Ho Chi Minh

War Remnants Museum: A Moving Experience in Ho Chi Minh City

War Remnants Museum (Vietnamese spelling: Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh) was established in 1975 to educate future generations by preserving the memory of the Vietnam American war. Every day, the museum welcomes international VIP visits, ex-soldiers, and reporters, especially Americans.

Visitors can experience dramatic stories through rare photographs of American troops being deployed, B-52 bombing raids, civilian casualties, and the disastrous effects of chemical warfare. The museum has received many awards and it’s consistently voted one of the top interesting museums on Tripadvisor.

Things to See and Do in the War Remnants Museum

Things to See and Do in the War Remnants Museum
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

The War Remnants Museum preserves over 20 000 documents, artifacts, and photographs. It has taken over 45 years of research and there are eight permanent exhibitions with a collection of about 1 500 displays. 

The objects on display have Vietnamese and English explanations as well as QR codes so information can be accessed on your mobile device. Special exhibitions also have touch screens providing information.

Audio guides can be rented inside the building. They come in six languages including Vietnamese, English, French, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese. 

You can stop by the souvenir shop to take a piece of the museum home with you. They have postcards, items made from recycled war material, and books published by the museum.

Permanent Exhibitions Inside

Permanent Exhibitions Inside
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

1. Historical Truths (Những sự thật lịch sử) displays images, information, and objects from Vietnamese wars against both the French and the Americans.

2. Requiem (Hồi niệm) is dedicated to the American War. Images in this room are poignantly from photojournalists, many international and Vietnamese, killed in the crossfire. They were put together by Tim Page and Horst Faas— two acclaimed Vietnam War photographers.

3. Vietnam – War and Peace (Việt Nam – Chiến tranh và Hòa bình) includes 123 photos taken by the Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa. He donated these to the museum in 1998. 

These exhibits have English, Vietnamese, and Japanese explanations. They cover the enduring effects of Agent Orange amongst other agents, the ghastly carnage of napalm and phosphorus bombs. Also included are the atrocities of war depicted in the photo of the My Lai massacre by Ronald L. Haeberle.

4. Agent Orange during the Vietnam War (Chất độc da cam trong chiến tranh Việt Nam) comprises 42 photos by another Japanese photojournalist, Goro Nakamura. The exhibition also shows the widespread environmental ruination of  Agent Orange and the debilitating effects on  Vietnamese and American veterans as well as their descendants.

5. War Crimes (Tội ác chiến tranh xâm lược) is exactly as the name suggests. It’s estimated that over three million Vietnamese died in the Vietnam War, many of them civilians, while US casualties numbered only 58 000. 

One exhibit is the slaughter of Thanh Phong villagers by a group of US Navy SEALs in 1969. There are three jars preserving human fetuses deformed because of dioxin exposure. Another highlight is the infamous photo of the Napalm Girl taken by Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Nick Ut.

6. Agent Orange Effects (Hậu quả chất độc da cam) shows the devastating and long-lasting effects of Agent Orange. Millions of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers still suffer its effects through multiple generations. 

7. Agent Orange: Consequences Through Children’s Paintings is not only about their sorrow, but also their will to overcome adversaries. These paintings also include the story of a girl who is an activist and a victim of Agent Orange.

8. The World Supports Vietnam in Its Resistance to U.S. Aggression 1954 – 1975 (Thế giới ủng hộ Việt Nam kháng chiến) is on the ground floor. There are images and documentary videos showing support from not only Asian and European countries but also US citizens during the war.

White Doves (Bồ Câu Trắng) is not an exhibition but a guided children’s playground with themes concerning peace, friendship, and the environment. You can sign your children up for a 45-minute fun program. This is also a place to have someone look after your children while you’re visiting the museum, much of which has content not appropriate for young children.

Permanent Exhibitions Outside

Permanent Exhibitions Outside
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

1. Imprisonment System during the Vietnam War (Chế độ lao tù trong chiến tranh xâm lược Việt Nam) has two parts: information displays and the prison replicas. 

The information room has images that condense  information on the infamous war prisons. They are Dalat Prison for Juveniles (Nhà lao Thiếu Nhi Đà Lạt), Phu Quoc Prison (Nhà tù Phú Quốc), Tan Hiep Prison (Nhà lao Tân Hiệp), Chi Hoa Prison (Khám Chí Hoà), and Con Dao Prison (Nhà tù Côn Đảo).

The prison replicas are of the infamous Con Dao Prison known as ‘hell on earth’ for prisoners of the American War. Highlights include the ‘tiger cages’, which are outside isolation boxes made of barbed wire, and a guillotine used for executing prisoners.

2. Open-air Exhibition (Hiện vật vũ khí trưng bày ngoài trời) consists of various captured weapons, armored tanks, vehicles, and airplanes. 

Temporary Exhibitions

Waging Peace - U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed America’s War in Viet Nam
[ image by Nguyễn Hoàng Anh ]

As of 2020, the Special Exhibition Waging Peace – U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed America’s War in Viet Nam (Làn sóng phản đối cuộc chiến tranh phi nghĩa ở Việt Nam) is open. It was curated by American anti-war activist Ron Carver to mark the 38th Anniversary of the International Day of Peace.

The War Remnants Museum has only one temporary exhibition at a time in the building, but there are also mobile exhibits all over the country.

The History of the War Remnants Museum

The History of the War Remnants Museum
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

The location of the War Remnants Museum used to be a pagoda all the way back to around 1744. In the early 19th century, the pagoda was given a total facelift by Gia Long— the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty. 

The name sign is currently in Tu An Pagoda (chùa Từ Ân) in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City. The original Buddha statue is on display in the Ho Chi Minh City History Museum. 

In 1859, French Colonialists started using the location for different purposes. In 1895, the pagoda was destroyed and the land was turned over to a mansion. In 1961, the land was used for US government purposes. 

After the Independence Day in 1975, the Exhibition House for the US and Puppet Crimes (Nhà trưng bày tội ác Mỹ – Ngụy) was opened here. In 1990, the name was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression (Nhà trưng bày tội ác chiến tranh xâm lược).

In 1995, it became the present-day War Remnants Museum. In 1998, it was officially recognized as a member of the International Network of Peace Museums (Hệ thống quốc tế các Bảo tàng Hòa Bình).

Is the War Remnants Museum Worth Visiting?

‘Mother’ statue made out of bomb scraps
‘Mother’ statue made out of bomb scraps
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

War Remnants Museum and Surrounding Locations

The War Remnants Museum is really interesting for the ticket price of only 40 000 VND per person. It’s a fitting place to get a perspective of war which is so graphic and confronting.

The weekend is a good time to visit because it takes a while if you intend to read everything thoroughly. Besides, they tend to turn off the air-conditioning when there are too few visitors.

The War Remnants Museum always has a spot in popular tours around Ho Chi Minh City. If you want to go your way, maybe invite a local friend and also check out some of the best places nearby: 

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, Independence Palace, Central Post Office, Ben Thanh Market, and the Saigon Notre Dame are all close to one another.

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