A viral video of Nannette Boakye traveling through Vietnam shows a glimpse of what it’s like traveling in a country as a person of color. In the video, you see people crowding around her with their cameras in hands and phones on selfie sticks to take her picture.
In an interview, Boakye told Travel Noire that she was curious to learn more about Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, because of its rich history, culture, and authentic cuisine.
Boakye said the interactions she captured in her now-viral TikTok video were not just limited to Vietnam, but in the other Southeast Asia countries she and her friends visited during that trip including Cambodia and Singapore.
In Singapore, Boakye said she witnessed a group of locals staring at her on the train. She goes on to explain that one of the locals googled a picture of a black person with braids before showing the picture to the rest of the group.
“They all started nodding as though they finally understood what and who I was,” she told Travel Noire. “There was something about their response and expressions that made it seem like their confusion had been addressed. It was honestly at that point that it really hit me that some of these people I had met during the trip had genuinely never seen a black person with braids before.”
Here’s more about what Baoakye learned in Vietnam and she drops some advice for other people of color who plan to travel to Southeast Asia.
Travel Noire: What did you like most about Vietnam?
Boakye: Affordability- I loved how everything, from food to transportation to manicures, was reasonably priced.
Hospitality- I appreciated how welcoming and friendly everyone was. I was greeted with warm smiles in every space I found myself in.
Rich history- I spent a lot of time exploring museums and historical sites which never failed to leave me in tears. It was very disheartening to walk around and see the impact of things like Agent Orange which had left many Vietnamese people with specific disabilities.
Travel Noire: Have you ever experienced a culture like Vietnam where the people were surprised to see your skin color?
Boakye: I had never experienced anything like it until the trip. I was raised in Ghana where most people are as dark as myself and have spent most of my life exploring and living in either extremely heterogenous or predominantly black communities around the U.S. and Africa.
Travel Noire: How did that experience make you feel?
Boakye: Fascinated yet uncomfortable is the best way to put it.
It was very awkward at first because they were just staring at me and smiling and then some people started pointing at their cameras to signal that they wanted to take pictures with me. I honestly thought it was cute and nodded in approval. Next thing I knew, I was having a photoshoot with about 30 random people who just kept posing with me and telling me where their camera was. Once my friends came back, I said my goodbyes and was on my way. In this particular situation, they were not disrespectful at all and I was not uncomfortable. I was just fascinated by their fascination. It is still unclear as to whether or not they thought I was famous or they were just excited to see a black person (with braids).
The video showed one incident from my first day but it happened every single day for 10 days I spent exploring all 3 countries. People approached me on the street, at temples, in museums, markets, and the list goes on.
I started getting uncomfortable by day 3 when I just wanted to exist as a tourist without people staring at me or asking for pictures. By day 3, I started turning down picture requests and people were usually respectful of it. Occasionally, I would see people hide their phones, and sneakily try to take pictures of me which made me feel very uncomfortable. At other times, people would just come and stand next to me, would not say a word, and just signal someone in the distance to take a picture which I thought was very inconsiderate and I found to be upsetting because that approach seemed dehumanizing. At the end of the day, whether my skin color was different or not and whether they were intrigued or not, the least I expected was someone to ask me before taking my picture rather than treating me like some voiceless statue.
Travel Noire: What advice would you give our readers thinking about traveling to Vietnam?
Boakye: Do it! It is an amazing country and now you have my experience for the context of what you could face as a black traveler, I think you travel there with more visibility and perhaps even decide how you would approach such situations before you even get there.
I have received over 5,000 comments on this video across multiple platforms and some of the most interesting approaches to the situation that I have read are-
1. Tell them you’re Beyoncé
2. Charge them if they want to take pictures
3. If you are uncomfortable, start taking pictures of them once they start taking pictures of you
Boakye added that she was not put off by her interactions in Southeast Asia and plans to explore the three countries again, stating “the good parts of the trip outweighed the bad for me.”
This article first appeared in Travelnoire.com