City’s Museum of Vietnamese History is hidden gem

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SaigonTimes English - 40 month(s) ago 20 readings

City’s Museum of Vietnamese History is hidden gem

A sudden power-cut at 8:30 a.m. pulled me out of my cozy bed to wander around the city streets to kill time. After over an hour driving my motorbike under the scorching sun, I decided to find a cool place to relax. But where can I find some free entertainment I wondered.

City’s Museum of Vietnamese History is hidden gem

By Kieu Giang in HCMC

The Museum of Vietnamese History in HCMC is an ideal place for people to learn more about the history of Vietnam and other Asian countries
A sudden power-cut at 8:30 a.m. pulled me out of my cozy bed to wander around the city streets to kill time. After over an hour driving my motorbike under the scorching sun, I decided to find a cool place to relax. But where can I find some free entertainment I wondered.

After a slight hesitation, I drove to the Saigon Zoo & Botanical Garden in Nguyen Binh Khiem Street in District 1 where I hadn’t been for some years.

However, instead of going in to see the animals, I was curious about the majestic building on the left hand side as you prepare to enter the zoo – namely the Museum of Vietnamese History in HCMC.

I’m sure that it is not just me but that most Saigonese haven’t heard of it never mind have visited it. I have to admit I was glad I did, as it was an unforgettable experience as I learnt a lot of interesting stuff that was more lively and interesting than my boring history lessons at school.

Why? Because I saw the historical background of Vietnam and neighboring countries featured in paintings and objects, and was fascinated by a 140-year-old Vietnamese mummy.

Foreign visitors inspect the mummy of Mrs. Tran Thi Hieu, a member of the Nguyen dynasty who died in 1869 aged 60. The mummy was excavated in Xom Cai in HCMC’s District 5 in 1994. - Photos: Kieu Giang
The Museum of Vietnamese History in HCMC was established on August 23, 1979. It was formerly named Blanchard de la Brosse (1929 - 1956) and then the National Museum of Vietnam in Saigon (1956 - 1975), and it mainly displays ancient art collections of a number of Asian countries.

It is home to 30,102 artifacts which are divided into two sections. Section 1 displays the history of Vietnam from the primitive period until the end of the Nguyen dynasty (1945). This part comprises the following halls:

Prehistoric period (Circa 500,000 years ago – 2879 BC), Metal age - Kings Hung founded the nation 2879 BC – 179 BC, Chinese domination period – The struggle for national independence (179 BC - 938), Ngo – Dinh – Pre Le - Ly dynasties (939 - 1225), Tran – Ho dynasties (1226 - 1407), Champa culture (17th century), Early Le – Mac – Le Trinh and Pre Nguyen dynasties (1428 - 1788), Tay Son dynasty (1771-1802) and Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945).

The second section displays objects reflecting the typical characteristics of Southern Vietnam and other Asian countries, including Buddha statues from Asian nations, cannons (18th – 19th centuries), stone sculptures of Cambodia (9th – 12th centuries), ceramics of Asian countries, Xom Cai mummy in HCMC (19th century), Vuong Hong Sen collection and ethnic minority groups in Southern Vietnam.

The highlight of the museum must be the mummy of Mrs. Tran Thi Hieu, a member of royalty who died in 1869 aged 60 under the Nguyen dynasty which is still in immaculate condition. The mummy was found in 1994 in Xom Cui in HCMC’s District 5 in a twin-coffin tomb. The coffin which is 2.2 meters long and 50 cm high contains Mrs. Hieu’s corpse covered by layers of clothing in a red-brown liquid which was identified as pitch and jewelry including necklaces and rings and silk cloth. The other coffin was of a man but his body was badly damaged, with some bones left and some burial items. Now, the mummy of Mrs. Hieu is on display in a glass coffin in a dark room but visitors may feel a little uncomfortable when entering the room. I had an eerie experience as when I was alone inside and tried to take photos of the mummy, a small fan on the ground made a loud thud and I screamed and ran out of the room.

A foreign tourist joked with me. He said: “Don’t worry, she is dead already.” It was no laughing matter, though, I was really frightened.

Apart from the 18 halls displaying artifacts, the museum has a water puppet theater and some souvenir shops to serve visitors. The entrance ticket is priced at VND2,000 for Vietnamese and VND15,000 for foreigners and VND32,000 for permission to take photographs.

The museum opens from Tuesday until Sunday from 8 a.m. to 11:30 and from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at No. 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, District 1, HCMC. For further information, call 3829 8146 or log on to www.baotanglichsuvn.com

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