The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is one of the best museums in Hanoi and well worth a visit for anyone interested in women’s studies or simply the culture of Vietnam. It gives a broad insight into Vietnam’s population, including its 54 ethnic groups, addressed through the lens of women’s issues.
The positive impression starts from outside the gate: a large white building with colourful windows sits behind imposing gates. Once through the gates — motorbike and pushbike parking is available — pay at the ticket booth on the left. It’s currently 30,000 VND.
Exhibits are spread over five floors, accessible by elevator if required. On the ground floor you’ll find luggage storage and a gift shop, mostly selling the type of souvenirs you’ll also find in Old Quarter.
Head upstairs to the exhibits, which start with a small display about street vendors in Hanoi. The photos and simple yet insightful video of interviews with vendors are both compelling and liable to make you think twice about haggling over a few thousand dong next time you want a bunch of bananas. That said, one of the most appealing things about this museum is its impartiality: it doesn’t seem to have an agenda. Information is presented factually but with heart, and props — such as videos, photography and relics — are used when appropriate and sufficiently to add interest and variety.
Opposite the street vendors’ room is the marriage and birth exhibition, which starts with some words of wisdom: “Wife and Husband are as inseparable as a pair of chopsticks”. The section describes marriage for a number of different ethnic groups across both patrilineal and matrilineal societies, supported with costumes, a video of a Black Thai wedding ceremony and even a mocked-up matrimonial bed.
Upstairs, exhibitions include family life and work, fashion, women in history, key women in society today and Mother Goddess worship. The section related to women’s role in the country’s battle for independence covers 1930 till 1975, and contains a number of artistic propaganda posters and profiles specific women, while the fashion section has a wide array of costumes, including ao dai and ethnic minority dress.
The Mother Goddess exhibit should definitely be on your agenda, especially if you plan to visit any pagodas in Vietnam, as it provides excellent background understanding of this dominant form of worship.
The museum usually also hosts temporary exhibitions in a room next to the ticket booth and art exhibitions on the top floor. Entrance is included with your ticket.
Overall the Women’s Museum is well laid out and bright, with quality exhibits, and the content is extensive and well presented, with information in Vietnamese, English and French. It’s near enough to Old Quarter to walk and not too far from Hoa Lo Prison, the History Museum and the Museum of the Revolution if you want to make a day of it.
Stop for refreshments in the cafe in the courtyard or explore further afield. Ngo Trang Tien isn’t far and is good for street food and you’ll find a range of higher end dining venues on nearby Hai Ba Trung.