FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
A re-creation of an apothecary’s cupboard, above the stairs.

One of the last days of my roommate Elena’s time in Vietnam (as a medical intern), she wanted to visit the FITO Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine, and Antoine and I readily agreed. You can’t really visit the HCMC Tripadvisor.com site without noting that this museum is almost always the first or second-rated attraction in the city, and yet I’d never been… even though it’s a mere 1 km from my house.

Now, this sounds like it might be a fairly dry subject, but wow. Not only is the museum absolutely captivating, but it’s beautiful and informative as well. Those reviews online have it right! It may be a small side trip out of the main D1 area, but it’s completely worth it.

Click through for a small photo tour, for those of you who may not be able to see it in person, and feast your eyes!

We’re heading slightly north from the usual foreigner stomping grounds of D1 for this one, but it’s worth it, and still somewhat walkable, for those adventurous pedestrians among us.

It is obvious from the moments you enter that there’s been a lot of attention paid to this museum. It is completely a product of its history, as traditional Vietnamese art and science combines in a thoroughly Eastern, yet practical, guide to preventative medicine and healing your body. The museum tour begins with an elevator ride to the top floor, and takes you on a self-guided, gravity-fueled expedition to the bottom, finishing with a short movie and a gift shop.

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Hand-turned posts and intricate brick work mark the terrace level.
FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
It might not be as extensive as Angkor Wat, but it’s just as pretty.
FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Even though this is a re-creation, the atmosphere is absurdly authentic.
 Being a design and architecture nerd, I must confess most of my attention was on the intricate artistic skill on display. Both the artifacts, some thousands of years old, and the building exude a warm energy. It would be a nice house to live in, no doubt.
FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I call it “Antoine Admiring Teapots.” It is an absurdist piece about the horrors of war.

(Interestingly, the house is just a normal concrete and brick house, renovated to make it appear ancient… but the craftsmen did a bang-up job. It’s stunning inside!)

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This terrifying escapee from the Neverending Story is a Bach Trach. It is a mythological sphinx with 6 horns and 9 eyes for preventing disease. He came in many different standard positions all over the museum.

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

HOLY WHAT NOW!!? Bees are a very respected creature among traditional practitioners of Vietnamese medicine, and there’s a protected hive of honeybees on the terrace level. COOL!! I kind of wanted to touch them. Bees fascinate me, and honey is delicious.

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
This is a representative tree of the history of Vietnamese medicine, and was gorgeous. Light in this museum was extremely dim, which made taking pictures in the middle of a sunny afternoon problematic for my iPhone 5 – there was a lot of light leakage from the outside. This is a representative tree of the history of Vietnamese medicine, and was gorgeous. I was a bit frustrated I couldn’t get a better wide shot.
FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I want to live here. There is a full grown tree on the terrace!

Exceptional woodword is evident no matter where you turn your eyes.

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This carved mural was at least 3-4 yards long (3 meters?) and at least 1.5 meters tall – this shot is simply a detail of the centermost part. I can only imagine that the people that were handling this when it split in two lengthwise (note the pretty sloppy patch job, although, how would you ever fix something like this? It’s invaluable). The crack stretched the entirety of the carving – I’d hate to be the person that did that. *shudder*

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

One floor had a mock apothecary’s store, with antique tools and cabinetry. There are traditional outfits you can try on. (Sorry, dress up isn’t my style!)

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As with every other Vietnamese art museum I’ve been here (and I believe there’s a certain amount of art in this field, having now explored this museum), there are a ton of decorative ceramic pots of various styles and sizes, intended for various things.

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This illustrated parchment details the uses of various common plants and animals, but it hardly covers everything… however…

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

… anything that might be missing is almost certainly included here, with descriptions of how the medicine affects the body, your yin/yang balance, as well as what symptoms each is supposed to help you with.

There are two of these cabinets, full of specimens.

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This was my favorite carving… he’s got Silly-Eyes!

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I’d been looking for granite mortar and pestles for some friends back home, but they are exceedingly difficult to find, for some bizarre reason which I will probably never understand. I was hoping to find some here, but all I could find was tea to help with nervous breakdowns (I thought it was prudent to get some of that. You never know).
FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

How boob-tiful. …Heh.

FITO Museum of traditional vietnamese medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The tour ended with a movie about traditional medicine, narrated by a male American (judging by his accent) and dubbed in German that, according to Elena, was actually saying something much different than the dubbed English.

Hilariously, halfway through the movie the whole thing switches into an advertisement for FITO, which it turns out is a pharmaceutical company based here in Vietnam. This explains 1) why this museum is so well-designed (private money, woo!), and 2) why the gift shop immediately following this movie is filled with FITO teas and ointments.

We tried some mushroom tea on the house – I enjoy it, but it’s not for everyone. It’s a very strange acquired taste, earthy and healthy. And, sadly, they didn’t have a mortar and pestle I could buy. Drat. What good are you, traditional medicine museum?? It’s almost as if you wanted me to buy your products instead of making my own from nature…

All in all, a fascinating hour in one of Saigon’s most informative and beautiful museums – be sure to put this on your list when you visit! And, to boot, there are a number of pleasant cafes and restaurants nearby. A very walkable area without a lot of traffic.

Have you visited the FITO Museum? What was the most interesting part for you?