Boys and their toys
The Vietnam Military History Museum has a comprehensive collection of war relics charting Vietnam's struggle for liberation. If you're only going to see one war museum in Vietnam, this should be it. While the styles of the displays are definitely outdated by today's whizz-bang interactive exhibition standards, there is a lot of history packed into this museum that is still fascinating. The old museum style is in itself intriguing to observe.
There is a lot to see, so pace yourself, or decide what's really of interest to you. If you're mainly interested in the American War, you may want to skip through some of the earlier galleries, or risk being too overloaded with information to really appreciate it. Naturally everything is shown from the perspective of the Communist government.
The museum was opened in the 1950s, and still has the feel of something set up then. It contains some 150,000 artefacts, documents and photographs arranged in a series of galleries. Though much is somewhat stale, expect more than the usual collection of guns, spears and ammo (though these do feature heavily), with a good deal of photojournalism and historical background provided in English, French and Vietnamese. Items are not put fully into context, but if you have some knowledge of Vietnamese history, a lot will be interesting to see.
The museum begins with galleries featuring featuring axes and stone hoes dated as far back as 4,000 years ago; information notes that the state of Van Lang, the site of modern Vietnam, repelled outside invaders as early as 7th and 6th centuries BC. Now that's some wartime history to cover to bring us up to the present. Note the sly reference when Vietnam's land area is explained to it including the "Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands". There might be a few neighbouring nations who disagree.
Galleries continue to cover Chinese colonisation, through to the French period, the brief Japanese period and then on to the American War, and more recent skirmishes.
There are some poignant individual items on display, such as a string of beads belonging to a "60-year-old monk who was killed by American troops in 1968". Then there is an entire Renault car used to carry officials during the same year's Tet offensive; keep an eye out too for the tank famed for smashing through Independence Palace in Saigon on April 30, 1975. We quite liked a final gallery featuring photos of international protests calling for the end of the American War in Vietnam, and a world map highlighting which countries supported Vietnam's resistance against the Americans.
Save energy for the displays outside. At the back of the museum, a huge monument has been put together out of the wreckage of a B-52, an F-111 and a French transport plane, all of which were shot down by government forces. At the centre is a huge photographic blow up of a female Viet Cong soldier dragging the wing of an American plane across the beach; think 'pop art' meets 'socialist realism'. The whole effect strangely resonant.
Other tools of war are more traditionally displayed: a MIG-21 fighter, a surface-to-air missile and plenty of spent ordnance. Alongside the Military Museum is a 59-metre-high ancient flag tower that marks what was once Hanoi's tallest point; it was once part of the Hanoi Citadel built in 1812. From here, enjoy unbeatable panoramic views of the city. Watch your head on the climb up!
As you leave the museum, take a look across the street, where a park features a monumental statue of Lenin. Not a whole lot of those left around anymore...
Address: 28A Dien Bien Phu St, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
T: (04) 3823 4264;
Coordinates (for GPS): 105º50'24.72" E, 21º1'55.2" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 40,000 dong
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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