If these walls could talk
Published/Last edited or updated: 26th August, 2017
Ho Chi Minh City Museum (Bao Tang Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh) is devoted to the history of the city and is housed in Gia Long Palace, a building that deserves its own museum-if only these walls could talk.
First, the museum’s contents. Not to be confused with the Ho Chi Minh Museum (dedicated to the revered revolutionary leader/late President), this museum traces the city’s development from pre-history to reunification, with special emphasis on the revolutionary struggles. There’s also a display of traditional dress and currency. There are some explanations in English, but the flow of the rooms is confusing—keep your eye out for the number signs to follow.
Outside, war machines are displayed on the grounds, including an A-37 fighter, M41 tank and UH-1 (Huey) helicopter.
The building itself is interesting (even more so than the actual exhibits). Built in 1887 by French architect Alfred Foulhoux, who also designed the city’s famed Post Office, it was supposed to be an exhibition hall but before it was completed, it became the Lieutenant Governor’s residence starting a tumultuous journey that would last for almost century. It was in the hands of the Japanese during occupation, then belonged to Emperor Bao Dai, a short lived stint that ended when the Viet Minh rolled in on August 25, 1945. The British arrived, who then handed it back to the French until they were ousted in 1954.
The most interesting period was during the tenure of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. First used as a reception hall, it became Diem’s residence and office following the bombing of Norodom Palace in Feburary 1962, an attempted assassination. From May 1962 to October 1963, he had secret tunnels constructed underneath the palace in case he needed to beat a hasty escape. It was built none too soon as on November 1, 1963, he used the passageway to flee during an attempted coup. He escaped to Cholon, a short lived reprieve as he and his brother were assassinated the following day.
Visitors can see the entrance to the secret tunnels on the ground floor. According to posted information, the shelter and tunnel were designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu (the same architect as Independence Palace). The shelter has six rooms 2.2 m high and reinforced concrete walls 1 m thick. There are two entrances inside the palace and two exits hidden in two blockhouses in the garden.
It was the Supreme Court until Reunification, where it became the Revolutionary Museum and finally the Ho Chi Minh City Museum.
Creaky and haunted by the past, the building is worth the 15,000 dong admission alone. The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City is located at Ly Tu Trong between Pasteur and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia (the entrance is on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia). It is in the heart of downtown, just west of the Rex Hotel and Nguyen Hue Blvd. It’s well situated for a quick stop on a day of District 1 sightseeing which will likely include Reunification Palace, Notre Dame, the Post Office and the War Remnants Museum.
Address: 65 Ly Tu Trong St, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (entrance is on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St)
T: (08) 3829 9741;
Coordinates (for GPS): 106º41'58.24" E, 10º46'31.84" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 15,000 VND
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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