The Alexandre Yersin Museum provides insight into the life and work of an unsung hero. Alexandre Yersin (1863-1943) was a Swiss and naturalised French physician, bacteriologist and explorer of both the world we see and the microscopic one. Among his many accomplishments, he discovered the bacillus of the bubonic plague that made it possible to create a serum to fight the disease. Yersin came to call Nha Trang home and founded the Institut Pasteur in Nha Trang, Hanoi and Da Lat, as well as the Faculty of Medicine in Hanoi.
Yersin’s connection to Vietnam and Nha Trang is an interesting one. After studying and making discoveries on tuberculosis and diphtheria in Paris along side Dr Emile Roux and Louis Pasteur, Yersin decided to travel and in 1890 became the ship doctor for a Far East shipping line. He took exploratory trips of the Annamite range (he is credited with “discovering” the Lang Bian plateau and what would later be Da Lat) before joining the medical corps, and was put in charge of a mission to southeast China where a plague epidemic had broken out with a 95% mortality rate. Under difficult circumstances he discovered the culprit bacillus Yersinia pestis, named in his honour. Yersin decided to settle in Nha Trang to make the serum to fight the disease in large quantities and eventually founded the city’s Institut Pasteur in 1895.
Yersin’s studies shifted to agronomy and he took to successfully solving a serious global shortage of quinine, needed for treating malaria, and introducing rubber trees to Vietnam to fund the Institute.
The air-conditioned museum takes you through his childhood, his research, travels and achievements. The informational signage is primarily in French, with English and Vietnamese translations in smaller text. A central room contains some of his furniture, instruments and library, which gives you a feel for the simple yet elegant home Yersin had in the fishing village of Xom Con. We particularly loved the old travel memorabilia and the evidence of Yersin’s obviously inquisitive scientific mind: He was the first in Southeast Asia to have a transmitting/receiving radio set, refracting telescope and car. He was also a fan of early aviation, using the Far East airlines as soon they became operational in 1932 (his first trip from Saigon to Marseille took a week).
To this day he is remembered and respected in Vietnam. In 2014 he was recognised posthumously as an honorary citizen for his dedication to the country and there is even a Yersin Fan Club. Travellers who love history will appreciate the museum. To learn more, buy the booklet of his biography at the souvenir stand – it was the source for our description here.