I see a lot of museums in my travels, but never blog about them. None, except one. The war remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City, had that impact on me.
Located in the bustling District 3, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City. The Vietnamese name is a little too hard on the mouth (Bao Tang Chung Tich Trien Tranh!), but thankfully you can ask anyone for the war museum, and they will guide you there.
Depending on the diplomatic relations between Vietnam and United States, the name has been changing for ever. It was first called the “Exhibition house for US and puppet crimes”, and later renamed to “Exhibition house for crimes of war and aggression”. The current name was adopted in 1995 after the 2 countries signed a diplomatic pact and ended the US embargo.
Note: You will hear different accounts about the authenticity of the stories told in the War remnants museum. Most Americans will tell you that the stories and artefacts have been exaggerated and are one-sided. And most Vietnamese will tell you that they are not. I am not saying either. I am just reproducing what I saw.
Right at the entrance of the museum, you are introduced to some heavy-duty military equipment, all carefully placed in a walled yard. These include attack bombers like Skyraider, Dragonfly, Huey helicopters, M48 Patton tanks, and a lot of unexploded ordinances. Well, the UXO (unexploded ordinances) have been neutralised, just in case you were wondering about safety.
Further ahead, one of the first buildings in the museum will feature the dreaded “tiger cages”. Back in the day, during the Vietnam war, The Con Son Island in South Vietnam were home to the Con Dao prison, where prisoners where tortured and kept in small cages, which were called ‘tiger cages’. The war remnants museum recreates dioramas of these cages, and peeping in, is a weird kind of experience.
The real horrors of war are detailed inside, mostly in photographs. True, there is some heavy anti-american rhetoric and propaganda there, but that does not help to conceal the horrors of the war itself. The photographic work, which include many from Vietnam war journalists, will introduce you to the long-lasting effects of napalm, agent orange and phosphorus bombs. And if you haven’t heard of it before, there is a whole wall related to the ghastly Mai Lai Massacre.
It is not a pretty sight, and this is not the best place to take your child for an excursion. But it is the kind of place you want to go, if you want a first-hand lesson in the atrocities of war. But do remember to ignore the propaganda, while you are at it.