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Spending time in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)? Once you have slurped some delicious street noodles and walked through the stunning French colonial architecture, it is time to hit the museums. Saigon boasts some of the finest galleries and museums in Southeast Asia, and it is well worth visiting at least one or two while you are in the region.
Saigon’s museums afford you an opportunity to peek into the history of this thriving modern culture, from the Bronze Age to the tragedy of the 20th-century wars. Enjoy art, artefacts and photography as you learn all about Vietnam as a modern state.
Here is a rundown of the best museums and galleries in Saigon.
War Remnants Museum
Formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, The War Remnants Museum is home to a vast collection of weaponry, anti-war posters, and truly disturbing photography. Many Western visitors to Saigon have a morbid curiosity about the brutal decades of war that Vietnam was plagued with throughout the 20th century. While the horror and atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people have been well documented in the media, but this museum forces Westerners to confront the personal stories of local people. This is a must see for any visitor to Saigon.
National History Museum
Visit this stunning French colonial building for the architecture, stay for the interesting collection of Vietnamese historical objects. Built by the Société des Études Indochinoises in 1929, The National History Museum houses valuable relics that demonstrate the past civilisations of Vietnam. You can see interesting objects from the Bronze Age Dong Son civilisation (2000 BC), the Funan civilisation (1st to 6th centuries AD), all the way to the Cham, Khmer and modern day Vietnamese. Well worth your time, and located in an idyllic spot near the botanical gardens.
Walk just a short distance from the History Museum to find the Military Museum. A small collection, this is nonetheless an interesting museum is devoted to Ho Chi Minh and his attempt to liberate the south from the US. Make sure that you spend sometimes in the museum’s outdoor gardens in order to see U.S., Chinese and Soviet war objects, including a US-built F-5E Tiger with the 20mm nose gun, still loaded and a South Vietnamese Air Force Cessna A-37.
This stunning neoclassical building was built in 1885 and was formerly used as the Gia Long Palace and then the Revolutionary Museum. Focussing specifically on the history of Saigon, The HCMC Museum is dedicated to presenting archaeological artefacts, ceramics, cultural objects, old city maps and an interesting perspective on the city’s past, present and future. Though not open to the public, the building sits atop a vast network of military tunnels and bunkers used in during the wars.
Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine
Interested in medical history? Do not miss this lovely museum, known for its detailed and quaint exhibits about traditional Vietnamese medicine and Chinese philosophy (and located in a lovely little building). Stocked with traditional ingredients, potions, remedies and fertility rites – Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine is a quirky and interesting way to spend an hour or two of your time.
Fine Arts Museum
Another pretty building built in 1929, the Fine Arts Museums boasts wide corridors, stained glass, handcrafted tiles and a gorgeous yellow and white colour scheme. The building houses an impressive collection of art, including some modern pieces, alongside historical pieces that date all the way back to the 4th century. You can rest your gaze upon Funan-era sculptures in wood and stone of Vishnu, the Buddha and Ganesh, alongside Cham art that dates from the 7th to the 14th century.
Ensure that you meander around the grounds, as the lovely central courtyard is worth a visit, and you can also see a collection of outdoor statuary. Visit the Building No 2 in order to see rotating exhibits and travelling collections.