While some of Saigon’s more popular museums can draw big crowds, a few museums around town that are worth at least a quick stop seem to fall to the wayside. The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, housed in a fine example of French colonial building prowess, is one such oft-overlooked museum.
The displays inside, divided between two floors, are fairly mundane fare compared to the city’s other museums, focusing mainly on revolutionary efforts made in and around the city during wartime. On both floors, displays are accompanied with information in both Vietnamese and English.
The ground floor also covers the city’s early history, as represented by a display of early artifacts such as small sculptures and hand-carved canoes, as well as some information about the city’s recent economic developments. On the second floor, you’ll find most displays reference war efforts made within the city however, tucked in the back corner of the building you’ll find an interesting display of local currencies, from early coinage through to modern plastic bills.
Even though there isn’t much air-con, the spacious, shaded interior stays cool.
If you’re up for a walk around the outside of the museum, you can see a few of the museum’s larger exhibits. The rear of the museum is home to a display of older, French-era automobiles parked in a row under a makeshift carport. At the museum’s west wing a collection of wartime vehicles is on display, including a fighter jet, tank, and helicopter.
The building itself is also interesting (maybe even more so than the exhibits). A beautiful, well-maintained remnant of the city’s French colonial era, built in 1886, it was known as Gia Long Palace before Reunification Day and served as the final home of Ngo Dinh Diem, the assassinated President of South Vietnam, after the bombing of Independence Palace forced him to relocate. Rumour has it that during his stay, the president had a few underground tunnels built, one of which he may have used to briefly escape during the coup of 1963.
It’s worth the low entrance price of 15,000 VND just to wander through the building’s halls. The building is quite photogenic; don’t be surprised if you snap more than your fair share of pictures or if you run into professional photographers snapping wedding pictures.
With an easy to find location, smack in the middle of downtown District 1 between Ben Thanh Market and the Reunification Palace, you’d expect this museum to get more visitors. Save for the occasional event held inside, you’ll be hard pressed to find a crowd inside the museum, as most museum goers opt for the more popular War Remnants Museum.
By Max Murta
Last updated on 24th July, 2014.