Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ho Chi Minh City's War Remnants Museum

Mention Saigon among other tourists and the
War Remnants Museum will invariably come out as among the top 5 most visited destinations in this beguiling city. No, make it top 3 – after the Reunification Palace and Ben Thanh Market! But my previous visits in Saigon have used the city as a “gateway” to other destinations. And the War Remnants Museum was always at the bottom of my “to-do” checklist. In fact, the last two instances I was there, I always ended “trying” to catch the last few minutes of the museum for naught. On my 4th Saigon visit, the Museum became an obvious priority.

After depositing the
Northface bags I bought from Saigon Square, I decided to take a xe om (motorbike taxi) to the War Remnants Museum for 15,000 dong ($0.90 or PhP44).


War Remnants Museum (Vietnamese: Bảo tàng chứng tích chiến tranh) is a war museum at 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). There was a considerable crowd at the façade. Tanks and helicopters as well as fighter planes were parked at the lawn. I paid for my 10,000 dong entrance fee and stepped at the spacious hall decked with panels, displaying photographs that documented the brutality that has befallen the Vietnamese under the American siege. Torture victims, deformed victims of Agent Orange – the whole place was a somber reminder of the cruel uselessness of war. It was like reading those personal accounts at Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng once again.


Wikipedia more appropriately describes the place: Operated by the Vietnamese government, the museum was opened in September 1975 as the "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government [of South Vietnam]." Later it was known as the Museum of American War Crimes, then as the War Crimes Museum until as recently as 1993. Its current name follows liberalization in Vietnam and the normalization of relations with the United States, but the museum does not attempt to be politically balanced.

The museum comprises a series of eight themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment located within a walled yard. The military equipment include a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 "Daisy Cutter" bomb, M48 Patton tank, and an A-1 attack bomber.

Saigon Square

Entrance to the War Remnants Museum


One building reproduces the so-called tiger cages in which the South Vietnamese government housed political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photographs, accompanied by short copy in English, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, last in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to dioxin.


Though I have had enough of these graphic documentations of war, it had nevertheless been a compelling visit that bolstered my belief that, as Boy George used to say, “War is stupid.” It is unnerving that vestiges of these power plays are ever present in current world events. Boy George is right again - “People are stupid". Will we never learn?

Ay! Ano yun?! Gagamba?

Pulitzer prize winning photo (first one above) of a naked child running away as the American troops begin their siege. Second one has a mother and her children desperately trying to cross the river to escape their attackers.


The guillotine

The rotund facing Ben Thanh Market - and still a part of Quach Thi Trang Park

Festive hawker street beside Ben Thanh Market.

Organized chaos in the streets of Saigon (above and below).

References: Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, War Remnants Museum


Anonymous said...

OMG! there you are again with these gut wrenching posts on war. just have to say they emotionally affect me.

Twin said...

Creative night photography shots...really festive!

Unknown said...

parang buhay na buhay ang night life ng saigon.

eye in the sky said...

@ charice: you're right, history can sometimes be gut wrenching. thanks for dropping by.

@ twin: it's the "chaos" of saigon that makes it "festive".

@ lucy: especially at the markets... and the streets.

Cathy Pena said...

war museums seem so popular in indochina. btw, i love the "inside-looking-out" first photo. gives a sense of being there.

jepayuki said...

hey eye, i find the photo of the guillotine the most striking. another good post! and yes indeed, war is stupid! that word should've never been invented at all.

eye in the sky said...

@ cathy: history really plays a huge chunk even in the tourist attractions of cities. it's a sad thing that "war" is a major part of this chunk.

eye in the sky said...

@ jepay: i was looking at the blades suspended above it (the guillotine) and i shivered thinking that would slice the neck in one go. scary.