James Travel

Vietnam War Places to Visit: Where Past Is Well-Kept

History is what makes me proud and grateful of my home country. Vietnam’s history has spread over thousands of years under Chinese, French, Japanese, and American domination and stands completely against the war just only 70 years ago. 

The most recent one was the Vietnam War period marked by strife, poverty, and political activism. It was a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, which spilled over to neighboring nations and waged for 20 years, leaving death and devastation in its wake.

Ultimately, the dark days passed, the country was reunified and stepped into a new chapter. The War might be over, but it left a huge impact that influenced the nation’s development moving forward. The ruins, the war sites, and the sad memories are still there, but they educate us – the Vietnamese – to treasure what our seniors had strived for peace and what we can do to keep our country in peace.

Are Vietnam War places worth your visit?

To understand Vietnam and what this country has been trying to recover, I strongly recommend you visit the war sites in Vietnam. Sites that reflect the history and brutality of the Vietnam War are absolutely worth the visit, especially if you’re a history buff. 

Although the Vietnam War may seem like a distant event to younger generations, its effects on people of all backgrounds remain very real and relevant today. It’s important for everyone to witness the echoes of war and political instability that were forced on and haunted Vietnam throughout the 20th century. This is an enriching experience that’s also perfect for reflecting on the state of our war-stricken world today.

Aside from their inherent historical significance to Vietnam, many of these sites are also quite scenic and offer a rare new perspective on the country’s major cities.

Popular Vietnam War sites to visit

To help you prepare your itinerary of Vietnam War sites to visit, check out these popular spots that should definitely make the cut!

Hoa Lo Prison

The Hoa Lo Prison, which is also known by its original name of Maison Centrale, is an enduring structure that witnessed the grim history of Vietnam, both during the French colonial era and the Vietnam War.

Before it became involved in the Vietnam War, the Hoa Lo was already an important figure during French colonialism. It was a prison for Vietnamese freedom fighters who sought armed independence from the French.

When the Vietnam War sparked, the prison eventually became a detention place for American prisoners of war. Although it’s ironically named the “Hanoi Hilton,” the prison hid brutal and inhumane treatment behind its tall, imposing walls.

Prisoners were often cramped into small spaces and shackled to their beds. Torture and abuse were commonplace, and many prisoners particularly feared the cachot, an area akin to solitary confinement where there was no light, air, or space.

Although part of the prison had been demolished, what remains offers a truly raw perspective into the dark realities of the Vietnam War. 

As you explore the prison museum, you’ll witness all sorts of torture devices, the guillotine, and even depictions of prisoner conditions during those harrowing times. 

Before you leave, you can also stop by the memorial area to light incense and honor those who have experienced the horrors of the Hoa Lo.

Address: 1 Hoa Lo Str., Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Cu Chi Tunnel

In a war where the Americans relied on air force and bombardment, communist guerillas flipped the script with a whole subterranean world known as the Cu Chi tunnels in what is now Ho Chi Minh City (formerly, Saigon).

Although work on the tunnels predated the Vietnam War, communist sympathizers in the South known as the Viet Cong expanded the tunnels into a whole underground network stretching as far as Cambodia during the height of the war.

The Cu Chi tunnels foiled American war efforts as they allowed North Vietnam and guerilla troops to easily escape underground. The tunnels themselves were also a theater of war housing booby traps against the Americans and South Vietnamese.

Because of how effective these tunnels were, the Americans were forced to train “tunnel rats” to navigate the network, identify traps, and track enemy troops.

But the tunnels were not just a part of the war machinery, they also housed entire communities. It’s fair to say that the Cu Chi tunnels were the underground extension of Saigon as it had its own hospitals, living quarters, and even theaters and entertainment as comforting distractions for residents and guerillas.

When the war ended, the government preserved around 120 kilometers of the original 250-kilometer network and remodeled them for tourism purposes. 

Visitors can see booby traps, like pits designed to impale enemies, and the living conditions of residents at the time, witness the reenactment of key events during the war, shoot using real AK-47 and M-16 rifles, experience slipping into guerilla holes that lead straight into the tunnels, and more.

All in all, the Cu Chi Tunnels offer a rare immersive opportunity for history buffs. Just beware that it’s not an ideal trip for those with claustrophobia due to the cramped space inside.

Address: Phu Hiep, Cu Chi, Ho Chi Minh City

DMZ (demilitarized zone)

Shortly after the French were defeated in 1954, French colonial rule eventually gave way to the rise of two separate states — North and South Vietnam. As a remnant of the division, both countries decided to create a buffer zone separating them.

The result was the demilitarized zone (DMZ) spanning the 17th parallel and stretching 5 kilometers from the banks of the Ben Hai River. 

Although at present the site is largely unassuming, the DMZ was the site of the most brutal and deadly battles of the Vietnam War. 

It’s also quite ironic that the DMZ was home to many military bases during the war, but that much has given way to plantations in the area.

When you visit the DMZ, it’s ideal to explore as much of the old war history now hiding in plain sight as you can. 

Check out the giant flag pole towering over the Hien Luong Bridge that straddles both sides of Vietnam. There’s also the Union House, the Hien Luong Bridge Museum, and the Vinh Moc Tunnels nearby.

If you’d like to get the full history experience, I recommend setting aside a whole day trip to explore the area!

Address: 17th Parralel, Ben Hai River and Hien Luong Bridge, Quang Tri

Hue Imperial Citadel

Along the banks of the Perfume River rests the city of Hue, which is also the home of a living cultural relic that harks back to the country’s feudal era — the Hue Imperial Citadel.

However, this once home to the Emperor was not spared during the Vietnam War. Although it was located in South Vietnam, its proximity to the DMZ meant that the North sought to take control of the stronghold.

During the Tet Offensive, Hue City was overrun and controlled by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. Although the occupation was short-lived, the occupiers did not desert the city quietly.

The result was a massive bombardment of the city, which included the Hue Imperial Citadel. The once massive and ornate citadel had been almost completely reduced to rubble.

In 1993, decades after the Vietnam War ended, the citadel was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The government had also been actively restoring the majesty of the old structure, which is now open to the public.

The citadel is a place that attracts not only history buffs, but also those who want to learn more about Vietnamese architecture and culture! Hue City was the epicenter of culture in Vietnam during the pre-war period, so slices of life are preserved here.

Marvel at the impressive structure of the imperial city’s 10 majestic gates, particularly the Ngo Mon Gate! 

Walk the paths of bygone royals in the Forbidden Purple City, brush up on Vietnamese history in the city’s ancient royal tombs, and listen to royal music once only played during important royal ceremonies.

Regardless of how brief or extended your visit to the city is, the Hue Imperial Citadel is sure to leave a lasting impression!

Address: Le Huan, Phu Hau, Hue

War Remnant Museum

History lovers heading to Ho Chi Minh City, have your eyes over here — set aside a couple of hours to visit the War Remnant Museum!

The museum is one of the most popular destinations in the city as millions of tourists flock here every year. This war museum is a true storyteller of the conflicts that shaped this country’s history, such as the Indochina War, the French colonial rule, and (of course) the Vietnam War.

In fact, the museum was established and renovated to help communicate the truth about the Vietnam War. 

And if communicating war truths is its mission, the museum is doing a wonderful job at it! The museum does not shy away from showing graphic images and accounts of the war. 

Replicas of heavy weaponry are also on display outside the museum, allowing visitors to imagine the intimidation and horrors these tools posed during the war.

There’s a surreal quality to the narratives displayed here and paints a vivid perspective of the Vietnam War from the perspective of the locals.

Expect to witness many depictions of the war crimes committed by the US and its allies. Note though that in view of the improving political relations between Vietnam and the US, parts of the museum were altered in that light.

Address: Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh (War Remnants Museum), Phường 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Dien Bien Phu Battlefield

If you want to really understand how the Vietnam War unfolded, it’s best to plan a trip to the Dien Bien Phu Battlefield and witness the event that set the dominos crashing. 

In 1946, the First Indochina War sparked between the Viet Minh and the French colonizers. 

After a protracted battle lasting years, the Viet Minh brought a swift and decisive end to colonialism in the battle of Dien Bien Phu after receiving support from the Soviet Union and China.

In a span of four months, the French stronghold in Dien Bien Phu eventually fell to the Viet Minh. By May 1954, the independence of North Vietnam was already around the corner.

Although the Dien Bien Phu battlefield was not directly involved in the Vietnam War, it set the stage for the coming conflict. 

With Vietnam divided along the Ben Hai River, independence sentiments bloomed within the South, eventually forming the Viet Cong. The ongoing stability at the time and the fear about the spread of communism invited the US into the fray, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Dien Bien Phu houses the Victory Museum as a testament to the courage and resilience of the Vietnamese struggle. 

Visiting the museum paints a broader picture of the Vietnam War for many tourists, helping them understand why the war happened in the first place.

Address: Điện Biên Phủ, Vietnam

Reunification Palace

The next destination on this list takes us back to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the spot that signified the end of the Vietnam War. 

During the war era, the Reunification Palace (also known as the Independence Palace) was home to the South Vietnam president. 

All that changed on April 30, 1975, when North Vietnam alongside the Viet Cong swiftly overran the city and unfurled the flag on the palace balcony.

The capture and fall of Saigon marked the transition from separation to reunification. In the coming months, the national election for reunification was held, resulting in the merger and reunification of North and South Vietnam into the country it is today.

It’s an understatement to say that the Reunification Palace is one of the most important places in the country. Important documents were signed and tears were shed in and around this palace. It played a pivotal role in the country’s history.

As it stands today, the Reunification Palace is open to visitors, as long as there are no official receptions or meetings held inside. 

Visitors can soak in the atmosphere of this place steeped in history. Feel free to explore the credentials room and see the iconic Binh Ngo Dai Cao painting, intelligence materials in the library, and a glimpse of the former residence of the presidential family.

Apart from its cultural and political significance, the palace is an architectural sight and offers visitors a truly mesmerizing time!

Address: Dinh Độc Lập (Independence/Reunification Palace), Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Con Dao Prison

The scenic island of Con Dao with its pristine beaches and lush jungles holds a brutal secret that serves as a reminder of the atrocities the Vietnamese faced during the Vietnam War.

There are many reasons why the Con Dao Prison earned the title “hell on earth,” a testament to the notoriety that one of the world’s worst prisons possesses. 

Built during the French colonial era, the Con Dao Prison served as a confinement place for political prisoners and dissidents. The United States followed the French pattern during the Vietnam War. 

Prisoners who were sent to Con Dao Prison were practically in the middle of nowhere, as the archipelago was roughly 100 kilometers from the mainland. Here, they were often tortured, starved, and subjected to filthy conditions. 

One of the most horrifying prisons here was the tiger cages. Up to 12 prisoners were forced into below-ground cells measuring 1.45 meters by 2.5 meters. Above, prison guards would pour water or quicklime, increasing the torment these cramped prisoners were suffering from.

After the reunification in 1975, Con Dao prison closed down and became a special national monument. 

Visitors can explore the tortured conditions of the inmates here through the different systems of prisons and prison departments. The Con Dao Governor’s Palace (Dinh Chua Dao) is also nearby, a lofty residence for foreign rulers that stands in stark contrast to the inhumane conditions in the prison. 

The palace is now a strong reminder of the price that Vietnamese patriots had to pay for their country. It’s a solemn destination for those who want to witness the grisly image of Vietnam’s past.

Address: Côn Đảo Prison, Nguyễn Chí Thanh, Côn Đảo, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu

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