Hanoi

Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi: A Labor of Love

Vietnamese Women’s Museum (Vietnamese spelling: Bảo tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam) in Hanoi curates a fascinating collection. It showcases Vietnamese women’s lives from diverse regions and historic periods. From 2012 to 2015, it consecutively made Tripadvisor’s list of best destinations in Hanoi and top museums in Asia.

History of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi

History of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi
The Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi in 1987
[ image from baotangphunu.org ]

In 1987, the Vietnam Women’s Union (Hội Liên hiệp Phụ nữ Việt Nam) established the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. However, construction didn’t start until 1991 and it only opened in 1995.

The first exhibition spaces had just objects and artifacts collected since the 1970s. However, from 2006 to 2010, the museum underwent a major renovation into what it is today. A lot of help during this period came from the Ford Foundation.

The museum now exhibits more than just historical and cultural aspects of Vietnamese women. It’s more of a contemporary gender-based museum with a broader perspective. It takes on social issues, the changing roles of women, as well as ethnic and contemporary fashions.

Things to See at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi

Things to See at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi
[ by Bảo tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam – Vietnamese Women’s Museum from Facebook ]

The exhibits in the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi include artifacts, photographs, and documentaries. All of them have good Vietnamese and English explanations. There are also some interesting online exhibitions in English on their official website.

Visitors can pay for audio guides in Vietnamese, English, French, Japanese, and Korean. Guided group tours, however, are only in Vietnamese and English.

First Floor Entrance to Heroic Mothers

Vietnamese Women’s Museum First Floor
[ by Bảo tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam – Vietnamese Women’s Museum from Facebook ]

Right in the middle of the first floor entrance is a statue of the Vietnamese Mother. She’s carrying her child, a precious gift of life, on her shoulder. Usually, surrounding her are photos of Vietnamese Heroic Mothers who lost their children during wartime. Temporary exhibits sometimes replace these photos.

If you look up to the ceiling, you’ll see a number of conical hats (nón lá). They are an iconic item of people in the countryside. Also, their common pairing is the traditional Ao Dai outfit highlighting femininity.

In the gift shop, you can get your own conical hat. There are also other souvenirs like hand-sewn bags, pillows, and scarves. Books from the Hanoi Vietnamese Women’s Museum publisher come in Vietnamese, English, and French.

Permanent Exhibits in the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi

The three permanent exhibits in the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi have more than 1000 items on display. They were all added in during the 2006 – 2010 renovation.

Second Floor: Women in Family

Second Floor: Women in Family
[ image from baotangphunu.org ]

The Women in Family exhibit tells the story of traditional women’s lives. Most Vietnamese ethnic groups follow patrilineality (male line kinship system). Interestingly, a few follow matrilineality or female kinship lines.

Marriage customs include house guest etiquette, outfits, and wedding ceremonies. There are exhibits on prayers and ceremonies for childbirth and the raising of healthy children. There is also information about pre, mid, and post-pregnancy care in local traditions.

Ethnic women are hard workers — but not just with taking care of household chores and raising children. They also take part in farming, making pottery, embroidery, and running small businesses like stores or street vending.

Third Floor: Women in History

Vietnamese female soldiers
Vietnamese female soldiers
[ by Bảo tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam – Vietnamese Women’s Museum from Facebook ]

Women in History is a memoir of the lives of women on and behind the battlefronts of war. Many of the sacrifices they made, especially behind the lines of fire, still resonate to this day.

This section comes in chronological order. It starts from Historical Figures in Feudal Times. Next, it covers Vietnamese women from 1930 – 1954 and Women of 1954 – 1975 during the North-South division. The final section details Unification, Vietnam’s Heroic Mothers, and Portraits of Contemporary Women.

The third floor also displays the legacy of the Vietnam Women’s Union along with gifts from international friends. One of the highlights is ‘A letter of apology to Vietnam’. It was received in 1994 from the mother of a US marine during the Vietnam War (1954 – 1975).

The letter comes with a pair of earrings the woman’s son brought home as a gift after the war. At first, she didn’t know they were s made from wedding rings of dead soldiers. After she found out, she decided to return them to Vietnam along with an apology.

Fourth Floor: Women in Fashion

A woman with lacquered teeth
A woman with lacquered teeth
[ by Bảo tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam – Vietnamese Women’s Museum from Facebook ]

The fourth floor consists of fashion across all 54 ethnic groups. Highlights include pieces of clothing using unique sewing and dying techniques. Explanations detail accessories and what determines the correct position to wear them.

Two highlighted beauty practices are teeth lacquering or blackening and betel chewing (nhai trầu) or paan. Teeth lacquering is done during a young age to create a coating to prevent decay later.

Betel chewing dyes the teeth a slight reddish hue and keeps the fresh breath. It usually comes with areca nuts (cau) and limestone powder (vôi). Betel leaves and areca nuts are two essential items in traditional Vietnamese ceremonies, especially weddings.

Temporary Exhibits in the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi

An Ao Dai collection
An Ao Dai collection
[ by Bảo tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam – Vietnamese Women’s Museum from Facebook ]

In the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi, there are also special temporary exhibits. Most of the time, they’re on the fifth floor. Mobile galleries are frequently set up at local women’s committees and schools.

Present exhibits (2020-2021) include the Mother Religion worshipping three Mother Goddesses, contemporary arts, and an Ao Dai collection. They also have hard-hitting issues concerning women and children such as various types of abuse and human trafficking.

Children Educational Programs

Children Educational Programs
[ image from baotangphunu.org ]

There are many fun and educational programs for children in the Hanoi Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Most of them are organized in the Discovery Room. The funding came from the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

This interactive space is filled with fun and colorful toys, books, videos, and photos. Some promote children’s comprehension of gender-based issues. There are also classes on Hmong sewing techniques and making conical hats. Instructions are available in Vietnamese and English.

Is the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi Worth Visiting

Is the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi Worth Visiting
[ by Bảo tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam – Vietnamese Women’s Museum from Facebook ]

Opening hours: Every day, 8 AM – 5 PM.

Ticket prices: Adults: 40 000 VND per person ; Children: 10 000 VND per person.

The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is within walking distance from Hoan Kiem Lake in central Hanoi. It’s a professionally curated museum and well worth spending a couple of hours.

You can get some interesting perspectives on women’s lives and issues in general. It’s especially good for discovering the cultural diversity of Vietnamese women. The entry ticket is reasonable, there are activities for children and a nice shop.

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