About Megan McDonough

Megan McDonough

Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.

Latest Posts by Megan McDonough

How An Awe-Inspiring & Magical Trip to Angkor Wat Can Change You!

November 26, 2015 by  


Like many travelers, Angkor Wat has been on my travel bucket list for years and yet, I never expected to visit so soon. But of course life sometimes throws curve balls at you and after spending some time in Hong Kong, my husband surprised me with a weekend getaway to Siem Reap. While I took hundreds of photos during our short but sweet 48 hours away, I decided to only feature my Instagram shots for this post because they really reflect how I felt in the moment and boy, did I feel! Here are just 5 of the things that ran through my head (and heart).

1) I felt small but not insignificant

I think it’s easy to feel small when surrounded by nature, especially a big ocean or in this case, a mammoth temple of ruins. Usually, these feelings remind me that I’m powerless in the grand scheme of things and sometimes that leads me to believe that I can’t make a significant difference in the world. Yet, here I was, surrounded by ancient temples alters, squares and sculptures, and I felt like I mattered. More than that, I felt alive. Truly alive. It was as if no amount of air would satisfy my lungs.

 2) I felt alone in the best of ways

If you’ve ever visited a castle or a historic monument, you might know what I’m talking about. I’ve always had a big imagination and that imagination really ran wild in Angkor Wat. Even though we were hardly the only tourists temple hopping that weekend, I barely noticed. In the case of Angkor Wat, the entire city is comprised of temples of every size and shape and although many of these sites have seen better days, it was easy to imagine that I lived during this period…at least, it gave me a little insight.

3) I felt wonder

I’d imagine it’s hard to visit Angkor Wat and not feel wonderstruck. My husband’s expressions often mimicked my own. We stood, frozen in place, staring up and all around with out mouths open. As a travel writer and blogger, sometimes I find myself going through the motions even though I’m ashamed to admit it. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with capturing a moment on film rather than enjoying it in that very moment. For whatever reason, I had no trouble disconnecting from technology here. It felt natural. It felt sane.

4) I felt lost and at the same time, I felt found

There were lots of things running through my head before, during and after our Cambodia getaway. Despite my best efforts, I’ve always been a worrier. Usually, these feelings overwhelm me to the point where I can’t think about anything else. As I wandered from temple to temple, I allowed my thoughts to flow freely and for the first time in a long time, they didn’t frighten me. I felt the emotional clarity I so craved. Surrounded by beautiful ruins, hands intertwined, I had everything I could possibly need.

5) I felt Bliss

On a slightly less sappy note, I couldn’t have asked for a better hotel experience than the one we had at the Sarai Resort & Spa. Drinks by the pool, coupled with a free 30-minute foot massage (complimentary for all guests BTW) and refreshing poolside lounge chairs were unexpected surprises. Even though we didn’t see every temple in Angkor Wat, I can’t express how much I needed “down time.” It was so rewarding to come back to the hotel after a jam-packed day and sip a cocktail. We all deserve a little pampering once in a while.

Tips on Seeing Thailand’s Chiang Mai with Purpose

November 21, 2015 by  


I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about Chiang Mai, yet, it always seemed so far away and out of reach. Fast forward to this summer when my husband and I spent some time in Hong Kong. One of the biggest perks about living in Hong Kong is that you can fly pretty much anywhere on the continent and beyond. Some tips!

Get an Early Start

This might be fairly obvious advice but I’m including it anyway. I landed in Chiang Mai Friday evening and decided to head to bed a few hours later. The next morning I booked a last-minute tour to the famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and nearby village. While it was fairly cloudy in the morning and thus not ideal for taking photographs, the skies cleared around 11am, which is around the time we reached the temple. That said, if you want pictures of you and only you, I’d wake up a lot earlier and get there before the crowds. On day two of my whirlwind adventure, I toured the main temples within the Walled City. It’s impossible to visit them all in a day but you’ll be able to see the most famous temples and shrines in a few hours without feeling rushed.

Weekend Guide to Chiang Mai

Choose your Temples Wisely

This leads me to my next point. Pick and choose your temples wisely because there are 300 of them and only 24 hours in a day. In the north-east corner of the walled city is Wat Chiang Man, a temple that dates back to 1296. Within the complex are two unique Buddha statues: the Cystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha. Another must-see temple is Wat Chedi Luang, which was built around 1400 and once stood 90 meters tall. My personal favorite is the Wat Chiang Man. Besides being the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, I just felt a very peaceful energy as I strolled around the complex. Although these temples are the three “big” ones to see, you’ll pass several others on the way that are equally charming. Plus, with no other tourists around, you feel like you’ve uncovered a secret.

How to Tour Chiang Mai in a Weekend

Market shop by Night

Chiang Mai markets really set the bar high. Within 48 hours on the ground, I walked through the city’s three biggest markets: Saturday Walking Street (Wua Lai Road), Sunday Walking Street (Rachadamnoen Road) and the 7-day a week Night Bazaar. I enjoyed Sunday’s market the best probably because it was the most lively and it’s set up along the busiest street. In fact, since many temples are located along Rachadamnoen Road, this is a way to tour the temples by night and do some shopping. In terms of what to buy, it all depends on what you’re in the mood for that day. Street vendors are set up the street and serve up some pretty flavorful cuisine. There are also many handmade scarves and other artisan crafts along with some leather items and hand-painted art.

Chiang Mai walking streets

Book a Mini Trip

Since I was on a time crunch, I considered hiring a taxi to take me to and from temples on the outskirts of town. Once I realized that a round-trip taxi ride would cost more than a half-day guided tour, my decision was made. I ultimately opted for a morning tour to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the Hmong Hill Tribe Village.  Built in 1383, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is home of the replica of the famous Emerald Buddha.

day trips from Chiang Mai

Schedule Alone Time

With so much running around, it’s no wonder I caved and booked a Thai massage at my hotel. One thing I’ve learned, especially for quick trips, is that you need to find some sort of balance. For me, that meant waking up early and having a mid-afternoon lunch break by the pool. When you’ve come from such a long way (and even if you haven’t) it’s easy to feel a little FOMA. It’s also easy to feel invincible, as I’ve learned first hand the past two months. Just because I travel for a living doesn’t make me immune to getting sick on airplanes or feeling plain tired from all the early morning work emails. We all deserve a little break every once in awhile and Chiang Mai is the perfect place to do it.

spa guide to Chiang Mai

My flights were comped by Flight Centre Hong Kong. I was a guest at the Rachamankha during my stay. All opinions are my own.

Are You a Cheese Lover? Head to Emmental Switzerland

November 19, 2015 by  


Let’s face it, Switzerland is fabulous. After a few fun days in Bern, it was time to stretch my legs and venture beyond city limits. Luckily, Switzerland is so well connected and Bern so central, that I had many options. Ultimately, though, my growling stomach made the decision for me and before it was lunch time, I was in the heart of the Emmental cheese route feasting on local delicacies.

Basically in Bern’s backyard, Emmental has four show dairies from four different eras, all of which are within walking distance of each other. For example, the Küherstock cheese dairy dates back to 1741 when cheese was produced over an open fire (this still happens). Then there’s the Feuerwagen cheese dairy from 1900, the village cheese dairy from 1954 and the modern Show Dairy with new production facilities and an on-site restaurant. Here are a few tips to make the most of your culinary trip.

Get an Early Start

From Bern, take the 12-minute train to Burgdorf. From there, it’s a short drive (or longer walk) to the show dairies. If you’re planning to tackle the cheese route in a day like our group did, I highly suggest getting an early start. There are many points of interest along the route and this way, you can set a leisurely pace without feeling rushed. Speaking of getting around, e-bikes are the way to go. The terrain has hilly sections and having a little extra push (literally) really helps. Even if traveling during off-season, it’s best to pre-arrange your e-bike rentals in advance.

Best Cheese Shops near Bern

Take in the View

Even on a cloudy day, Emmental is effortlessly picturesque. The landscape is hilly, hence another reason why electric bikes are ideal for this terrain. Then there are the lush meadows, quiet forests and bird’s eye views of both the Bernese Alps and the Jura mountains. With such peaceful surroundings, it was easy to disconnect from the outside world and simply appreciate the present moment. I was surprised by how naturally I fell into a slower rhythm. If you’re traveling with your camera gear, ask for a bike basket. That way, you can stop and snap whenever you please.

Exploring Emmental: A Cheese Route in Bern's Backyard

Eat Local

There is no shortage of cheese stops along the route but don’t skimp on your fruits and veggies, either. Since there is so much farmland in Emmental, this won’t be difficult. Our group opted for a home cooked meal at a local farm that doubles as a bed & breakfast property (you can actually sleep in the barn on stacks of hay). There, we stocked up on fresh salad, homemade apple cider and of course, cheese! For a more traditional dining setting, try eating at the show dairy’s restaurant. The kitchen whips up regional and seasonal dishes and refreshing drinks. Snag a seat outside in the garden.

local food in Switzerland

Download the App

As old-fashioned as a cheese route may sound, this particular excursion is surprisingly innovative. The Emmental cheese route is an app-based theme path informing about the centuries old tradition of cheese production. In my opinion, the best thing about the entire app is that you don’t need a Wi-Fi connection for it to work. Rather, it runs on GPS so it’s nearly impossible to get lost. Think of thee app as an in-the-know and on-the-go travel buddy. A couple highlights along the route include a visit to the Show Cheese Dairy in Affoltern, the Jeremias Gotthelf museum in Lützelflüh and the castle of Burgdorf.

day trips from Bern

Enjoy the Moment

Even though Emmental is very doable as a day trip, consider making it a weekend getaway, instead. For example, there are many interactive activities like cheese-making classes that simply require more time. I suggest that you define your interests before diving into trip planning mode. For me, I was most interested in the biking aspect of the cheese route so I only made a few stops throughout the day. For others, it might be one of Emmental’s other attractions—whimsical castles, wooden bridges and Alpine horn makers’ workshops to name a few. Like any destination, the adventure is what you make of it, so make every moment count!

Switzerland's cheese route

This trip was hosted by Switzerland Tourism. All opinions are my own.

How to Pamper Yourself & Eat Well in Chiang Mai

November 11, 2015 by  


Before arriving to Chiang Mai, I expected it to be paradise. For years I’ve been hearing (and reading) about how affordable it is to live in Thailand, and Chiang Mai in particular. However, I also found the city to be luxurious, too. My personal travel style is one that bridges the gap between the two. Who can’t resist a relaxing massage or a few hours by the pool? Luckily, Chiang Mai gives travelers many options, thus allowing you to splurge and have a posh princess experience without blowing your travel budget.

Budget Travel Guide to Chiang Mai

Where to Shop

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend visiting a busy city on a weekend, Chiang Mai is an exception to that rule. When I was there, I managed to visit three major markets. On Saturday, head to Wua Lai Road (located opposite Chiang Mai Gate) anywhere from late afternoon until midnight. My flight landed Saturday in the evening so I reached the market around 8pm and it was in full swing. Shop for everything from street food to crafty souvenirs. The next night, I swung by the Night Bazaar before shopping at the famous Sunday market along Rachadamnoen Road. The Night Bazaar is open every night of the week so if you are in town for the weekend, skip it and go straight to the Rachadamnoen Road.

Boho-Luxe Guide to Chiang Mai

Where to Eat/Drink

I also recommend eating and drinking at markets mentioned above. I was really impressed by how tasty the street food is, especially because there is so much competition at the markets. During the day, there are several restaurants and stalls set up along Rachadamnoen Road. Since there are so many temples within close proximity, you never have to go out of your way for a good meal. Alternatively, upscale hotels offer high-quality food, too. One of my favorite dishes was the Khao soi, a northern specialty with spicy coconut curry, chicken and noodles.

food guide to Chiang Mai

Where to Sleep

My two-night stay at the Rachamankha is what dreams are made of (pun intended!) Because the Rachamankha is located within the walled city, it made sightseeing so much easier. The first thing I noticed about the property is that it is so quiet. Considering the main road is two blocks away, this is surprising. That, plus the spacious pool instantly put me at ease. Architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu aimed to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, with decor celebrating Lanna historical heritage.

boutique hotels in Chiant Mai

Image: Facebook/Rachamankha (lightly edited)

Spas and Wellness

With so much walking around and temple visits (more on that in a later post!) you’re bound to need a breather. Instead of walking into one of hundreds of little spas scattered throughout Chiang Mai, I went the lazy route and booked a massage through my hotel. If you are on a tight budget, you’ll have no trouble finding a cheap (I’m talking like $5) hour-long foot or Thai massage. That said, ambiance can sometimes make or break your experience and even though my treatment cost significantly more than local joints, the serenity of the space instantly put me in a relaxed mood. For travelers on a tighter schedule than me, you can actually get a foot massage at the night markets. Sure, it’s not the most scenic backdrop but it’s right int he heart of all the action.

Thai massage treatments

What’s the best weekend getaway you’ve taken? Tell me in the comments below!

Disclosure: my flights were provided by Flight Centre Hong Kong. I was a guest at the Rachamankha during my stay. All opinions are my own.  

White Wine Alert: The Magic of Lavaux Vineyard Terraces

November 9, 2015 by  


You don’t have to be a wine fanatic to appreciate Lavaux, but it certainly helps. Rooted in tradition, many wines from this region are still made like the Benedictines and Cistercian monks did in the 11th century. If you’re a white wine drinker, you’re in for an extra special treat.

What to expect

Before landing in Switzerland, I fully anticipated feasting on chocolates but wine tasting never really crossed my mind. As it turns out, there’s a pretty simple reason. Less than 1% of Swiss wines are actually exported outside the country. So, it’s safe to say that my appreciation for Swiss wines went from 0 to 100 pretty quick and all it took was a full hours frolicking in Lavaux’s terraced vineyards. Lavaux is an UNESCO World Heritage Property in the “cultural landscape” category and every bit as beautiful as I’d imagined. In total, there are more than 10,000 terraces and over 400 walls. From the to of the terrace, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of Lake Geneva.

Travel Guide to Lavaux Wine Region

Getting started

Touring Lavaux largely depends on how much time you have and how much you want to drink (I’m serious)! I did a combination of driving and walking but if I were to do it all over again, I’d probably bike part of the way. Regardless of how you reach Lavaux, I’d recommend starting in Lausanne because there are many regional trains that shuttle travelers to and from the city center. Once there, aim to start your walking tour in the medieval town of St. Saphorin. A far cry from the bustling city streets of Lausanne, St. Saphorin boasts a more simple way of life. In between narrow alleys and drinking fountains, you’ll see winegrowers’ houses that date back to the 16th century.

Wine Guide to the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces

Wine, wine, everywhere!

Located on the northern shores of Lake Geneva, there couldn’t be a prettier place to grow wine. The area is best known for its white wine production, most notably those from the Chasselas grape. For red wines, you’re likely to see Pinot Noir and Gamay. There are also select bottles of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. In terms of soil and weather conditions, Lavaux is most similar to that of German wine regions like the Mosel. In terms of wine production, the 800 hectares of steep, terraced vineyards get warmth in three distinct ways: from direct sunlight, from mirrored reflections from Lake Geneva and from heat stored in the stone walls.

guide to Lavaux

Sit and sip

As peaceful as a stroll through terraced vineyards is, don’t forget to stay hydrated! In terms of dining in Lavaux, there are a few options. The simplest answer is to pick a restaurant in one of the towns. For example, La Gare Cully Café Restaurant in Cully serves typical products of the Vaud region plus a selection of French-inspired dishes. Alternatively, save some cash by packing a picnic and finding a nice grassy patch to eat. Either stock up on food from Coop and Migros supermarkets beforehand or stop by a local grocery store in Lutry and Cully. Many of the villages have open-air markets where you can purchase everything from meat and cheese to fruits and veggies.

wineries in Lavaux

Stop and smell the wine

We all suffer from FOMA every once in awhile and I’m no exception. That said, try not to overpack your schedule. Instead of visiting every single museum and vineyard, pick a handful to visit and then see where the rest of the day takes you. One of my favorite memories from Lavaux was a wine tasting and lunch hosted at a local vintner’s house. While this was organized for our media group, there are many wineries that are open to the public and don’t require special arrangements. Make sure to stop by the Lavaux Vinorama for a panoramic view of the region plus some fun facts about wine making. The space is open year-round, except for January.

boat tours in Switzerland

This trip was hosted by Switzerland Tourism. All opinions are my own.

Take in Markets & Parks on a Short China Excursion….

October 27, 2015 by  


Below are a few tips to help you make the most of your short but sweet stay in China. Let’s face it, China is a massive country and there’s a lot of ground to cover, but if you want to experience it and don’t have the time, you can do short trips from Hong Kong, planning a brief itinerary or go through a tour that falls in line with your interests.

A few highlights on my abbreviated tour included Shenzhen Safari Park, a stroll through the local food market in Guangzhou and lunch at a traditional Chinese restaurant.

Top Day Tours to China

Learn Something New

No matter where I go, I always try to learn a new craft or improve on an existing skill. During our visit through the Shekou’s Exhibition Hall, I learned how to tell the difference between real and fake jade. As it turns out, appearances can be deceiving because the best way to tell what’s high-quality and what’s not, is not by sight but by sound. Once we knew what to listen for, the differences couldn’t be any clearer. After browsing through the museum’s impressive collection of ancient Chinese artifacts, our group headed into the on-site tea room. Besides getting to sample three different types, I learned a few fun facts about traditional Chinese tea like the 5 separate tea groups: green, black, oolong, white and post-fermented.

How to (Realistically) Tour China in a Day

Shop the Markets

By far the highlight of the trip (IMO) is the stroll through one of Guangzhou’s food markets. Markets are nothing new to me but they never fail to completely steal my attention. Qing Ping Market is a one-stop-shop for exotic herbs, meats and fresh produce like fruits and vegetables. You’ll see everything from live sea horses and scallops to chickens. If this is your first time visiting a food market in Asia, be prepared to see live animals (not the pre-packed meats you’re used to seeing at large grocery stores back home). For the best selection, arrive early and for the best deals, stay late. Even during the week this market is packed and not only with people shopping for dinner. I saw a father and son getting their hair cut along one of the side streets.

food markets in China

Hit the Streets

It’s been awhile since I was on a group tour of more than ten people and it did take some adjusting. For example, my favorite way to tour a city is on foot. In fact, if I don’t walk around, I can almost guarantee that I have no sense of my geographical surroundings. For the tour, we took several modes of transportation (bus, boat, train) so there were moments when everything simply felt like blur. So, as you might guess, I took full advantage of our walking tour through the bustling Guangzhou streets. Some say that Guangzhou is the birthplace of dim sum, which puts it pretty high on my list of foodie destinations. All in all, the city is a mix of restaurants, high-rise buildings, hidden temples and electronic stores.

city tips for touring Guangzhou

Go Local

Despite doing a whirlwind trip to China, I did manage to make some friends and by friends, I mean adorable school children. Upon arriving by boat to Shenzhen, we took a short drive to a local kindergarten. When we arrived, the school children were playing on the jungle gym and for the first few minutes, I felt odd and out of place. Fast-forward to ten minutes later when dozens of children waved and smiled my way. I had a similar experience while volunteering in Jamaica but once I assimilated to my new environment, I felt very at ease. After taking a look at their spacious classroom, it reminded me a lot of my own kindergarten days. Note: This portion of the tour only happens during the week and is not included on weekend tours or during holidays.

volunteering in China

This trip was comped by Viator. All opinions are my own.  

Behind the Scenes in Bern Switzerland

October 16, 2015 by  


Bern might be the capital of Switzerland but it doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. While many international travelers won’t hesitate soaking up the summer sun in Geneva or planning a winter ski trip through the alps, Bern sometimes falls off the map so to speak. Then it got me thinking…Is Bern the highly-underrated (and sometimes forgotten altogether) middle child of Switzerland? It just might be and in my book, that makes it extra special. From the gorgeous vistas, quaint old town and decadent drinking fountains, here are 5 reasons Bern is a must-see city.

1) Travelers have their pick of reliable transportation.

Having lived in big cities like London, New York and most recently, Hong Kong, I’ve learned to rely heavily on public transportation. Yet, in a city like Bern I never imagined that things would run as smoothly as they do. For starters, the Old Town is very easy to explore on foot. In fact, I think I only took a tram twice during my stay. Then there are the bikes. Bern Rollt is a free bike rental program that runs from May-October, with rental options ranging from children’s bicycles and e-bikes to skateboards and scooters. You’ll need an ID and a deposit of CHF 20 to hop on your ride. For multiple city trips, the Swiss Pass is a money saver.

Fun fact: As you pedal along, keep an eye out for street signs. You’ll notice that they are different colors: white, yellow, green or burgundy. Back in the day when the French ran things in Switzerland, the color-coded signs helped illiterate soldiers find their way home.

Travel Guide to Bern for Beginners

2) You can go swimming in The River Aare.

This is definitely a warm-weather activity but one that I highly recommend. In fact, it was the best thing I did in Bern. The River Aare is seen from almost every viewpoint throughout the city and it’s one of the most popular summer activities for locals and tourists alike. There are several entry points but I opted to check out the Marzili Outdoor Pool. It’s free if you have a Swiss Pass and next to nothing if you don’t. Once inside, there is a pool, plenty of green grass to dry off on and of course, easy access to The River Aare. The current is strong, so if you aren’t an experienced swimmer, tread wisely, literally! That and follow the buddy system.

Fun fact: The River Aare starts in the eastern Bernese Alps. Before reaching Bern’s old town, the mountain water flows through Lake Brienz, Interlaken and Lake Thun.

5 Reasons Bern is Switzerland's Most Underrated City

3) Happy hour has never looked so good.

Call me vain but I can’t resist a cool glass of white wine on a hot summer day. In Bern, drinks almost always come with a great view. I snapped this photo from the top of Restaurant Rosengarten in the early afternoon. While fine dining in Switzerland can be pricy, a coffee or cocktail won’t set you back too much. If you’re on a tight budget, forget the restaurant altogether and pack a homemade picnic. If you decide to walk up the hill as I did, you’ll more than earn your hearty lunch. The garden is complete with lawn chairs, a playground for kids and plenty of space to stretch your legs. In one word? Bliss.

Fun fact: The garden is home to 220 types of roses and 200 types of irises and 28 different types of rhododendrons. Oddly enough, before transforming into a garden, the space served as a cemetery.

rose garden in bern

4) The drinking water is delicious.

I didn’t believe my friend when he said that the water in Bern (and likely most cities in Switzerland) is delicious. Isn’t water supposed to have no taste? Wrong! The water here really does taste good and it’s also perfectly chilled. Unlike other destinations around the globe, it’s not always a good idea to drink the tap water but since that’s not the case here in Bern. The water is fresh and there are plenty of fountains dispersed throughout the city should you feel parched. The fountain pictured below is one of my favorites, for the ornate decor alone. The most famous has got to be The Child Eater, aka a scary-looking ogre devouring a naked baby.

Fun fact: Bern is sometimes called the “city of fountains,” and for good reason. There are more than 100 in total. Some of these date back to medieval times.

drinking fountains in bern

5) Great views don’t cost a thing.

Despite only being in Bern for a few days, I was surprised how many “bird’s eye views” I had. The first came as a pleasant surprise when I looked out on the balcony of my room a the Bellevue Palace. I assumed it was because I was staying at a posh hotel until I exited the front doors and walked across the bridge to the Einstein Museum. There were views there, too! Next came the famous clock tower called the Zytglogge. Then the cathedral. Then the Rose garden…the list goes on. Many of these views are completely free, or in the case of the cathedral (Das Berner Münster), for example, requires a small fee.

Fun fact: The Cathedral of Bern is well-worth the 344-step climb to the top not only for the view but because it’s the largest of Switzerland’s churches that dates back to the Middle Ages.

Bern travel tips

What city is totally underrated in your opinion?

This trip was hosted by My Switzerland. All opinions are my own.

Behind the Lives of Vietnam Women

September 10, 2015 by  


Let’s face it — half the beauty of any country is in its people. Vietnam is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The people are genuine, kind and present. They live for today, and hold their communities tight. Vietnam’s in the midst of an exciting and historic time, with one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia and plans to be a developed country by 2020.

As a woman, I take special note of the role women play in societies I visit. After returning from Vietnam earlier this year, it was clear that the women are driving much of this financial change and globalization, but continue to face serious economic and social inequalities themselves.

The Harsh Reality of Women Workers in Vietnam

This woman breaks for a few moments in a small alley to escape the harsh sun and busy streets of Hanoi.

About 60km southwest of Hanoi, a young woman was rowing myself and five other travelers in a rowboat down Yen River to Perfume Pagoda. Motorboats passed us frequently driven by men, while the rowboats keeping our pace were only rowed by women. Our tour guide confirmed that, in Vietnam, it is customary for women to row boats, while men drive boats powered by motors. There was no further thought or explanation. This is, simply, how it is.

The Women of Vietnam: A Photo Essay

A women rows down Yen River to pick up travelers from Perfume Pagoda.

I noticed this again during harvest time. Women occupied the fields, often with children at their side. They manually harvested the rice with large machetes and filled bags that, when full, were nearly equal to their weight. Once a group of women had harvested a few bags full of rice, a man would drive over on a motorbike with a flat wooden board attached to the back. Two women would heave the bags onto the board, and then secure it, for the man to tote away.

women working in Vietnam

Harvest time in Phong Nha. Often communities harvest through the night and early morning to avoid the strong sun. This woman continues to harvest mid-day while other’s break.

Mothers were running hotels without daycare. They served as head chef for the eat-in meals that were provided to guests, and their children helped them prepare the vegetables and meat. Women sorted, cleaned and sold seafood at the fish markets. Women were messengers and tailors. They were entrepreneurs, and ran the afternoon markets. They were holding a smiling child in one arm, while offering passerbys a betel nut sample with the other. Women were running Vietnam.

Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market

Women sorting clothes in Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market.

After leaving the country, my curiosity about the female dynamic there continued to grow. Through some research, this is what I found:

  • According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) about 72 percent of women are in Vietnam’s labor force, far more than most countries around the globe.
  • According to the United Nations, women earn up to 50 percent less than men, often despite no significant differences in working hours, education level and seniority.
  • Female jobs are frequently more labor intensive than men’s, with a much higher proportion working outdoors.
  • Vietnamese men and women spend about the same amount of time on income-generating activities, but women spend twice as much time as men on household work. Consequently, the total number of hours worked by women is consistently greater than that of men, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

woman harvesting rice in Vietnam

The woman pictured had just harvested the two bags of rice behind her.

It’s no secret that gender equality is at the top of the global agenda. The UN is currently defining its Sustainable Development Goals, including achieving gender equality & empowering all women and girls, set to launch this September. As the global community continues to visit Vietnam, it is important that we recognize the country’s greatest contributors.

women smoking in Vietnam

It’s rare to see a woman smoke in Vietnam, and is looked down upon. Those who do smoke are generally older women.

*This is a guest post by professional photographer Angela Altus.

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