I visited the Saigon Fine Arts Museum today and then wandered around District 1. It was a hot day but the streets were quieter on the eve of the big celebration tomorrow – 2012 Lunar New Year’s Eve – the Year of the Dragon! There are gazillions of yellow mums and other flowers in special displays and street decorations throughout Saigon – very beautiful! To say countries in the world get super serious about their traditional holidays is an understatement.
Saigon’s Fine Arts Museum supposedly houses some of the best Vietnamese art. I found the sculptures and the building itself the most fascinating. The building is magnificent and one of the best examples of French Colonial architecture in the city. The museum includes oil paintings, ink drawings, wood block, and sculptures along with Vietnamese ceramics and lacquer ware. The works on display are by both Vietnamese and foreign artists and shown on three levels in the museum. Some of the artists I enjoyed most are Tu Duyen whose wood block printing on silk is known worldwide and Truong Han Minh’s beautiful Chinese ink drawings.
The first level of the museum displays a combination of traditional Chinese art, modern art, Belle Époque, and Soviet propaganda art and to me it was not exceptional. The second floor has mostly political art – meaning propaganda – on the Vietnam War. There was also Chinese-style porcelain, oil on canvas, and lacquer.
The third floor was cordoned off and it supposedly has the most interesting exhibits in the museum, including works of art from Vietnam’s ancient civilizations. It was disappointing to not see the Champa statues, Oc Eo pottery and sculptures, and wooden statuettes from the central highlands.
At first I was literally the only one in the museum – except for one guard in the front who was busy eating noodles, but then a few more foreigners arrived. The museum is not air-conditioned and has fans placed around the galleries. Some pieces displayed didn’t have captions. I enjoyed the large pieces of sculpting displayed outside the building and took many photos. Surprisingly there were some beautifully feathered chickens wandering around the grounds.
After touring the museum I decided to have Dim Sum lunch at Kabin Restaurant in the 5-star Renaissance Riverside Hotel along the Saigon River. They have a fantastic Dim Sum lunch special and Kabin ranks among the top finest Chinese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh. In my opinion their Dim Sum can’t begin to hold a candle to those I regularly enjoyed in San Francisco’s China Town while living there for 35 years – the food wasn’t even close!
The old French Colonial hotels along the river like the Majestic, Grand, and Riverside are absolutely spectacular buildings – couldn’t get enough of them!
Tomorrow I’m going on a Saigon River tour to the Chu Chi tunnels of the Vietnam War which I wrote a little about in my January 8th blog.