We often lament the lack of change at Vietnam’s museums. But Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh Museum is the exception. It hasn’t changed either as far as we can tell. But nor should it.
Dedicated to the life of Ho Chi Minh, the 1990 museum is unique in Vietnam, with its heavy use of abstract displays and a narrative reach that includes Marx, Lenin, Picasso, modernism, the French Revolution, US capitalism and more - the major political, economic and cultural forces of the past two centuries.
Ho Chi Minh’s story is weaved in too.
There are museums dedicated to Ho Chi Minh in every major city and town in Vietnam - but none like this one.
It was created in the dying days of the Soviet Union after a twenty year effort. It was substantially funded, designed, and curated with Soviet support.
The same Soviet architects also designed the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum next door. We didn’t find any reference to this on the museum website, or at the museum - but it was always noted by tour guides in the 1990s.
Vietnam's museums tend to be fairly literal in their narrative style. Not this one. It’s quirky, abstract, ambitious and international in its perspective. And it preserves a museum style developed in the final years of the Soviet Union.
The international flavour makes sense. Ho was a truly international figure, living in the US, France, the UK, Russia and China before returning to Vietnam in 1941 to wage his independence campaign, first against the Japanese, then the French, and finally against the US-backed South Vietnamese government.
We reckon this might just be the most interesting museum in Vietnam - even if some of what makes it interesting was not intended by its creators.
Make sure you check it out during your visit to Hanoi.
The displays pictured above include Don McCullin’s famous 1968 photo of an American GI in the Battle of Hue, references to modern architecture, science, mass production, the Vietnam War and the evolution of Marxist thought. Quite a weighty collection of subjects.
For more on the museum, check out our guide of things to see and do in Hanoi.