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8 January 2012 / leggypeggy

Step back in time—Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

My favourite room—the Vice President's reception room.

The Vietnam War was huge in my life in the 1960s and 70s.

Indeed, it was part of everyone’s life. Horrifying television coverage, the daily death count, shocking photographs and television footage, student moratoriums and protest marches. Friends enlisted, friends enrolled in university to avoid be drafted, friends studying for a second uni degree had their birthday ‘come up’ and got drafted, friends went to war and came home scarred, both physically and mentally.

In the 70s, I worked for the Kearney Daily Hub in Nebraska, and the war was regularly front page news. I remember when Saigon fell on 30 April 1975. I remember seeing newspaper photos of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through the wrought-iron gates at the then Independence Palace (also called the Presidential Palace). A soldier ran into the building and up the stairs to raise a Viet Cong flag from a top floor balcony. It brought an end to the Vietnam War.

Just recently, I was in front at that palace in person. And it was like stepping back in time.

Now called the Reunification Palace,* the building is preserved almost exactly as it was on the day the city fell (or was liberated, depending on your point of view).

Furniture and décor remain unchanged, although the papers in the basement war room are gone. Reception rooms are in perfect order, ready to receive dignitaries and other guests. Dining tables are set for a meal, although only some of the drink glasses match. There’s also a bar, theatre, dance hall and casino. A helicopter is parked on the roof, and tanks, like the ones that crashed through the gates, are on display in the front yard.

The palace is spacious, bright and airy, and not sickeningly grand. It was designed by a French-trained Vietnamese architect, Ngo Viet Thu.

Guided tours are available, but we chose to wander through on our own. There’s plenty of signage. We also walked all the way around the building and saw several couples toward the end of their day of wedding photos.

* I think it is also referred to as Reconciliation Palace.

Also don’t forget to pick a number before 29 February 2012.

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