Just few blocks from the entrance to the Reunification Palace, Saigon’s War Remnants Museum offers a narrative of the war from the North Vietnamese perspective.
Opened in late 1975 and located on Vo Van Tan in District 3 in the former US Information Service Building, the museum was originally called The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government. Later, this was shortened to the Museum of American War Crimes and then to the simpler War Crimes Museum, which remained the name until the early 1990s.
Although the name has changed, the museum’s sentiments have not; it heavily focuses on displaying the crimes and atrocities of war and the emphasis is on the horrors perpetrated by the Americans. The result is a somewhat one-sided story presentation which may feel unfamiliar or unfair to some attendees -- bias aside, the museum gives a great lesson in the horrors of war.
Walking through the gate, past the museum’s high walls, you'll find yourself in a courtyard filled with military vehicles and unexploded ordnance. Here you get the chance to get up close and personal with period equipment from the war era, including a Huey and Chinook helicopter as well a fighter jet and tank taken from the South Vietnamese Air Force. Next to the museum you will also find a small stockpile of bombs, we presume deactivated, to give you an idea of what was dropped on the country.
One of the more interesting exhibits outside of the museum is found to the far left side of the main hall. Here you’ll find a life-sized recreated French POW camp, which houses displays of some of the torture devices, like barbed-wired tiger cages, and shows torture methods used during the conflict. Many of the displays are complete with mannequin bodies positioned inside. For the morbidly curious, this is also where you will find a guillotine actually used in executions until 1960.
Inside, the museum is divided into three levels with a variety of exhibits, such as on weaponry, propaganda and children’s artwork. Notable sections include the Hall of Historical Truths, which shows press and propaganda denouncing the US government between the 1960s and 70s, and the International Support for the Vietnamese People Room, where you can see offerings from various world bodies opposing the entry of the Americans. I found one of the most powerful displays in the Requiem exhibit, a collection of photographs taken by journalists who were killed during the war. All displays have accompanying fact cards in both Vietnamese and English, giving you plenty to read as you stroll through.
The museum isn’t for everyone; some of the pictures and displays are graphic and shocking; while there may be no easier way to drive home the point that war is bad, what is displayed may not be suitable for the faint of heart or children. But if you’re interested in war history, this is your place. The brutality of war is on full effect and you couldn’t go to many other places in the entire world where this is more evident. A walk through the museum would be a necessary companion to a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels; many tour companies partner a trip to the museum with a trip to the tunnels. Because of this, the best time to visit the museum is in the morning, as you will avoid the tour groups who flood the museum later in the day.
After the musuem, if you’re looking for another dose of war history, you’re only a short walk from the Reunification Palace or a five-minute drive from the Southern Women’s Museum, a site displaying the contribution of women to the defence of the country. Further outside of downtown you could also visit the Southeast Armed Forces Museum, about a 20-minute taxi ride away, for more information about the earlier Indochina wars with France.
By Stuart McDonald.
Last updated on 28th December, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.