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Ok, hands-up. Visiting a museum probably isn’t top of the agenda when planning a holiday in Vietnam. Temples and pagodas perhaps, but not museums. For some, the very word ‘museum’ stirs negative connotations of trailing around reluctantly after a parent or teacher as a child. How many times have you heard someone say museums are ‘boring’ or ‘time-consuming’?
But I’m here to argue that museums in Vietnam are seriously underrated!
Museums in Vietnam
Vietnam is home to some of the most fascinating and thought-provoking museums in world, including three in Asia’s Top 25. Plus, a trip to the museums in Vietnam is a great way to put the rest of your trip into context, they’re extremely cheap (often free!), and perhaps best of all, they’re usually air-conditioned so offer a very welcome respite from the heat and humidity.
Here is my run-down for five museums not to be missed on your next Vietnam trip:
1) Museum of Ethnology (Hanoi)
Did you know that there are over 50 different tribes in Vietnam? The Museum of Ethnology offers arguably the best introduction to the history and culture of the various hill tribe communities around Vietnam with a focus on visual, hands-on displays. The highlight is the outdoor exhibit made up of replica ethnic style houses and buildings which bring to life how the Vietnamese people traditionally live and the differences between various tribal communities.
For those who are unable to make the journey to Northern Vietnam, this museum offers a snapshot of life in the hills of Sapa and Ha Giang; a surprisingly good substitute to venturing beyond Hanoi’s city limits.
- Pros: Information available in Vietnamese, French and English. Informative guides.
- Cons: Located a little further out of the main city.
2) Vietnamese Women’s Museum (Hanoi)
As the name suggests, this museum gives the women of Vietnam a voice. It offers a fascinating insight into women’s place in society, their role as wives and mothers and really draws attention to their struggles in the face of adversity and gender inequality. Particularly poignant is the exhibition showcasing the resilience of women during the war years.
Recently renovated, the museum is bursting with beautiful costume displays and real care has been taken to display all the artefacts in a tasteful and sympathetic manner. A must-visit for fashion enthusiasts!
- Pros: Air conditioned, modern building. Easy to access.
- Cons: Very little on modern experience of women in Vietnam.
3) War Remnants Museum (Ho Chi Minh City)
Whilst certainly not the most cheery of museums, the War Remnants Museum remains one of Vietnam’s most famous and one of the main reasons for visiting Ho Chi Minh City. As the Lonely Planet surmises, “few museums convey the brutal effect of war on its civilian victims so powerfully”.
Certainly, the War Remnants Museum brings to life the harsh reality of the Vietnam War from the perspective of victims of US military action, and the personal accounts of the atrocities paint a very vivid picture in your mind. The Requiem photography exhibition upstairs is particularly haunting.
That said, the museum is extremely informative and there’s no doubt that what you learn will stay with you for a long time. A truly eye-opening experience once in a while isn’t necessarily a bad thing…
- Pros: Excellent plane display outside.
- Cons: Some displays are a bit one-sided. Closes for lunch from 12-12.30. May not be suitable for young children.
4) Le Ba Dang Art Museum (Hue)
Very few people know the work of Le Ba Dang, the Vietnamese artist who spent most of his life studying and working in France. His work is a fusion of European and Oriental influences in the form of watercolour, sculpture and lithography, and will really appeal to fine art aficionados. Keep your eyes peeled for the Picasso currently on display.
This little gallery is located in a lovely whitewashed building down a quiet, leafy side street in Le Loi, Hue, and whilst small, will offer a welcome respite for anyone suffering from temple-fatique.
- Pros: Tucked away from the crowds.
- Cons: Small.
5) Precious Heritage Museum by Rehahn (Hoi An)
Photography enthusiasts will love this newly opened gallery (opened in January 2017) showcasing the work of internationally renowned French photographer Rehahn.
Avid National Geographic readers will be familiar with his captivating portraits; a culmination of his three-year ethnographic exploration of Vietnam’s ethnic groups. The gallery houses around 140 of Rehahn’s best images as well as copies of his best-selling coffee-table read, ‘Vietnam: Mosaic of Contrasts’. As is so often the case with portrait photography, each image speaks a thousand words, so you can very easily wile away a good hour or so immersed in the beauty and story behind each picture.
- Pros: Free entry. The artist is also local, so if you’re lucky you may get the opportunity to meet him in person.
- Cons: Tucked away in a quieter area of Hoi An, so can be difficult to locate.
If you are feeling inspired to experience some of Vietnam’s fascinating art and culture for yourself, you may be interested in our Indochina Encompassed two-week journey. Alternatively, for a real Insider’s insight to Vietnam’s art scene, check out our unique Insider Experience: Sophie’s art tour.