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National Museum of Vietnamese History

national museum of vietnam history, far east vacation
National Museum of Vietnamese History

National Museum of Vietnamese History is housed in a magnificent example of Indochinese architecture, which was until 1910 the French consulate and the residence of the governor general.

The building was also home to the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient (EFEO), during which time it became a museum to exhibit EFEO finds. Over time the building deteriorated, and it was not until the early 1930s, following a seven-year renovation, that what you can see now was realised. The entrance gives on to an impressive two-storey rotunda with exhibits all around and in many galleries to the rear.

The contents are as fascinating as the building. The ground floor traces Vietnam's ancient history, from the first Neolithic finds through to those of the 15th century. Some items date back as far as 10,000 BC and feature more than just the requisite pottery shards and axe heads. The jewellery, tools and household items archaeologists have unearthed -- along with human and animal remains -- paint a compelling picture of the people who inhabited the region long ago, and provide a sense of how they are tied to Vietnam's modern inhabitants. There's also an excellent selection of bronze drums dating back as far as 500 BC. Ancient military history is also touched on. Corny dioramas of famous battles aside, some of the wooden spikes used by Tran Hung Dao to skewer the Mongolian fleet in 1288 are on display.

The upstairs of the rotunda has a small though impressive collection of Champa pieces -- if you missed the Champa Museum in Da Nang, now is your chance. The rest of the second floor goes from the 15th century up to the 20th. Some familiar sights are here in terms of temple statuary and pearl-inlay furniture, but the statue of Guan Yin -- the 'thousand armed, thousand eyed' manifestation of the Bodhisattva -- is second only to the one in the Fine Arts Museum

Other unusual exhibits include a scroll from the 1920s adorned with the characters for Long Life written 100 different ways. There's also a sculpture garden on the west side of the building where some old pieces have been left to suffer the ravages of acid rain, including a stellae bearing the oldest epitaph in Southeast Asia, dating from the 3rd century AD.

There's a charge for photographing the exhibits, and the price goes up if you want them to open the displays to eliminate the glare. Guided tours are available on request.

Add: 1 Trang Tien St, French Quarter, Hanoi
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00-16:30