With heavy emotions and new realizations about the “official” view towards the American oppressors, our next stop in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon was the Reunification Palace (also known as the “Independence Palace”). This building and the large grounds surrounding it are the former residence for the South Vietnamese president and executive cabinet. The site and building have a prominent and tumultuous place in Vietnam’s history. Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve gleaned, and some of it will probably incorrect, but I’ll do my best.
The palace was first built as the French colonial headquarters in 1873, then later occupied by President Diem, the first president of South Vietnam after the Indochina War in 1954. In 1962, rogue South Vietnamese pilots attempted to assassinate President Diem by dropping two bombs on the palace. He survived to only be assassinated a year later. In 1967, Nguyen Van Theiu, head of a military coup, moved into the palace as the 2nd president of South Vietnam.
President Theiu was evacuated on April 21, 1975 as the North Vietnamese Liberation army headed south. Leaving the country leaderless, there was a quick succession of military generals that took charge during the last seven days of South Vietnam.
On April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese broke down the gates, and “liberated” the Independence Palace. There are pictures and plaques that document Liberation Army tanks rolling onto the grounds, and forcing the complete surrender of the last presiding head of South Vietnam, Duong Van Minh. The current Vietnamese government marks this as the end of the war in Vietnam and what they say was a “30-year conflict.” Duong Van Minh is claimed to have died during transfer to prison. No further explanation is provided.
Beyond just the history surrounding the palace, it was truly a glimpse into the past! Everything in the building is supposedly decorated with the same 70’s era furniture and artwork that was there when the North Vietnamese took over, giving visitors an idea of how the former presidents lived. The part I found most interesting (and someone unsettling) was the basement. This was used as a last ditch bunker and fully equipped war room.
Overall, there are lots of interesting things to see! The palace is easy to breeze through quickly (most of it is just sparsely furnished rooms), with the highlight being the small museum in the basement.
The Reunification Palace is located in District 1 of Central Saigon. The entrance is on Nam Ku Khoi Nghia on the eastern side of the palace grounds. From the tourist district of Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien, walk east past the Ben Thanh Market, then turn left and walk north on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia.