Unless stated otherwise, museums
are closed on Mondays
Ethnology Museum (08.30 to 12.30, and 13.30 to 16.30)
Ethnology Museum stands out as Vietnam's best-managed cultural
institution. Despite its location in the suburbs about a half
hour's drive from the city centre, it attracts streams of
Its subject matter is exclusively the 54 ethnic groups of
Vietnam. The presentation of its extensive collection is imaginatively
and effectively presented using dioramas, life-size models
of people and reconstructions of dwellings, and carefully
placed video screens. The interpretation of both content and
language is good.
A particular feature of the museum several full size buildings
typical of selected ethnic minority groups, and a traditional
Vietnamese family house, erected in attractive gardens. All
are either original buildings that have been dismantled and
reinstated at the museum, or have built by craftspeople from
the villages themselves.
History Museum (08.00 to 11.00, and 13.30 to 16.30)
Just behind the Opera House, Hanoi's History Museum offers
a good overview of
Vietnam's history from prehistoric times to the end of the
Second World War. Although the arrangement of the exhibits
follows the usual chronological sequence, many of the individual
artefacts are good quality.
in common with most museums in Vietnam, the History Museum
falls down on interpretation. Most of the labels are in Vietnamese
only, and do little more than identify the objects to which
they refer. There are few attempts to place the articles in
their context or to show their significance. Some showcases
are packed with almost identical exhibits.
in 1931 as a French cultural research and conservation institution,
the present-day museum carries on that tradition. The architecture
is typical of the of the later French Colonial period that
incorporated Vietnamese elements to create a unique and impressive
Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution (08.00 to 11.30, and 13.30
Also housed in a colonial building, the Museum of the Vietnamese
Revolution traces the path towards independence from the arrival
of the French to reunification. The dominant medium is text,
mainly newspapers and letters and thus is of less interest
to the foreign visitor. The post re-unification Vietnam is
treated as a Shangri-la of milk, honey and happy peasants,
conveniently overlooking the horrors of starvation that stalked
the land in those dark days.
Museum of Vietnamese Women (08.00 to 16.00)
Usually referred to as the Women's Museum, it deals with the
contribution of women to Vietnam's development and particularly
their role in the conflicts of the last century.
quite a gem in Vietnam's cultural crown. Despite its small
size and lack of resources, it has created a collection to
put many of the more prestigious institutions to shame. It
takes ordinary and often mundane articles but puts them in
a context that vividly recreates the past. One delightful
touch is that of naming, and sometimes describing, the women
who used them. A simple conceit, but one that personalises
the experience immediately. Definitely worth a visit!
Ho Chi Minh Museum (08.00 to 11.30 and 14.00 to 16.30, closed
Monday and Friday p.m.)
A large white building, innovatively -designed and built with
Russian aid, houses Vietnam's definitive museum dedicated
to the life and times of the great leader. Documents, photographs,
artefacts and tableaux are well designed to trace Ho's passage
from birth to death, and the evolution of his philosophy and
vision for Vietnam's future.
nearly everything is in Vietnamese and only a few of the museum
staff speak anything other than their mother tongue, so an
experienced guide fluent in your language is essential to
make sense of it.
Army Museum (08.00 to 11.30 and 13.00 to 16.30, closed Monday
Officially the Museum of Military History, the Army museum
is located in the south-west corner of the Hanoi Citadel.
large assortment of military paraphernalia clutters up the
front gardens, balefully overlooked by a statue of Lenin on
the other side of the road.
main exhibition covers events during the war against the French
colonists from the 1930 uprising to the victory at Dien Bien
Phu in 1954. The American War is described in a separate exhibition
aside a strong propaganda element, the rare photographs and
video images of Ho
Chi Minh, the legendary General Giap, the battle of Dien Bien
Phu and the Ho Chi Minh Trail makes a visit an unmissable
experience for military history buffs as well as those simply
interested in seeing the Vietnamese side of the conflict.
However, you'll need a guide with you to assist with language
and contextual interpretation.
bonus is an opportunity to ascend the Cot Co Watch Tower adjacent
to the museum. Apart from being of considerable interest as
one of the few remains of Emperor Gia Long's mighty edifice,
the view from the top includes the whole Citadel area and
Fine Arts Museum (08.30 to 17.00, and 08.30 to 21.00 Wednesday
The fine colonial mansion that houses the museum was given
an oriental-style roof when it ceased to be a residence. Nevertheless,
the effect is pleasing.
various collections are eclectic - inevitably, the Soviet
inspired social realism school is well represented but is
by no means dominant.
Among the many reproductions, there are some fine originals.
Particularly noteworthy are a
delightful collection of folk art, and a good range of modern
art including some excellent water colours and innovative
Geological Museum (00.08 to 12.00, and 13.30 to 16.30 - closed
This contains an overview of the geology and geomorphology
of Vietnam, and particularly its many areas of mature limestone
karst, such as Ha Long Bay and Phong Nha. It's worth a quick
visit for general interest, but as it is mainly a research
institution, the seemingly endless array of rock samples is
hardly riveting for a lay person.
Hoa Lo Prison (00.08 to 11.00, and 13.00 to 16.00 daily)
Known as the 'Maison Centrale' by the French and as the 'Hanoi
Hilton' by US GIs, Hoa Lo is one of the three 'must-see' icons
of the American War, on a par with My Khe Beach and the Cu
Chi tunnels. However, it is also the one most likely to lead
to disappointment. Once a massive French-built prison accommodating
over two thousand prisoners at its peak, it became notorious
as the temporary home of large numbers of captured enemy soldiers
and airmen, mostly American.
during the 1990s, virtually all the area was demolished to
make way for a modern tower block of apartments and offices
called the Hanoi Towers. On the south-east corner of the site,
the entrance lobby and a few of the cells have been retained
as a small museum.
on the opposite side of the road, the building is dwarfed
to insignificance by its huge neighbour, making it difficult
to imagine its gruesome (and somewhat exaggerated!) history.
It contains several interesting exhibits, including the heavily-used
guillotine that was the centrepiece of the French judicial
system in Vietnam, and is worth a visit. A guide is essential,
though, as only Vietnamese is used throughout.
Truong Son Museum (08.00 to 11.30 and 13.30 to 16.30 daily)
Better known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum, the Truong Son
opened in April 1999 on a site about 13km from Hanoi by Highway
6, and has become popular with visitors to Vietnam. The many
artifacts, more than 10,000 according to the curator, are
professionally presented, and are effective in illustrating
the wartime role of the engineers who constructed and maintained
the trail. The exhibits include an illuminated diorama of
the trail clearly depicting its intricacy as it wound through
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Air Force Museum (07.30 to 11.00 and 13.30 to 17.00 daily)
As Vietnam's air force was only established
in 1959, most of the exhibits in the museum are concerned
with the American War. Some are of interest, but as it is
located well outside the city centre, the Air Force Museum
is probably an attraction only for aficionados.