Museums in Saigon
Vietnam has a fascinating 2,000 year history and there is plenty to learn about the country's past and how it affects life today. Sadly, however, while there are some excellent museums in Vietnam not all live up to the same standard - many are lengthy photo galleries with few English translations of the contexts or history behind the photos, leaving the visitor bewildered even if they have some prior knowledge of the subject.
That being said, if you choose the right museums on your trip you can learn a great deal and begin to appreciate more the rich history of this country.
The Museum of Vietnam's History
(Inside the gates of the HCMC Zoo/Botanical Gardens, Le Duan, District 1)
Possibly one of the best museums we've seen in Vietnam, the natural history museum of Ho Chi Minh City manages to chart the country's history from prehistoric times and 10,000 year old artifacts to the wars with China and the numerous dynasties that have shaped the development of the Vietnamese nation over time. There are some fantastic examples of sculpture and art from the Cham and Oc Eo civilizations, statues of Buddhas from across the region, collections of porcelain and art from various historical periods and a even a mummy found preserved in Saigon. The narratives on the walls throughout the museum also go some way to helping the visitor understand the many periods of Vietnamese history, with only a few gaps. Highly recommended.
The War Remnants Museum
(28 Vo Van Tan, District 3)
Practically required viewing for any visitor to Ho Chi Minh City, the War museum is an comprehensive collection of photographs, video and other evidence detailing the horrors of war and the aftermath of unexploded ordinance, agent orange and other legacies of the combat. Remarkably the museum manages to avoid being overly political, instead pointing the finger at the senseless nature of war itself rather than focusing too closely on assigning blame. It is a sombre and moving experience, but it is highly recommended both to help understand what Vietnam went through and as a reminder of the importance of campaigning for peaceful solutions to differences between nations.
Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum
(Duc Chinh Street, District 1 - Behind the bus station opposite Ben Thanh Market)
Housed in a beautiful old building from the colonial era, the Fine Arts Museum has an interesting collection of works from both contemporary and traditional artists, as well as a fascinating collection of statues and artifacts dating back as far as the first century AD on the 3rd floor. Well worth a visit.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum
(1 Nguyen Tat Thanh, District 4)
Just over a bridge from the downtown areas of Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi (the traffic is vicious so we'd advise jumping in a taxi rather than walking over the bridge!) on the banks of the river is a museum devoted to Ho Chi Minh. It is set in an attractive building and garden with good views of the river, and contains a potentially fascinating collection of photographs detailing the life of Ho Chi Minh. Sadly this potential is lost as so many of the photos captions, even when translated, fail to explain the significance of events or meetings depicted in photographs, making the experience somewhat bewildering for those that have not already studied the life of Ho Chi Minh (which, of course, most Vietnamese people have)
While the photos themselves are interesting, the museum is not really recommended unless you have a lot of time on your hands or a strong interest (and prior knowlege) in the man that lead Vietnam's campaign for independence.