On our way out of Vietnam, we had a hot, steamy afternoon to explore downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Our flight into Ho Chi Minh from Vinh was delayed, so we did not have as much time as we wanted, but once I announced to Landon that we were going to see some tanks, he insisted that we see the tanks! The War Remnants museum was about a 30 minute walk away from our hotel. We had our stroller with us, and used it to transport both children at different times. On our way, we passed the beautiful Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, a Catholic church sitting right in the middle of downtown. It appeared that it was under construction, but tourists and worshipers were still able to access the inside.
We continued walking, planning on visiting the Independence Palace and maybe the War Remnants museum if we had time. As we approached the palace, which was the South Vietnam command center during the war, it was clear that it would not be open for visitors. There were Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings taking place at the palace. We were not sure where the entrance was, so we walked all the way around the block and then made our way straight to the War Remnants Museum, formerly called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. Tickets were 15,000 dong/adult, kids are free. We had been warned by friends to skip the upstairs with kids, because that section is mostly photographs of the atrocities committed during the Vietnam War (in Vietnam it is called the American War). Outside of the museum, there is a good collection of American war machines- airplanes, helicopters, tanks, and artillery. This is the reason why my boys wanted to come. They ran around the yard checking out all the guns and vehicles. Plaques in front of each machine gave us the name, some facts and time frame when it was used in the war.
We only had about an hour before closing time, so we spent most of our time outside checking out the vehicles. It was weird being so far away from America, but seeing a whole bunch of American war machines. Off to the side was a replica of one of the prisons where the Americans kept North Vietnamese POWs. I previewed it with Owen to make sure that Landon would not be scarred for life by the things inside. It was not too bad, actually, and much less graphic than the animatronic Koreans being tortured that we saw in their Independence Hall in Cheonan, South Korea!
The Vietnamese just couldn’t catch a break. They were invaded by the French and colonized in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In WWII, they were invaded by the Japanese, and worked with America to spy on the Japanese. After the war, there were two competing parties- Communist and more capitalist Southern Vietnam. When the Soviets got involved to support the North and the Americans came in to support southern Vietnam, the carnage was devastating for the country. Although this museum is very one-sided in its depiction of the war, the fact that human beings are capable of doing such terrible things to each other makes me sick to my stomach. I know that there were terrible atrocities committed on both sides, but that does not make it acceptable.
After checking out the model prison, the boys just wanted to run around the yard, so I stepped inside the open air first floor to see some of the inside exhibits. On the first floor, there were many photos and posters detailing the lead-up to the Vietnam War. There were photos of American soldiers, and those who deserted or refused to fight were lauded here as heroes. It was interesting to see things from the Vietnamese’s perspective! Along the sides of the museum were collections of munitions ranging from smaller bombs to gigantic bombs. If you really want to feel depressed, check out the effect that Agent Orange has had on the people of Vietnam. I had NO IDEA that there are still children born today with wide ranging and permanently disabling birth defects due to this evil deforesting agent used by the Americans in the war. I worked with some humanitarian missionaries from the LDS church to provide basic therapy toys and equipment for a center for children affected by Agent Orange. Because of a general lack of resources in Vietnam, many parents can’t take care of their children and send them to big warehouses for disabled kids, where the kids are left there all day, lucky to receive the food to survive, much less the interaction and therapy to improve their quality of life. There are many organizations trying to help out these innocent children, but the need at this point is greater than the help available. It is truly heartbreaking.The museum closed before we had a chance to go see more heartbreaking and graphic images of war and its effects on Vietnam. We were not really planning on taking our kids up to see those pictures anyway, so it worked out. On our way back to our hotel, we walked by the front gate of the Independence Palace, where the Viet Cong burst through the gates in tanks to officially take over South Vietnam in 1975. Amazingly, the tank, along with some other war machines, are still on the front lawn!
The War Remnants museum is one of the top tourist destinations in Ho Chi Minh City. Not because it’s an amazing museum, but because of the story it tells and the injustice and ugliness of war that it discusses. Although it is told from the Vietnamese perspective, I think it is still a place I would recommend visiting when in Ho Chi Minh. It was interesting to see the mixture of people there- tourists from many different countries, American Vietnam War veterans, and Vietnamese families. It is incredible that even after doing such horrible things to the Vietnamese people and dumping agent Orange all over the place, the Vietnamese are so welcoming to us, even after learning that we are American. I think we can all learn a lesson about acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness from these people!