I have to admit the idea of hanging out with a friend at a museum has never even crossed the mind of a party girl like me.
But one day when I had no idea of where to go at the weekend, I texted my best friend: “Buddy, it seems like we have already checked most of the cool places in town, so now let’s find some place that we have never been before to hang out, ok?” Minh, my best friend replied: “Ok, but where?” After a moment’s hesitation, I remembered a place that my friend asked me to go to a long time ago but I refused.
“Fito Museum of traditional Vietnamese medicine in 41 Hoang Du Khuong Street, District 10.” I texted Minh the location and got ready to visit a venue that not only increased my knowledge but I also had a lot of fun. Let me tell you why.
Nestled in a quiet street off Hoang Du Khuong, near the junction of Cao Thang and Le Hong Phong streets, people hardly recognize the five-storey building made from precious wood under the great shades of bamboo trees. But this is Fito Museum.
Once entering visitors might gasp as they are told nearly 3,000 items, relevant to traditional Vietnamese medicines dating back to the Stone Age, are on display at the 600 square-meter museum.
After buying your ticket, a guide will welcome visitors to a specially-scented elevator made from tau precious wood as they start to learn about the history of traditional Vietnamese medicine.
On the fourth floor, guests can inspect some wood print paintings relevant to traditional medicine which were made by 50 artists in a three-year period; the chronicle of the establishment of traditional Vietnamese medicine; an altar to worship two well-known Vietnamese physicians Tue Tinh and Hai Thuong Lan Ong who are also known as the ancestors of traditional Vietnamese medicine and some stone and bronze artifacts from prehistoric time.
Next, visitors go to the fifth floor to see a compartment which was built in the 19th century and displays 15 red lacquered trimmed gold paintings of famous physicians from the 13th to 18th centuries including Chu Van An, Tue Tinh, Nguyen Dai Nang and Hai Thuong Lan Ong.
On the third floor, there’s a huge collection of bowls to drink traditional medicine from and other related collections of scale, cabinet, advertising board, printing mold, spirit gourd, tea pot, bowl, lime pot and other ceramic articles.
A 500kg wood print painting, featuring a giant tree carved with the names of 100 famous physicians who contributed to the development of traditional medicine from the 12th to 20th centuries, is amazing. This unique painting was made by dozens of artisans over a two-year period and is the private property of Fito Museum.
There’s a surprise for visitors on the second floor as they have the chance to dress up in traditional costumes of physicians and grind medicines by old-style tools by hands or feet and pose for photos at the model of an ancient pharmacy. Also, there’s a warehouse of herbal medicines and minerals and collection of ancient books relevant to traditional medicine. After finishing the tour, visitors can come to a room on the first floor to see a documentary film and enjoy a cup of tea made from linh chi mushroom, or visit a souvenir shop on the ground floor to buy various kinds of medicines.
A few hours at the museum gave me a very pleasant feeling on a Sunday morning and I can still sense the odor of traditional medicines on my clothes and the taste of mushroom tea on my tongue. To me it’s a perfect way to relax and learn more about the nation’s culture. My friend said: “I will come back again because all the items here are more than just antiques, I can see Vietnam’s history through them.”
Fito Museum, 41 Hoang Du Khuong, District 10, HCMC (near Ky Hoa Park), tel: 3864 2430, opens from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are VND32,000 for adults and VND16,000 for students and children.
By Kieu Giang in HCMC
My bestfriend Minh sports an ao dai (Vietnamese long dress) to pose for photos at a model of an ancient pharmacy at Fito Museum – Photos: Kieu Giang
Visitors take a look at the huge collection of herbs, minerals and animals that are materials for traditional medicine