Besides the famous War Remnants Museum which can help you understand the contemporary history of Vietnam, the Museum of Vietnam History in Ho Chi Minh City is the place that can you have a journey way back. In this guide, we will go through each room from the prehistoric period to the present days.
2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1
If you enter from the big entrance of Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden, you will find the Museum of Vietnam History sitting on your left. The museum is about 2 km away from Ho Chi Minh City’s main attractions like Independence Palace, Saigon Central Post Office, and Notre Dame Cathedral. From these places, you can go with a taxi which would cost you about VND 30,000, and get there in about 5 minutes.
Morning: 8 AM - 11:30 AM
Afternoon: 1:30 PM - 5 PM
VND 30,000/person. There are two ticket booths at two entrances. One is next to the main entrance of the museum on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street. One is placed in the museum building when you come through the entrance of Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Entrance on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street
The entrance inside Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden
You can find the rules described as pictures put by the entrances of each exhibition room. The general rules are no cigarettes and photography allowed inside these rooms.
Museum of Vietnam History in Ho Chi Minh City is established based on the previous facilities of Blanchard de la Brosse Museum which was founded with the sponsor and approval of the French government in 1928. Blanchard de la Brosse Museum was the headquarter of the Association of Indochinese Studies and under the administration of French School of the Far East. From 1928 to 1975, the museum displays various exhibitions related to the culture and early civilization of Asian countries like China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Khmer, and Champa. The guided tour to the museum exhibition only raised in popular from 1959, attracting people in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) at that time to visit the museum and take an interest in the cultural preservation work.
After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam took over and renovated the place into a museum of Vietnam’s history. The museum was first opened to the public in 1981 with the name Museum of Vietnam History and was later changed to the Museum of Vietnam History in Ho Chi Minh City in 1987. Since then, the exhibition displayed in the museum is more related to Vietnam’s history and ancient civilization along with other exhibits like porcelains and Buddha statues of other Asian countries.
Suggested visiting duration: 1 hour. If you go by yourself, you will need about an hour to go through 19 permanent exhibitions, and it will be another 30 minutes if you want to watch the water puppet show.
The exhibition rooms are number in chronological order from the prehistoric period to the latest with the exhibition related to culture and religion. If you buy the ticket from the booth inside the museum, you will see the first room on your left; the last two rooms are in the front and on your right. You can choose to follow the ascending flow of time by going to the first room or slowly go back in time by going from the 18th room first. In most of the room, you can find frame models depicting important historical events, wars in Vietnam history, as well as items reflecting the ancient culture of Vietnam and other Asian countries.
In this room, you will find the exhibits and information panels of Stone Age in Vietnam which had been lasted from a hundred thousand years before 2879 B.C. In this room, you can also see huge sculptures of prehistoric men making and using tools from rocks.
Hung Kings Dynasty is considered to the very first dynasty and when Vietnam was established. The legend tells the story of 18th kings ruling the country for almost twenty-seven decades (2879 B.C - around 200 B.C)
In this exhibition room, there are many pieces of jewelry, jar-shaped coffins, and items made of bronze, stone, and shells. The two main features of the room are the bronze drums and a huge boat-shaped wooden coffin which is found in 1961, age 2,500 years old. If you find the patterns carved on the drums hard to figure, you can see they are recreated and illustrated on framed documents behind the boat coffin.
For over one thousand years from 179 B.C - 938 AD, Vietnam is under the domination of the Chinese. This time is also the time that Vietnamese culture get the most influence from Chinese culture. In the exhibition room, there are pictures of old architectures such as those of Hai Ba Trung Temple and Ba Trieu Tomb (the three heroines in Vietnam history at this time). Besides, a small bronze drum and a model of a typical Vietnamese house in this era.
Before you enter this room from Exhibition Room No. 2, you can find on your left an illustration of Le Dai Hanh, the first king of the Early Le Dynasty. In the three decades under these dynasties, there are more earthenware architecture items, stoneware and ceramics utilities like bowls and dishes. A large replica of Amitabha Statue from Phat Tich Pagoda (11th century) in Bac Ninh placed in the middle of this room will surely catch your attention. You can also find the currencies used at this time in the shape of coins.
From the 13th century to the 15th century, Tran and Ho Dynasty ruled the country. This exhibition room is spacious with a huge picture of the Battle of Bach Dang (1288) and the replica of wood spines used in the battle. Models of towers made of earthenware which are typical of architecture in this era are also displayed. On the walls, before coming to the next room, you will see maps of battles with Yuan Dynasty and a quote from Hich Tuong Si of Tran Quoc Tuan, or Tran Hung Dao - a famous general in Vietnam history, are hung on the walls.
Before becoming a country with a long S shape like today, Vietnam’s territory on land was only limited to the northern part of current Vietnam. Central Vietnam from Metal Age up to the 17th century was the land of Champa. Champa was an ancient culture that is mostly influenced by Hindu culture.
Besides the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang, Museum of Vietnam History in Ho Chi Minh City has the largest collection in the world of exhibit related to Champa culture. Various stoneware and earthenware statues of Buddha, Bodhisattva, Siva, and other deities.
While Central Vietnam in the past is of Champa, the southern region is believed to be occupied by the Kingdom of Funan and their culture called Oc Eo. The exhibits in this room bare many similarities to those of Cham culture with many items reflected in the Hindu culture like old writings carved on sandstones and a sculpture of Buddha made of Sao wood. You can also find pieces of jewelry and daily necessities made of glass beads, stone, metal, and wood.
Related to Hindu culture in southern Vietnam, some of the antiques found in Cambodian are also displayed. Most of them are from the Angkor era like stone sculptures of Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Buddha.
The exhibition room is divided horizontally into two areas with one side dedicated to the Le-Mac and Trinh-Nguyen era and one of Tay Son Dynasty on the other. When entering the room, you should be able to notice the giant replica of the Cundi statue in But Thap Pagoda in Bac Ninh from over 400 years ago. Besides, there are maps of Lam Son Insurrection, and an illustration of Nguyen Trai, a strategist under the Nguyen Dynasty hung on the walls.
On your left, you should be able to find the staircase leading to the canon exhibition outdoor. Various big and small cannons used in battles from the 18th to the 19th century under the Nguyen Dynasty are displayed in this area. You can also find yourself at the back of where the water puppet show is performed.
Only lasted for 31 years yet this dynasty left an important mark in Vietnam history during the civil war of Dang Ngoai and Dang Trong (Trinh and Nguyen Lords). In the exhibition of this dynasty, you will see items related to battles like a small cannon and weapons as well as some old writings and currencies.
Before coming to the next exhibition room, you will find on the left of the small staircase is the entrance to the water puppet show, and on the right is a souvenir shop selling silk. At the end of the steps, there are books about Vietnam history in Vietnamese that you can buy if you are interested in doing some more research.
After the collapse of the Tay Son Dynasty due to the friction among Tay Son brothers, Vietnam was ruled under the Nguyen Dynasty for another decade up to 1945. You can see the names and reign times of 13 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty like Gia Long (the first emperor of Nguyen Dynasty), Duy Tan (the child emperor), and Bao Dai (the last emperor of Nguyen Dynasty) hung on the wall.
Other displayed exhibits in this room include ceramics, lacquered wood platform bed, ivory seals, tortoiseshell cups and trays, embroidery clothes of the King, Prince, and Queen, and Vietnamese musical instruments like Dan tranh and Dan ty ba.
Duong Ha Collection is the collection of the couple Professor Duong Minh Thoi and Ha Thi Ngoc which was later added and extended with the help of their daughter. Various items included in this collection are of different eras from prehistory to the 20th century and had encouraged the antique collection work at that time. Most of the collection displayed items are pieces of ceramic along with a bronze censer and a set of wooden tables and chairs.
In this exhibition room, you will find a larger collection of ceramics that are from many countries across Asia. Most of them are from China, Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia.
The body was found in a tomb in Xom Cai, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City in 1994. This tomb design was typical of Vietnamese architecture before the 19th century, which is believed to be of a noble family in the 19th century. The body is now preserved in the museum in a glass frame wearing a white cloth along with her shoes, at a controlled specific temperature and humidity.
Vuong Hong Sen was a famous scholar, a researcher at the Blanchard de la Brosse Museum (former Museum of Vietnam History in Ho Chi Minh City) from 1956 to 1964, and an antique collector in Vietnam. His collected items displayed in the Museum of Vietnam History include ceramics, Vietnamese handicrafts, and a large wooden platform bed. You also get to see some of his published works and handwritings preserved in a glass frame next to the entrance.
There are a lot of exhibits in this room because there are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam in total which you can locate them with the big map hung on the wall. You will understand more about the diversity of culture in Vietnam if you go through all exhibits in this room, from Viet - Muong, Tay Nguyen, Khmer, Champa, to Sino-Tibetan, and Austronesian. Clothing, unique musical instruments like the xylophone and Khim, items reflecting their beliefs like statues of Buddha, Mazu, or agricultural productions, hunting, and fishing tools.
All of the exhibits and the culture of these ethnic groups are carefully described and divided into sections. There is no main attraction in the room because all of them are combined to paint the beauty of a variety of cultures in Southern Vietnam.
In this last exhibition room in the main building, you can see the wonder of many Buddha statues made of different materials. Two statues of Dravapala made of lacquered wood are placed on two sides of the entrance guarding all of the masterpieces inside, including a giant statue of Buddha of Khai Tuong Pagoda which was placed in the middle of this room.
When coming out of the entrance next to the first exhibition room, you can see the Hung King Temple on the opposite. The four sides of this architecture is nearly identical with one main door at the front and two side doors on the left and the right. The whole building is wrapped around by a green garden which makes it more stand out from its surroundings. You will also notice that all of the staircases are decorated with colorful dragon sculpture.
This temple was built in 1864 before the museum as a memorial for the soldiers in World War I and later used to worship Hung King, Confucius, Tran Hung Dao, Le Van Duyet and other important figures in Vietnamese history and culture. Finally, since 1975, the temple has been officially named Hung King Temple and used only to worship Hung Kings.
Opening hours: Close on Monday
Morning: 8 AM - 11:30 AM
Afternoon: 1:30 PM - 4:30 PM
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The circular room which is surrounded by the first, seventeenth, and eighteenth exhibition rooms is where the temporary exhibition is placed. The current exhibition is jewelry and goldsmith of Oc Eo culture. The small room is filled with the sparkling from gold jewelry and amulets.
Other temporary which were held here is Vietnamese currencies history, Golden Imperial Costumes, Tea Culture and collections of antiques.
Besides the permanent and temporary exhibition, the Museum of Vietnam History in Ho Chi Minh City also organized other traveling exhibits across the country as well as overseas. One of the recent oversea exhibitions was in South Korean.
Besides learning about Vietnamese history and culture through immobile exhibits behind fences and glass frames, you can also experience a traditional art performance of Vietnamese which is the water puppet show. The beautiful puppet weave on water, performing Vietnamese folktales and after the show, you can see the masters behind this amazing performance. These puppet controllers have to hide behind the curtain the entire time of the show and use their skill to breath life into the immobile puppets.
This show is shorter than the one sold by Rong Vang Water Puppet Show, but you can have a brief understanding of this art in about 25 minutes. There is little narrative in the show, so you don’t have to worry about not understand the language.
Ticket price: VND 150,000/person
Showtime: 9 AM - 3:30 PM. The show can begin anytime if there are at least 5 audiences.
Replica of Imperial Examination Records Stone Stele in Temple of Literature
“Huyen Su Doi Hung” Vase - made of coconut fiber depicting Vietnam history legends- the largest vase of its kind in Vietnam
A souvenir shop selling Buddha statues
Bronze sculpture depicting battles against the Yuan Dynasty
Vietnam is a country with thousands of years of history. There is a lot to see and study to understand this long established country, but you can have an overview of the course of Vietnam history through different eras, dynasties, and ancient culture when visiting the Museum of Vietnam History in Ho Chi Minh City. This museum has a lot of exhibits, both authentic and replicas of antiques, so you may need some time to have a look at them all. With a vast area and little promotion, you will find this place is not as crowded as other famous attractions.
It was worthwhile spending a day here. I was quite let down by the small and poorly presented museums, but this one was the best one I've ever been to in Vietnam.
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