The Palace of the Reunification
The most significant event in the history of Saigon’s Presidential Palace was also the moment that it permanently lost its political relevance. On April 30th, 1975, a Viet Cong tank plowed through the gates, putting an end to the two-decade war which had torn Vietnam apart. The south had fallen, and the Presidential Palace was suddenly a relic.
Today, it’s called either Independence Palace or the Palace of the Reunification. Robbed of any official role, it has become a window into a bygone era. And what a fascinating era that was. Stepping inside the palace is like being transported back to the early 1970s. The decor and furniture remain unchanged, and (nearly) the entire building has been opened up to tourism — even the underground bunkers in which the president and his staff sought refuge during bomb attacks.
Jürgen and I love these types of time capsules, and we had a ton of fun in the palace. Some of the rooms look straight out of a Connery-era Bond film. The “Game Room” on the third floor. The First Lady’s elegant reception room. The Vice President’s office (where you know he hatched some schemes; vice presidents are always scheming!). The cinema, hilariously outdated but infinitely cool. And the conference room, where I remain certain that each chair is placed atop a trap door.
And the palace is huge! There are four floors to explore, and we could have spent an entire day doing just that. Visiting only the bunker would have been worth the price of entry. Old strategy maps hung on the walls of the “situation room”. Bulky and complicated communications devices occupied entire desks. We walked through the kitchen and the archives, and saw the bed on which the President could (and did) sleep while the palace was under attack. Perhaps I most loved the bunker’s long, metallic-gray hallways which weren’t noteworthy for anything beyond looking ridiculously awesome. The whole time we were in the palace, we were talking about the kinds of movies which could be set here. Most of them crazy action thrillers, some of them horrors, none of them rom-coms.
Of course, there are reasons other than aesthetics to visit the Reunification Palace. The history is engrossing… I imagine that’s especially the case if you lived through these times and can remember the fall of Saigon. I loved the story of the South Vietnamese pilots who actually were spies for the north — during a 1962 mission to bomb the Viet Cong, they turned around and instead rained death upon the Presidential Palace! They completely destroyed the entire left wing, although the President himself managed to escape unscathed. (He must have been in his sweet bunker!)
The cost of entry is negligible, and although the palace is popular with tourist groups, it’s so large that it’s easy to escape the crowds. If you’re at all interested in architecture or history, this is a definite must-do for your trip to Saigon.