Before Vietnam was reunited in 1975, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was called Saigon, but was renamed by the victorious North Vietnam in honour of Uncle Ho. This is my 6th visit to Vietnam (since 1993), and I’m taking this opportunity to mill around the former Presidential Palace, now called the Reunification Palace, because on the morning of 30th Apr 1975, the North Vietnamese army entered the palace compound to accept the surrender of the President of South Vietnam. Hence the 16-year-old Vietnam War ended, and Vietnam was eventually reunified.
Afternoon, Thursday, April 17, 2008
Today, 17th Apr 2008, just 2 weeks before the 33rd Reunification Day, the palace is looking very handsome.
The source of pride of any Vietnamese. On a balmy morning similar as today’s, North Vietnamese army tanks crashed through the main gate to confont a surrendering President of South Vietnam on 30th Apr 1975.
Now the palace (built 1962, 4-storey tall) is a museum to relive the last days of South Vietnam. View from the 2nd floor shows the front yard, and the gate where the North Vietnamese tanks barged in.
Next to the lawn, preparation for some official function is proceeding.
The floors are full of stately rooms for various functions for the President and the Vice-President, and their spouses.
Reception rooms are aplenty for The Chief and the First Lady.
It gets interesting as we move to the roof-top …
… errr … I mean this one.
There’s a Huey replica, the same model the embattled President used to tour his army scattered around Saigon.
A renegade South Vietnamese Air Force pilot even tried his luck at getting rid of the President.
From this vantage point, the President must have spent countless hours gazing at the fountain, pondering the fate of his nation and himself.
Leaving the historic rooftop, I make my way to the 4th floor and see this interesting contraption. It’s a huge movie projector for the presidential theatre. Can’t find this thing any more nowadays.
Actually the most interesting part of the complex is below ground. Yes, underneath the building, a labyrinth of rooms and corridors form the presidential HQ for the War, in a complex fortified bunker system.
This is the map room, where commanders monitored and plotted the Vietnam War.
Next to it, a series of small rooms full of complex communication gear.
Components of the then state-of-the-art army communication system are displayed as found in 1975. High frequency (HF) stuff here.
Transceivers here …
… and these are power supply units, I think.
Close-up of one of the boxes.
‘Fixed Transmitting’ station it says. This is early 70s technology, now everything is probably packed into a handheld.
A short stroll down the corridor, a single bed for the President.
It’s the ‘Combat Duty Bedroom of the President’. Yes, when the going got tough, the Chief went subterranean.
Next to the humble bedroom, the President’s War Room. Imagine all the tough decisions being made here during the War.
More huge maps … nowadays everything is electronic I suppose.
After the bunker tour, we are back at ground level, where an informative display on the War is on show.
In this glass cabinet, the items carried and worn by the crew of tank #843 on the fateful morning of 30th Apr 1975 are preserved for posterity.
After a big blast of the turbulent past, I’m back at present-day Saigon … ooopss … Ho Chi Minh City, and I sure love what I’m seeing now.
> THE END