Hanoi – Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

First thing we did this morning was jump in a cab and trek across town to the Museum of Ethnology (and it was kind of a trek — it’s 7 kilometers from the old quarter). 
The museum focuses on the many different ethnic groups that live in Vietnam and was recommended to us as one of the best museums in the country.  We’d no sooner entered, however, than we were accosted by swarms of school children seeking to practice their English.  Armed with printed sheets of questions, they cornered us and started the interrogation:  What’s my first name?  What’s my family name?  What city do I live in?  What did I study in school?  Do I have brothers?  Sisters?  Every once in a while, one of them would repeat a question that another had already asked, and then they would all collapse into embarrased silence/giggles.  
My favorite question:  Which do you like better, poetry or modern art?
This kid was the leader of the pack that cornered Vanessa.
Talk about large and in charge!
His English was impossibly good.
The kids were cute but insatiable.  Eventually we had to cut short the questioning and move on, turning down other would-be interrogators as we made our way into the exhibition rooms.  There we found a nicely curated collection of handicrafts, textiles and representations of domestic rural life.   
Woven fish traps loaded on a bicycle

Fabrication of the ubiquitous conical hats

Hearth scene


I thought the textiles were the highlight of the indoor portion of the museum.  So many beautiful colors and patterns.




As well done and modern as the museum was in many respects, it suffered from lack of climate control.  The heat and humidity outdoors was barely tolarable; it was downright oppressive inside.  By the time we’d made our way through the last exhibition hall, we were more than ready to head outside.

Turns out the stuff outside was as interesting as the stuff inside.  First attraction was a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show.

The puppeteers stand behind the screen in waist-deep water under the pavillion.  The puppets are attached to long poles and cords that run beneath the water.  A group of musicians play to the side.  Together the puppeteers and musicians enact tales of war or farming or romance.  The stuff of legend and everyday life.  It was tough to capture good pictures or video — here are a couple of both.
After the puppet show ended, we explored the buildings on the museum grounds.  They’re representative of traditional ethnic architecture from different regions of Vietnam. 
The floor was made of flattened bamboo lashed together.
I have no idea what type of tree this was, but it was gorgeous.  A fountain of golden flowers.
Several generations of a single family would live in a longhouse like this.
Inside the long house.  I love the carved rafters.
House of the Dead — many bodies would be buried in a structure like this.
Surrounding it are statues displaying their genitals as a symbol of life and regeneration.
Painted roof of the House of the Dead
Elaborate tomb structure


  1. The obvious answer to the question is, “I like modern artistic poetry.” Fascinating museum.


  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    Very interesting indeed. Lady


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