Independence Palace: A Time Capsule of War-Era Saigon
Independence Palace, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Independence Palace (re-named Reunification Palace after the Fall of Saigon), the former residence and seat of power for the South Vietnamese President, is a relic of the wild glory days of 1960's South Vietnam.
The former presidential palace is open to visitors, and is possibly the best and most interesting attraction in Saigon for those with an interest in history, espianage, and war-era Saigon.
Originally built as Nordorom Palace as the residence of the French governor-general of Cochinchina, the palace was rebuilt into a massive 1960's retro-futuristic feng-shui fortress after Vietnam gained independence from France.
The State of Vietnam, a constitutional monarchy with the last emperor Bao Dai as Head of State nominally ruled all of Vietnam for a short time from 1949 until 1955, although Ho Chi Min's Communist forces effectively controlled the northern half of the country. In 1955 the country split in two, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam broke away from the Republic of Vietnam.
Independence Palace is much larger, more modern, and more impressive than the Presidential Palace in the north. In fact, everything about it shows a South Vietnam that was stronger and much richer than its northern rival.
Every room in Independence Palace is huge, with an open floor plan, tall windows, and elegant furnishings. The entire building was designed by a Feng Shui master, and from the air the building forms a Chinese character meaning "good fortune".
Every furnishing in the palace was built with feng shui in mind. All the luck didn't seem to help the Republic of Vietnam in the end, however. Independence Palace was the site of the final attack during the Fall of Saigon in 1975, when a pair of tanks smashed through the palace gates, forcing the surrounded government to officially surrender.
South Vietnamese President's Private Quarters
The lower floors of the palace contain the cabinet chambers, official government meeting rooms, and offices for high-level ministers. The third floor, however, was the president's private chambers.
The living quarters are still decorated with original furniture. It's very 60s and very cool. Past the president's bed room, you'll find a private cinema, large game room complete with casino tables, dining room, bar, and plenty of places for entertaining.
Saigon was southeast Asia's party capital back in the day, and Independence Palace, it seemed, was the place to be. The president even renovated the designated rooftop meditation room to be a dance floor.
Make your way up to the roof, where the meditation room/dance hall has been replaced with a small souvenir and snack shop.
During the war, a North Vietnamese spy infiltrated the South Vietnamese Air Force and stole a fighter jet which he used to drop two bombs on the palace. Three place staff were killed, but the president and his family were safe. The bombing shook confidence in the South Vietnamese government. If they couldn't protect the president, how could they protect the country? Today, the roof of the palace is marked where the two bombs fell.
South Vietnam's War Bunker
Just past the helicopter is a fortified stairway leading directly underground to the president's secure bunker. Like everything else in Saigon, the South Vietnamese bunker was much larger, more comfortable, and more modern than the secret underground bunker in Hanoi.
The stairs lead down into a blast-proof underground bunker - the command center for South Vietnamese military operations. There, the president had another fortified bedroom, surrounded by military communications equipment, military barracks, and emergency meeting rooms.
The president's desk inside the war bunker had a direct line to the US Embassy in Saigon.
Explore the Grounds of the Independence Palace
Outside, you can see one of the tanks that smashed through the palace gates on the day that Saigon fell to Communist forces. When the attacking army arrived, the new president (who had only assumed the post just hours before) was waiting patiently inside the palace to surrender. It was inevitable. By 1975, after the US withdrew from southern Vietnam, it was only a matter of months before the Communists were able to conquer all of South Vietnam.
There is also a small collection of aircraft, including the place that dropped two bombs on the palace. Have a look at the insignia on the aircraft. The South Vietnamese insignia and flag have been crossed out.
Independence Palace Location
The palace is located in Ho Chi Minh City District 1, very close to may of the city's most popular museums and landmarks.
135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
Independence Palace is open daily from 7:30am-11:00am and 1:00pm-4:00pm
Tickets and Entry Fees
An entry ticket costs 40,000 VND
You can also purchase a ticket to the palace museum and gallery, which gives a lot of valuable and interesting information about the history, politics, and government of South Vietnam, with a focus on the biography of the South Vietnamese leaders. It's well-worth the extra cost, and goes a long way towards helping a visitor understand the background of the palace.
If you are lucky, you might catch one of the fairly frequent FREE guided tours that meet in the palace lobby. Ask for more information at the ticket office.