An unpleasant but necessary trip: War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City
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An unpleasant but necessary trip: War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

A visit to the Museum of War Remnants in Ho Chi Minh City is exactly how not to have a pleasant holiday experience, yet it is a “must do” for every tourist to Vietnam.

An unpleasant but necessary trip: War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City
This photo of War Remnants Museum (Nha Trung Bay Toi Ac Chien Tranh) is courtesy of TripAdvisor

No, viewing photograph after photograph of terrified soldiers, even more terrified villagers, and beautiful children tragically deformed as a result of chemical warfare, is not enjoyable.

But one of the most rewarding features of travel is in trying to gain some insight into the culture of the country you are visiting.

There is no denying that a significant element of Vietnam’s cultural psyche is shaped by the century of warfare the country has endured.

For western visitors, there is also an awareness that some of the wars that have been fought in Vietnam have impacted the history and consciousness of the United States of America, Europe and therefore the world.

A room filled with huge anti-war posters from around the world, all broad brushed letters and open-mouthed protest, brings home the emotion the Vietnam War prompted in the West.

As I walked out of Vietnam’s War Remnants Museum, I had to wait for a sudden downpour to subside.  Breathing in the smell of hot, wet tarmac, I reflected on the 100 years of almost continual war and mourning this country has endured.

Walking back to my guesthouse, braving streets thronged with some of the three million motorbikes of HCMC, I thought of how Vietnam is looking determinedly towards the future and searching for wholeness.

An unpleasant but necessary trip: War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

Drivers on motorbikes crowd the streets of Ho Chi Minh City Pic: Natasha von Geldern

Their interpretation of history is one of successful resistance against all foreign aggressors.  In HCMC you only need to witness the swanky shops and hotels of Saigon to see that a more insidious force in the form of globalisation is having a big impact.

For now, they are not interested in history or politics so much as economics.  And as a traveller, it is always important to remain open to seeing history with new eyes.