When every time you visit a city and you find yourself visiting the same museum, you know you’ve found a favorite. The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi, Vietnam is my go-to place for an ethnic cultural fix of Vietnam’s tribal diversity and history. It’s also a favorite of locals.
When I visited Hanoi this past summer for the 6th time, a friend of ours who is from Hanoi played tour guide one day. The Museum of Ethnology was top on her list. Even though she’s been to this museum countless times, she never gets tired of it. I was happy with her offer to take my son and me. With every visit, there’s something more to discover.
Since my last visit more than a dozen years ago, the museum has expanded to include exhibits of Southeast Asian culture with an extensive collection of textiles. The embroidery pieces from India to Uzbekistan to Indonesia are particularly exquisite.
Exhibits dedicated to the vast ethnic heritage of Vietnam range from artifact displays to displays that depict village scenes with life-size figures dressed in traditional outfits from the various regions of the country. In addition to highlighting the ethnic diversity, the exhibits also cover how societies are adapting and being altered by modern technology and other cultural influences.
My favorite part of this museum is outdoors where a variety of traditional houses are arranged throughout the grounds on well designed pathways that include enough trees that provide welcome shade to help beat the heat if you happen to be there in the summer when we were.
Each building has signage that explains where the buildings are from and the unique features of each. Visitors are free to walk in each house that is set up to look as if the inhabitants just stepped out for a moment. The most fun are the houses on stilts which requires climbing up a traditional ladder that is not more than a log with notched steps. The most intriguing buildings are the low slung wooden tomb houses large enough to hold up to 30 people. Each of the buildings are authentic and were moved from their original locations.
Depending upon the day and time of your visit, there are craft demonstrations. Crafts include jewelry making and lacquer-ware.
There weren’t crafters during our visit, but there was a traditional water puppet show at the outdoor theater. One of the museum’s buildings also has a terrific exhibit that covers the history of water puppets from how the tradition started and how the puppets are made. Several water puppets are on display.
Because the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is so well-organized and the signage is detailed, this is a museum to visit on a day when you aren’t on a tour. The gift shop offers a taste of what there is to buy throughout Hanoi. Prices are not outlandish. If you see something you like here, I’d buy it.
Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein