Being the first and the only one private museum in Vietnam about traditional medicine, Fito Museum has done a great job with rich collections of unique artifacts. Moreover, the whole museum is neat and well-organized with English-speaking staffs. Visiting this museum could offer a great insight into thousands of years of the Vietnamese traditional herbal medicine's history. If you are a medicine enthusiast, this place is a must-come when you visit the city.
Address: 41 Hoang Du Khuong Street, Ward 12, District 10
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 8:30 AM - 5 PM
Children under 1.2m VND 60,000/person
Adult: VND 120,000/person
Parking fee: free
Suggested visit duration: 1 hour
Entrance ticket of Fito Museum
If you come in groups, advanced booking is necessary since the Fito Museum is small. There is a shop where you can buy some medicated oil, tea, and herbal medicines, or make an appointment with the doctors at Fito Museum if you want to have some medicinal advice.
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According to the materials provided at Fito Museum, Vietnam is a country with rich flora and fauna. There are about 12,000 species in Vietnam, excluding mushrooms, water-plants, and mosses. The reasons for this diverse vegetation come down to many factors. Firstly, Vietnam has a hot and humid tropical weather, which is extremely suitable for the development of plants. Secondly, Vietnam is located on the rocks of Indosinias formation, where the earth’s crust has been staying in the same position for millions of years and never been under the sea level or covered with snow (these harsh conditions can rid many species of plants, leading to extinction). Finally, Vietnam is the middle place of a rich flora and fauna region including Southern China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These fortunate factors gifted Vietnam with various types of plants that are home to 160 species per hectare, meanwhile, the figure of the Amazon Forest is about 90 species per hectare.
The medical prescriptions exhibited at Fito Museum
In the Hung Dynasty (2879 - 257 BC), the Vietnamese had basic knowledge about medicine using the herbal trees, such as ginger and galangal to heal and avoid sickness. In fact, they made use of herbal tea such as Voi tea leaves to prevent indigestion. In the 2nd century BC, hundreds of medicines were discovered using pearl, cinnamon, and semen coicis. From that time to the recent century, while struggling to survive and develop, the Vietnamese found many medicinal plants and developed folk treatments. Currently, there are 1,863 experimented herbal plants divided into 238 botanical species.
The documented herbal plants preserved and exhibited at the Fito Museum
The founder of this museum is Doctor Le Khac Tam, he is also the chairman of a medical company named Fito Pharma.
Fito Museum includes a ground floor and five upper stories, built in 1995, with 18 rooms, occupying 600 square meters. After 8 years of using this building as an office and private house, the founder renovated both interior and exterior design to convert it into a museum.
The building is mostly made out of wood taken from old houses’ frame (late 19th century) across Vietnam. The main theme of the building is ancient Vietnam’s architecture but each floor has its own style with walls, tiles, and furniture made of different materials to replicate many antique house designs. Elevator access is available along with modern visual devices.
Nearly 3,000 artifacts related to traditional medicine are preserved from the Stone Age. They are divided into several collections, including instruments used to prepare traditional medicines, such as knives, grinders, mortars and pestles, pots, and jars. Books, documents, pictures, ceramic furniture, and objects that can be found in traditional pharmacy like scales, cabinet, advertising boards, stamps, teapots, bowls are also exhibited.
Once you reach the Fito Museum, the staff will take you to the fourth floor (because the elevator cannot reach the fifth floor). Your viewing starts on the fifth floor and finishes on the ground floor.
The information about the herbs is written in Vietnamese, English, and French. But the descriptions of the artifacts are limited. You are free to explore on your own, but feel free to ask if you need a guide to explain more about these artifacts.
Tue Tinh and Le Huu Trac (Hai Thuong Lan Ong) were regarded as the fathers of Vietnamese traditional medicine.
The altar of Tue Tinh and Le Huu Trac
The real name of Zen Practitioner Tue Tinh (14th century) was Nguyen Ba Tinh. He was born in Hai Duong, a northern province of Vietnam. According to the locals in Hai Duong, he was an orphan by the age of 6. The monks took care of him and helped him learn about medicine. At 22, Tue Tinh participated in a contest hosted by the Tran Dynasty to find talented people to serve in the government at that time. Tue Tinh earned the title Thai Hoc Sinh (equivalent to Ph.D.). However, he did not enter the government but went to a pagoda and became a monk instead. Since Tue Tinh was well-known as an excellent doctor, at the age of 55, he was sent to China by the Tran's governors and successfully treated the sick Chinese Queen. While living in Vietnam, Tue Tinh had taken part in the construction and repairs of 24 pagodas. He also taught and trained many monks about medicine so that these monks could spread medical knowledge to the civilians.
Le Huu Trac (1724 - 1791) was also born in Hai Duong to a very wealthy family. However, because the political circumstances were chaotic, he did not pursue wealth or fame but committed to medical research and treatment to save lives and help people. The alias Hai Thuong Lan Ong means Lazy Old Man from Hai Thuong in English. The title "Lazy Old Man” had been given only to indicate that he was “lazy” and indifference to power but not to mankind's suffering. “Hai Thuong” is short for his father’s land, Thuong Hong Palace in Hai Duong Province.
Besides Tue Tinh and Hai Thuong Lan Ong, Vietnam has other famous medical practitioners and authors of medical books. On the fifth floor, exhibition room 4, there is a display of 15 wooden pictures of them. These pictures are all gold-plated with intricated wood designs from Vietnamese traditional method.
Gold-plated wooden pictures of Vietnamese traditional medicine practitioners
There is a giant wooden picture carving of 100 names of 100 medical practitioners and authors who have contributed to the development of Vietnamese traditional medicine from the 12th century to the early 20th century.
100 famous names in Vietnamese traditional medicine
Room 13 shows artifacts that commonly used in daily lives such as scale (Western and Vietnamese style), mortar, lime pot, traditional medicine grater, and devices to print the traditional recipes.
Collection of scales
The small grater is used to shave valuable traditional herbs such as ginseng.
Traditional medicine grater
Room 14 displays plenty of medical clay pots from many regions of Vietnam. Nowadays, these types of clay pots are still in use of making medicine.
Medical clay pots
Medicinal wine is a sweetened aromatic solution of alcohol and water. This method has been in existence for a very long time. Ancient Vietnamese believed that in order to have a good jar of medicinal wine, the wine jar must be buried under the ground for hundreds of days.
The collection of wine jars
Dao Cau (medicinal root slicer) and Thuyen Tan (apothecary's mortar) are two essential types of instruments of preparing traditional medicine.
Dao Cau is the tool to cut the medical root into thin slices. The collections of Dao Cau at Fito Museum include those that had been collected from the hometown of Tue Tinh and Hai Thuong Lan Ong.
The collections of Dao Cau
Thuyen Tan is the equipment to grind dried herbs into a powder. The materials for making Thuyen Tan varied, including clay, wood, stone, and cast iron. The silver or golden Thuyen Tan could be used to grind valuable herbs. This device is very heavy and has many sizes ranging from a few centimeters to more than one meter.
The collections of Thuyen Tan
The period from 197 BC until 937 AD was when Chinese traditional medicine had a great influence on the Vietnamese. Gradually, Vietnamese traditional medicine formed two branches: Thuoc Bac - northern medicine or Chinese medicine (because China locates to the north of Vietnam) and Thuoc Nam - southern medicine or Vietnamese medicine. Both styles of medicine were contradictory to each other but slowly harmonized into united Vietnamese traditional medicine.
In the corner of room 10, there is a model of northern pharmacy with a big wooden cupboard and wooden medical storage from the 19th century. This cupboard has 81 drawers, containing different kinds of herbs. The names of these herbal plants are written on the colorful labels outside the drawers.
A traditional scale used to measure the herbs
In this room, visitors can try on traditional Vietnamese medicine doctor outfits and test a stone tool to grind medicine.
A corner exhibition of herbs storage
Thai Y Vien was the place where doctors took care of the health of the kings or other members of the royal families. The whole replicated room reflects the royal luxury style with many gold-plated wooden pictures hanging on the wall. Much of other furniture is also plated with gold and carved skillfully.
The model of Thai Y Vien
This room is also the place that you can watch a 15-minute documentary video about Yin - Yang theory and the development of Vietnamese traditional medicine, including the introduction about the two most important medical practitioners - Tue Tinh, and Le Huu Trac.
The museum is worth visiting since its design is a unique blend of traditional and modern architecture, the artifacts are numerous and very organized. However, due to the limited size, Fito Museum is more suitable for private tours rather than a large group of visitors. For more details, you can request a customized tour.
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Besides, there are other worthy museums in Ho Chi Minh City such as the Museum of Vietnam History, War Remnants Museum, and Fine Art Museum. Each of them has many valuable artifacts of distinctive themes to give you insights of different aspects of Vietnam.
The museum lies in an alley, if if I hadn't had my local tour guide to point it out for me, I would have missed visiting the wonderful gem