Our final stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City (formerly named Saigon). To me this city seems to sum up Vietnam as a whole perfectly. It is a wonderfully chaotic blend of history and culture along with the dizzying business of modern 21st century life! Once again Lonely Planet seems to take the words right out of my mouth: ‘The ghosts of the past live on in buildings that one generation ago witnessed a city in turmoil, but now the real beauty of the former Saigon’s urban collage is the seamless blending of these two worlds into one exciting mass.’ If you only visit one museum in the whole of Vietnam, make sure that it’s the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the most popular museums in the country. It primarily deals with the Vietnamese War, although there is also some information here relating to the first Indochina War against the French colonialists.
When you first enter the compound you come across equipment from the period including tanks and a variety of airplanes. In one corner there are even a number of unexploded weapons – although thankfully with their charges and fuses removed! As you explore the museum you find it is organised into different themed rooms, each filled with photos and short explanations of what the images show.
A warning before you visit this museum, some of the images on show are very graphic. For example, there are rooms documenting the use and effects of Agent Orange and other chemical sprays, napalm and phosphorus bombs. There are images of the war itself, and of the descendants of those involved who have been crippled by exposure to these chemicals. There are even exhibits such a guillotine used by the French and South Vietnamese to execute prisoners and jars of preserved human fetuses believed to have been deformed by the chemicals already mentioned.
The museum does indeed present a shocking view of the wars in Vietnam. That being said, the images and the information provided should be taken with a pinch of salt as they are understandably very one sided. But no matter what your personal opinion is about the Vietnam war or America’s involvement in the country, the pictures are incredibly moving and you should be prepared to see some harrowing images before you enter this museum.
“The open road is the school of doubt in which man learns faith in man.” – Pico Lyer