Hanoi Museums

Unless stated otherwise, museums are closed on Mondays

The Ethnology Museum (08.30 to 12.30, and 13.30 to 16.30)
A full-size replica of a 'rong' house in the gardens of the ethnology museumHanoi's 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 visitors.

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.

The 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 ofThe History Museum is housed in one of the best examples of colonial architecture in Vietnam 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.

However, 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.

Built 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 style.

The Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution (08.00 to 11.30, and 13.30 to 16.00)
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.

The 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.

It's 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!

The 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

The tank that broke down the gates of the Presidemtial Palace in Saigon.The Army Museum (08.00 to 11.30 and 13.00 to 16.30, closed Monday and Friday)
Officially the Museum of Military History, the Army museum is located in the south-west corner of the Hanoi Citadel.

A large assortment of military paraphernalia clutters up the front gardens, balefully overlooked by a statue of Lenin on the other side of the road.

The 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 stall.

Putting aside a strong propaganda element, the rare photographs and video images of HoThe view from the top of the watchtower next to the Army Museum 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.

A 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 its surroundings.

The somewhat prosaic facade of the Fine Arts Museum belies it's interiorThe Fine Arts Museum (08.30 to 17.00, and 08.30 to 21.00 Wednesday and Saturday)
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.

The 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 An exhibit in a gallery designed to house Buddhist effigiesa delightful collection of folk art, and a good range of modern art including some excellent water colours and innovative contemporary work.

The Geological Museum (00.08 to 12.00, and 13.30 to 16.30 - closed Sunday)
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.

The 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.

The infamous 'Hanoi Hilton'However, 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.

Standing 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.

The 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.

The 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.

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