Saigon for museum-goers

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What we say: 3.5 stars

HCMC has a fair share of museums giving the city’s, and the Vietnamese government’s, side of its historical story. Here are a handful of museums you’ll find around town which are worth a visit.

Not so stylish.

Not so stylish.

A little outside of downtown, on the edges of District 3, the War Remnants Museum is probably the most popular of the HCMC’s museums. Occupying the former US Information Service Building, the museum has gone through a number of name changes; originally it was the House of Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government but the shortened name of War Crimes Museum stuck until the early 1990s.

Even though the name has evolved, the contents inside still focus heavily on the horrors of war. Divided between three levels inside and an recreated POW camp outside, the museum has no shortage of graphic images and information concerning the war. Not for the squeamish or faint of heart, if you’re looking for war history few places in the world give you such an uncensored look. Beat the crowds by visiting in the morning, and that way you’ll beat the rush of tours coming from the Cu Chi Tunnels.

This is where the Thunderbirds could live.

This is where the Thunderbirds could live.

One of Saigon’s more popular District 1 landmarks, Reunification Palace serves as a kind of living museum to the city’s bygone wartime era. Once known as the Independence Palace, the building served as the residence and workplace of the South Vietnamese President from 1966 to April 30, 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its iron gates and ended the war.

Now, basically untouched, the Palace is a time capsule of sorts, one where you can take a look at the building’s grandiose, 60s decor of old taxidermy and flamboyant carpets as well as tour the maze-like concrete basement. Outside of the palace itself, the surrounding grounds are one of HCMC’s more peaceful spots, a good walk around will also take you to some examples of war machinery scattered about the area.

Not my first colour choice.

Not my first colour choice.

After the reunification of North and South Vietnam, Saigon’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City, in honour of the country’s beloved advocate of independence, Ho Chi Minh. To learn more about the man behind the name, head across the channel to the Ho Chi Minh Museum in District 4. The museum is located in the area that, in 1911, Uncle Ho was when he boarded a French freighter and began his three decade exile abroad. Now the building’s three floors are dedicated to displaying artifacts from his life, right down to a pair of worn sandals, and thousands of personal portraits. Although this museum has less information in English, it still gives some backstory to the man who started a revolution.

Fancy.

Fancy.

The topic of war is hard to escape in Vietnamese museums, but the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum isn’t exclusively devoted to the subject. Sure, you’ll see plenty of pieces in the museum that reflect times of conflict, including a hall devoted to pieces of propaganda, but you’ll also find a varied collection of Vietnamese art, complete with pieces of Cham, Khmer and Oc Eo art. A stroll through the museum’s halls will lead you to some impressive works, some of the most impressive being the large works of lacquer. The building that houses the art is an impressive example of French colonial architecture in and of itself and worth a visit just on its own.

War Remnants Museum
28 Vo Van Tan St, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Reunification Palace
106 Nguyen Du St, District 1

Ho Chi Minh Museum
1 Nguyen Tat Thanh, District 4
T: (08) 3825 574

Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum
97A Pho Duc Chinh
T: (08) 3829 4441

Last updated: 2nd October, 2014

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