Friday Travel: Saigon’s palace – what’s in a name?

 

If you go to Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) in Vietnam, whether you book any day-tours around the city or just follow the guide-books, there are a number of places that are almost guaranteed to be on the itinerary.

There’s the Notre Dame church, the Central Post Office (NOT designed by Gustave Eiffel, despite the urban legends), the War Remnants Museum – and the Palace.

Whether the palace is called the Presidential Palace, the Reunification Palace, or the Independence Palace depends in part on your age, and your politics – in much the same way that Ho Chi Minh City is often called still called Saigon.

The palace was built in the 1960s – to replace the Norodom Palace which was itself renamed the Independence Palace in 1955.

That French colonial era palace was severely damaged by a bomb attack in 1962, and so was replaced with the existing building, also called the Independence Palace – but usually referred to as the Presidential Palace.

It’s constructed in a typical mid-20th century modernist style – but its colonnades are deliberately shaped to evoke bamboo, and its feng shui is supposed to place it on the head of a dragon – hence yet another name for the palace, the Dragon’s Head Palace.

It then acted as both the base and the home for the leader of South Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates effectively ending the civil war that had raged on-and-off for half a century.

Soon after, the Communist rulers of the new country renamed it the Reunification Palace – but the older name appears to have stuck.

12605474_10204008832021496_1998237487344768584_o

What a difference 40 years makes. A modern tourist bus rolling through the same gates that North Vietnamese tanks had smashed down in 1975

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A 40-panel Japanese style lacquer painting, the centrepiece of the Ambassador’s room.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The symbol at the centre of this carpet is meant to symbolize South Vietnam’s ‘eternal future’. Ironic, then, that it was installed after the US pulled out of Vietnam – and less that two years before South Vietnam would cease to exist as a country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Bamboo motif of the sun shades at the Palace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” Well, strictly speaking, this was the National Security room – the President’s War Room was below, in a deep concrete basement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I just thought this was a beautiful picture – two young Vietnamese workers, one in uniform, rearranging flowers in a conference room that is never used any more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A replica of the tank that rolled through the gates in 1975, effectively ending the Second Indo-China War.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Huey helicopter, similar to the one that Vice President Ky used to fly, quite regularly, to cock-fights in the Mekong Delta

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Operations room, in the basement of the building

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are rumours (unconfirmed, but likely) that this tunnel led to the former US Consulate (now embassy) about 500 metres away.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s