War and Peace in Ho Chi Minh City

Do you ever visit a place and come away feeling like there’s a weight in your chest? Visiting the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City felt like that for me. Certain places just suck the joy out of you – perhaps its the knowledge of the atrocities that took place there, or some remnant despair left behind, stuck in the bones of the place even after so many years.

Quite honestly I tend to avoid visiting war-related places, especially if I’m on my own on a trip with limited time, because the thoughts get stuck in my head and that weight in my chest doesn’t leave me all day, which is a bit of a downer. Dachau on my Munich trip is perhaps the last such place I visited – I hadn’t planned on it – my friend wanted to go so I tagged along. It did leave me feeling kinda somber all day despite the gaiety of Christmas markets. Even writing this post was harder – I’ve had it sitting on my dashboard awhile.

(Want a happier post? Here’s what it’s like to be zooming around on a Vespa in HCMC!)

But sometimes it’s hard to get proper perspective on a place without seeing the ugly side – Saigon’s history and the way the modern Ho Chi Minh City developed is irrevocably linked to its wartime past, and given the world today, these places remain an important reminder for us to treasure the peace that many don’t have the luxury of enjoying, and not to commit the same mistakes again.

If you are headed to Ho Chi Minh City and keen to understand it better, do check out these spots. You might have learned about the Vietnam war from your textbooks or documentaries, but seeing it from the Vietnamese point of view might give you a renewed perspective on what you thought you knew. Also, check out this post by Mashable with photos from the war by Vietnamese photographers – pretty insightful stuff.

War Remnants Museum

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh War Remnants Museum Exterior
Entering the museum courtyard

The museum is a stark sharp-edged concrete building – it reminds me a little of the mausoleum building where Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body lies in Hanoi, a very functional looking slab of concrete. The courtyard is filled with various large artifacts from the war period, including bomber planes, helicopters and even a tank.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh War Remnants Museum Plane
Planes and other transportation litter the courtyard of the museum. You can get pretty up close, so good for the gearheads out there

The museum covers 3 stories – I only had time to browse the galleries on level 2 but that was enough to give me a sense of the museum.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh War Remnants Museum Blue Tint
I don’t know if it’s a sun tint or some thing to set the mood, but the blue tint makes it a little eerie and somber

A thing I enjoy when reading stories are the alternate points of view, because context makes all the difference – one man’s tragedy is another person’s victory. They say history is written by the ones in power, so what we often encounter in media and popular culture often has a strong Western influence to it. But here, to no real surprise, there is some pretty extreme vilification of the West in the war, and the gallery which shows the long-lasting effects of Agent Orange and chemical warfare on the Vietnamese people and land really wrenches the heart.

Recognise that you are seeing another very biased point of view and don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. Though honestly it doesn’t matter who started it or who was right or wrong – all I’ve come away thinking is how cruel people can be to each other, and how horrifying the world can sometimes be. See, this is why dark thoughts get stuck in my head after visiting places like these. They are perhaps a little too effective in making me reflect.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh War Remnants Museum People
There are 2 floors of the museum, walls covered with photographs depicting the horrors of war, along with more artifacts form war time. It is a well visited museum and saw a constant stream of visitors in my time there.
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh War Remnants Museum Photo
Recognize the photo? That’s one of the more ‘iconic’ photos when you talk about the effects of Napalm and the Vietnam war.

War Remnants Museum

730am – 12pm, 1.30pm – 5pm

Admission is 15,000 VND for a standard adult price

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi (say Koo Chee) Tunnels are a pretty famous relic of the war between the American soldiers and the Viet Cong. They are basically an immensely long and complicated underground tunnel system dug by hand (!) that the Vietnamese soldiers lived in for during war time, used as living quarters, transport route and a stronghold against the enemy. Being deep underground kept them safe from aerial bombing and the narrow tunnels were a natural defense against the larger Western soldiers.

There are two sites – Ben Duoc and Ben Dinh – we headed to the latter. It was quite an immersive and eye-opening experience – we started off watching a rather grainy video of war footage, before we trooped off to explore the surrounding area. It’s an outdoors jungle area so be prepared to get extremely hot and sweaty. Also, prepare for giant jungle mosquitoes that can bite you even through layers – bring lots of repellent!

A bunch of photos on what you can see:

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Hut
Replicas of the huts that the Vietnamese lived in back then – they are sunken into the ground. Some of the huts had lifesize dioramas of how they made weapons
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Tank
There’s a giant tank which you can feel free to clamber up on
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Trap
Just one of the many exhibits showing the traps that the Viet Cong set for the enemy soldiers – you have to marvel at the ingenuity and capacity for cruelty people can have – this trapdoor of spikes are meant to maim and for a slow painful eventual death
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Shooting Range
If you’ve ever wanted to fire a rifle, that’s a shooting range that you can do so here. Some of the other folk tried it out, I decided it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Tapioca
We got to try some Tapioca, sugar and some tea – which is what people back then had solely to survive on

One of the things that I’ll definitely take away is experiencing the actual tunnels. There are sections where you can actually crawl along – these are already considered the wider ones and it’s pretty claustrophobic all around. Others were revealed by our guide – mere holes in the ground and it makes you think how small or malnourished they must have been back then to be able to fit into these spaces.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Small Rectangle
To give you a sense of the size of the tunnel entrance – it’s barely the size of my shoes
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Lowering Hole
This is me trying to lower myself into the hole. I’m just about touching the floor here. I had a peek inside and I would have to bend double and somehow contort myself to even fit into the tunnel underneath
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi Tunnels Hole camouflage
Can you even tell that there is a tunnel door under those leaves?

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels are about 1.5hours drive outside of Ho Chi Minh City – I was on a private tour and we took about half a day, so check out the Wiki Travel Page for details on getting there independently, and the History Channel page has a pretty good video to give you an idea of the place.

Entrance fee: 90,000 VND

Looking for more posts on Vietnam? Here’s more on Ho Chi Minh City, or why not check out the Northern bits with Halong Bay and Hanoi, or the Central region where I visited Hue and Hoi An?

This trip to Ho Chi Minh City was organised and sponsored by VietJetAir

2 thoughts on “War and Peace in Ho Chi Minh City”

  1. I totally understand where you’re coming from, I usually avoid any war related museums, but ended up coming here as it was part of a day long tour of HCMC. And I’m really glad I did! We thought we’d be dragging our heels wasting time before our guide came to pick us up, but we actually got so engrossed in the museum that were weren’t ready to leave an hour and a half later. Yes, what you find out is pretty awful, but it made me see that as a tourist it’s important to learn about the good and bad things that have happened in the city/country you’re visiting. I learnt a hell of a lot, and saw the history of this war from a different viewpoint which taught me how little I actually knew about the atrocities that happened.

    Yes, it’s a very sobering and upsetting experience, but one I think you should have none the less. Humanity will never learn from it’s mistakes if we don’t remember what happened. Thanks for a good read, even though I can imagine this was a hard post to write. Keri x

    1. You raise great points! I agree that it helps give context to the country’s culture and thinking, and made me appreciate Singapore’s peace more! Thanks for reading Keri I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

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