I’m of a “certain age” and old enough to remember what was called either “the fall of Saigon” or the “liberation of Saigon” – depending upon which side was doing the narration.
Whatever it was called, it made for some pretty spectacular images at the time. I well recall the shots of desperate people trying to climb the fences at the US embassy and photos of the North Vietnamese tanks crashing through the gates of the presidential palace, never imagining I’d be right there, among the extraordinarily warm, friendly and forgiving people of Vietnam, so many years later.
The Vietnam War cast a long and tortuous shadow over Australia and Vietnam. The history which is still so very recent has not been allowed to darken the country’s future, but nor is it hidden away.
When visiting Ho Chi Minh City (as Saigon is now called), we wanted to pay our respects to that history by visiting the confronting War Remnants Museum (once known as Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression) and the striking Independence Palace.
Constructed in the early 1960s, on the site of the former Norodom Palace, and completed in 1966, the palace is now open to the public as a museum and attracts many thousands of both local and foreign tourists.
It’s possible to wander all through the palace, inspecting not only the formal rooms, but the basement labyrinth, with its war command room (full of what was once state-of-the-art equipment), the presidential kitchen (which still houses some of the necessary equipment) and even the rooftop (complete with helipad and Huey).
While the palace will always be deeply connected with the events of the fall of the city in 1975, what really stood out for me during my visit were the detailed, carefully preserved ’70s themes and stunning decor of the beautifully maintained formal rooms.
If you are a history buff, then a visit to the palace when in Ho Chi Minh City will almost certainly be on your list. If you are into retro fashions and styling, then the palace is worth visiting for the period architecture and decor alone.
Direct flights are available from Sydney and Melbourne to Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City flying Qantas, Virgin Australia and Vietnam Airlines.
South Australian writer Amanda McInerney writes about travel and food on her Lambs’ Ears & Honey blog.
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