- Perhaps the best public 360 view near the Old City of Hanoi.
- A place to see, touch or get into MIGs and helicopters.
- A tall watchtower 10 stories high to climb up.
- An array of cast muzzle-loading cannon of Vietnamese, European and Chinese make.
- Lots of war equipment of Vietnamese, French, Russian and American manufacture.
This might be the most interesting museum in Hanoi for many people because the exhibits are mainly real objects, not videos or artistic displays. Most of the exhibits come from the American Vietnam War or the Viet-French War. There is one room about the Viet-Kymer War, but apparently no exhibits about the Japanese occupation or the Chinese-Vietnamese War. Going to the museum is interesting for the sightseeing, learning about history, and for getting to touch and see up close big military equipment up.
If you are staying in the Old City area and like history or weaponry, this museum just might be your favorite. It is close enough to walk to in about 35 minutes. The location itself is interesting. It is next to a big park area with what is said to be one of the few statues of Lenin in the world, a military base, government buildings, and the the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum area (about 550 meters away).
It has a tall watchtower that is about 10 stories high altogether. The building is bigger than it looks from outside the museum area. It has two lower platforms and a thin tower with a winding staircase you can climb up to the top of. The whole structure measures about 33.4 meters tall, and it was mainly built during the reign of King Gia Long who was the first King of the Nguyen Dynasty between 1805 and 1812. The French added to it and modified it.
You'll see a great view! You can get a good view of the American propeller craft (US Navy and US Army) and the downed aircraft junk pile in the lot below. The view of park and grass fields is about the best in the area. Walking to the top is fun. People left a lot of graffiti over the years. You may see army men touring around and lots of Vietnamese children on the tower.
Large Weaponry Outside
If you want to see Russian MIG fighters up close and get into a Chinook helicopter, this is the place to go. There are two MIG 21s. The one near the entrance was used between 1967 and 1969, and it is said that it was used to shoot down 14 US aircraft. The one in the back lot was used to shoot down 5 US planes. Next to it is an older MIG 17 that was used between 1965 and 1968 and was used to shoot down about 7 US planes.
You can climb up to see into the cockpit of the latter MIG 21 and see the interesting instrumentation (no computer screens) and Russian writing. Where else in the world will you be able to see a MIG 21 from that era so close up? Next to the MIGs in the back lot is a US F-5.
There is also a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. There are two seats in the cockpit and a big empty area in the back for carrying personnel and equipment. You can sit in the cockpit and walk around in the back. What is surprising is how flimsily constructed the jets and the helicopter are. One might think they had more armor. It seems a heavy bullet could easily pierce through their thin skins or windows.
There are a variety of vehicles and canons of French, American and Russian make. Among the most interesting of the cannons are an array of old muzzle-loading cannons dating from about 1780 to perhaps the late 1800s. There is one of Qing Chinese manufacture from about 1780 and a variety of European and Vietnamese-made cannons. What is interesting is how similar they appear.
Inside the Museum Building
All the aforementioned interesting big weapons are outside the main museum building. There is a two-story museum with exhibits on the two floors and a wing. You'll see the expected rifles and other weapons that were used by the Vietnamese. You'll see various jerry-rigged traps and weapons and early weapons that were produced by Communist factories in Vietnam for use against the French and Americans.
The focus of the exhibits are on the war against France (a million North Vietnamese casualties) in the period 1946-1954 and the war against the US (maybe two million pro-north casualties) in the period 1955-1975.
One room shows articles and books and pictures about world support for North Vietnam or for the end of the war. Another room has a little information about the war against the Kymer military groups (40,000 Vietnamese casualties). But there is little or no information about the China-Vietnam War in which about 30,000 Vietnamese died.
There is a corridor on the second floor that leads to a theater room in the wing. It is all in Vietnamese. There is a strikingly low-tech demonstration with a big map with colored lights and two video screens. Accompanying video, music and dialogue explains the war campaigns and explain the fall of South Vietnam and the capture of Saigon.
Stairs lead down from this small theater to the back lot with the big planes and some weapons and armored vehicles.
Tourists will probably feel that the English language explanations and signs are too few. But probably most tourists don't go there to learn the detailed history of the war. In an hour or two tour, many may be simply satisfied to see pictures and weapons.
- Address: 28A Pho Dien Bien Phu
- Price: adults, 30,000 dong (1.50 USD)
- Hours: Every day, 08:00-11:30 & 13:00-16:30 (except closed Monday and Friday). If you are there during lunch time, they may let you stay in the area though they close the building.
Walk: A fun way to get there from the Old CIty is to simply walk and see some city life. You can walk there in about 35 minutes. There are various routes, but most people can probably just walk down Hang Bac (Silver Street) that is an east-west street.
The names for this street will change to Hang Bo (Basket Street) and then to Bat Dan though the street stays fairly straight. The names change because the names signified what was primarily sold there or was a street description. The Old City was a big market area with each street selling something different.
You'll come to some fishy smelling stalls and railroad tracks. Turn right and go under the underpass at the first left. You'll come to the gate of a military base. You can't pass through though that isn't shown on most maps. So turn left and then take the first right past it, and you'll come to 34A Tran Phu. Follow this Tran Phu south, and you'll come to a place where it comes to another street going east and west also called Tran Phu! Turn right and you’ll come to a broad avenue called Dien Bien Phu.
Walk down that a little and you'll see the Lenin Statue, and across from that is the gate to the museum.
Bus: Bus 9 and 18 from the Old City goes there and stops in front of the museum.
Warning: There is a group of people coming up on tourists on their motorbikes in this area. A woman usually sits behind a guy. They will generally ask you where you are going and will probably try to lead you somewhere or ask for money. They are quite persistent. It feels like a gang operation.