Ancient Indochina. Part 3.

25a Hué-b

Hué. One of Than Thaï’s follies, several of his wives in ritual dress are transformend into musicians, wearing a Marine fusilier’s belt.

L’une des follies de Than Thaï, une partie de ses femmes en costume rituel sont transformées en musiciennes affublées d’un ceinturon d’infanterie de marine.

Hué was the imperial city of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945. The capital of the Nguyen dynasty. (Nguyen is a very common surname in Vietnam. Much like Smith!) Emperor Thanh Thai was crowned in 1889; some call him the Vietnamese Caligula, with a “well-stocked Harem”.  Hence the legend above of “several of his wives”. The first emperor to cut his hair short and drive a car, after repeated stories of servants and women abuse, he was sent away “on a vacation” by the French and deposed in 1907 on the grounds of insanity. (Source: the mad monarchist).

Hué will be remembered by Americans (And Vietnam vets) as the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam war, in 1968, during the Tet offensive.

26a pont papier Riviére-1

Hanoï. Le pont de papier, près de l’endroit où Rivière fut tué.

The paper bridge close to where Rivière was killed.

Henri Rivière (1827-1883) was a French Navy Commander. During the French-Chinese war, he conquered Hanoï in 1882, against his superiors’ instructions. At that time, Vietnam was more or less a Chinese posesion. The French, as I mentioned in part 1, were trying to block British expansion from India to China and came head to head with the Chinese. Rivière gained the French the province of Tonkin, north Vietnam (where vietnamese independence leaders later came from, e.g. Ho-Chi-Minh) The Black flags, a group of Chinese bandits and brigands were enlisted by the Chinese to attack the French. Rivière was killed in combat close to the paper bridge shown in this picture.


Hanoï. Monument d’Henri Rivière à l’endroit où il fut tué.

Monument to Henri Rivière at the place he was killed.


Henri Rivière. (Source Wiki)

The war between the Chinese and Black flags on the one hand and the French on the other, went on for a few years, until China abandoned its claims on Vietnam and left it to the French. I have a feeling the vietnamese were not consulted.


Pont Doumer sur le Fleuve Rouge. 1650 m de long.

Doumer bridge on the Red River. 1650 ms long.

Circa 1902. “Civilisation” in progress. Paul Doumer was at one time Governor general of Indochina. He later became President of France in 1931 until his assassination in 1932. The bridge is now called Long Biên bridge.

29a arrivée gvnr

Hanoï. Gare. Arrivée de Monsieur Beau, Gouverneur Général. 3 Nov. 1902.

Arrival of the Governor General at the station.

Note the white colonial uniforms, and the horse-drawn carriages. Paul Beau was Doumer’s successor as General Governor.


Exposition d’Hanoï. 1902. Palais central construit sans fondation suffisante près d’une mare. S’enfonce en terre. Doit servir de musée si on réussit à le sauver.

Hanoï Fair 1902. Central palace.

The turn of the 20th century displayed a great fad for “Universal fairs” or expos. The Eiffel tower was constructed for the 1889 World fair. And meant to be destroyed at the end of the fair! This particular Fair in Hanoï in 1902 diplayed all the proud possessions of French Indochina and invited Asian countries. The architecture is similar to the Grand Palais in Paris. Though the author mocks the construction without sufficient foundations!


Exposition d’Hanoï 1902. Pavillon des Philipines puis du Laos.

Hanoï fair 1902. Pavillions of Philipines and Laos.

40a expo

Palais des beaux-Arts. Remarquable collections de croûtes.

Fine Arts palace. Remarkable collection of bad paintings.

“Croûtes”, crust, also means “bad painting” in French. The author’s sense of humour. He also mentions in another photo, the French pavillion with displays of food, saying: “on ne déguste pas”. No tasting. I like the character bottom right, with the traditional vietnamese dress and the umbrella.



Rue Paul Bert, Hanoï. Vue prise du théâtre en construction.

Paul Bert Street, Hanoï.

A street of Hanoï c. 1900. Note the rickshaws, center left, and the French officer in white to the right.


Hanoï, route de Son Lay. Road to Son Lay.

All I could find on “Son Lai” is in vietnamese. Don’t do no vietnamese, sorry. There was however a fierce battle in “Son Tai” between the French and the Black flags in 1883. Century old pencil handwriting is difficult to read. 😦

45b tonkin

Tonkin. Entrée d’un village.

Tonkin (North Vietnam), entrance to a village.

Washing clothes (black pajamas?) in Tonkin by the rice paddy. c. 1902.


Tour de la pagode de Bach Mou près d’Hanoï.

Bach Mou pagoda near HanoÏ.

The closest to Bach Mou I could find was “Bach-ma”, white horse, a “Chinese despot who conquered Indochina”. (Source: Chinese mythology dictionary)


Tonkin. Mandarin en grand costume.

(Vietnamese) Mandarin in full dress.

Vietnam, of all Indochina, had always been under the strongest Chinese influence (and domination). Vietnam was a Chinese province from 111BC to 938AD,  the first of many occasions!) Thus the vietnamese followed many chinese customs, one of which was the Mandarinat. High ranking civil servants – Mandarins – in China were recruited on the basis of extremely difficult literary exams for more than 1300 years, from 605AD to 1905AD, the end of the Chinese Empire. This particular vietnamese Mandarin is dressed with the typical chinese costume of his rank. See the bonnet, the higly decorated robe, and the chinese style shoes.


Femme Kha du Dar-Lac.

Kha woman from Dar-Lac (province)

The Kha are a hill tribe of Laos and the Dar Lac province of Vietnam. The original proto-malays or indonesian inhabitants of Indochina. They are related to the Moi. And maybe the Meo? There seems to be some confusion with the Akha tribe. I have found this modern picture that may be from the same tribe (source included):




Femme siamo-laotienne.

Siamese Laotian woman. Hanoï Expo. 1902

The head-gear, costume and jewels look very Thaï. Still used today in Thailand and Cambodia, I believe, for traditional dance. Such elegance!



Princesse cambodgienne.

Cambodian princess. Hanoï Expo 1902.

Note the tiny crown and the shorn hair. (Again! Would our guests from Cambodia care to explain this mystery?) Superb jewels, silk costume and ankle bracelets. Also wearing mules! This little princess can’t have been more than twelve. Probably – and fortunately – died before the Khmer Rouge massacres. But then, don’t princesses live happily ever after?

Thank you for your time.

To be continued…

Bon week-end à toutes et à tous!

26 thoughts on “Ancient Indochina. Part 3.

    • Exactly. Sibling rivalry. France and England were the strongest nations/countries in Europe for 1000 years. So they spent all that time struggling for the control of the schoolyard! And then took their fight all over the world. I worked for a British company once and I remember an after-work drink in a London pub, where I told my CEO that the reason for so much rivalry was not that we were different, on the contrary, it was because the French and the British shared the same deffects! (I’ll let you figure those out!) 🙂
      (My CEO was only faintly amused)

      • I was surprised to know that the royals of France and England always inter-married or quite frequently did that. That meant a huge exchange of people too, because back then lot of people followed the bride to her new home… so these two cultures are bound to be deeply bonded!

        It is like India pakistan- pure and perfect sibling rivalry- a ruthless killer sometimes! After all, most of the high and mighties of earlier ages either slayed their own or were slain by them!

      • I’m glad that you mention India-Pakistan. When people ask me “and where are you from?” I always say I was born in India, though I’m a “Sindhi” born in Karachi. To me they are one and the same! 🙂
        (Only politicians separate the people)

      • I “call myself” a Sindhi! After all I was born there. But being a cultural chameleon, I also am an African, or an American, or a Latin American depending on the circumstances. I can even be Brittier than the Brits (25% english trough my grandmother). But overall: I’m sooo French! 🙂

    • Let’s, Catherine! Though Time is the great Thief, there is a local saying: “Hay más días que vida” (There are more days than Life) 🙂
      Not too cold out there yet? 😦
      A bientôt

  1. I am impressed! Well researched with so much details on Vietnam history. Well done Brian and I love those old photos – glad to know that with today’s technology we can still enjoy seeing them. Thank you very for sharing this!

    • Dank u weel mee vrouw! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed it. Research is actually not too hard with to-day’s resources, once you know what to look for! 🙂
      (And I do have a personal and family relationship with Asia!)
      Tot ziens!

  2. An interesting and helpful little history. I’m re-reading Anthony Grey’s Saigon and your information is a good way to visualise some of the people and places he describes. I couldn’t find Parts 1 and 2. Are they still available?

    Thanks and cheers

  3. I love the pictures and the information included. Am I correct that you lived in many places all over the world? If so how grand! I admire and love that. Those memories have to be priceless. Thank you for sharing. Hugs

  4. The Siamese-Laotian lady is actually Cambodian. Her attire is very similar to classical Thai (Siamese) dress of the Ratanakosin period but the giveaway is her assortment of bangles and bracelets that is still worn by Cambodian dancers today. The Siamese did/do not use the same exact wrist jewelry (or at least not in the same arrangement). Notice how the “Cambodian princess” picture below wears the same exact assortment.

    Regarding the short hair. In the old days, Cambodians follow the same tradition as Siamese where children wear a top knot. The top knot is shaved off in a ceremony when they enter puberty. Adolescent females would have long hair sometimes. But older women, especially of the royal court, would have it short. The short hair is an aesthetic value that may be hard to understand. In old depiction of divine women or royalty, they wear a tall spikey diadem that attaches to a tuft of hair or bun on top. This short hair may be a relic of that practice.

    • Hi Derek. Thank you so much for your comment. The short hair mystery is solved. After almost three years. How do you know that? Have you lived in the region? Take care.

  5. Hello. I’m curious to know how you see the Cambodian Princess is taken in Hanoi and not Phnom Penh. There is another photo of a different woman, but the same distinct table cloth w long silk fringing. It claims to be Cambodian with no mention of Hanoi. Curious. Regards, Nick

    • Simple: context. This photo (and others) come from a photo album, beginning of the 20th century my brother found at a flea market in Paris. That particular picture is in a sequence of the Hanoï expo in 1902. There were pavillions of the many components of Indochina. The caption of that photo specifically says “Exposition d’Hanoï 1902”.
      Thanks for asking.

  6. “The closest to Bach Mou I could find was “Bach-ma”, white horse, a “Chinese despot who conquered Indochina”. (Source: Chinese mythology dictionary)“.
    I want to say about that…
    Mã Viện is “Chinese despot who conquered Indochina”.
    Bạch Mai is the name of street or village in Hanoi.
    That pictture is Diệu Quang tower in Liên Phái pagode at Bạch Mai stress or in Bạch Mai village.
    Liên Phái, the old name is Liên Hoa, it’meant Hoa Sen – Lotus Flower.
    (sorry my english is not good)

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