Photo: A tomb house built by Jarai Arap men from Gia Lai province that features at the museum.

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

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The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a little out of the way from Hanoi’s main sights, but as one of the city’s best and most informative museums, it’s worth seeking out. If you’re planning on going trekking to the north and northwest of Hanoi, this museum should really be considered essential, but it goes well beyond covering the groups who live there.

Sponsored placement.

The museum is set in three distinct parts. An older indoor area focuses on Vietnam’s various ethnic groups, while a significant portion of the museum behind this is spread across a lovely sprawling garden filled with well-crafted examples of traditional houses from ethnic minority groups. A rather spectacular newer building off to the right features an exquisite Southeast Asian handicraft collection, that as of mid-2017 was only partially complete, with several empty rooms, but is still worth exploring.

Nothing beats a good diorama. Photo taken in or around Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

Nothing beats a good diorama. Photo: Samantha Brown

The older building features exhibits from the everyday lives of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups: the Viet (Kinh) and 53 minority groups, who together speak languages spread across five linguistic families. Displays, labelled in English, French and Vietnamese throughout, are both comprehensive and fascinating, covering all the main minority groups. Plentiful audiovisual displays are offered along with more typical museum fare and dioramas. Some items on display are simply breathtaking.

Check out, for instance, Mr Pham Dang Uy’s bicycle, loaded down with 800 wooden and bamboo fishtraps. There’s a 1956-built Cham buffalo cart from Ninh Thuan province, which is able to pull two tonnes worth of goods; funerary statues from Gia Lai; a diorama of an initiation ceremony of the Red Yao in Yen Bai province, and another of Hmong weavers. We particularly liked the various windows from a Black Thai stilt house in Son La province, recreated from 1960s sketches and mounted on a wall of the museum.

Black Thai house windows are on display on the wall at the back. Photo taken in or around Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

Black Thai house windows are on display on the wall at the back. Photo: Samantha Brown

Look out for the educational room where visitors can do various activities. When we stopped by, it was a simple stencil rubbing, aimed more at children than adults, but the staff were keen for us to give it a go as well.

The outdoor area’s highlight is probably the Bahnar communal house from Kon Tum, with its impossibly high roof and creaking bamboo floor. This amazing piece of architecture used nary a nail in its construction. Remove your shoes, climb up and step inside to experience how delightfully cool the building is, even in summer.

The Bahnar communal house is one of the museum's highlights. Photo taken in or around Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

The Bahnar communal house is one of the museum's highlights. Photo: Samantha Brown

Don’t miss the Jarai tomb, with its cheerful and rather well-endowed fertility symbols carved from wood that are able to shepherd up to 30 people into the afterlife. The decorated Cotu tomb from Quang Nam province is intriguing, while the Ede house, from Dac Lac, is also impressive; you’re welcome to step inside for a peek here, too.

If you have kids in tow, you might want to put your feet up and check out the water puppet show, which has six performances daily and costs an additional 90,000/70,000 for adults/children. We didn’t see the show, but it seemed very pleasantly set up.

Stunning traditional Uzbek and Tajik embroidery. Photo taken in or around Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

Stunning traditional Uzbek and Tajik embroidery. Photo: Samantha Brown

The Southeast Asian wing features some exquisite exhibits. We loved a huge suzani, a traditional type of embroidery by Uzbek and Tajik craftspeople—it might not be what you’d expect to find yourself admiring in Hanoi, but there you go. Also on display are Myanmarese string puppets, Javanese batik, weavings from Sam Neua province in Laos, Chinese kites and a beautiful Filipino mosque drum.

Guides are available for a full tour of the museum for 100,000 dong, and while the museum’s website says you’ll have to pay a further 50,000 dong if you want to take photographs or video, we were not asked to pay anything to take pictures using our phone.

You can easily spend two to three hours exploring this well curated museum. Photo taken in or around Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

You can easily spend two to three hours exploring this well curated museum. Photo: Samantha Brown

Tie a visit in with a trip to the Lotte Observation Tower either on your way here or back. An on-site restaurant that supports disadvantaged youth offers meals if you want to spend a few hours here.

The museum is reached by the number 14 bus followed by a 10-minute walk down Nguyen Van Huyen Street, or we simply hailed a GrabBike using the app on our phone and it only took about 15 minutes from the Old Quarter to get here.


Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Nguyen Van Huyen St, Hanoi
Tues-Sun 08:30-17:30
T: (04) 3765 2193 
http://vme.org.vn/home/
Admission: 40,000 dong. Guide: 50,000 dong inside, 50,000 dong outside.

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