As the country’s capital, Hanoi packs the lion’s share of Vietnam’s major museums and cultural institutions into its noisy, chaotic, colourful streets. You may be surprised to find out just how many there are here and the array on topics they cover between them. Here are some of the best to discover as you visit Hanoi.
In a gorgeous colonial building once used by the French Ministry of Information, this is a treasure trove of traditional, religious, modern and contemporary Vietnamese art. Think everything from ancient Champa carvings to 20th-century folk paintings and 21st-century abstract artworks.
Outdoor displays of tanks, captured aircraft including rusting US jets, helicopters and artillery pieces make this a good bet if you’re in Hanoi with kids, while inside the three buildings you can see everything from further weaponry to war propaganda, photographs and documents. Together, they cover not only the Vietnam (American) War but the wars against China and France. Climb the flag tower for wide-ranging city views. Military buffs may also want to make time for the Vietnam People’s Air Force Museum on a disused airfield on the outskirts of the city, with MiGs, helicopters, army trucks, radar, artillery pieces and more.
Small but interesting (and free), this place has welcoming staff who speak English well and are happy to talk you through the displays covering the history of the Vietnamese police force from French colonial times to today – although the signage is good if you just want to drift around by yourself. Displays on costumes, drug smuggling, fake goods, kidnappings, scam rings and the like all combine to give a broader picture of Vietnam’s society through the ages.
This museum and mausoleum of the man who changed the face of modern Vietnam won’t detain you for a huge amount of time due to the propagandist vibe and lack of decent signage and overall context to the exhibits – hire a private guide for the best experience. But it’s still well worth a visit, for the surreal way it combines displays on his military accomplishments with ’70s-era pieces of installation art inspired by Soviet Social Realism. The triumphalist concrete museum and mausoleum buildings are worth a visit in their own right, too, and the gardens they are set in are lovely for a stroll.
Off the beaten track, necessitating a taxi ride outside the city and hence often overlooked, this venue offers a unique insight into the logistical military supply routes than ran from Communist North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam – and to the incredible effort and determination that went into keeping them running in the fact of constant bombardment. This is another good one with kids – as well as two floors of exhibits, a short movie and various vehicles, there are re-created tunnels to clamber through in the lush gardens.
A museum charting the life and career of Vietnam’s longest-serving Minister of Education might not grab you by the throat as a must-see, but this is a little wonder, with tours of the four floors of photos and documents and the pretty garden given by the professor’s granddaughter-in-law – a delightful personal touch (she serves guests tea, too). The life and family history of this outstanding scholar, ethnologist and patriot (the first Vietnamese person to earn a PhD at the Sorbonne) provide compelling insight into Vietnam’s history and transformation through the 20th century. The museum is about a 30-minute taxi ride from central Hanoi – combine it with a visit to the nearby Lai Xa Photography Museum and a wander about this small semi-rural town itself.
This is a rewrite of an original article by Toni Marie Ford.