Playtime At The Palace

Trip Start Oct 02, 2012
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Trip End Mar 31, 2014

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's our last day in Saigon, so we figure we may as well go for a walk to see the Reunification Palace. The palace was formerly called the Independence Palace and was constructed in the 60's. It served as the President of South Vietnams home and workplace during the Vietnam War. The end of the war was dramatically ended when a North Vietnamese tank smashed through the main gates in 1975 during 'The Fall of Saigon’. The Palace was then renamed the Reunification Palace to commemorate the unification of Vietnam under the Communist flag. The Palace has not been altered since 1975 and exists as a sort of living museum. All the furniture and paraphernalia are as they were at the end of the war and give the place a sort of time warp feel and provide a snapshot of history.

On the way we pass by Notre Dame Cathedral. No, not the Notre Dame in France, silly! They have one here too. It's quite a pretty church but I guess we were expecting a little more given its spectacular namesake in France. Built in a simplistic gothic style and planted at the head of a long park it is still a lovely place to visit and the park is buzzing with people. Near to the cathedral is the main post office and this is a fantastically bizarre building considering its surroundings. It resembles a grand Victorian railway station, both inside and out, that could've been plucked from anywhere in England and dropped in the middle of Saigon. We pop inside to post Ian’s niece an xmas gift and marvel at the grand interior. At the other end of the long park lies the Palace and after exiting the post office we walk on towards its sprawling grounds, stopping on the way for a smoothie and a bite to eat. Yum.

From the outside the Palace could be mistaken for a large hotel built in the 60's or 70’s with piles of concrete and little imagination. Upon further inspection (and with the help of the guide book!) we can see the hidden designs and symbols within the architecture. Inside the building are huge conference rooms, libraries, lounges and even a cinema. All the rooms are luxurious, opulent and full of glitz. We wander around the building having a nosey in the swanky rooms until we find ourselves descending the stairs into the bunker below. It's like being in a black and white war movie. The underground chambers are small, cramped, grey and full of war paraphernalia. There are large posters on the walls showing troop movements on maps, stacks of radio equipment, private offices, war rooms and living quarters. It's easy to imagine this place buzzing with activity during the war. The narrow corridors and cramped rooms of the subterranean complex starts to get a bit claustrophobic so we head for the stairs and climb to the roof. Up here we get a lovely view of the Palace grounds and some much needed fresh air. Dotted around the grounds are a few small aircraft and a couple of tanks. The tanks are replicas of the ones that burst through the gates to claim victory and unite Vietnam. We spend a bit longer wandering around the Palace and grounds before deciding it is time to head home through the bustling streets.

Later in the evening we venture out into Saigon for one last time as it is our last night in the city. There is a world-food festival going on a few blocks away in a large park so we wander over to it. The place is heaving. We shuffle through the masses of people checking out the various entertainments on offer. We stop by an outdoor ring to watch an exhibition of Muay Thai boxing before moving on, further into the crowds. We follow the flow of people and arrive at a stage where we are treated to some Viet-Pop as a young wannabe pop star sings very badly. Very badly indeed. She also has some equally bad jedward-esque backing dancers, which turns the show from appalling to brilliant! We watch with open mouthed faces for as long as our ears will allow before moving back through the crowds. There are stalls dedicated to almost every country. Except England (shocked face). They've obviously never heard of a roast dinner or a chippy tea. Shame on you Saigon.

As it gets late we head back to the hotel to pack, for tomorrow we catch a bus to the small town of Chau Doc. From there we can arrange a boat to carry us up the Mekong River and into Cambodia. Saigon certainly doesn't have the charm or good looks of Hanoi, but this doesn't stop it being a wonderful and interesting place to visit. Bye bye Saigon, you will be missed.
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