With a population of over eight million inhabitants Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. The city was named Saigon by the French after they invaded and conquered Vietnam’s southern provinces in 1859. Following the Vietnam War the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of North Vietnam’s first president. The city is still referred to by many as Saigon, particularly district 1; the city’s tourism hub.
This large and modern city can be accessed by bus, train, and both international and domestic flights. With its large and modern airport (SGN), the city is on most travelers’ itineraries and is certainly worth visiting for a few days. The city has a number of historic buildings and museums, many of which are in easy walking distance from the Bến Thành market area where many budget hotels are located.
One of my favorite sites in the city is the iconic Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Palace. The current building’s construction was started by South Vietnam’s president Ngô Đình Diệm in 1962 after a failed coup attempt badly damaged the original French-built Palais Norodom. Independence Palace was designed by the highly acclaimed Vietnamese architect Ngô Viết Thụ, whose goal was to create a building which combined both Eastern and Western styles. Completed in 1966, the Palace would serve as the headquarters of South Vietnam’s presidents until the fall of Saigon on April 30 1975.
Renamed Reunification Palace shortly after the end of the war, it appears that the building and most of its furnishings have remained unchanged since it was occupied by South Vietnam’s last president. The building is a time capsule of sorts; its contents could fill a museum of 1960’s art and design. Relics from the war include a HU-1 helicopter, a gift to the former president from the US government and two Soviet-built tanks like the ones that crashed through the palace gates in 1975, effectively ending the war. The building’s basement is one of the most intriguing areas of the Palace. Constructed with thick concrete walls as a bomb-proof bunker, the “war room” contains many maps that the president and his generals once used to plan the battles against the North Vietnamese. Located throughout the bunker complex are massive amounts of American-made radio equipment which not only connected the president to the various battle fields but also to Washington D.C. Judging from the many offices and numerous telephones it’s likely that a very large staff must have been needed to run this operation.
One of the things I really like about Vietnam is the admission prices to enter museums and historical sites. An adult ticket to the Palace is 30,000 VND, roughly $1.30 at the current exchange rate. Vietnam is one of the most economical countries to visit in Southeast Asia and has plenty of things to do and see. Within the first few weeks of my visit to this extraordinary country I began planning my return trip.
Until next time,