Best Vietnam War Historical Sites For History Buffs
Vietnam has some stunning scenery, amazing cuisine and beautiful people. Most visitors to Vietnam will at some point attend one of Vietnam's many war museums or sites. It can seem a little uncomfortable to ask to see more of these facilities, so I've put together the best military and war based locations you are able to visit as a tourist.
Personally, I felt I came away from Vietnam with a much higher understanding of the more recent instances of aggression that have been forced upon them. Visiting multiple Vietnam war sites was the reason for this. If we can understand more about the differences in our cultures, maybe we can be more pro-active in protecting each other so more people aren't exposed to the horrors or war.
Whether you come to Vietnam as a veteran hoping to secure healing from the past or whether you are a military armaments fanatic, here are a list of Vietnams best military museums and locations for you to visit.
The Cu Chi tunnels
Built-in 1940 during the Vietnamese rebellion against French colonisation, Cu Chi houses a mysterious yet spectacular network of underground tunnels. At their peak the tunnels ran for almost 250km from the edge of Saigon to almost the Cambodian border and had whole rooms as part of the network. During the Vietnam war, the tunnels were again used allow the Viet Cong to escape the American offensive above ground.
Now the remaining 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved and is accessible by tourists. There are 2 tunnel sites open Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. Ben Duoc is part of the original tunnel system, while Ben Dinh has reconstructed tunnels but also has tunnels that have been made bigger to help tourists experience the feeling of being underground.
Tours That Visit The Cu Chi Tunnels
The War Remnants Museum Ho Chi Minh City
The War Remnants Museum is not to be missed, however its not the easiest museum you will ever walk through.
On display in the yard along with items like unexploded bombs are
- UH-1 Huey helicopter,
- a Daisy Cutter bomb,
- an F-5A fighter jet,
- a full M48 Patton tank,
- an A-1 Skyraider bomber, and
- an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber.
There are signs around telling you that the bombs and other military ordinance you see have triggers and fuses removed, but the sheer size of them is stunning. You can't imagine that damage a bomb of that size would have made.
Throughout the inside of the museum there are various photo exhibits which show the outcomes of many war atrocities like Napalm, Agent Orange and aerial bombing. The photographs don't hold back and are challenging to view.
I always recommend visitors to Vietnam go to the War Remnants Museum but also feel I must warn you that it won't be a fun afternoon. Its about respect and avoiding these type of actions being ever used again.
TIP For War Remnants Museum: This is one place where I feel that a guide is maybe not the best idea. If you are a super strong person and have intense military interests, yes you might get use out of having a guide. However, I spent a great deal of this afternoon in tears and I didn't feel strange walking around as others were also in the same state. I did feel that it would have been heaps harder with a guide watching me though. There is heaps of information everywhere so I don't think that a guide will necessarily give you a lot more inside info here and doing it at your own pace is necessary.
Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City
Situated in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, the Reunification Palace holds a significant place in Vietnam's turbulent history. Initially built as the Norodom Palace in 1868 during French colonial times, it was home to the French Governor-General of Cochin-China.
The palace was later transformed into the Independence Palace in 1962, serving as the office and residence for South Vietnam's President during the Vietnam War. With its modern architecture infused with traditional Vietnamese elements, the palace is considered to symbolize the historical blend of East and West.
The palace witnessed many pivotal events that shaped the course of Vietnamese history. The terribly named “Operation Frequent Wind” saw the US evacuate over 7000 people in only 2 days from the Reunification Palace (formerly the Independence Palace). This building served as the capitol building for South Vietnam prior to April 30, 1975 when one of the most iconic moments took place. A North Vietnamese army tank bulldozed through its gates, symbolizing the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of Vietnam's reunification. Today, that tank remains on display on the palace grounds, and the event is commemorated annually as a testament to Vietnam's resilience.
Beyond its historic significance, the Reunification Palace also offers a great visitor experience with its sprawling, lush gardens, ornate rooms, and a rooftop terrace with a stunning view of the city.
Visitors can explore the president's private quarters, the war command room with old radio equipment and strategy maps, and ceremonial rooms where national and foreign dignitaries were once entertained. A visit to the Reunification Palace is like stepping into a time capsule, offering a deep, immersive journey into Vietnam's past, and a significant symbol of the country's united present.
Tours that visit the Reunification Palace
The Imperial Citadel Hue
Nestled on the banks of the Perfume River, the Imperial Citadel of Hue, known locally as the Dai Noi, is a testament to Vietnam's rich history and cultural heritage. The sprawling complex, first constructed in 1804 under Emperor Gia Long, served as the administrative and political center of Nguyen Dynasty, the last royal dynasty of Vietnam.
When the Nguyen Dynasty was overthrown in 1945 the city and citadel was abandoned and fell into serious disrepair. The Citadel has been a silent witness to many momentous historical events in Vietnam. During the reign of the Nguyen emperors, it was the backdrop for royal events, political intrigue, and cultural ceremonies.
However, the most significant episode in its history came during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War in 1968 when it became the battlefield for a fierce 25-day fight. The battle caused considerable damage, but despite the scars of war, the Citadel still stands tall, narrating the stories of a bygone era. Initially the US were forbidden from bombing or shelling the city for fear of losing what remained of the once massive fortress. As the fighting continued these restrictions were progressively lifted and the city once again saw serious damage.
Today, the Imperial Citadel of Hue, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, offers a fantastic look at Vietnam's past. Visitors can view the Thai Hoa Palace's grand throne room, explore the emperor's reading room in the Forbidden Purple City, or peacefully stroll the gardens with lotus-filled ponds.
Although some parts of the Citadel are still undergoing restoration, a visit to the Imperial Citadel is not just a walk through history; it provides a glimpse into the soul of Vietnam.
Tours that Visit the Imperial City in Hue
Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi
Hoa Lo Prison, chillingly dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs during the Vietnam War, is a landmark that stirs deep emotions in the heart of Vietnam's capital city. Constructed by the French colonial government in 1896, it was initially designed to house Vietnamese political prisoners who opposed French rule.
The prison's name, Hoa Lo, ironically translates to “fiery furnace” or “hell's hole” – an apt description for the harsh conditions faced by the inmates. Despite its awful past, Hoa Lo, one of the most historical places in Vietnam, now stands as a powerful testament to survival and the human spirit's resilience.
The prison has been a silent witness to many significant events in Vietnamese history. During the French colonial period, it was infamous for its harsh treatment of prisoners, many of whom were nationalists fighting for Vietnam's independence. The prison's role shifted during the Vietnam War, holding American POWs, including the future U.S. Senator John McCain.
Despite the horrific conditions, stories of bravery and resiliance emerged from these thick stone walls. There are more than a few stories of prisoners who upheld the spirits of fellow detainees and forced a level of camaraderie in the face of such extreme adversity.
Today, a part of Hoa Lo Prison has been preserved as a museum, showcasing its stark history through exhibits and artefacts. Walking through the old cells, you can sense the atmosphere of what must have been soul sucking conditions.
The museum offers a mostly unfiltered look into a difficult yet significant chapter of Vietnam's history, complete with personal effects, historical photographs, and stories of those who were once imprisoned here. Visiting Hoa Lo Prison is not just about exploring a historical site; it's an experience that connects you deeply with Vietnam's past, its more modern day struggles and eventual triumph.
This is a tough one to experience, but it is something you should not miss as a war history buff that is visiting Vietnam. Consider this 4 hour army jeep tour visiting Hao Lo Prison and the downed B-52 for a specialised military tour.
My Son Sanctuary, Hoi An
Tucked away in a lush jungle basin, My Son Sanctuary, located near Hoi An, is a fantastic display of Vietnam's ancient architectural prowess, somewhat comparable to Tha Phrom in Angkor Wat.
Constructed between the 4th and 13th centuries by the kings of the Champa Kingdom, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was a spiritual centre, housing numerous Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva. The sanctuary, with its intricate stone carvings and temples built out of brick and sandstone, serves as a testament to the technological, artistic, and spiritual heights attained by the Cham civilization.
My Son Sanctuary was more than just a religious site; it was the political nucleus and cultural heartbeat of the Champa Kingdom. The sanctuary witnessed countless royal ceremonies, spiritual rituals, and cultural events, making it a vibrant hub of ancient Cham life.
Unfortunately, the ravages of time and war, particularly during the Vietnam War, led to the destruction of many temples, but the echoes of the past can still be felt among the ruins.
Today, the My Son Sanctuary beckons visitors from around the globe, offering them a peek into Vietnam's diverse cultural fabric. As you stroll through the ancient red brick pathways, past the still standing temples adorned with mythical carvings, you are transported back to an age of grandeur and spirituality.
The onsite museum presents fascinating relics and provides insightful context into the Cham civilization. Despite the ruinous state of many structures, the aura of reverence and ancient grandeur is palpable.
There are many examples of hieroglyphic style writings that are yet to be translated. Originally thought to be odes to the past rulers, our guide told us that some historians believe them to be military style defence strategies, possibly designed to assist in the safe keeping of the royals in case of attack.
While not all of the city remains standing, experts also consider that the design of the city is military in nature, with some physical defences similar to some Japanese castles. Some think that the style and layout of the buildings were meant to slow intruders and give the locals a great vantage point from the heights of the central towers. Who knows, but it is a fantastic example of ancient building techniques that have stood the test of time.
Visiting My Son Sanctuary is a journey into Vietnam's past, where history, nature, and architecture converge in harmony. While it isn't technically one of the Vietnam war historical sites, it is really worth seeing and if you have a military past, who knows you may be able to see something in these yet to be read transcripts.
Day tours to My Son Sanctuary from Hoi An
Long Tan Cross Battlefield
With significance primarily for Australian tourists, Long Tan ex Military base will appeal to veterans and citizens who wish to pay their respects.
The Long Tan base played a significant role in Australia's military involvement during the Vietnam War. The base was established in 1966 by the Australian forces, marking the start of the country's most substantial ground contribution to the war. Primarily, it was the home of the 1st Australian Task Force, but it also accommodated various units of the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force, and the Royal Australian Navy. The base served as the frontline for Australian forces in Vietnam.
One of the most significant events that occurred near the Long Tan base was the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966. On a rain-drenched day, D Company, 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, with just 108 men, fought a fierce battle against a Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army force estimated to be around 2,000. Despite the odds, the Australian forces managed to hold off the enemy, resulting in a strategic victory but also marking one of the deadliest days for the Australian forces during the war.
Today, the site of the Long Tan Australian Military Base offers a reminder of the sacrifices and struggles of the soldiers who served there. Near the former base, a cross memorial has been erected in the Long Tan rubber plantation, marking the site of the Battle of Long Tan. Every year on 18th August, known as Long Tan Day or Vietnam Veterans Day in Australia, Australians remember the service and sacrifice of those who fought and died in the Vietnam War.
While the base no longer exists, the spirit of camaraderie and resilience that once permeated the area continues to resonate, making it an essential stop for anyone interested in Australia's military history.
Tours that visit Long Tan Battlefield Vietnam
Vietnam Historical Places – Military and War Sites in Vietnam
While none of us want to glorify past or present conflicts, it is important that we pay our respects and learn from previous military events. Primarily so that we may consider negotiation and respect for our opponents before we both take to the ground. Even though the 60's and 70's Vietnam skirmishes were never technically a “war” there is much to be learned from how both sides handled the fighting.
This list of the best Vietnam military and war historical sites should enable you to construct the best itinerary to see most if not all of these places in Vietnam.
Check out my Vietnam Destination Page for all the info, posts & places to visit in Vietnam.