Downtown Saigon Tour (Independence Palace)

Part 1 of 5

Saturday, 04 October 2014

With the help of Google maps, I got to Ben Thanh Market, Reunification Palace, Saigon Notre Dame Basilica, Central Post Office and Saigon Opera House with ease. I couldn’t imagine spending hundreds of thousands (of dongs) for this if I didn’t cancel the “free” walking tour.

The park along Pham Ngu Lao St or the backpackers area of Ho Chi Minh City.

The park along Pham Ngu Lao St or the backpackers area of Ho Chi Minh City.

The Reunification Palace was my first stop, saving Ben Thanh Market for a later and more thorough inspection, or shopping. The Palace, also called the Independence Palace, was where the President of South Vietnam resided and worked back when there were two Vietnams, Democratic and Communist. The building has been repaired and rebuilt many times during and after the Vietnam War. It was in this historic landmark that the North and South finally and formally agreed to end the war that ravaged the country for decades, thus the name Reunification Palace.

Photo ops in front of the Independence Palace.

Photo ops in front of the Independence Palace.

From what I read online, the Palace is like a time capsule with all the rooms—bedrooms, meeting rooms, receiving rooms—preserved the way it was during the 70s. Its labyrinth of a basement served as South Vietnam’s command post during the war and its walls are said to have strategy maps still posted on it up to this day. I didn’t get to see those, unfortunately. Aside from being a museum, the Palace also doubles as venue for official gatherings and on the day of my visit a government function was being held in the ground floor so no entry to the Palace for me. I had to settle with the garden and look at tanks and photograph the Vietnamese Malacanan.

While wandering in the palace grounds, I discreetly followed around an American couple with their Vietnamese student-guide. Curious about what went on in a walking tour, I eavesdropped on the guide’s stories about the the Palace as I pretended to take photos of the Palace and the fountain. Most of what the guide said can be read online like the cinematic way North Vietnam tanks ran over the Palace gates during the Fall of Saigon. I thought of stalking them some more but repeated suspicious looks from the guide made me change my mind. Well, at least my little sneaky eavesdropping affirmed my decision to ditch the “free” walking tour.

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