For those visitors who wish to understand a bit on Vietnam and its many wars for Independence, then a stop at the Vietnam Military Museum, or simply known as Military Museum is a must. It is Hanoi’s oldest museum. It opened its doors to the public on the 15th anniversary of the Vietnamese Army Day, in 1959 – a mere five years after they defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu.
A bit of history
Vietnam’s history, especially the last century, has always been about fighting for independence. In the beginning, it was waging a war to get the French to leave their country. Then the Japanese decided that the country fit in very well with their expansionist plans. And then came the Americans, initially as peacemakers, but ultimately as aggressors themselves. While all that is behind them, many remnants of these brutal wars are still alive at the museum.
Exploring the museum
The Vietnam Military museum has an extensive collection of armoury, downed and seized aircraft, and even artefacts that date back to the Hong Bang Dynasty that flourished around 2879 BC. Legend has it the king, Hung Vuong, founded what was the beginning of Vietnam as a state. While this is open to debate, for history buffs with an interest in understanding a bit more, you can read more on king Hung Vuong here and this crucial period of Vietnamese history here.
Parts of the exhibits, especially the aircraft and guns are positioned outdoors, the artefacts and other exhibits are indoors.
The exhibits in the main hall, which is also the original building, primarily focuses on the first Indochina war, with a small section devoted to the Japanese invasion. Inside the museum are dioramas of the Battle of dien Bien Phu, along with a variety of propaganda videos and improvised weapons including a bicycle modified to hold a handheld mortar launcher.
A newer building focuses on the war with the Americans. Some of the highlights include the two tanks that crashed through the wrought-iron gates of Independence Palace in Saigon, on the 30th of April 1975, at approximately 10:45am.
However, the highlight of the museum surely must be the courtyard where a few aircraft, tanks and guns have been positioned. There’s also a rather bizarre sight that greets your eyes. It feels and looks like a shrine – dedicated to the wreckage of the famed B-52 bomber, with a black and white photograph of a Vietnamese soldier dragging a piece through the waters taking centerstage.
The other highlight is the flag tower. Originally built in 1812 under the Ngyuyen dynasty, it was used as an observation post. Thankfully, it survived destruction when the French invaded between 1896 and 1897. Interestingly, the Vietnam flag has fluttered day and night, since the 10th of October 1954.
Take a break
Lenin Park, or Thong Nhat Park, is rather small when compared to other parks. But it offers a nice respite from the busy streets and rushed schedules. While you are there, say hello to Lenin, who has been immortalised with a statue.
For years, the official account stated that it was Tank 843, a Soviet-made T54, that broke through the palace gates first. However, by 1995, after enough evidence was presented, Tank 390, a Chinese-made T59, was confirmed as the first tank that crashed through the gates. You can read more about Independence Palace and see more images of these two tanks here.
Information you can use
If you are in the vicinity of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, it is just a five-minute walk to the Vietnam Military Museum.
There is an entry fee of VND 40,000 per person. If you wish to use your camera, add a further VND 20,000. I suggest you pay that amount too.
It’s open from 8 to 11:30am and 2 to 4pm, on all days of the week except Mondays and Fridays.