There are so many things to do in Hanoi, it is difficult to know where to start. One of the definite highlights for those wanting to know more about the history and culture of Vietnam is the range of museums that offer visitors a real appreciation of this country. Quite naturally the best museums in Vietnam are in Hanoi, its capital and here are a few, in no particular order, to ask for inclusion in your tours of Hanoi.
• Hoa Lo Prison Museum was the prison where American soldiers were kept after being captured by the Vietcong. They nicknamed it the ‘’Hanoi Hilton’’ and it came a museum a couple of decades ago. Prior to the Vietnam War it had been a place where the French had imprisoned independence fighters and the guillotine is a reminder of those times. The cells were cold and damp and the torture facilities are truly disturbing. Many tourists will be especially interested in an exhibition showing the American experience which includes John McCain’s flight suit and parachute.
• Vietnam Women’s Museum holds some wonderful ethnic costumes from all over the country. The role of women both in society as well as wartime is fully explained in the exhibits.
• Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is an old colonial building, formerly the Ministry of Information when the French were here. There are some old Champ carvings, must on the history of Vietnamese art as well as contemporary paintings. There are a huge number of exhibits, too much for a single visit but try to see the effigies of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion; a 1,000 arms and a 1,000 eyes.
• Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is your chance to find out about the 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam. You won’t learn much in the streets of modern Hanoi but you will here. It is slightly out of the centre but worth the effort.
• Vietnam Military History Museum is central, close to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is likely to be included by a Hanoi travel agent in any tour that you book. There are a number of exhibits in the grounds including the wreckage of a B52G jet, a military personnel carrier, howitzers, tanks and field guns.
• National Museum of Vietnam History in Hoan Kiem behind the Hanoi Opera House was a school during colonial times but was transformed into a museum just after independence. There are over 200,000 exhibits, the earliest up to 400,000 years old up until the 1945 Revolution. There are several sections so if you have limited time, select exactly what interests you most.
1. This is from the earliest times until around 4,000 years ago
2. Trang Dynasty
3. Ho Dynasty until 1945
4. The Champa Kingdom
Even if you only have time for a single museum while you are in Hanoi you will leave the City with a far better knowledge of the Country than when you arrived. Better still if you travel with the family because these museums offer a better lesson than children will ever get in a classroom.