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Independence Palace / Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City – part 1 of 2

By on September 13, 2015 in Vietnam

Now, I got confused…  Was it Dinh Độc Lập or Dinh Thống Nhất, anyway, I do know it is called Independence Palace or is it Reunification Palace?

This was one of these odd places to visit in Vietnam that I felt I recognised from some deep memory.

When I was a small boy the Vietnam War was coming to an end. I was really too young to understand what the war was about and to even really be aware of it. I can remember some images on the evening news, and in my dad’s newspaper, but that was about it.

Maybe the memories I have of the news items, and photographs in the newspaper, of the Vietnam War are false? Maybe what I’m remembering are images from war movies or documentaries? But, when I went to Dinh Thống Nhất (Independence Palace / Reunification Palace) I really felt I recognised the place.

The Dinh Thống Nhất (Independence Palace / Reunification Palace) is certainly a stunning building and a fine example of 1960s architecture.

The Palace occupies the site of the former residence of the French colonial Governors General. following the Geneva Accord of 1954 the residence was renamed Independence Palace and became the home for the first President of the new Saigon Republic, Ngo Dinh Diem.

The Palace was bombed on 27 February 1962, and President Diem decided to commission the architect Ngo Viet Thu (1927-2000) to design and build a new palace. Construction of the new Palace took four years, with a six-month suspension of work in 1963 after the assassination of President Diem.

The Palace occupies 4,500 m² of a 12-hectare park, and contains 95 rooms with an interior space of 20,000 m², and consists of traditions of Vietnamese architecture with modern designs. The Palace is built with a combination of concrete and wooden embellishments.

The palace was declared a National Site in 1976 and became a “Special National Site” in 2009. The Palace was first opened to the public in 1990.

When visiting the Palace you should be aware that the “tour map” is not correct. The best thing to do is to follow the marker arrows, which unfortunately are not always obvious.

Independence Palace Saigon

Independence Palace Saigon

In the grounds, there are still some reminders of the Vietnam War such as a parked tank…

The tank is identical to the vehicles used by the Tank Corp 203, 2nd Army, which broke through the palace gates on 30 April 1975.

Independence Palace Saigon

And a fighter jet…

The F5E fighter, pictured below, is similar to the one flown by Lt Nguyen Thanh Trung, which bombed the Palace on 8 April 1975. Lt Trung was a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party and had managed to infiltrate the Southern Republics air force.

Lt. Trung managed to drop two bombs on the Palace, and from the marked bomb positions on the Palace (see below) it would appear that Lt Trung was going for the private quarters at the back of the main building. The raid damaged the helipad on the upper terrace of the Palace and the main central staircase.

After the raid Lt. Trung flew on to an improvised airstrip prepared by the Liberation Forces.

The raid successfully undermined the Republic’s authority and prompted the start of the withdrawal of the last Americans in, as it was then, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

Independence Palace Saigon

The image below shows the point of impact of the two bombs dropped from Lt. Trung plane on 8 April 1975.

Independence Palace Saigon

The interior the Palace is really interesting as it has that real 1970s feel to it. It really was quite interesting to see.

Below is a photograph of the State Banqueting Hall. The hall can hold up to 100 guests. The last State to Dinner was held in the room on 1 March 1975 for a US congressional delegation which was visiting Vietnam to report on the prospects of continued support for the government.

Independence Palace Saigon

The Cabinet Room (photograph below) in Dinh Thống Nhất (Independence Palace / Reunification Palace). The room was used for general meetings, and also for meetings of the President and his ministers. The government of Vietnam consisted of a prime minister, 19 Cabinet ministers, and seven deputy ministers (this arrangement was by the decree of President Thieu in 1967).

Between 1967 and 1975 there were five Cabinet reshuffles with General Tran Thien Khiem being the longest-serving Cabinet member (six years). The last Cabinet was appointed on 29 April 1975 under Prime Minister Vu Van Mau and was in the process of being presented to the President on 30 April 1975 at 10 AM when the formal statement of surrender confirming the end of hostilities was broadcast on Saigon Radio by President Duong Van Minh. The surrender signalled the transfer of power from the Republic of South Vietnam to the Provisional Revolutionary Government.

Independence Palace Saigon

Below is a photograph of the main conference hall in the Dinh Thống Nhất (Independence Palace / Reunification Palace). It was in this hall on 21 April 1975, at 7:30 pm, that President Thieu delivered his resignation speech.The situation was precipitated by a letter that President Thieu wrote to the US president on 25 March 1975 requesting more air support and the bombing of areas under the control of the Vietnamese Revolutionary Forces. This appeal was rejected.

President Thieu spoke for over two hours about the country situation and the potential impact of America’s decision to discontinue their support. He was succeeded by his Vice President, Tran Van Huong, who pledged to continue the struggle until the “bitter end”. He resigned a week later and was replaced by General Duong Van Minh, who surrendered to the Provisional Revolutionary Government on the 30 April 1975.

President Thieu died in Boston, USA, in 2001.

Independence Palace Saigon

Independence Palace Saigon

The National Security Council Chamber (photograph below) was used for meetings between the President, his senior advisers, and the US advisers.

On 25 March 1975 at 9:30 am President Thieu ordered his senior General Ngo Quang Truong to evacuate the city of Hue, and to mount a defense of Danang. On 3 April 1975, President Thieu met with a delegation of US congressmen in this room, along with the Vietnamese senior military leaders, to discuss the military situation in Vietnam.

Independence Palace Saigon

The Presidential Office (photograph below) was surprisingly spartan.

Independence Palace Saigon

Independence Palace Saigon

View from the Palace to the main gate, through which the tanks rolled on 30 April 1975.

Independence Palace Saigon

Independence Palace Saigon

The reception rooms in the palace had amazing carpets.

Independence Palace Saigon

Independence Palace Saigon

Independence Palace Saigon

Independence Palace Saigon

Foursquare: Independence Palace

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Nick's continued wanderings can be followed on Twitter: @nickswanderings.
 

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