There are many museums in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and in Vietnam as a whole. Each has its own theme, its own flair, and its own meaning. For today, the museum this article will cover is the Ton Duc Thang Museum.
First of all, you can’t talk about this museum without mentioning Ton Duc Thang – the namesake of the museum. After all, this museum is dedicated to preserving his life’s works, his story, and his legacy.
Ton Duc Thang was the second President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the first President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (United Vietnam or Vietnam nowadays). He was a key member of the revolutionary machine during the turbulence period of the Vietnamese uprising for independent. He was there along with many of Vietnam’s other key figures. In his time, he saw through the war for independence against France, the war for unification against The United States, the war against Khmer Rouge and China (Vietnam’s history is riddled with war, we know) and served his people diligently through all of these upheavals. Being a humble son from the Mekong Delta region, he is beloved by Southerners. He has always been involved in the life of workers, miserable people in Saigon and proudly represented them.
The main entrance of the museum
To ensure the legacy of Ton Duc Thang is well-kept, in 1988, the Ton Duc Thang Museum was erected. The day the museum opened - which is August 20, 1998 - is also the 100th anniversary of Ton Duc Thang’s birth. The museum serves as a knowledge-rich spot for anyone who wishes to study, research or to just learn more about the life of Ton Duc Thang.
The sign of the museum
The official address of Ton Duc Thang Museum is 5 Ton Duc Thang Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Being a museum of an important political figure, Ton Duc Thang Museum sits appropriately in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City. Ton Duc Thang Street crosses with Nguyen Hue Street. When you are at the end of Nguyen Hue Streets, the museum is to the left side. That part of Ton Duc Thang Street, where the museum sits, is right next to the Saigon River. After you have crossed the Cong Truong Me Linh Roundabout, the museum should be right ahead.
The gate of the museum
The official opening hours are as follows: Every day except Monday. In the morning from 7:30 AM to 11:30 AM and in the afternoon from 1:30 PM to 5 PM. On slow days when there aren’t many visitors, the museum might shut off power early. But the best thing is that it’s all free, which means free entrance and free parking.
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Guarding the museum is a white gate, the kind that looks similar to a school gate. Inside, surrounding the main building is a lush garden, neatly trimmed and cleanly arranged. Guests’ motorbikes are lined orderly next to the gate. Dotted on many bushes and trees are small yet colorful flowers. Standing proudly in the garden and in front the main gate is the bust of Ton Duc Thang.
View of the museum garden
View of the museum garden
The bust of Ton Duc Thang in front of the main entrance
The building itself is simple looking, not too flashy with a French-inspired architecture. The ivory color of the building blends nicely with the smooth green of the garden. On the left side of the gate, right next to the museum is a café decorated with a wall of greenery. On one section of the building, to the side, is a space to show children painting with Ton Duc Thang as the theme.
A cafe right next to the museum
Setting your feet through the main gate, you will be greeted with a worshipping room for Ton Duc Thang. The room bears an altar typical of Vietnamese culture. Burning incense at the altar is optional. If you wish to do so, take off your shoes first and notify the standing by staff.
At the entrance of the worshipping room
The altar decorated with offerings
On the right side is a set of wooden tables and chairs for receiving guests. There is a shelf next to them. The shelf holds Ton Duc Thang’s and Ton Duc Thang Museum’s various awards and merits.
Nice sets of tables and chairs
A certification of great honor
Merits and awards
The left of the worshipping room leads to a themed exhibit. The exhibit told the story of Ton Duc Thang’s harrowing 15 years imprisonment on Con Dao.
The banner describing the theme of the exhibition
In 1862, the archipelago Con Dao, 95 nautical miles from the mainland, was turned into a prison system with 3 primary prison buildings on Con Lon Island. The whole system of prison buildings and labor camps came to be known as the infamous Con Dao Prison. Ton Duc Thang was one of the many famous revolutionaries that Con Dao Prison had the honor to detain. A mini replica of a typical cell on Con Dao Prison is built here at Ton Duc Thang Museum to showcase the horror of Con Dao Prison cruelty and the horrible fate befell on the prisoners.
Wax statues depicting Con Dao prisoners
Wax statues of prisoners working at the Rice Grinding Cellar
Around 1929, Ton Duc Thang was captured and sentenced to 20 years of prison on Con Dao. He arrived in 1930. During his time here, he was subjected to many mistreatments and hard labor. One of which was the ‘’Rice Grinding Cellar’’. In which, prisoners were shackled with 5kg weights then forced to push giant millers, quite the ultimate cardio if you ask us. Tortures were readily waiting for any prisoners that were not on their feet. Many perhaps wetted themselves in blood. Despite the hardship, even on the haunting Con Dao Prison, Ton Duc Thang still continued on his political activities. He even attempted a prison break, twice. Working together with his political prisoner associates, Ton Duc Thang lent a helping hand to other suffering prisoners here. He united and educated them.
A pen Ton Duc Thang used to use; made from fish bone
A picture of the old Con Dao Prison
After the 1945 August Revolution, the government on Con Dao was seized in an uprising orchestrated by 2,000 political prisoners. On the bow of the boat fixed by his political prisoner friends, Ton Duc Thang helmed it straight for the mainland. It’s another day, another destiny for him. Quite the never-ending road he leads. The boat was appropriately named ‘’Giai Phong’’ (Liberation).
Model of the Giai Phong boat
The exhibits of the next room on the first floor tell the story of his time in ‘’Viet Bac’’ (Northernmost Vietnam). The ‘’Chien Khu Viet Bac’’ (Viet Bac War Zone) was the base, the headquarter of Vietnam Revolutionary Force in their war against France.
Big, detailed map of the Viet Bac
The map detailing where Viet Bac is
Being a key member of the revolution, being a leader of his people, Ton Duc Thang spent his time here at Viet Bac during the war, together with big names like the famous Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap. Viet Bac at that time served as their temporary home where they lived, ate, slept, formed their ranks and discussed military strategies. Many of his old personal belongings and letters are exhibited here together with photos of his time in Viet Bac.
At the barricade of freedom, erected to block the French from entering Hanoi
Ton Duc Thang's "briefcase"
Ton Duc Thang's drinking sets
Some of Ton Duc Thang's personal belongings
One of Ton Duc Thang correspondences
A reconstructed water wheel at Viet Bac
Ton Duc Thang and friends picture took in Viet Bac
A picture of Ton Duc Thang took in Viet Bac
Group picture of revolutionaries
Picture of Ton Duc Thang receiving important guests
On the second floor, awaiting you is a long hallway. On both sides of the wall, hanged are many fine arts. The arts are about Ton Duc Thang, other important political figures, and sceneries that are relevant to his life. If you walk through the left side of the hallway, you will come across the balcony. Here you can watch the view of the garden from above looking out to the Saigon River but you may not see it because there are many big trees planted on the sidewalk. Now back to the hallway, walk straight right and you will catch another room.
To the right of the hallway
To the left of the hallway
Picture of the main entrance made from palm leaves
View from the balcony
This room is dedicated to narrating his time as a youth and his time as a gentle old man. Again with many of his personal belongings when he was both young and old and memorabilia from places that he once associated with. In his youth, 1906, he moved to Saigon to study mechanics. In 1912, he joined a strike for workers’ rights then subsequently got fired. From 1913 to 1920, he worked at Toulon (France) as a navy ship mechanic. After being back in Saigon, Vietnam, he started his political career by joining various progressive organizations like the union, youth organizations. In 1930, what happened to the man you must have already known.
The French ship Ton Duc Thang used to work on
Skip forward in time, during his life, Ton Duc Thang has held many important roles in the government. Most notably being the first President of a united Vietnam. He performed his duties, served his country till his last day of March 30, 1980.
An old table from Ton Duc Thang's residence
Gold Star Order – the Vietnam highest honor
Pictures of Ton Duc Thang later in life
And that is the whole tour of the Ton Duc Thang Museum, led by words. If you are still unsatisfied (you must be), then will you take your place with us and go see the Ton Duc Thang Museum in person. It’s a relatively small museum, but rich in contents. You can learn a lot from it. Not just the man – Ton Duc Thang but also a piece of Vietnamese hard-fought history. Probably a morning is all it takes to thoroughly check out the museum. And while you are at it in District 1, after touring the museum, you can go straight to the downtown area around it to have some other fun activities in Ho Chi Minh City.
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