Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City Museum or Gia Long Palace: Historical Insights

Ho Chi Minh City Museum (Vietnamese spelling: Bảo tàng Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) is modest yet informative about the history and life of peoples in Saigon and also Vietnam. The museum has small exhibitions on nature, archeology, geography, and cultural aspects of Vietnam dating back to the 1600s. 

If you’re interested in the ancient empires of Vietnam, some artifacts and maps belonging to those periods are on display. There are also displays on revolutions and all exhibits have English explanations.

The History of the Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Gia Long Palace 1963
Gia Long Palace 1963
[ by manhhai from Flickr ]

Significantly enough, construction started in 1890 as a Museum of Trade for Vietnamese produce. However, it went on to become the palace for the Governor of South Vietnam at the time of completion. 

And by 1945, the building had changed ownership a total of five times between the Japanese, South Vietnamese, and the British. In 1947, the building belonged to the French again following their recolonization. 

In 1954, Bao Dai (the last monarch of Vietnam) renamed the building into Gia Long Palace (the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty) which he also called the Queen Palace. He also renamed the museum street to Gia Long Street.

After the Genève Conference in 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem used this building as the National Guesthouse (Dinh Quốc khách). And, after the bombing of the Independence Palace in 1962, Diem moved the Presidential Palace here. 

He also had architect Ngo Viet Thu (Ngô Viết Thụ) design and build a secret bunker inside later the same year. In 1966, after Diem was ousted and the construction for the Independence Palace finished, the building became the HQ for the Supreme Court of South Vietnam. 

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the City Committee turned the building into the Ho Chi Minh City Revolutionary Museum in 1978. In 1999, it was renamed into Ho Chi Minh City Museum.

The Architecture of the Ho Chi Minh City Museum

The Architecture of the Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Entrance to the bunker
[ image by Nguyễn Hoàng Anh ]

The building was designed and constructed by Foulhoux— the same architect behind Saigon Central Post Office. Ho Chi Minh City Museum has an overall Classic – Renaissance design, European-styled flooring and staircases, and Oriental-styled roof.

The area covers 1 700 m2 with a garden surrounding the building. There are ornate fleur-de-lis on the outside upper walls and pilasters.

Exhibits in the Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Some objects inside the Ho Chi Minh City Museum are from the original Gia Long Palace while others were donated by private citizens. The spacious design of the building with its portico balcony, and collonade window shutters, make it a favorite photo spot for the young generations.

Permanent Exhibitions

Winemakers in the room of Commercial Ports - Trading - Service
Winemakers in the room of Commercial Ports – Trading – Service
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

Nature – Archeology: This room has maps depicting local geography, climate, and biodiversity going back some 2000 to 3000 years ago. There are also stone tools, accessories, and items used in burial rituals found within present Ho Chi Minh City limits.

The History of Foundation and Development: This room is a collection of charts, maps, photographs, objects showing Ho Chi Minh City’s geographic development and changes in administration. Maps from the 17th century show how rivers were fundamental to the city’s organic structure, but are now covered up by main streets like Hàm Nghi and Nguyễn Huệ.

Commercial Ports – Trading – Service: This room outlines the role of Saigon in the Southern Vietnamese economy. There are photos and maps of old Saigon’s port and transportation networks, trade related to Ben Thanh Market and Cholon or Chinatown, as well as objects such as measuring scales from different eras.

Industry – Handicraft: This room has documents of the city’s industrial development from the late 19th to the early 20th century. There are also photos and objects with explanations centered around traditional handicrafts like pottery, bronze smithing, jewelry making, tailoring, and wood carving.

Culture: This room showcases the customs, beliefs, and education in Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City. Objects on display include wedding dresses of the Kinh, Hoa, Cham, and Khmer peoples along with other traditions. There are also documents on the first use of Romanized Vietnamese characters and the first newspapers.

Revolution (1930 – 1954): This room is dedicated to the events surrounding the Independence Day of Sept 2nd, 1945 at the Norodom Square, and the victory of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

Revolution (1954 – 1975): In this room, you can learn about the Genève Conference in 1954, the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, the Spring Offensive or the Ho Chi Minh Offensive of 1975, and international support for Vietnam during the war.

War Remnants: Objects on display in the room are from the 30 years of war. There are soldiers’ everyday items, military equipment, reporters’ cameras, and prisoners’ memento.

Vietnamese Currency: This room revolves around Vietnamese currency from the 10th to the 20th century including the feudal times, Indochinese currency, and Vietnamese currency. There are also documents on the currency-making process.

Temporary Exhibitions

Soldiers turning the salvaged metal into new weapons
Soldiers turning the salvaged metal into new weapons
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

The current temporary exhibition in 2020 is the “Truong Son Trail – Ho Chi Minh Trail” (Đường Trường Sơn – Đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh). The trail was a crucial factor in the Vietnam War or the American War and the exhibit partially retells this historic story.

Visiting the Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Visiting the Ho Chi Minh City Museum
[ image by  Roger Shitaki ]

Although very spacious and airy, the museum lacks the modern convenience of air conditioning, so you should take some water along. Also, there are no places to sit down beside some wooden benches in the entrance hall. 

  • Entrance ticket: 30 000 VND per person
  • Camera ticket: 50 000 VND for hand-held cameras
  • Tickets have been half-price during 2020 pandemic opening times
  • During the 2020 pandemic, the renovation of the two special exhibition rooms is ongoing. Other exhibits are still open.

Is Ho Chi Minh City Museum Worth Visiting

Is Ho Chi Minh City Museum Worth Visiting
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

Ho Chi Minh City Museum and Surrounding Locations

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is in a central location and is worth a visit if you have time and are specifically interested in curious artifacts related to trades, science, or commerce. It’s a nice place to come for a quiet day of history, and it’s within easy reach of the more popular attractions. 

The Independence Palace, Central Post Office, War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, Saigon Notre Dame, and the Ben Thanh Market are all closeby.

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