The Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City was built between 1962 – 1966. It is relatively new compared to other structures in Vietnam. However, it has a long and storied history that dates back to the colonization of Vietnam.
By 1867, France had successfully invaded of Vietnam and made it her newest colony. Within 9 years from the initial naval bombardment of Da Nang in 1858, they had control over the entire southern half of the country. One year later in 1868, France would lay the foundation stone of the Governor’s Palace.
The new Governor’s Palace was to be opulent. It would show off the might and wealth of France and be a projection of their power in the region. Much of the construction material was imported from France including the granite and marble, making it a very expensive construction project.
They chose a 12-hectare site in the center of Saigon to build on. The building was completed in 1873 and named Norodom Palace after the then king of Cambodia. It would be the seat of power for French Cochinchina till 1887. At which point the French had captured northern Vietnam and consolidated the Colony into French Indo China. The seat of power was moved to Hanoi, but Norodom Palace would still be used by the Governor’s General of the new Indochina.
During World War II, the Japanese captured Indochina from the French. The Governor’s Palace became the headquarters of the Japanese occupying forces. When Japan surrendered, the French returned and once again took over control of the palace.
After World War II, Vietnam began its battle of independence from France. After defeating the French at the battle on Dien Bien Phu, France agreed to withdraw from the country. Vietnam was split in two. A communist North Vietnam and a anti-communist South Vietnam.
Norodom Palace was transferred to the President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem renamed South Vietnam to the Republic of Vietnam and the palace was renamed Independence Palace.
In 1962 the Vietnam War had already been waged for 7 years. Two pilots from the Republic of South Vietnam took off from their airbase to perform a raid on the Viet Cong. Instead of proceeding with their mission, they rebelled and made their way to the Independence Palace.
The dropped their bombs on the palace, destroying the entire left wing of the building. The palace could not be repaired and President Diem ordered it torn down and a new palace constructed in its place. The job was given to Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu. Construction began quickly and the new Independence Palace in Saigon was completed in 1966.
In April of 1975, another pilot and rebel within the Republic of Vietnam Airforce attempted to bomb the palace. This time no real damage was done. But before the month would be over, a North Vietnamese tank would smash through the front gate, signaling the end of the Vietnam War. The new north Vietnamese government would rename the palace Reunification Hall.
Reunification Palace Tour
Today the Reunification Palace is a historic relic, sometimes used for state functions, but mainly a popular tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City. A visit here is like stepping back into time. A building frozen in the 1960s. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the Vietnam War era.
Using the map to take the self-guided tour will let you explore almost the entire building. The first floor is home to a couple of large conference rooms that were used for meetings with leaders from around the world.
The second floor is the old executive and operations center for the administration. You’ll get to visit the offices of the former President and Vice-President of Vietnam, including the war room where the President oversaw the conflict.
There are several other lavish meeting areas, decorated in fine furnishings from the era.
The third floor takes you through the royal residence which looks like it has been untouched since the former leader of South Vietnam last slept there.
They obviously had a wealthy lifestyle as there is a movie theater and game room used for entertaining guests. A set of doors lead out to a helipad where a vintage Bell Huey Helicopter sits.
The rooftop is home to yet another entertainment area with bar, dance floor, and piano. It was said that the space was originally meant to be a place of reflection and meditation. However, the President like to through parties and turned it into another area to party the night away while the war raged on.
After the tour of the main building is completed, you can head down to the basement where the Vietnam War communications equipment is housed. This was the command center for the war effort.
Once finished you are free to roam the grounds and take a look at the few tanks and aircraft on display.
Should You Go
The Reunification Palace in Saigon is one of the best tourist sights in the city. It is centrally located and can easily be seen along with Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the War Remnants Museum.
Note the hours of the museum. Weekdays the Reunification Palace is only open from 8am – 12pm. It stays open till 4pm on the weekends.