In a town where crossing the road is tantamount to playing chicken in the middle of a busy motorway at rush-hour, Ho Chi Minh’s War Remnants Museum is the most harrowing experience you can have in the city formerly known as Saigon.
Historical fact and blatant propaganda make for fascinating bedfellows as the War Remnants Museum challenges the conventional Western perception of the Vietnam War to tell the story of the bloody conflict from the Vietnamese perspective.
And it doesn’t pull any punches. A museum with a clear message, it opened in 1975 as “The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government”. Two name changes later, it wasn’t until 1993 that it dropped “America” and “war crimes” from it’s name completely.
The Agent Orange exhibition is a particular delight, detailing in photographs the horrendous birth defects caused by the US’s use of the chemical defoliant to burn down Vietnamese jungle.
And, if the pictures weren’t enough to hammer the point home, there are three jars of preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to the toxic dioxin within the herbicide.
Meanwhile, the surrounding museum grounds are equally intense. As well as a large number of US and Vietcong military equipment and unexploded ordinance, there are “tiger cages” on display that were used to contain South Vietnamese political prisoners as well as a guillotine (accompanied by a particularly gruesome image) used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners.
It’s not a fun museum by any means but it is a fascinating take on a nightmarish war that deeply scarred all its combatants. It’s certainly the most intense museum this particular backpacker has ever been to.