The National Vietnamese History museum sits in a 1920s Orientalist fantasy at the entrance to Botanical Gardens. Ceiling fans whir above the high-faulted chambers and breezes blow through the corridors and courtyards, and birds coo outside in the branches of huge rainforest trees. The rather dusty collection contains agricultural tools, dioramas of Vietnamese military victories over the Chinese and the Mongols and the Mummy of District Five, the preserved body of an aristocratic woman who died in 1868 and was unearthed in the city in 1994, as well as memorabilia of the vanished Vietnamese royal houses.
The highlight is probably the sensuous collection of Khmer and Champa stone scupture, but my favourite piece was this hauntingly elongated and androgynous two-metre figure of Buddha. Carved out of weathered wood and starting some two metres tall, the faceless figure stands serenely, looking for all the world like a member of some benevolent alien race, about to bestow his or her wisdom on our benighted planet – if only we would listen.