15 T-Shirts From Vietnam

I’m generally loathe to drag my personal life into this space, but yours truly had the good fortune to holiday in beautiful Vietnam last month and I return with stories to share and advice to dispense. Obvious highlights included the exotic street food (both yummers and inexpensive), the beaches (absolutely stunning), the historic and cultural attractions (sobering but shot through with a potent optimism), and the moto-madness that gives pulse (and soundtrack) to the country’s largest cities, Saigon and Hanoi, but naturally enough, I also mixed in a bit of t-spotting on my travels.

From humble tourist tees to curious, lost-in-translation slogans to bootlegged street gear, I’ve compiled 15 of my finds below (in no particular order, mind you). Some are directly topical, others a bit less so…

1. If any one t-shirt dials in the manic quality of life on Pham Ngu Lao, the hub of Saigon’s backpacker district, this is it.

Just Say No

2. Purchased by the author as a keepsake. Total price: $80,000 dong (VND), or roughly $4 (USD).

''Speak politely to an enraged dragon.'' -- J.R.R. Tolkien

Detailed closeup:

Keep the dragon close to your heart.

3. BURN!

Death Before Disco

4. Ownership is a something of moving target in ‘Nam and merchandise of a dubious origin is commonplace as a result.

The shirt below, purchased in Hanoi, advertises a location that doesn’t exist (and, hence, the appeal).

Oriental Beat

5. On a related note, here’s a reproduction of an early Threadless joint, The Communist Party. The blank’s color is off (red, not brown) but the print itself was a reasonably close facsimile of the original. The irony — Communist bootleggers reappropriating their political iconography as spoofed by American Yankees, all for profit — was not lost on this observer. Everybody’s selling something…


Also available in tote form:


6. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” — K. Marx

The Original Tee Party

7. Mario, as filtered through heroic agitprop. This one’s for our friend Coty Gonzales.

Pipe Dreams For A Better Tomorrow

8. A just question.


9. Likewise, one wonders if there’s a disconnect here between the model and the message.

Putting the pun back in punk...

10. The meaning here is lost on me, but the panda-on-bicycle motif is plenty adorable.

Bear With Me

11. Snake isn’t a particularly popular dish in Vietnam, but it is available at select locations (generally those with a Russian clientele). Alas, I opted for crocodile (which, conveniently enough, tastes like “chicken-fish”).


12. Double trouble.

Tanked To The Top

13. One final souvenir. I thought the arrangement here was particularly clean.


14. It’s a small world: on my last day in country, I spied a fellow Portlander (Oregon) garbed in a Clyde Common tee, a restaurant of growing repute.

''Domestic & Foreign Cooking''

15. Admittedly, this last design isn’t a proper tee (no need to get all knit picky, now is there?), but is included here for the eye-popping pattern (and her wonderful, goofy smile).

Rock Stars

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