Hoi An presents visitors with many reasons to fall in love with it-its quaint character, its palm lined beaches, its talented tailors with their beautiful hand-made clothes, and probably most of all, its silk lanterns that adorn almost every street. While Hoi An is lovely in the daytime, it’s truly magical at night, when the lanterns light up the city and people set out onto the river in small canoes, releasing floating candles onto the still water. It feels straight out of a fairy tale.
But my favorite part of my trip did not fall into any of the above categories. In fact, it was completely unexpected. My entire day was close to perfect, filled with pineapple smoothies and coconut ice cream, drifting to sleep to the sound of ocean waves crashing, and getting caught up in the evening’s festivities. I was meandering through the streets of the town late morning, perusing store fronts and still basking in the glow of my vegetarian banh mi that I had found for breakfast (I kid you not-I was over the moon). As I walked along the street, some large portraits displayed outside the entrance to a building caught my attention. Dismissing them as out of my price range, I almost kept walking, until I saw a small sign “Cultural Heritage Museum-free”. Okay, I’ll bite. I’ve been craving a museum. I passed up the War Remnants museum in Saigon (previously and aptly titled Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes). I’m so ashamed of the Vietnam war and all of the other atrocities the US has committed in SE Asia that at times it’s overwhelming to be here. But this museum seemed more up my alley.
Most people don’t know that Vietnam is home to over 50 ethnic minority groups, each with their own colorful culture and distinct heritage. Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups make up more than 10% of the country’s population, but account for more than 40% of its poor, living mostly in the remote countryside and mountainous regions. I was immediately impressed by the photographer’s work as I walked in, but as I passed through the gallery and into the museum, I felt my admiration of his work grow. For each ethnic group he had spent time photographing, he had put together information on their history and stories of his interactions with them. There were recreations of their traditional clothes and presentations of the tools they use in their daily life.
The idea of photographing other human beings is a tricky one to me–especially marginalized populations. I think it’s incredibly important work, but I could never do it, and I think it takes a special person to do it well. The photographer walks a very fine line of telling the individual’s story and reducing them to their exotic appeal for their own personal gain. This museum was everything I could ever wish for a photographer to be. I learned so much and it was readily apparent in his recounting of his travels how genuine his interest in these communities is. The store just opened five months ago. His Insta is rehahn_photography if you want to check out his work 🙂
Starfruit homestay was absolutely lovely-highly recommend. With a beautiful pool, helpful workers, and bikes at your disposal, it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself here.
Vegetarian banh mi-Phi Banh Mi
There is another vegetarian restaurant right next to starfruit with bomb food that’s really cheap (I don’t really know that it has a name?)