While the Vietnam War officially ended more than 40 years ago, it is still top of mind for many impacted by the conflict. But even for those born long after the war was over, a visit to some of Vietnam’s war-related attractions offers an important and moving history lesson. When visiting these attractions it is important, for Americans in particular, to realize the war stories will be told from the Vietnamese perspective, and may not align with a U.S. view of the era.
Hanoi was the capital of North Vietnam during the war years, and the place from which Ho Chi Minh ruled. As a result, it was a hotbed of war-related activity.
Established in 1959, the Vietnam Museum of Revolution chronicles the country’s long fight for liberation. It covers the struggle against the French, the establishment of the Communist Party and the Vietnam War (or, as some Vietnamese call it, the American War). The beauty of the design of the 1917 French Colonial building contrasts sharply with the more than 40,000 artifacts contained therein.
Hoa Lo Prison is better known by Americans as the Hanoi Hilton. That name was sarcastically given by American prisoners-of-war imprisoned there. The jail was originally built during French colonial days to house political prisoners. During the Vietnam War, the facility was a stockade for captured American pilots. Senator John McCain was imprisoned here, as were hundreds of other POWs. The part of the original building that is preserved contains some solitary confinement cells, interrogation rooms, and exhibits featuring an array of photographs, documents, and related vestiges.
Whether you are staying at the Sofitel Hotel Metropole or not, be sure to stop by this historic French Colonial inn to learn about its storied past. The Metropole’s Path of History tour takes visitors past more than a dozen display cases showcasing 100 years of renown, including memorabilia documenting the stays of visitors like Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin and anti-war dissident Jane Fonda. Also on the tour is a visit to a claustrophobic bomb shelter built in the 1960s to protect hotel guests from air raids. The shelter was rediscovered several years ago and preserved to its original condition.
What is now dubbed Ho Chi Minh City was once Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. It is now the largest city in the united Vietnam. Its Vietnam War-related attractions are numerous and haunting.
Outside the War Remnants Museum
Located in the former U.S. Information Service headquarters, the War Remnants Museum focuses on the brutality of the conflict, told from the Vietnamese perspective. The outside grounds are littered with vehicles, artillery and bombs captured from U.S. forces. Inside, exhibits range from a collection of anti-war posters to disturbing photography exhibits highlighting the damage caused by Agent Orange and other war atrocities.
Once home to the South Vietnamese president, what is now called Reunification Palace is most famous for its noted images of Communist tanks storming its gates in April 1975, signifying, for all intents and purposes, the end of the war. Visitors can now tour the building, a time capsule of 1960s architecture and design. The clunker contains a mish-mash of plush staterooms, stark utilitarian war rooms and oddly-outfitted living quarters. Don’t miss the videos at the end of the tour, which provide additional historical detail.
A half-day side trip from Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to establish a base close to the South Vietnamese capital. They did so by digging a 120-mile network of clandestine tunnels that functioned as underground cities. The tunnels were used as supply routes, living quarters, weapons caches, and hospitals during the Vietnam War. Tours of the tunnels, a two-and-a-half hour drive from the city, offer a comprehensive lowdown (double entendre intended).