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Saigon’s Non-War Museums

I remember that exciting day in my childhood when I was taken to a museum for the first time. It was the War Remnants Museum, and my excitement quickly gave way to horror for having seen its exhibits – the haunting recreation of a prisoner’s cell, deformed fetuses infused in formaldehyde jars – forcing me at an early age to see excruciating images of violent war.

Having visited most of Saigon’s museums – though they’re not very numerous – it seems to me that the theme of war has been recycled and reused for each.  

Even those that sound the least war-esque like the “Southern Women’s Museum” or the “Museum of Ho Chi Minh City,” display bombshells and weapons inside glass boxes.

I take pride in my country’s heroism and bravery. I marvel and feel small in the shadows of our forefathers who sacrificed their lives for the nation’s liberty.

That said, I don’t feel that “winning” wars is a concept that needs to be celebrated at every museum and public exhibition. To me, war is a losing game – there is neither victory nor defeat. Clinging to the bloodstained memories of conflict seems more like a haunting grudge rather than a historic dignity.

When I visited Cambodia’s famous Killing Fields I was surprised that it was not full of frightful exhibits. It was as peaceful as any green field. What stirred my mind here were the heart-wrenching stories slowly played from a tape recorder that every visitor is given for their walk.

Strolling and taking in the calmness while listening to sorrowful stories serve as strong juxtapositions – where there was once blood-drenched soil now stand peacefully trees. There are no bold exhibits and no body counts, just you and your own thoughts.

Back in Saigon, I sought this kind of reflection and decided to see what the city had to offer. While by no means a full harvest, I was able to find 5 non-war museums which I hope to see grow in the future.


The Museum of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine - 41 Hoàng Dư Khương, W.12, D.10

The Museum Of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine is located in a small District 10 street and is probably my favorite. This traditional wooden Vietnamese house showcases specimens of herbs, medicinal plants and tools that were used to process medicine in the past. All objects are collected and displayed by the 2 owners who are brothers.


The Fine Arts Museum - 97 Phó Đức Chính, D.1

Located not far from Bến Thành Market, The Fine Arts Museum of HCMC attracts me with its 3 colonial-era houses that exhibit paintings and sculptures of Vietnamese artists. It is also the site of one of Saigon’s most famous urban legends.


The Museum of Vietnamese Áo Dài - 206/19/30 Long Thuận, D.9

The Museum of Vietnamese Áo Dài is one of two private museums in the city along with the aforementioned Museum Of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine.

Built by a famous Vietnamese artist – Sĩ Hoàng – to show his love for the national attire, collections here span from the reserved, ancient variety to bright, modern versions. It also hosts fashion shows and other exhibitions relating to the gown.


The Museum of History - 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, D.1

Located next to the Saigon Zoo, the Museum of History is highlighted by the mummified body of Xóm Cải and the social and artistic remnants of ancient Vietnam and Asia from the prehistoric period to the last feudal society. It seems to be in pretty good shape and the surrounding verdant landscape makes for a nice escape from the city’s frenetic energy.


The Museum of Geology - 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, D.1

At the other side of the zoo is the lesser-known, almost unheard of Museum of Geology, the smallest in scale and trickiest to find of all. This museum is in an old, moss-walled building, and has a decidedly cold feeling to it, perhaps due to a lack of visitors and the specimens of rocks exhibited here.



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