Visiting Indochina, the imaginary of the French colonial period in today’s touristic Việt Nam

Emmanuelle Peyvel (2011) Visiting Indochina, the imaginary of the French colonial period in today’s touristic Việt Nam, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 9:3, 226-236, DOI: 10.1080/14766825.2011.620121

Names of Indian towns, rivers, provinces and seas have first and foremost a musical meaning. All references to physical, human or political geography in India Song are incorrect.

Marguerite Duras, India Song

This paper aims to examine the multiplicity of articulations existing between the imaginary, the production, and the consumption of touristic places in a post-colonial context. Using the approach of cultural geography, I want to study the role of the French colonial period (1887–1954) in the construction of Việt Nam as a touristic destination. Within that specific context, interconnection of times and spaces contributes to building a new type of otherness. Indeed, touristic spots serve a past that is over, but revived by tourists as a source of exoticism. The French colonial imaginary influences touristic places in four different ways, ranging from the choice of Việt Nam as a destination to the touristic spots themselves. Firstly, it specifies this destination, as if Việt Nam, in its status of former French colony, kept a specific link with France and Europe. Secondly, it creates specific touristic places, like Sa Đéc, the town of Marguerite Duras’ childhood. Thirdly, it complexifies the reading grid of pre-existing touristic places, like in the former colonial centre of main towns. Finally, it influences the ordering of domestic places, like some high-standard hotels, giving them the atmosphere of the ‘Colonial Chic’. In all cases, the colonial imaginary serves as scenery for stories built by tourists in order to give a meaning to their travels. These travels are both through time and space, and it is precisely in that flashback that the pleasure lies.