Our second day in HCMC, we decided to take the city tour to see all that HCMC has to offer. Again we went to one of the many travel agents and booked in for a day tour of the city for only 170,000₫ ($8/£5) taking us all around HCMC on an air-conditioned bus. (very important!!)The tour started at 8.30am and our first port of call was the War Remnants Museum we paid the 20,000₫ ($0.95/£0.55) entrance fee and went inside. The museum covered mostly the American phase of the Vietnam war, however most of the exhibits you have to take with a pinch of salt. Whilst no one denies the horror of the war and the sheer brutality of it, the museum is very one-sided and very anti-American. It does give you an insight as to just how horrific the war was and many of the exhibits and pictures are actually taken from the American side. We went outside first to the courtyard which holds all different types of helicopters, fighter jets, planes, guns and a whole heap of unexploded bombs (obviously with their charges removed!)
You can then visit the reconstruction of the South Vietnamese and French prisons that were located on the Con Son Islands and Phu Quoc displaying very graphic pictures of some of the tortures that took place and their effects, models of how the prisoners were kept and the notorious ‘tiger cages’. There were two types of tiger cages, small and large. They consisted of a cages interlaced with barbed wire, the small cage looked like it would only be able to fit one person in but in fact it held between 3-5 prisoners, the larger of the cages would fit 5-7 prisoners. This part of the prison also holds the guillotine, showing the influence of the French which was later taken over by the South Vietnamese.
Around the walls and covering the first floor of the museum is all the propaganda posters some of which are quite light-hearted… quite a contrast to the floor above! The first floor also consists of the international effort made out with Vietnam to stop the war such as the protests in America, England and other countries along with letters to the US telling them to withdraw.
Heading up the stairs to the second floor is where the real horrors began. The second floor contained pictures documenting the brutality of the war. Many of the pictures were taken by an American photographers including Tim Page who died during the conflict. The pictures were VERY graphic and despite being a one-sided museum you could not deny the brutality of it all. Some pictures showed the American soldiers taking prisoners in a helicopter with a later picture showing bodies being tossed out mid-air. In another picture an American solider stands with a corpse holding what remains of the head, torso and arm while the rest of the body is on the floor. It is extremely graphic and whilst downstairs might be a fun day out to take your kids to, upstairs would give them nightmares for years to come. Again you had to think that some of the pictures have been taken out of context such as the “American soldier smiling after shooting a victim”.
Moving on we came to the room dedicated to “Agent Orange” or Herbicide Orange. It was a herbicide first used by the British in the 1950’s to destroy forests and crops. Given its name due to the Orange barrels it came in, the Americans used this for the same technique as the British had years earlier. Between 1962 and 1971 20,000,000 gallons were sprayed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos the aim was to kill the forest land and deprive the guerrillas of cover and food. By 1971 over 12% of South Vietnam had been sprayed with Agent Orange however it was sprayed at a concentration 13 times the recommended rate destroying 10 million hectares of farm land. However, it was not only the land that was destroyed with an estimated 3 million Vietnamese people effected. The chemical caused burns, miscarriages and disabilities and continues to be a problem to this day. Children born where the agent orange was used were born with multiple health problems including extra fingers, toes, mental disabilities and cleft palates.
The exhibit had numerous pictures showing the effects of the Agent orange… again some which some people might find too graphic. It also explained the foetal abnormalities with some on display of mutated babes which had no hope of survival. It even had pictures of the American children born with birth defects after their parents came home from the war. The whole room was disturbing and extremely sad.
As I have said before the museum is rather one-sided and can be quite a sad and disturbing visit however it is a must see in HCMC to understand the full effects of the War. Again if you take children, maybe stick to the outside area and first floor and don’t venture up the stairs!