Hanoi’s Vietnam Military History Museum

The Vietnam Military History Museum in central Hanoi celebrates the Vietnamese victories of the 20th century, first over the French and then the United States. And, of course, it presents a version sanctioned by the Vietnamese Communist Government.

Vietnam Military History Museum Tank Exhibit
Vietnam Military History Museum Tank Exhibit
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Perhaps more than any other country, Vietnam’s self-identity over the last century has been defined by war. First, it was ejecting the French colonials. Then a brief repulsion of the imperial Japanese. Then the Americans.

As tragic and destructive as that history of war is, it is also both important and rich. But the Vietnam Military History Museum doesn’t do it justice.

It was set up in 1956, just two years after the French were defeated in dramatic fashion at Dien Bien Phu. And it has all the hallmarks of a 1950s museum designed by a bureaucratic committee of a cash-strapped government. It has none of the provocative flair of the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

The exhibits in the main building don’t seem to have been updated since the 1950s. Most are focused on the First Indochinese War, glorifying the brilliance of leaders such as General Giap and the sacrifices of Vietnamese patriots in driving the French out of Vietnam. One or two exhibit walls focus on the war against the Japanese towards the end of World War II. Old metal floor fans provide some air circulation. The walls and ceiling are caked in mold. Artifacts are displayed inside sliding-door glass cabinets. The exhibits are old and stale.

A newer building focuses on the war against the Americans–the American War, as it’s known here. There’s a tank, a jeep, a life-size jungle diorama, and various random artifacts.

But it’s outside where the two highlights of the museum are. First, there’s the large stone tower–Flag Tower–that stands tall over the surrounding countryside. Built in the early 1800s, it now serves as a giant nationalist flagpole. A Vietnamese flag has flown at its top day and night since October 1954.

At the tower’s base is a courtyard of large-scale war souvenirs–tanks and planes and helicopters–captured from the Americans. And looking like the makings of a giant bonfire, the wreckage of a B-52 bomber–that symbol of American military superiority–stands on its nose surrounded by the crumpled wreckage of other planes like an F-111 fighter-bomber.

Photos of the Vietnam Military History Museum

Vietnam Military History Museum Captured Planes and Tanks
A view from the top of Flag Tower over a courtyard filled with captured American military hardware. The wreckage at the top is from a B-52 bomber. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Jungle Exhibit
An exhibit on jungle warfare in the newer section of the museum. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Front Entrance
The main entrance. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Crashed B-52
The wreckage of an American B-52 bomber. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi Flag Tribune with American Plane
Flag Tower. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Bike with Rice Sacks
An exhibit on low-tech warfare, with a bicycle to transport bags of rice. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi Flag Tribune with Wreckage
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Cu Chi Tunnels
A model depicting a cross-section of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Vietnam War Exhibit
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Home Front
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi Flag Tribune with Vietnamese Flag
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum French Defeat Map
A map depicting military victories over the colonial French in Indochina. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Tank Exhibit
A tank that sits in the main foyer of the newer wing. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Jeep
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Beating Gongs Sculpture
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Indochina War Field Uniform
Indochina War field uniform. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Tank and Jeep
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi Flag Tribune with US Air Force Stencil
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Courtyard
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Rifles
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum B-52 Wreckage
The wreckage of an American B-52 bomber. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Japanese War
An exhibit in the old section on the war with the Japanese. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum American Plane
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Grenades
Grenades. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi Flag Tribune with Plane
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi Flag Tribune with Field Cannon
A field cannon in front of the Flag Tribune. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum View from Tower
A view out over Hanoi from the top of the tower. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi Flag Tribune Cannons
Captured French cannons at the base of the Flag Tower. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Exhibit Room
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Helicopter
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum National Resistence
An exhibit in the old section on the Vietnamese national resistance. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Vietnam Military History Museum Vo Nguyen Giap Bust
A bust of famous Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com

What To Know Before You Go

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Travel Advice for Vietnam

You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Vietnam (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.

The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Vietnam here and the Australian Government's here.

Health & Vaccinations

The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Vietnam here.

by David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »