War Remnants and History: Visiting the Museums of Ho Chi Minh

The first full day we were in Ho Chi Minh, we decided to get our Super Tourist on and walk everywhere. Turning down the offers of tuktuk rides and scooter tours, we marched to the cathedral and wandered in and out of shops.

Having had a bit of a late start to the day however due to sleeping in after our rather lengthy series of plane rides, we ended up walking through the midday heat. This, we learned, is exceptionally inadvisable. Luckily we were able to buy some overpriced yet icy coconuts and duck into the Reunification Palace to cool off.

If I’m honest, the main draw of going to the Reunification Palace, also called the Independence Palace, lies in its historical presencing: you want to stand at the gates where the Vietnam war was ended by the tanks driving through them.

April 30th, 1975, and the tank that drove through the Presidential Palace gates and marked the fall of then-called Saigon and South Vietnam. Photo from The Telegraph.
Ricky standing at the historic gates.
Ricky standing in present day at the historic gates.
The Reunification Palace.
The Reunification Palace.
Ricky outside the War Crimes Museum with a tank.
Ricky outside the Reunification Palace with a photo op tank.

That said, I’m glad we did it. The architecture of the building was beautiful and it certainly was an excellent place to spend during the 12:00-3:00 period so as to avoid choking on the humidity.

It also seemed that not many people knew the roof was open to viewing. We escaped the crowds for a few minutes of peaceful circling around it, learning that the architect originally designed it to be the “zen space” for meditation away from the stresses of politics. (It was instead used as a party pad.)

We also got to see the rooftop helicopter which was used for quick getaways in times of emergency (seriously I thought that only happened in the movies).

Get to de choppar!
Get to de choppar!
Personal escape helicopter on top of the Reunification Palace.
Personal escape helicopter on top of the Reunification Palace.

Once it started to cool off, we headed to the market. I will, however, for the sake of thematics, save that for another post and instead skip ahead.

On our second day we decided to continue our trek through museums – first being the Museum of Vietnamese History, dating back all the way to the neolithic period until present day, and the second being the War Crimes Museum, also known as the “War Remnants Museum” from the Vietnam War.

We took no pictures in the latter because it was a sobering experience and one that neither of us felt comfortable documenting like a tourist attraction. It was a necessary visit to witness first hand: displays of weapons; galleries of photographs captured moments before civilian executions; the mangled bodies of soldiers; rooms dedicated to the images of Agent Orange victims including a real preserved malformed fetus in a tank.

Although it was harrowing, it felt like a pilgrimage to pay tribute to all those affected by the war. I very much recommend a visit if you have the opportunity.

Ricky in front of fighter aircraft located at the entrance of the War Crimes Museum.
Ricky in front of fighter aircraft located at the entrance of the War Crimes Museum. This is the only photo we took there.

Before we went there though, we visited the Museum of Vietnamese History – and here we did take many pictures.

As a much lighter and aesthetically pleasing tour, we wandered for several hours through ancient artefacts and dioramas displaying the old ways of life. There were even a few rooms dedicated to ceramics and porcelain from the French colonial period. As a humourous side note, I’ve never seen a museum with so many gift shops – it seemed after every two or three rooms there was a little boutique and courtyard to relax and fan away the creeping afternoon heat.

Ultimately, it was a gorgeous museum; everything inside and out was beautiful. We capped off the visit with a leisurely sit at the built-in café with a delectable order of iced Vietnamese coffees.

And so here are all the photos from the Vietnamese History Museum.

Decoration.
Ornament.
From French colonial period, I'm like 99% certain this was a bong.
From French colonial period, I’m like 99% certain this was a bong.
Neolithic carvings.
Neolithic carvings.
Ancient wooden Buddha, unique for both its tall stature (about 7 feet) and its incredible preservation thanks to the specific humid climate in the temple where it was excavated.
Ancient wooden Buddha, unique for both its tall stature (about 7 feet) and its incredible preservation thanks to the specific humid climate in the temple where it was excavated.
Stone Ganesh.
Stone Ganesh.
View of museum courtyard from open window.
View of museum courtyard from open window.
Ricky taking a picture of that very same courtyard.
Ricky taking a picture of that very same courtyard.
Diorama depicting a battle in which the Vietnamese rode in on elephants to fuck shit up.
Diorama depicting a battle in which the Vietnamese rode in on elephants to fuck shit up.
Buddha statue with hair made of shells.
Buddha statue with hair made of shells.
Elephant tusk room decoration.
Elephant tusk room decoration.
Fertility statue.
Fertility statue.
Battle depicted in the background with its preserved wooden masts in foreground.
Sea battle depicted in the background with its ships’ preserved wooden masts in foreground.
Parked scooters seen from behind metal window lattice.
Parked scooters seen from behind metal window lattice.
Woman fanning herself in gift shop courtyard.
Woman fanning herself in gift shop courtyard.
Café we sat inside to avoid midday heat whilst sipping iced Vietnamese coffees (which we quickly became addicted to).
Café we sat inside to avoid midday heat whilst sipping iced Vietnamese coffees (which we quickly became addicted to).

Next up will be a post about the Bến Thành Market where I can justly say we spent most of our time whilst in Ho Chi Minh. Prepare yourselves for the bursting chaos and colour!

See you later, alligator.


5 thoughts on “War Remnants and History: Visiting the Museums of Ho Chi Minh

  1. A series of fascinating and moving museums without a doubt. I grew up during 3 of the 4 decades in which the war devastated the country. I’m glad you got a chance to visit where so much history in such a narrow strip of land has transformed itself and survived.

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  2. I’m glad you went to these museums because both give you the best insight to the people and place…to glimpse what has made them who they are now.
    One statue (elephant headed Ganesha) made me think of this scene from “silver Linings”, which explains the story of how he got the head…told 3 ways (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSbmCeogcMM). Ganesha…”the god of good beginnings, and energy…lot of energy…and calmness:.

    Like

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