All pictures © Olaf Pignataro


Ha Giang is the northern province of Vietnam, and one of the most remote. Traveling on a motorbike on its windy roads, you will drive through deep valleys surrounded by green forests and limestone mountains, taking advantage of outstanding views on top of the high-mountain passes.
The province is close to the Chinese border, maintaining an unique relationship with the neighbour country; while in the last 20 years the rest of Vietnam experienced an economic boom, Ha Giang seems to have stood still in time. 90% of the population are ethnic minorities, creating a unique cultural heritage. The different ethnicities gather at the numerous local markets: people walk dozens of miles from the surrounding areas, climb mountains and cross streams to get there, where they sell their things, food and live animals like cattle, pigs and dogs.
Nowadays, not many people dress traditional costumes anymore, as most women prefer to tailor their dresses using cheap fabrics from China. The visual impact is still very colourful, but the fact that younger generations aren’t interested in learning how to make these costumes means that part of their cultural heritage could be lost forever.

Since Hoi An achieved the title of UNESCO “World Heritage Site” in 1999, the city on the Vietnam central coast underwent drastic changes. Old Town, the city’s historic district, is still an exceptionally well preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, with its buildings and street plan reflecting a unique blend of influences, indigenous and foreign.
The impact of the much desired UNESCO title is to seek in the intangible and cultural heritage of Hoi An: the everyday life of the local people, cost of living and authenticity.
Residents are forced to move outside of the old quarter of the town as land prices increase. As tourists are drawn with increasing numbers to Hoi An due to its World Heritage Site title, demand for almost all commodities has increased accordingly, driving up the price of many products. Since tourists are willing to pay more for the same good or service as locals, prices are driven up even further. The increase in the price of food has had a particular impact on the residents of Hoi An: the poorest and most vulnerable are especially affected by the increase in prices. One woman from Hoi An complained that “before, we just chose the biggest and best fish to eat, now it is impossible to find such products in the local market, even if we are willing to pay premium prices. Everything here is privileged for tourists.”
As the same time, services and facilities intended for locals are being moved away from the old quarter. For example, whereas the old quarter used to have a local hospital, this space is now used by a large tailoring business.
Yes, Hoi An Old Town is very well preserved, as the exterior and the structure of its buildings are well conserved; the functions of the buildings, though, have radically changed. Nowadays, all commercial spaces inside Old Town are dedicated to tourism-related business: restaurants, cafes and shops selling souvenirs, tailor-made clothing, accessories and lanterns. Lanterns, in particular, are not part of Hoi An tradition, as they are a new cultural product.
The irony is, tourists are beginning to notice the loss of authenticity of Hoi An. According to visitors, the old quarter of the town is becoming a museum display, lacking in life and interest.

The preparation of Vietnamese coffee, or ca phe, gives this beverage a particular taste: beans are generally roasted in clarified butter oil, and the incredibly strong, dark taste is counterbalanced by thick, sugary condensed milk. Still, the people working at the numerous floating markets all have a dreamy expression, as they are sleeping on their feet while slowly cruising the waters of Mekong Delta.
At these markets people can buy fruit and vegetables from local production, and the goods are sold directly from the boats – the owners hang the available products on long poles, so that people can see what’s on offer from far away. Small sampans serve as mobile cafes, where you can buy soft drinks, an iced coffee or a strong noodle soup for breakfast.
In the southern region of Vietnam, a lot of people completely depend on its water ways: to travel and to make business, of course, but it is also the place where to live. For example, the Cham people are a Muslim diaspora migrated from Malaysia, living in stilt villages and floating houses. The floating houses double as fish farms, as underneath the boat hulls is a 2 meters deep wire cage containing up to 300.000 fishes.