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From hats to chops, Asia offers engaging souvenirs

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    The “non la,” or conical hat, is often a must-have souvenir for those making a trip to Vietnam. Dancers with non la perform a traditional dance at the Imin Conference Center on the University of Hawaii campus.
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The best things in life may be free, but few people can resist the siren song of shopping.

When traveling in Asia, it’s wise to be discerning — if only to avoid baggage fees. To help winnow your shopping list, I asked veteran travel and hospitality experts from Tokyo to Bangkok to name their one must-have souvenir.

VIETNAM

What: The "non la," the palm-leaf conical hat, is perhaps the most common tourist must-have, said Sandy Ferguson, owner of Asia Desk, a travel consultancy and tour company. And should you have your heart set on one, he said, the Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City is the best place to buy.

But Ferguson, who grew up in Asia, said his favorite souvenir is handmade Vietnamese silk embroidery. "It is very easy to carry folded up to get framed back home," he said.

Cost: Depends on a variety of factors, including size, Ferguson said, but if you invest $200 to $400, you’ll get a beautiful piece.

TOKYO

What: When in Japan, Nancy Craft, a travel planner with Esprit Travel & Tours who lived in Kyoto for six years, suggests picking up "tenu­gui," which she describes as "smooth and soft woven cotton hand towels that are printed with beautiful and interesting designs." Long, narrow and unhemmed, "they are an essential in Japa­nese life," she said, "and were used traditionally under the helmet for kendo (sword martial arts), in religious ceremonies, to wrap gifts, headbands for sushi chefs, a damp towel around the neck during the steamy summer and for hand drying." Conventional patterns included dots and waves, but today they also come in trendy designs.

Cost: About $5 to $20, Craft said.

JAIPUR, INDIA

What: This city is "widely regarded as the gemstone capital of the world," as Victoria Dyer, a founder of India Beat, a travel company specializing in customized itineraries, put it in an email from Jaipur. More than 50,000 stonecutters work in the city, said Dyer, who is particularly enamored of the emeralds. Whether you’re drawn to emeralds or Polki diamonds, she recommends visiting the Gem Palace, established in 1852 by a family whose clients have included royalty and Bollywood stars.

Cost: A nice emerald piece might start at around $1,000, Dyer said.@Subhead1:Hong Kong

HONG KONG

What: Executives at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, had several shopping recommendations, among them: cakes of tea, lightly scented, from local purveyors; a three-piece suit, which can be made to fit in less than two days; or a personalized marble chop, or seal, with your name, insignia or other design hand-carved.

Cost: Chops are around $20, according to Edwina Kluen­der, director of communications at the Mandarin. Custom-made suits vary greatly in price but are said to start around $1,000.

BANGKOK

What: You’ll find nice leather as well as silk textiles in Bangkok, but Ferguson of Asia Desk said his favorite is "mo hom" — vibrant, indigo hand-dyed cotton shirts traditionally worn by farmers. "They’re extremely comfortable," Ferguson said.

Cost: Good-quality mo hom cost about $20, Ferguson said.

Stephanie Rosenbloom, New York Times

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