A must see
Just few blocks from Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum is a confronting look at the brutality of war.
Opened in 1975, the museum has had a few names including the original “Exhibition House for US and Puppet Regime Crime” and “The Crime of War of Aggression”. Name games aside, it is obviously a one-sided presentation though no less harrowing or important display of the American War in Vietnam.
Military equipment are on display outside, while inside the building, exhibitions are spread across three floors.
On the third floor, Requiem is the strongest aspect of the museum. The photography exhibition shows the work of international correspondents/war photographers who died in action. It stems from a project curated by Tim Page and Horst Fass, two press photographers who were injured in Vietnam. Their original exhibition and book had thousands of photographs taken by 133 photographers, commemorating all press photographers who died in the war regardless of nationality or political viewpoint.
In this version of Requiem, each featured photographer has a bio and their photos with well written captions or quotations. Their work is unflinching, vivid and raw, and for visitors it is at times hard to bear. Some of the photos are the photographer’s last ones moments before they were killed or went MIA. The exhibition also guides visitors through the stages of the war: at first a distant war, the escalation, the quagmire and the final days.
These correspondents risked and sacrificed their lives in capturing what was happening, bringing the war “over there” into the homes across the US. In an unprecedented manner, colour pictures of massacres were on television sets, in newspapers and magazines. The footage helped galvanise public opinion against the war. For those who have done some travelling in the country, the location of these photographs may hit home. It was only decades ago that corpses lay on the ground in Saigon, Hue, the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the DMZ.
The frustrating part of the exhibition is the fluorescent lighting which causes a glare on glass, making it difficult to see the photo and get the full impact. It is difficult to see the photo without it partially obstructed.
On the second floor is “Aggression War Crimes” and it contains some of the most famous images to come from the war including “Napalm Girl”, a soldier holding a gun to a man’s head the moment before he is executed and “Black Blouse Girl” from the My Lai Massacre.
The second floor also has an exhibition on Agent Orange and its horrific effects on people.
Outside, the courtyard is filled with military vehicles and ordinances. Here is your chance to get up close and personal with period equipment which has been given glossy coats of paint and big US Army stamps, just in case you weren’t clear on who the aggressor was. There’s tanks, planes, CH-47 Chinook, a Howitzer and Huey helicopter.
On the left side of the main hall is a recreation of the barbaric prison “tiger cages”, like the ones on Con Dao, first used by the French, then used by the South Vietnamese government and Americans. The displays are complete with mannequin bodies positioned inside. For the morbidly curious, there is also a French guillotine actually used in executions until 1960.
The War Remnants Museum is in District 3, well situated to be part of a day of sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City that would include Reunification Palace (just a few blocks away), Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Post Office and Saigon Opera House. The museum is graphic and isn’t for everyone. We think it’s a must, a lesson and reminder to take with you throughout your travels in Vietnam: the country was hell on earth merely four decades ago.
Address: 28 Vo Van Tan St, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
T: (08) 930 5587;
Coordinates (for GPS): 106º41'32.66" E, 10º46'45.71" N
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Admission: 15,000 VND Skip the rather useless 20,000 dong pamphlet.
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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