We’re almost coming to an end of our Vietnam trip! It has been an amazing few days in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, exploring the rich sights, smells and sounds of a country full of heritage, culture and beautiful natural scenery. On our last day in HCMC before flying back to Kuala Lumpur, we managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing at the Reunification Palace.
Our bus dropped us off right in front of the palace, and we were greeted by the sight of a beautiful, well-kept green park with tall, shady trees. These were planted by the French during their colonial rule of Vietnam – doesn’t it resemble a lovely European garden? The trees were picked specifically for their aesthetics and their ability to withstand Vietnam’s scorching tropical heat in the sumer.
Right across the road is where we are headed – the Reunification Palace. Built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, the building was the residence and office of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam war. It was also where the war ended after North Vietnamese troops stormed the gates with a battle tanker.
There were lots of tourists and locals milling around the lawn. We were led by our guide, Mai, for a tour of the building.
Inside, we got to see the well-preserved rooms used by the South Vietnamese president during his short reign. Some of the rooms were very grand. (Above) A meeting room where the president would meet with officials and delegates, equipped with microphones.
Another official room with soft red carpets and comfy looking chairs. The designs were distinctively influenced by Chinese and Vietnamese culture.
The President’s office itself was simple and no-frills. There was a huge wooden desk and a large painting behind the seat. In another corner there was a small table with high backed chairs for guests. An emergency exit led to secret underground bunkers, which we will be exploring very soon.
View from the balcony where the President and important people would make appearances to the crowd below.
Dining area for the lady of the house who would have guests of her own – wives and children of the ministers and foreign dignitaries. There was also an entertainment room equipped with the latest technology for that era, a chess and games spot to pass the time while the men discussed important affairs.
The most interesting part of the tour was the underground war bunkers, which included a room for tactical discussions. There was a fading, yellowing list of ally troops plastered against one side of the wooden-walled room. Large maps behind glass displays were also well preserved. One of the tour guides explained that the president and important ministers/staff would be holed up down here during emergencies, running the government from beneath the ground and issuing orders.
(above) Telegraph and communications station. Bulky grey machinery such as typewriters and telegraph machines were kept here.
We traverse deeper into the bunkers. This area was lined with steel plated walls and echoes reverberated down its narrow corridors. The white flourescent lights flickered overhead. I wondered if there were ghosts of old Vietnamese officers here, still issuing commands for their ghostly comrades in a war they’ve lost decades ago.
It must have been terrifying to have the lights flicker on and off while battles raged on above their heads, the ceiling shaking and sounding as if it would collapse any moment.
I wouldn’t want to be stuck down here for more than 15 minutes – there was a claustrophobic sense of being trapped, of not knowing night from day, of being completely cut off from the outside world even though the surface was only a few dozen feet away.
The trip to the Palace was definitely an interesting insight into Vietnam’s rich but sad history. It was like a ‘journey’ of seeing how the South Vietnamese president lived, where he worked, to how it all ended ‘underground’ when the North Vietnamese army attacked. A worthwhile visit if you’re in Ho Chi Minh City.
135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Phone: (848) 8223652 – 8290634 – 82941
Opening hours (Daily) : 730am – 1130am, 1pm – 5pm