Hue or 114 bis Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. Kodak process labs are more popular and easily found on these two streets also. For digital cameras, please be aware of having the adapter or outlet conversion for the chargers. These can be found on Huynh Thuc Khang Street. Some camera stores have the adapters also.
Do not hesitate to bargain unless you want to be overcharged. Lenses cannot cost you much more than what you are supposed to pay in your home country. Charger, depending on its brands and authenticity, has various prices but cannot cost you more than $15. Adapters or outlet conversions are available at less than $5 in some stores. It costs you 15-20 cents on average to develop a 10cm*15cm (6in*9in) image at a lab.
If you are travelling away from the city center, limited camera accessories may be found at camera stores at the place you are visiting. Batteries and films can be found there but lenses might be too costly to sell at these places.
Summer is the golden time of flip flops and sandals in general. The scorching weather prevents many people from wearing shoes; moreover flip flops/sandals are so much convenient to take off before entering some café, restaurants or even pagodas. There are two biggest places for this product, one is Le Duan Street and the other is Hang Dau Street.
As Le Duan Street mainly provides working clothes, like rubber boots, rain coat, security uniforms, flip flop/sandals are not their major products. The positive features are low price and durability, but the styles are limited and the design is quite rough (imagine Birkenstock and the likes).
Hang Dau has a better diversity of styles, colors and designs, and the prices are just slightly higher. Shops here also sell bamboo flip flops, which are very stylish in this hot weather, and high quality leather sandals, sometimes imported from Korean or Japan. You really should go outside and get one pair for your own.
Hanoi has plenty of instrument providers. If you go with local people and are not afraid of bargaining, you had better go to Hao Nam Street. This street is famous for instrument trading, since it is near Vietnam National Institute of Music. Shops here offer a variety of instruments, from foreign ones such as guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, violin, cello, piano, flute to traditional instruments like bamboo flute, bau luthier (dan bau), 16 strings zither (dan tranh), Vietnamese violin (dan nhi) or even t’rung (a Ba Na ethical instrument from Tay Nguyen). The price is not too high, but you should be careful because instruments here are not always as good as what they look like.
Hang Manh Street also has instrument shops, but the range is much narrower compared to those in Hao Nam Str., and the quality is not even as good. In general, shopping at these addresses is not always safe, and moreover they do not provide any warranty service at all. In order to buy good instruments with famous brand names in Hanoi, consumers just have 3 choices: Hoang Phuc, the officially distribution center of Ibanez and Roland instrument in Vietnam, located at Vincom tower, 191 Ba Trieu Str.; Yamaha official store, 24 Ly Quoc Su Str. and SolG, 13D2A Van Phuc Str. The prices are higher than those at Hao Nam and Hang Manh Street, but customers are given full information about the suppliers, the original countries and instrument's conditions, along with certifications and warranties. Price or quality, the choice is yours.
It is quite hard to find a decent English bookstore in Hanoi, since the demand is pretty low and not frequent. The first and only English bookstore in Hanoi until now is Bookworm, which located on 44 Chau Long Street, near Truc Bach Lake. This bookstore trades only English books and magazines, both used and new, with a limitted French collection. There are also many discounted fictions if you want a quick read for your next trip.
Another bookstore, Trang Tien bookstore (44 Trang Tien Str., Hoan Kiem Dist.) also sells many English books, though it is mostly about learning and teaching. The majority of books here are still in Vietnamese.
In order to find English books, you might need to venture out to other book stores around the city. Phuong Nam company has three bookstores in Hanoi: one inside Vincom tower (191 Ba Trieu Str.), one at 20 Ly Thai To Str and one at 87 Lang Ha Str. All of them have foreign sections, with some books, magazines, artbooks and CDs/DVDs in English.
Fahasa bookstore (338 Xa Dan Str, Dong Da Dist) might be worth visiting as well, with around 100 English books of different types. Moreover, Fahasa recently open a new book store at 39 Kim Lien Moi Str., Dong Da Dist, doubling the number of English books, which include some famous classic novels such as Frankenstein, Gone with the wind, Breakfast at Tiffany, The lords of the rings, etc.
In addition, wandering around Dinh Le Str. (the so called book street of Hanoi), you can sometimes find good English books/novels/artbooks at quite low prices. In general, to find a good English book in Hanoi, you must have patience and time but the price is pretty reasonable.