Ho Chi Minh City’s museums

The War Remnants Museum (07.30 to 11.45 and 13.30 to 15.15 daily)
By far the most popular of Ho Chi Minh City’s museums, the War Remnants Museum presents a partial, but riveting, view of the American War, as it is known in Vietnam. The horrors of warfare, aptly demonstrated by a large gallery of graphic pictures and deformed embryos, and a grisly display of some of the hideous booby-traps used by the Viet Cong to protect the Cu Chi tunnel network, are counterbalanced by a room concerned with international opposition to the war and the American peace movement.

Outside are an interesting exhibition of military hardware and a mock-up of one of the infamous ‘tiger cages’ used in the prison on Con Son Island. The latter reminds visitors that the conflict was, in reality, a civil war, with US forces supporting the Vietnamese ‘Saigon regime’. The tiger cages were used to torture suspected Viet Cong guerrillas first by the French, and later by officers of the South Vietnam Army.

The History Museum (Monday to Saturday 08.00 to 11.00 and 13.30 to 16.00. Sundays: 08.30 to 16.00)

Ho Chi Minh City’s History Museum is housed in an attractive building next to the Botanical Gardens. Most of its exhibits are presented in chronological order from Vietnam’s primeval landscape to the expulsion of the French colonialists.

Although conservative in its approach to display, and lacking effective interpretation of the significance of its many artefacts, it provides a comprehensive and comprehensible overview of the creation and development of Vietnam.

Among the specialised displays is a well presented exhibition of Champa statuary second only to the Champa Museum in Danang in quality, and relicts from Oc Eo, a large port serving Funan, a Hindu Kingdom close to Vietnam’s present border with Cambodia that flourished in the first half of the first millennium.

The Fine Arts Museum (Tuesday to Sunday 09.00 to 16.45)
The building housing the Fine Arts Museum is worth a visit in its own right as a fine example of French Colonial architecture. Inside, there are some interesting exhibits, notably a large display of propaganda posters and images from Vietnam’s ‘social realism’ period, and a good collection of Cham and Oc Eo artefacts. Unfortunately, the galleries seem to be arranged more or less at random, and lack interpretation, so it’s very difficult to gain an understanding of the development of Vietnamese art.

Other Museums
The Ho Chi Minh Museum (07.30 to 11.30 and 13.30 to 21.00 daily) is something of a disappointment. Although it displays a reasonable number of articles and memorabilia associated with Uncle Ho, there is no cohesion and consequently no sense of the reality of the man.

A better bet is the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (08.00 to 11.30 and 14.00 to 16.30 from Tuesday to Sunday). The building is attractive, and the collections effectively illustrate the various periods of Saigon’s 300-yr history. Some of the artefacts have iconic status, such as the US F-5E jet flown by a renegade South Vietnamese pilot to attack President Diem’s Presidential Palace.

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