Have you ever been totally stumped as to what you should bring home from holiday for your loved ones? Or been given a souvenir that was clearly a last-minute panic-bought gift? We certainly have and we can easily spot an airport present. It’s sometimes hard to know what to give as a souvenir, but surely anything is better than a snow globe or fridge magnet!
So, if you’re heading to Asia sometime soon, here’s a list of some of the more quirky gifts you can take home to treat your loved ones to a souvenir they might actually savor!
There’s a lot to consider when you’re shopping for a gift from Thailand. Lady Gaga was keen on taking home a ‘fake Rolex’ from her last visit to the Land of Smiles, but her Tweet saying as much caused quite a stir…so possibly best to steer clear. Instead of knock-off items, why not take home a ‘knockout’ gift in the form of a pair of Muay Thai shorts? These silky little numbers are certainly unusual, and Thailand is the home of the sport after all! Speaking of silk, top Thai brands include Shinawatra and Jim Thompson, and there’s also Phufa, a project set up by H.R.H. Princess Maha Shakri Siridhorn. Phufa products are produced by villagers in outlying areas of Thailand in a self-sustaining way to utilize their specialist skills.
Backyard Tip: Remember, buying Buddha statues as gifts to be ornaments or decorative items is frowned upon. Also, no matter how much you love durian fruit you’ll have a job taking it home – its rather strong odor has resulted in a ban by most airlines!
If you’re looking for an ideal souvenir from Vietnam you might want to consider some of the handicrafts available such as handmade handbags, clothes, calligraphy and textiles produced using natural materials like bamboo, seashells and beads. If you’re picking a gift for a female, you can also plump for the Vietnamese national dress ao dai, which is a tightly-fitting silk tunic. If it’s a gift for yourself, you can also get the ao dai handmade within 24 hours. The iconic non la (leaf hat) is also a fairly quirky gift to take home, but beware: its conical shape makes it a fairly un-packable item!
Backyard Tip: Vietnam also produces an abundance of exquisite lacquer ware, but bear in mind the weight of any items when you make your choice. Similar to durian in Thailand, fish sauce is a no-fly option with airlines leaving Vietnam.
Batik is a lightweight cloth that’s handmade using a wax-resist dyeing technique and is so versatile it can be used as a furniture fabric, wall hanging, table cloth or used as a material to make dresses, sarongs, and shirts. Batik is so synonymous with Indonesia that UNESCO has even recognized the fabric as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ – could there be a more tongue-twisting confirmation of its souvenir suitability? If you’re in Surakarta and are besotted with batik, you can pay visit to the House of Danar Hadi museum. Indonesia is also the home of ‘gamelan’ musical instruments such as kendang (drums), xylophones, gongs and flutes, often made from wood, that are played to accompany dances, wayang puppet performances, rituals, and ceremonies.
Backyard Tip: Don’t give any musical instruments as gifts to any night olws that you share a house with who might want to rehearse.
Cambodia is a resourceful nation, and the versatile and adaptable krama is certainly an example of this. Worn by men, women and children, the sturdy garment can be used as a scarf, head dress, bikini / bra, sarong, and even used as a hammock or as a pouch to carry items…and children! Readily available all around Cambodia, the krama is an easy-to-find as well as multi-purpose item, but for the best selection head to the night market in Phnom Penh.
Backyard Tip: If you’re going to wear the krama as a carry pouch (or sarong / bra!) make sure you tie it safely!
Daruma dolls are round, hollow, spherical dolls with faces, often colored using red, gold, black and white paint and are weighted at the bottom in a way that ensures the doll will always self-right if tipped over. Rich in symbolism, Daruma dolls are seen as a gift that brings good luck to the recipient. Each doll you will find for sale will always be lacking eyes – upon receipt of the doll, one eye is painted in and a wish is made. The doll is then left with just one eye to remind and inspire the owner to fulfill their dream and when the goal is complete, the second eye is drawn in.
Backyard Tip: As much as you may become besotted with the ways of the samurai during your time in Japan, you might want to think twice about carrying a katana (sword) in your hand luggage.
One of the best gifts to take home from Myanmar is a handmade kalaga. Kalagas are wall hangings or tapestries made from linen, silk, velvet or cotton, embroidered with beads, sequins and glass stones. In more affluent times, the tapestries would have been adorned with real jewels and gemstones, but although the raw materials may have changed, the subject matter they depict has remained largely the same. Usual stories shown by the kalagas include Jataka (Buddha’s journey towards enlightenment) and Ramayana (Hindu poem of the journey of King Rama) as well as lucky animals and signs of the zodiac.
Backyard Tip: Be careful if you choose to buy jewelry as a gift – you’ll need to produce a special cash memo or receipt that can only be issued by authorized dealers to be allowed to take gemstones out of the country, so check with your guide before you buy.