Prior to flying to Vietnam, I made a list of “museums to visit” and there were about 10, most of which were related to the country’s war with the Americans. But because I was more interested in checking out the cultural side of the country, and not on their war history, I decided to just narrow my list of “museums to visit in Hanoi” down to one — the National Museum of History in Hanoi. I had no expectations of the museum, which is why I truly enjoyed our time here.
The two-floor museum, which costs VND40,000 + VND15,000 for camera use, thankfully gave us a short but adequate introduction to Vietnam’s history from thousands of years ago. While I am often wowed by huge museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum in New York or our very own National Museum of Fine Arts, I find small museums satisfying because I am able to cover everything and get all my money’s worth in a certain amount of time. What I mean is, with small museums such as the Hanoi museum, I did not feel like I still have to come back because there were areas I was not able to cover with the time I spent there.Series of panel paintings depicting Vietnam life. My Son ruins serve as backdrop in the first gallery — prehistoric Vietnam.
The chronological arrangement of the museum (from prehistoric to 13th century AD) helped me easily navigate the museum. Follow the flow suggested by the museum’s brochure. It starts in the first floor on the right side when you are facing the interior of the museum, then you cover the museum counter clockwise. The oldest artifacts on display dates back to as old as 30,000 B.C., which I actually found amazing because I am one of those people who regard Vietnam as a rider to China. What I noticed that remain true in all of the places we visited in Vietnam so far, the Vietnamese love details and they take the time to tell stories even with the details. As an example, the drums, which were important ceremonial tools, ha engravings on the top that told stories.This engraving was taken from the engraving in one of the larger ceremonial drums inside the museum. A king’s adorned head dress. 14th century ceramic ware
From ground floor to second floor, including some time checking out what’s sold in the museum shop, we spent 1.5 hours. The museum, at 1 Pham Ngu Lao St., was not crowded at 2:00 in the afternoon. The museum could get stuffy especially that day when it was about to rain and it was a good idea to take a stroll in the museum grounds. The museum building itself is a showcase of unique Vietnamese architecture, one that’s seemingly French-influenced but truly Vietnamese. The museum is closed on Mondays, but open for the rest of the week from 8AM to 5PM.
From the museum, my theory that Vietnam is a truly rich country — not just in minerals and raw materials, but also in history and culture — was affirmed. And, this richness of history and culture did not just spring from the fact that they were under Chinese rule for many centuries. Sure, there are Chinese influences in Vietnamese culture, but there were also Vietnamese influences to Chinese culture. Vietnam did not start as a united nation. It was composed of many often-warring families and tribes people. But each of these families and tribes people had unique practices and culture that now make up a colorful Vietnam.
Photos by Joel Lopez.