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 of Vietnamese women’s lives throughout various periods and diverse regions. From 2012 to 2015, it’s consecutively been in 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 ]

The Vietnamese Women’s Museum was established under the Vietnam Women’s Union (Hội Liên hiệp Phụ nữ Việt Nam) in 1987. It wasn’t until 1991 that construction started and the museum officially opened to the public in 1995.

The first exhibition spaces only had objects and artifacts collected since the 1970s. However, from 2006 to 2010, the museum went through a major renovation into what it is today with help 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 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 with Vietnamese and English explanations. There are also some interesting online exhibitions in English that you can only find 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

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 when you walk in 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. The photos can be replaced for temporary exhibits.

If you look up to the ceiling, you’ll see a number of conical hats (nón lá). They are an iconic item associated with people in the countryside and often paired with the traditional outfit Ao Dai to highlight femininity.

In the gift shop, you can get your own conical hats and some other nice souvenirs like hand-sewn bags, pillows, and scarves. There are also books published by the Hanoi Vietnamese Women’s Museum 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 in different ethnic cultural groups from girlhood to marriage, working life, and motherhood. Most Vietnamese ethnic groups follow patrilineality (male line kinship system), while few follow matrilineality (female line kinship system).

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 in times of war— both on and behind the battlefront. Many of the sacrifices they made, especially behind the lines of fire, still resonate to this day.

This section comes in chronological order from Historical Figures in Feudal Times, Vietnamese women 1930 – 1954, Southern – Northern Women 1954-1975, the 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’ received in 1994 from the mother of a US marine during the Vietnam War (1954 – 1975).

The letter comes with a pair of earrings that the woman’s son brought home as a gift after the war. After knowing it was made from the wedding rings of deceased Vietnamese soldiers, she decided to send it back 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 that incorporate unique sewing and dying techniques. You can also see what accessories they use and what determines the position they 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 in Vietnam usually comes with areca nuts (cau) and limestone powder (vôi) to dye the teeth a slight red hue and keep a fresh breath. Betel leaves and areca nuts are two essential components 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, usually on the fifth floor, there are also special temporary exhibits for more specific topics. 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 held in the Discovery Room which was funded by the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

This interactive space is filled with fun and colorful toys, books, videos, and photos promoting 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, and specifically the cultural diversity of Vietnamese women. Entry is very affordably priced, there’re activities for children, and a nice shop.

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