23rd November 2018
When travelling in Southeast Asia and Indochina there is an opportunity to get up close to one of the key landmarks of 20th century history. Amongst the most famous locations is the former presidential palace in what was then Saigon (and is now officially "Ho Chi Minh City"). Saigon was the capital of the American-backed South Vietnamese government and the Palace of Reunification (also known as The Independence Palace) was its headquarters during the war. A surprisingly modern building with the look of a sixth form college from the outside, it has a slightly eerie faded atmosphere, and has been kept more or less as it was since the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Originally serving as the residence for the French governor-general, during colonial occupation, the palace became the home of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem was so unpopular that his own air force bombed the palace to try and (unsuccessfully) kill him – necessitating it being completely rebuilt.
As the North Vietnamese army approached in April 1975, the last few American ‘advisers’ were evacuated from the rooftop of the palace in scenes broadcast worldwide. There’s a replica of the helicopter used, making it easy to imagine the panic and pandemonium that must have ensued as the North Vietnamese approached the gates of the palace.
On 30th April, tanks burst through the palace gates to find General Minh, the commander of the South Vietnamese forces. Surrendering, he told his opposite number, General Tin: "I have been waiting since early this morning to transfer power to you." To which Tin curtly replied: "There is no question of your transferring power. Your power has crumbled. You cannot give up what you do not have". The Vietnam War was over.
A visit to the Palace of Reunification is a must for any visit to Saigon, now renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Tours in English are conducted regularly and include a peek into the basement control and command rooms of the South Vietnamese Army.
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