Vietnam Hanoi: Cultural Time in Museum of Ethnology

Travel Period: 21 Sep – 28 Sep 2014

{PREVIOUS: Vietnam Hanoi: Sunset in Hanoi West Lake}

Hanoi Day 3 Itinerary –

  • Museum of Ethnology, Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake, Cafe Nola

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

We finished breakfast early in the morning and took a taxi to the museum, intending to spend one whole day looking at the exhibits. We are all interested in the history and cultural aspects of a country and I knew Dar would be interested in the old architectural exhibits I had read about.


PART 1: Museum – Interior Exhibits

// Entrance Fees: 2 Adults – 40,000 VND  (SGD$ 2.40) / 1 child – 10,000 VND + Photography Fee: 50,000 VND (SGD$3) = Total: 140,000 VND


It was nearly noon when we reached. We tried to be earlier but breakfast and traffic conditions always took too much time.

After paying for the tickets, we headed inside the main building of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. The place was air-conditioned and provided a relief from the heat outside. We started walking around the huge area, looking at the exhibits and information presented in display boards. They were shown in three languages, Vietnamese, French and English, so we had no problems understanding the displays.


I enjoyed looking at the things they used in the past, their costumes and read information about the different ethnic groups in Vietnam.


This shows the process of how the Asian Conical Hat – the “Nón lá”, is made. An impressive intricate weaving process using layers of palm leaves, bark of Moc tree and bamboo. They are really cooling under the hot weather, as we found out later while doing the Ha Long Bay cruise. Tourists should try to buy one as souvenir (We have one ^_^).


As the majority of Vietnamese were descended from minority ethnic groups in China, there were several items that were of Chinese heritage, which we are familiar with. For example, the lion dance, certain clothing and Chinese ancient wedding costumes.

There were also “Water Puppets” on display and some information on this traditional art of Vietnam. We had watched them in Day 1 (Read: Watch A Water Puppet Show) so Dar recognised them and pointed at several puppets excitedly.

At the Diversity Area, a huge board display of Ethnic Groups in Vietnam introduced us to the origins of the Vietnamese people. “Xin Chao” means “Hello” in Vietnamese language and we often use this greeting while we walked about in Hanoi.

Vietnam is named as such because the majority ethnic group of Vietnam is “Lạc Việt” or “Kinh”. They originated from southern China. The minority ethnic groups originated from Miao Tribe in China, South East Asia, Thailand, Burma etc.


PART 2: Museum – Exterior Exhibits

EXPLORING – Architecture in Details

“Not much time left, let’s explore outside first.” I mentioned to Vin. We left the second storey for later and walked outside in the heat. It was around 12pm then.

We were confused initially to the entrance of the exterior part and found it by walking round the main building to the left. A restaurant was next to it and we planned to eat there later.

It was hot but there were plenty of shade from the trees and the huge rustic compound. Still, we put on our hats to prevent sun burning our scalps.


 Time to explore the real houses belonging to families in the past!


The first house we came to belonged to the “Tay” tribe, which is the largest minority in Vietnam.  We were excited to find out how it would be like.

Reaching the bottom of the steps, there was a box of covering for shoes. “We are supposed to take off our shoes before entering,” I informed Vin. His shoes were troublesome to take off, so he chose to wear a covering over the shoes. I tried the coverings but my feet were too small and they kept dropping off. Finally, I just took off my shoes and walked up with socks.

Dar did not know how to walk up at first because there was no hand rails to hold on to. He was hunching down and trying to grab the sides. I told him to just walk up straight as it was not necessary to hold. He was still cautious of falling and treaded gingerly.


Walking inside, I was impressed. “Wow!” The wooden floor (made of bamboo or palm tree) was comfortable to walk on. Everything was so neat and clean. Information was displayed clearly at certain corners in wooden plaques to tell the story of the house and explain the structures we were looking at. Dar was so excited as he walked about because he’s very interested in building and architectural stuff.

We walked one round and went out to the exterior, where there were other structures below the stilted house. We showed Dar the stone mill and the little garden compound where the family grows their crops. It was quite a learning experience for this city kid.


As we walked along the path to the next house, a tall building loomed up in front.

Dar excitedly ran towards it, shouting, “I have never seen a house with a roof so high!”


It took them a while to climb up because the steps were so steep!

Again before entering, we have to take off our shoes or cover them with cloth, . I specially took a picture of the interior of the roof because it was really high.


Dar and his Daddy settled down at the fireplace. The area was cooling with fans and we noticed how the palm leaves made the interior so shady and comfortable. It certainly felt better than the cement houses we are used to!


Vin told Dar that this was where they probably light a fire and put on a pot to boil water or tea for social visits.


Going down was a trouble again. The technique is to go backwards and climb down on the tiny steps.

Vin went down first with Dar after him so he could catch him if anything happens. I stayed up so I could pass him the camera once he reached. Then, I had to go down slowly too. It was made difficult because the hand rail was made of some material that was super-heated under the sun and my first step went, “Ouch!”

It was either climb down with hand burning by the minute or try to jump down which is impossible (around 2m off ground). I chose to hold a little with my fingers and after managing the first few steps, held onto the steps instead.




This was Dar’s favourite house, out of all the houses we saw at the Museum. “Because it’s long!” he exclaimed (He likes things that are long)

The steps were more manageable this time. I really wonder why they built them like that! How do little kids, pregnant women or old people go up and down?


We like the structure of this house too and spend a long time relaxing inside (15mins). There was one or two museum staff in each building we went to, but they just sat at the corner, keeping mostly to themselves.

We saw another fire place and Dar sat on it, saying to Vin, “Let’s chit-chat about a story of the pot.” So they sat down and chatted…


Next, we walked in further to this area with an opening, a ceiling fan and a straw mat commonly used in South-East Asia. The breeze was inviting and with the heat outside, it felt like a lazy afternoon where your eyelids start to feel heavy and you just want to nap.

We couldn’t resist and sat down to relax. I actually used this type of straw mat at the beach when I was young and the older generation loves to use this for napping because it’s cooling. Nowadays, we had advanced to synthetic mats.

Dar felt a little tired since he had walked for a while and proceeded to lie down, relaxing under the breeze. Vin joined him too while I just sat around them. The few visitors around had walked into another room so we were the only one in the huge living room area.


When we travel, we prefer to take our own time in exploring and have a fun and relaxing time visiting places of interest. There was plenty of sitting area, mats and electric fans provided, inviting people to sit around and enjoy the “living in” experience. Most tourists around us however chose to quickly walk inside the buildings, from one end to another and exit within three minutes…

It was time to move on to the next part of the long house where the rooms are. I read some information and understood why the house was built so long. It was interesting to find out that for this minority,  the society was matriarchal and 16 people of Mrs Eban’s extended family lived in this house!

EXPLORING – Other Variety of Houses / Way of Life

After the relaxing short break, we continued exploring other houses of the different minority groups. One house had structures and items similar to the Chinese Han people, with Chinese couplets on columns in the house and ancestral tables. Other houses had interesting combination of cement, wood and stilts.


As we looked at their kitchen, living and bedroom areas which is all different depending on the ethnic groups, Dar learnt about how they slept, the equipment they used for cooking and the weaving machine for cloth-making. He had so much fun going in and out of the houses and wasn’t tired at all. We stopped him in time when the energetic boy tried to climb onto one of the beds…

Even the Barn was interesting and had a loft where they put the hay for the animals. We explained to him what the area was.

Lunch Time / Break

After 2 hours of exploring all the houses, we finally took a break for lunch. Knowing we would be exploring the museum for a long time, we had planned to eat at the “Hoa Sua Training Restaurant”. It is within the museum compounds, outside the Main Building.

Venue: Hoa Sua Training Restaurant in Vietnam Museum of Ethonology 

Costs: Pho Ga – 35K (traditional Hanoi Soup with Chicken) | Bun Cha nem Bac (grilled pork and fried spring rolls with vermicelli) – 75K | Mix Stir Fried Cantonese Rice –  55K |  Hanoi Beer – 30K | Fresh Lemon Grass with Honey – 25K |

The Pho Ga was so-so, wasn’t fantastic compared to other eateries. My fried rice, bun cha and the fried spring rolls were nice though. Food took about 10 mins to come. We were the only customers then.

PART 3: Museum – Interior Second Storey

We were ready to leave after lunch of about 1 hour. As we walked to the exit to the museum shop, I realised we had forgotten about exploring the second storey of the main Museum building!

We walked back again to go up the second storey. It consists of more cultural exhibits with the people’s way of life, model houses and clothing.

The models of the communal houses and long house were very detailed! We love looking at them. There was even a full-size replica of the traditional house with some glass displays inside. This area would be great for those unable to fully explore the buildings outside. There were not much to look at, so we left after a short while.

PART 4: Souvenir Shop

I headed to the Souvenir shop selling ethnic crafts and bought a small hand-made bag. Besides getting a souvenir, the proceeds from the sales would help the ethnic communities making them.

We left at nearly 3pm, after asking the souvenir shop staff to help us call a taxi (we don’t trust those waiting outside) from a reputable taxi company.  It was a wonderful 4 hours of learning and fun experiences together as a family.

{NEXT: Vietnam Hanoi:Exploring Temple of Literature}