Vietnam National Museum of History

This is one of those rare medium-size national museums that is as intriguing from the outside as it is from within.

The building was the invention of Ernest Hebard who attempted to combine Vietnamese and French designs in the refurbishment between 1925 and 1932 of a structure originally built in 1910 to house the Ècole Française d’Extréme Orient (French School of the Far East). Hence the intriguing edifice. The government acquired the building in 1958.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the collection, but I knew there were specific areas of Vietnamese history that I was interested in; the enigmatic Oc Eo culture of Southern Vietnam, the fascinating Dong Son culture of Northern Vietnam and the early fifteenth century. Was that too much of a tall order? I was not at all disappointed by the impressive collection on the two floors of artefacts in a multitude of mediums; stone, wood, metal, ceramic, mother-of-pearl and of various sizes. In fact, I learnt much more about the two cultures then I ever did from reading a handful of Southeast Asian history books. The lighting was good, though reflections off the glass cases made for a reduced experience.

Relics of Dong Son culture
PHOTOGRAPH BY Clifford Pereira

I grew up with the Vietnam War as daily news for much of my childhood and I do remember the distressing sight of naked children running after a napalm attack at the end of that war and that iconic helicopter evacuation on my black and white TV. The end of that war was a relief to be sure, if only because of its constant newsfeed. But personally, the visit to this museum recalled a story of a region divided into two cultural zones, northern and southern, who were at loggerheads for thousands of years. Could this unified state which has become an economic miracle really have a peaceful future? The historic voices of the country, north and south, the coast and the inland mountains are all represented in the museum. The fact that the national museum chose to cover such a diverse history is reflective of its intentions and the future of Vietnam does look hopeful.

The English signage is not perfect, and I would suggest that potential visitors read at least a brief tourist guide to Vietnamese history so that they are armed with a timeline and some idea of the differing localities. The lunch break is strictly adhered to and I found I needed more time. I had to come back in the afternoon and buy another ticket. Depending on your interest I would suggest one to two hours for the visit.

Museum Information:

Location: 1 Pham Ng? L?o, Hoan Klem, Ha Noi, Vietnam.

Telephone: 0102379059.

Admission: 40,000 Dong.

Opening Hours: Daily 08:00-12:00 and 13:30-17:00


Telephone: 0102379059.

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Clifford Pereira FRGS

Hailing from Mombasa, Kenya. Cliff's research interests began in 1982 when he first travelled Asia following the routes of the epic voyages of the Fifteenth century Chinese admiral Zheng He. He later graduated with a BA(Hons) in Geography with Asian Studies (Ulster University). After a career in tourism Cliff became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). He returned to historical research in 2001 on a variety of themes leading to an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society on the Bombay Africans (2007) and is regarded as the world specialist on the subject. Cliff was Honorary Research Assistant to Royal Holloway's Geography Department (2011-2014) and Visiting Research Assistant to Dalian Maritime University, China (2011-2015). Cliff was researcher-curator on the Bait-Jelmood Museum, Qatar (2013-2016) and research-curator for the National Museum of Qatar, specialising in the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean (2016-2018). Cliff was Visiting Research Assistant at the University of Hong Kong (2016-2023). He completed a MA(Res) on the History of Africa and the African Diaspora (University of Chichester) with distinction in 2021. He is presently distance-working on the African collection of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC Vancouver, Canada and continues to research and consult for a number of UK heritage institutions. He describes himself as a historical geographer and has been a speaker on various subjects in China, Malaysia, Canada, USA, South Africa, Italy, the UK and on the cruise liners Silversea and Swan Hellenic. He has numerous papers and chapters in publications around the world.