The War Remnants Museum is a major tourist attraction in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. Documenting the War in Vietnam (1955–1975), it offers insights, albeit incredibly skewed, into the famous war that racked the nation for 20 years. It also has minor displays related to the earlier First Indochina War, which involved conflicts with French colonial powers.
You won’t see many locals here; the museum is geared more towards foreign visitors, with a rather one-sided aim of portraying American forces and their allies in a negative light and casting the victorious Northern Vietnamese in the role of victim and, to a lesser extent, hero. As long as you keep in mind that the museum takes a very biased approach to the war, it’s a fascinating and emotive attraction to visit whilst in Ho Chi Minh City. Read on for an overview of the popular museum:
The sorrowful scars of war
Often referred to as the Vietnam War by western nations, you’ll quickly notice that different names are given to the conflict by the Vietnamese. The American War is one of the tamer names, with others including the US War Against Vietnam, the Resistance War Against America, and the US Aggressive War in Vietnam. Occasionally, the war is known as the Second Indochina War. Indeed, the War Remnants Museum was originally known as The Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes, later changing its name to The Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression, before adopting its present name.
Housed within an austere-looking building with a dull grey façade, the museum contains varied exhibits, images, and documents related to the war. There is a lesser focus on facts and figures, with more emphasis given to the devastating effects of war on the nation and the long-lasting impacts that still affect people today.
Admission to the museum costs 15,000 VND (approximately 0.65 USD) for non-Vietnamese guests, and it is open daily from 7.30 am to 12 noon, and again from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm.
Old equipment and prison cells
There is a collection of wartime equipment and vehicles in front of the museum, with many pieces once belonging to US forces. See tanks, helicopters, and planes that were used by the US during the war, along with large amounts of unexploded ordnance and other artillery.
The unusually shaped Chinook helicopters are particularly moving to see, immediately conjuring up images of war and destruction for many. Signs, with English translations, provide information about the various items and their uses, and you’ll also learn just how much weaponry and military equipment each side had at its disposal.
Step into reconstructed prison cells and shudder as you understand a little of the conditions that prisoners were kept in. Originally used by French colonialists, they were later employed by the government in South Vietnam. Tiny cells were used to house many prisoners, many of whom were malnourished, sick, injured, and / or emotionally broken. The infamous tiger cages are sure to send an involuntary quiver down your spine; look into the gruesome torture chambers and try to keep your imagination at bay. Instruments of torture and equipment used to kill people, including the notorious guillotine, are also on display.
Wartime propaganda and other exhibits
Inside the museum there is a large collection of anti-war material and propaganda posters that were used to keep people’s fighting and determined spirit intact throughout the tumultuous times. Even though you won’t be able to understand the writing on many of the pieces, the pictures alone tell many stories. Translations are, however, provided for some items. You can also see material from countries that supported North Vietnam during the war, in character if not in action, such as China, North Korea, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. The posters are immensely interesting for anyone who has an interest in Communist regimes and their history. Large posters of prominent Americans are also featured, along with damning quotes.
There are old black and white photographs, many taken by journalists, that transport you right into the heart of the fighting in Vietnam. Violent scenes are made even more sorrowful by images of the heart-broken and desperate citizens, their faces and bodies ravished by the impacts of life in a country at war. People on both sides of Vietnam’s divide suffered horrendously.
If you want to see more weapons and military equipment, some of the interior rooms house displays of bullets and shells, ration packs, soldiers’ uniforms, helmets, and various types of guns.
Other displays around the museum
Arguably the most horrific displays within the War Remnants Museum are those that relate to chemical / herbicidal warfare and those that show the devastation still suffered today as a result of the war. Whilst no aspect of war is ever pleasant, it can be easier to brush aside events that happened in the past than the legacies that remain today.
The rooms dedicated to Agent Orange are especially harrowing. Agent Orange was sprayed over much of Vietnam to kill dense tree cover and thus eliminate the hiding places of resistance fighters. As well as killing the trees, though, Agent Orange had much greater effects on the population and the environment. A carcinogen, some people exposed to the substance, Vietnamese, Americans, and others, now face terminal, and usually very painful, illnesses. Adults who were exposed to the noxious material have given birth to grossly deformed children. A generation of disfigured Vietnamese children, born after the war ended and the country had started to rebuild itself, bore the brunt of a war that occurred before they were even conceived. I can’t recall if photography was prohibited in these displays, or whether I chose not to take pictures out of respect, but the images are forever burned into my mind. All propaganda and rights and wrongs aside, there’s no denying that the suffering continues by those who certainly do not deserve it.
Experience a range of emotions as you discover more about the War in Vietnam at Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum.