Vietnam is a country whose historic sites reflect its complex and diverse history. In the north, you’ll find ancient temples with Chinese influenced detail, while in the south, you’ll find intricate Hindu temples. The capital, Hanoi, bears the distinctive hallmarks of the French colonial period, with its broad, tree-lined boulevards contrasting with the warren of streets and alleyways which characterise its busy and often ancient marketplaces.
Though it is remembered for the brutal Vietnam War – which is known as the ‘American War’ by the Vietnamese – Vietnam is a country which bursts with much more history besides, with a number of must-see sites to match. Ancient cities, mausoleums, and historic palaces are just a few of the sites which mark the country as a must-visit for any history buff. Here’s our pick of 5 of the best.
1. Hoa Lo Prison
Built in stages between 1886 and 1901 in downtown Hanoi by the French, Hoa Lo Prison – translated as ‘fiery furnace’ or ‘Hell’s hole’ – was a place of incomprehensible brutality.
Save for the small southern section, the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s and today, the museum focuses predominantly on the French colonial era and has been described as a ‘bare-knuckles recreation of destitution’. See a gruesome array of chains, shackles, the guillotine and other torture instruments, the cells and the iron doors that were built and shipped over from France.
2. Imperial City of Hue
The Imperial City of Hue was the capital of Viet Nam from 1802 to 1945 and of vital importance to the last Vietnamese royal house of the Nguyen Dynasty. As the country’s political, cultural and religious centre for this period, Hue boasts an array of architectural treasures and UNESCO has described it as an “outstanding example of an eastern feudal capital”. Of particular significance is the way in which the city was integrated within its natural surroundings.
Listed as a World Heritage Site since 1993, the site is actually a vast complex of monuments spread over 4km and encompassing some 140 constructions of varying sizes including temples, pavilions, a library and even a theatre. This was all protected by three circles of impressive ramparts reinforced by 24 bastions and pierced by 10 intricately decorated gates.
3. Ho Chi Minh Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam is dedicated to commemorating the life of the founder of Vietnam’s Communist Party and former President of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh.
From the biographical to the almost existential, the Ho Chi Minh Museum looks at his life and his ideals. It also explores Vietnam’s international conflicts and its struggle for independence. It is near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, his final resting place.
4. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam is a vast granite and red marble structure which houses the tomb of Ho Chi Minh, affectionately known by some Vietnamese as Uncle Hồ.
Ho’s body is now found in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where visitors can view it in its glass encasement.
5. Independence Palace
Also publicly known as Reunification Convention Hall, Independence Palace is a landmark in Ho Chi Mihn which was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. When Saigon fell in 1975, it was the site of the end of the war, as a tank crashed through its gates. It then gained international recognition.
Today, the palace is a time capsule from 1975, with lush gardens, secret rooms, antique furniture, and a command bunker, as well as two tanks which were used in the capture of the palace parked outside the grounds.