May 2018. I was still feeling a little reflective from the horrors of the War Remnants Museum when I rolled up at Ho Chi Minh’s most iconic building. Happily though a sense of intrigue took over as I approached through the garden past the tanks and the royal palm trees. Home to some of Vietnam’s most historical and dramatic events, it was built by the French in 1886 as Norodom Palace, a symbol of colonial grandeur and authority.
May 2018. Today the interior is a fascinating window into the country’s turbulent past, a seemingly time-frozen exhibit of hallways, balconies, and chambers. The French eventually lost control of the palace to the Japanese during World War II before winning it back and then losing It again in 1954, this time to independence-seeking Viet Minh forces. Creating the first Republic of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem installed himself as president and renamed the building Independence Palace. This was his grand State Banqueting Hall used to welcome US congressional delegations. The painting on the back wall represents a scene from a Chinese poem and was seen as a symbol of national unity.
May 2018. Diem proved a hugely unpopular leader and was eventually assassinated in 1963 during a military coup by soldiers from the Republic of Vietnam Army. His death kicked off a period of lengthy disarray with more coups and a number of temporary leaders. By 1965 the President was Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, a former army general. Under his reign there were endless cabinet reshuffles, some of which took place here in The Ambassador’s Chamber. The room was furnished in Japanese style lacquer work.
May 2018. This second floor balcony offers a handsome overview of the palace garden. It’s a wonderful spot, but the afternoon sun was just ridiculous that day, forcing me back into the cool corridors to continue my journey through the palace’s timeline. By April 1975 the game was up for the South Vietnamese as The People’s Army and The National Liberation Front captured the palace in a dramatic invasion that saw them literally bulldoze through the main gate! Known as The Fall of Saigon, Independence Palace became Reunification Palace, marking the end of The Vietnam War.
May 2018. In the days before Saigon’s fall, fully aware that it was game set and match, General Van Thieu and a number of high ranking officials were airlifted out of the palace as part of Operation Frequent Wind, a city-wide evacuation. If you’re in Ho Chi Minh a visit here is essential! The palace is open daily from 07:30-11:00 & 13:00-16:00. Tickets cost 40.000 VND (£1.35/€1.50/$1.70).
For more on my experiences in this Vietnamese city, wade through my many articles on Ho Chi Minh.
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