As I’ve said many times before, Ho Chi Minh City just didn’t do it for me. It was too Westernized and tourist-centric, leaving me totally disconnected, which was a vast difference from my time spent in Northern Vietnam. I will however, credit Saigon for gifting me with one powerful and touching memory.
It was Day 3. I had already roamed around the city, browsed the markets, seen the Cu Chi tunnels and floating markets, and of course visited Reunification Palace. I sat on a park bench, and with a long sigh of indifference, I listlessly browsed through my notes for other places to see. Disinterestedly, I picked an item at random from my list: the War Remnants Museum.
When I arrived at the gates of the museum grounds, I was greeted by an attendant asking for an entrance fee. A tad irritated by this point, I rolled my eyes while she looked away, then smiled and politely forked over my cash when she turned to face me again. I passed through the kiosk area and entered the courtyard. There was a collection of aged fighter jets and military equipment from the Vietnam War scattered across the grounds. I stood at the foot the Freedom Fighter vessel, which stretched a couple of meters above my head, and felt a sudden change in atmosphere. Intrigued, I weaved through the crowd to see what was next.
As I walked up the marble steps and into the building, I took notice of the expressions of the people viewing the exhibits – some with their hands covering their mouths in disbelief, others using tissues to wipe away their tears. As my curiosity began to build, I went up to the top floor to avoid the masses and start my tour.
It was a simple gallery with white walls illuminated by ceiling spotlights. Each wall was lined, from left to right and top to bottom, with photographs – painfully vivid, incomprehensible images of the Vietnam War that sent chills up my spine. In North America, we get news about war and international strife. That is, while the 6 o’clock news is broadcasting local stories, there is a tiny scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen showing death tolls after ‘Conflict in the Middle East’. Never in my life have I ever seen such powerful images of war, let alone so many of them under one roof.
Images of civilians who were butchered and stripped naked, followed by images of children with expressions of fear beyond imagination as they were being brutally tortured, are forever ingrained in my mind. Seeing how the chemical warfare, Agent Orange, was used to annihilate people was heart-wrenching. The images were so horrifying that I had to resist the instinctive urge to turn away and shudder, and rather force myself to look in order to truly understand the misery and suffering that those people, and subsequent generations, endured. As my hands began to quiver in disbelief, I studied the photographs and read the stories of young men and women, which eventually drew tears from my eyes as I compared my very privileged life to what theirs once was.
Beautifully designed, the photographs, quotations and newspaper clippings not only told the compelling story of the War, but also engraved its long lasting devastation in my mind. Because of this, the Vietnam War Remnants Museum could possibly be one of the best museums around that truly reveals the atrocious massacres cast upon civilians.
There is so much more to see in this museum, and words simply don’t do it justice. The War Remnants Museum is a must-see, and is by far my number one pick for Ho Chi Minh City!