Hanoi’s nudists have taken to defying the conservative communist nation’s norms by swimming naked in Vietnam’s Red River.
The group meet to shed their clothes for a cheeky dip, a game of chess, or yoga headstands in the buff – which they believe comes with health benefits.
Hanoi’s ragtag nudist club carry out their daily exercises before returning to their normal jobs in a country where pornography is banned.
Three men go through their exercise routine next to the Red River in Hanoi, Vietnam
One man bathes in the river and another, whose manhood is covered by a plant, lies on the banks, which is littered with garbage
Nudists also brush aside concerns that the Red River might not be clean enough for swimming
Three men on the Red River’s edge. The group meet to shed their clothes for a cheeky dip, a game of chess, or yoga headstands in the buff – which they believe comes with health benefits
A balding nudist swimmer with his two dogs by the southern banks of the Red River in Hanoi
‘It’s important for us to come here because we want to be healthy, we call ourselves addicts,’ said Nguyen Tuan Nghia, 43, a self-taught Buddhist who’s been disrobing at the meeting spot for 18 years.
For Nghia, who recently embraced Protestantism, getting naked is his way to return to infancy, making him feel like he was just ‘given birth (to) by Jesus or Buddha’.
Most of them have straight-laced day jobs as civil servants, journalists, or even state officials.
Many turn up every day and a temperature of 18C (64F) did not keep a few dozen skinny dippers out of the water on a recent afternoon, though many had to warm up over hot tea by the fire.
A temperature of 18C (64F) did not keep a few dozen skinny dippers out of the water
They say shedding their clothes makes them feel uninhibited, a rare chance to stray from the pack in the one-party state where social compliance and strict norms are taught from a young age.
‘I feel relaxed, and it’s fun.
‘I feel at ease when I come here, I exercise and it makes me feel better when I return to my day job,’ vendor Nguyen Hoang Duong, 23, said, wearing nothing but an army green cap.
Though public nudity remains taboo in much of Asia, nudist swimming clubs have popped up in conservative China, and tourist-haven Thailand boasts several naturalist retreats mostly for foreigners, while public bathhouses have long been popular across Japan and South Korea.
But nudist bathing and beach-going is rare in Vietnam, a one-party state where porn is banned and communist propaganda posters are ubiquitous.
Nudity in art, photography, film and dance is subject to strict censorship by eagle-eyed authorities, though some exhibitions featuring nudes have been given the greenlight in recent months.
None of this fazes the men at Hanoi’s nudist enclave, who also brush aside concerns that the Red River might not be clean enough for swimming.
They are not worried by rising levels of trash on the river’s edge, nor do they pay much attention to reports about polluted runoff from nearby factories.
‘We’ve never had any skin disease or feel itchy at all, we think it’s quite clean here,’ said 67-year-old Le Duc Lam, who says his own health has improved after swimming in the river, which flows from southern China to the South China Sea east of Hanoi.
For Lam, the skinny dipping sessions under the 115-year-old Long Bien bridge are also a chance to escape the commotion of the fast-growing capital and have a bit of fun with friends.
Though public nudity remains taboo in much of Asia, nudist swimming clubs have popped up in conservative China, and tourist-haven Thailand boasts several ‘naturalist’ retreats mostly for foreigners
His group is one of a handful that meet in different spots along the waterway, including one for women to swim in the buff.
Some hope the trend will catch on.
‘Vietnamese people should be more open when they talk about nudist bathing.
‘We shouldn’t be so modest about it like in the past,’ said naked bather Nguyen Thi Thuy, wearing nothing but the hair on her head.