The former southern capital, often known as Saigon, was a prize for the northern Communists, who eventually won the Vietnam War in 1975. This historical fact informs much of the content of Ho Chi Minh City’s museums, which generally pay tribute to the Communist North's regime.
Many of the museums in this list cover aspects of the revolution and the ensuing war, generally from the victors’ point of view. Others focus on aspects of Vietnamese history and culture that reflect glory on the Vietnamese people as a whole. (They are generally aimed for a local market, so translations within can be few or flawed.)
Set up to explain the effects of the Vietnam War on the population, the War Remnants Museum tells the Vietnamese side of the story; that said, the exhibits here have a patriotic purpose that might rub American visitors the wrong way.
The pictures, relics, and exhibits in the museum’s seven rooms unapologetically show the carnage and destruction wrought by American forces in Vietnam, from summary executions to photographs of fetuses affected by Agent Orange. The French occupying forces get a mention, too, in an exhibit that displays their ferocious occupation, centered around a real guillotine. Outside, relic tanks, bombers, and gunships complement the grisly displays within.
The 1970s never went away, to go by the interiors of Saigon’s Independence Palace. Formerly the residence of the President of South Vietnam, the Independence Palace saw the end of the Vietnam War when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gate in 1975. The tank can still be found on the Palace grounds (see pic).
Inside the Palace, guided tours take guests through a time-warp trip through the retro rooms, including a war command room that still has its original maps on the walls; staterooms with original furnishings; and even a casino and heliport on the upper floors.
Vietnam History Museum
Completed in 1929, the building that now houses the Vietnam History Museum was a museum from the get-go. It contained several collections of ancient Asian art until 1956, when it revised its scope to cover Vietnam’s history.
Its spacious interiors showcase two different exhibits. One explores Vietnam’s history from ancient times to the 20th century; the other covers Vietnam’s culture and ethnography, including art and cultural snippets from Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.
The Vietnam History Museum’s convenient location places it right next to Saigon’s Botanical Gardens and Zoo—it’s a perfect pit stop for a day spent exploring Ho Chi Minh City’s most touristy areas.
Its location next to the History Museum makes the Ho Chi Minh Campaign Museum an easy stop for tourists doing the local museum trail. The building and its exhibits are dedicated to the 1975 Spring Offensive that finally ended the war in favor of the Communists, named the “Ho Chi Minh Campaign” by the northern Politburo.
The grounds of the museum are littered with the weapons that won the war, from artillery to tanks to anti-aircraft guns. Inside, dioramas and photographs expound on the individual battles that made up the campaign.
The Vietnamese were strong adherents of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), as they drew much of their culture from their neighbors and rivals further north. Exhibits in the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine demonstrate this affinity, with more than 3,000 exhibits that explain the theory and practice of a localized form of TCM.
Distributed over six levels and 18 rooms, the exhibits go all the way back to the Stone Age and proceed to the present through themed displays and unique medical equipment like charts, teapots, scales, and cabinets. Complete the experience by dressing up in a Vietnamese ao dai and getting your picture taken behind a traditional medicine counter.
A 1930s colonial mansion in the heart of Saigon was converted into southern Vietnam’s premier fine arts museum in 1987. Today, the Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts covers the breadth of Vietnamese art throughout its three floors, artistically curated to showcase its development over the centuries.
On the first two floors, you’ll find traditional crafts like woodcuts, ceramic, and silk, as well as more Western style works done in oil, sculpture, or lacquer. The third floor features finds from archaeological sites, like the Champa and Oc Eo civilizations that preceded Vietnam’s modern-day peoples.
The South-Vietnamese Women Museum honors the “long-haired warriors” (in Ho Chi Minh’s words) who helped ensure reunification in 1975. Scattered across three floors and 10 display halls, visitors find revolutionary imagery and relics that point to women and their role in Vietnamese life and society. Featuring exhibits that pay tribute to revolutionaries like General Nguyen Thi Dinh and martyred fighters Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Vo Thi Sau, the museum also includes displays of traditional clothing from all across Vietnam.
Since its construction in 1890, the building that now houses the Ho Chi Minh City Museum has seen a musical-chairs loop of occupants, from French colonists to Japanese military to World War II allies to South Vietnam bureaucrats. Today, this Gothic-style mansion houses a collection of artifacts and exhibits that showcase the best of southern Vietnam history and culture.
With 10 rooms covering more than 130 collections, you'll find everything from ancient southern Vietnamese pottery to money during Nguyen royal rule and snapshots of life from Vietnam’s many ethnic minorities. The gorgeous museum façade serves as a backdrop for many wedding photographs often taken in the mansion’s expansive garden.