Saigon Palace

Saigon’s Independence Palace was built on the site of the older Norodom Palace. The Norodom Palace was built by the Governor of  the French colony Cochinchina and the Palace was finished in 1873. After the French surrendered to the Viet Minh in 1954 and agreed to withdraw its troops from Vietnam, the country was divided along the 17:th parallel into the Communist North Vietnam and anti-Communist South Vietnam. In 1955, a vote based on the principles of universal suffrage was held in both North and South Vietnam to establish a unified Vietnamese government. This vote saw the side supported by the Prime Minister of South Vietnam Ngô Đình Diệm as the winning side. Ngô Đình Diệm then established the new unified country of the Republic of Vietnam and proclaimed himself Prime Minister. The Norodom Palace was renamed “Independence Palace” to mark this event.

 Independence Palace front gate.
Independence Palace front gate

In 1962, two renegade pilots that were supposed to go on a mission against the Viet Cong, rebelled and flew against the Norodom Palace dropping bombs on it. During the bombing so much of the Palace was destroyed that repairing the old Palace was not an option. Instead the Palace was rebuilt with a design by famed Vietnamese architect Ngô Viết Thụ.

Palace construction photo from the Palace Museum (Copyright Independence Palace Museum).
Palace construction photo from the Palace Museum (Copyright Independence Palace Museum).

President Ngô Đình Diệm and his family escaped this assassination attempt, and moved into the Gia Long Palace (this building is now the Ho Chi MMinh City Museum) while a new Palace was built on the site of the old Norodom Palace.

President Ngô Đình Diệm never had the opportunity to see the new Palace finished since a later attempt at his life during a coup d’etat in 1963 was successful and the President was assassinated. The new Palace stood ready in 1966 and the General that led the the coup, General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, who was now in a leadership position of the military juntas “National Leadership Committee” inaugurated the Palace on October 31 1966.

The circles in the picture in front of the Huey represents where the two bombs dropped on the Palace April 8 1975 hit the helipad.
The circles in the picture in front of the Huey represents where the two bombs dropped on the Palace April 8 1975 hit the helipad.

On April 8 1975 Nguyễn Thanh Trung, a South Vietnamese Air Force Pilot and defector supporting the North Vietnamese Communist regime, stole an F5-E fighter jet and bombed the Palace. This attempt was not successful and caused little damage and no casualties

This tells the story of the April 8 1972 bombing.
This tells the story of the April 8 1972 bombing.
A piece from the April 1975 Palace bombing sits by the marker for where one bomb hit the helipad. It has been signed by the renegade pilot Nguyễn Thanh Trung.
A piece from the April 1975 Palace bombing sits by the marker for where one bomb hit the helipad. It has been signed by the renegade pilot Nguyễn Thanh Trung.
Closeup of the autographed shrapnel.
Closeup of the autographed shrapnel.
This is the North Vietnamese tank that crashed through the Palace gates on April 30 1975 marking the end of the Vietnam war.
This is the North Vietnamese tank that crashed through the Palace gates on April 30 1975 marking the end of the Vietnam war.

General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu was the last person to live in the palace. He lived and worked there until the fall of Saigon on April 30 1975. The dramatic ending to the war came later in the spring of ’75 when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gate of the Palace thus, marking the end of the Vietnam war.

A Huey always sat at the ready on the rooftop of the Palace.
The Huey on the helipad on the roof of the Palace.

April 30 1975 The President of South Vietnam fled the Palace and Saigon on a Huey that was always sitting at the ready on the rooftop of the Palace. Similar scenarios played out at the US Embassy where Helicopters were flying US supporting South Vietnamese personnel out of Vietnam, and as a first step on the way to the US, onto a US Carrier in The South China Sea.

A look at the mid mod ticket office building.
A look at the mid mod ticket office building.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975 the Palace was renamed Independence Palace and it is now a popular museum and a Saigon landmark.

The line to the ticket office for Palace entry ticket.
The line to the ticket office for Palace entry ticket.
Inside the ticket office for the Independence Palace (Vn - Dinh Hoc Lap) entry tickets.
Inside the ticket office for the Independence Palace (Vn – Dinh Hoc Lap) entry tickets.
Front entrance to the Palace.
Front entrance to the Palace.
A view from the second story balcony towards the front gate and the street named after a 13:th century government official - Han Thuyen.
A view from the second story balcony towards the front gate and the street named after a 13:th century government official – Han Thuyen.
A nice Bonsai arrangement by the side entrance to the Palace.
A nice Bonsai arrangement by the side entrance to the Palace.
The Palace side entrance.
The Palace side entrance.
A side view of the trees flanking the side entrance.
A side view of the trees flanking the side entrance.
Right outside of the Presidents office is this room, that could be looked at as a sort of "Situation room".
Right outside of the Presidents office is this room, that could be looked at as a sort of “Situation room”.

Outside the President’s office in the Palace is a room that was intended for meetings with the cabinet in situations that needed a quick response. A more secure room is also located in the “Bunker” in the basement of the Palace.

President's office.
The President’s office.
The President's office sitting area
The President’s office sitting area.
A panoramic shot of the Library.
A panoramic shot of the Library.
This is a formal reception room where  the President would, for instance, receive foreign diplomats that had been assigned to represent their countries in Vietnam.
This is a formal reception room where the President would, for instance, receive foreign diplomats that had been assigned to represent their countries in Vietnam.
Reception room.
Reception room.
Reception room.
Reception room.

The Palace has numerous official rooms for the President to host visiting dignitaries and to represent the country in.

Panoramic view of the game room, with a bar on one end.
Panoramic view of the game room, with a bar on one end.
A closer look at the bar area of the game room, with the mid century furnishings.
A closer look at the bar area of the game room, with the mid century furnishings.

Architecturally the design of the Palace and it’s furniture makes me wonder if the architect may have been influenced by the Finnish master Alvar Aalto who was very active and well known internationally at this time. The openness and above all the light playing such a big part of the design certainly invoke those thoughts.

An architectural detail of the exterior of the Palace, an effective privacy screen that lets light through.
An architectural detail of the exterior of the Palace, an effective privacy screen that lets light through.
A corridor in the Palace.
A corridor in the Palace.
A Grand Piano in one of the rooms, ready for concerto or dance maybe.
A Grand Piano in one of the rooms, ready for concerto or dance maybe.
A nice Pine forest adorns the wall behind the Grand Piano.
A nice Pine forest adorns the wall behind the Grand Piano.

On the opposite end of the Palace from the President’s office is the office of the Vice President.

The Vice President's office.
The Vice President’s office.
A view of the sitting area of the VP office with a picture of the wife of 	Nguyễn Lương Bằng, the last VP to occupy the office.
A view of the sitting area of the VP office with a picture of the wife of Nguyễn Lương Bằng, the last VP to occupy the office.

The Dragon Rug is located in a hallway between the official part of the Palace and the Residential wing where the President and his family lived. The old Norodom Palace was, according to fengshui, built on the Dragon’s head and the old Palace was sometimes referred to as “The Dragon’s Head Palace”.

Dragon Rug made in Hong Kong 1973.
Dragon Rug made in Hong Kong 1973.

The private area of the Palace holds bedrooms, dining, entertainment rooms and guest rooms.

The private residence of the President in the Palace has a miniature bonsai landscape in the central courtyard.
The private residence of the President in the Palace has a miniature bonsai landscape in the central courtyard.
Opposite side of the landscape.
Opposite side of the landscape.
Dining room.
Panoramic view of the dining room.
Panoramic view of the dining room.
A display of items gifted to the President by foreign dignitaries.
A display of items gifted to the President by foreign dignitaries.
Some mementos of important events in the countries recent history.
Some mementos of important events in the countries recent history.
Living room.
Living room.
An office in the private wing.
An office in the private wing.
Movie theater.
Movie theater.
A bedroom in the private section.
A bedroom in the private section.
The rooftop holds an entertainment area with a bar and a grand piano for entertainment.
The rooftop holds an entertainment area with a bar and a grand piano for entertainment.
Communication equipment antennas on top of the roof.
Communication equipment antennas on top of the roof.
On the helipad next to the rooftop hut the Huey sits at the ready (well it used to be at the ready back in '75).
On the helipad next to the rooftop hut the Huey sits at the ready (well it used to be at the ready back in ’75).
A view from the rooftop.
A view from the rooftop.

The first floor of the Palace has some bigger ballroom style rooms for larger functions, and the all important kitchen is also located here.

Architectural detail of the door leading to the stairwell .
Architectural detail of the door leading to the stairwell .
Elevator mid century styling of door.
Elevator mid century styling of door.
Stairwell
Stairwell
The Palace kitchen that was equipped to feed many people during the big events as well as the President and family and staff on a daily basis.
The Palace kitchen that was equipped to feed many people during the big events as well as the President, family and staff on a daily basis.
The Major Whip of the kitchen...
The Major Whip of the kitchen…
Big wats for boiling whatever needed boiling.
Big wats for boiling whatever needed boiling.

The basement holds a couple of cars that has been put on display for the tourists that come to visit the Palace nowadays.

A Jeep M152n used by the last President of South Vietnam to ride to a radio station to broadcast the surrender speech.
A Jeep M152 used by the last President of South Vietnam to ride to a radio station to broadcast the surrender speech.
This Mercedes Benz 200 was also frequently used by the South Vietnamese President.
This Mercedes Benz 200 was also frequently used by the South Vietnamese President.

Bunkers and war rooms are located underneath the Palace.

Entrance to the war rooms in the bunker.
Entrance to the war rooms in the bunker.
Long corridors are running the length of the Palace and numerous offices, communication rooms and bunk rooms are located along these corridors.
Long corridors are running the length of the Palace and numerous offices, communication rooms and bunk rooms are located along these corridors.
One of the many offices.
One of the many offices.
Here is one of the communication rooms - the radio room.
Here is one of the communication rooms – the radio room.
A bunk room.
A bunk room.
A top secret list of troop sizes of American units at different locations.
A top secret list of troop sizes of American units at different locations.
I thought this might be a fitting ending picture with the US Air Force National marking X-ed over on the tail of the Huey 445.
I thought this might be a fitting ending picture with the US Air Force National marking X-ed over on the tail of the Huey 445.

Saigon Christmas Time

Ho Chi Minh Square is located in central Saigon, District 1. It is in front of Ho Chi Minh City Hall.

Flag of Viet Nam
Ho Chi Minh with City Hall in the background.
Uncle Ho
Uncle Ho
Christmas display at Notre Dame de Saigon.
Christmas display at Notre Dame de Saigon.
Notre Dame de Saigon
Notre Dame de Saigon
Tan Dinh church in Saigon.
Tan Dinh church in Saigon.
Christmas trees
Christmas trees
Hoang Phuc decorations.
Hoang Phuc decorations.
Hotel at Ho Chi Minh Square
Hotel at Ho Chi Minh Square
A store window display.
A store window display.
A restaurant with a snowman.
A restaurant with a snowman.
A popular Santa window.
A popular Santa window.
Trees are lit up.
Trees are lit up.
Bitexco Financial Tower
Bitexco Financial Tower

Bitexco Financial Tower is the second tallest building in Vietnam at 264m at the top of the spire. Viet Nam’s tallest building is Hanoi’s Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower at 349m.

View from the tower.
View from the tower.
Saigon Opera House.
Saigon Opera House.

Saigon Opera House opened on January 1 1900. It is an example of French Colonial Architecture.

Saigon Central Post Office.
Saigon Central Post Office.
Saigon Central Post Office
Saigon Central Post Office

Saigon Central Post Office opened in 1891 during the French rule.

Saigon Independence Palace
Saigon Independence Palace

Saigon Independence Palace, or as it was first called, Reunification Palace, was finished in 1966. It replaced the Norodom Palace that used to be home to the French Governor. It was the home of the South Vietnamese president until the fall of Saigon in 1975.

A beautiful Saigon flower.
A beautiful Saigon flower.

Ha Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin Vietnam

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin in Northern Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Vietnamese legend has it that the bay was formed when a Dragon fell to earth. There are just under 2,000 islands and rock formations in the bay and most all are uninhabited. Halong Bay is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. You can easily get there from Ha Noi and most of the companies that are allowed to operate boats in the bay also include transportation from Ha Noi.

Leaving the harbor on Cat Ba island and sailing out into Ha Long Bay on the Djonk for a three day sail.
Leaving the harbor on Cat Ba island and sailing out into Ha Long Bay on the Djonk for a three day sail.
The Captain is navigating out of the harbor.
The Captain is navigating out of the harbor.
Looking up at the Bridge.
L
The limestone islands in Ha Long Bay are spectacular to look at.
The limestone islands in Ha Long Bay are spectacular to look at.
More limestone formations.
More limestone formations.
A fisherman is on his way.
A fisherman is on his way.

The cruise company does a pretty good job of entertaining the guests when nature alone is not enough to fill the time. One popular event is the “make your own spring roll”. There is a demonstration to follow along in to show you how to roll it and then you may try your hand at making a spring roll.

Making spring rolls

Making spring rolls, put in the fillings!

Making spring rolls, now the hard part - roll 'em up!
Making spring rolls, now the hard part – roll ’em up!

Once you have mastered the technique of spring rolling, you get to eat your creation as an appetizer at dinner.

My own handmade vegetarian spring roll! With a Ha Noi Beer!
My own handmade vegetarian spring roll! With a Ha Noi Beer!
Dinner soup - Pumpkin Soup.
Dinner soup – Pumpkin Soup.
Vegetarian dinner option.
Vegetarian dinner option.

Being a vegetarian or even vegan in Vietnam, is in my experience easy. The pork is of course used a lot here, as in most S/E Asian countries, but good vegetarian options are readily available. If they are not on the menu, most kitchens will change dishes so as to be vegetarian/vegan if you just ask. For the Ha Long Cruise companies, just notify them in advance and they will have your options available.

Moon over Ha Long Bay.
Moon over Ha Long Bay.
Sun is on the way up.
Sun is on the way up.
Daylight is starting to light up Ha Long.
Daylight is starting to light up Ha Long.
Early morning is the time when the re-fueling barges comes around and refuels the Djonks for another day in Ha Long bay..
Early morning is the time when the re-fueling barges comes around and refuels the Djonks for another day in Ha Long bay..
One of the awesome limestone little islet-cliffs in Ha Long Bay.
One of the awesome limestone little islet-cliffs in Ha Long Bay.
The beach on Ti top island (named for Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov) above at a time when it is pretty much deserted, however when the boats shops up this beach can be full of people, so full that it is a challenge to walk on it. My best guess is that maybe as many as 1,00 people crowded this beach at my visit and made it pretty much unbearable.
The beach at a time when it is pretty much deserted, however when the boats shops up this beach can be full of people, so full that it is a challenge to walk on it. My best guess is that maybe as many as 1,00 people crowded this beach at my visit and made it pretty much unbearable.

One of the excursions takes you to The beach on Ti top island (named for Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov). This is one of the few beaches in Ha Long Bay that is now open to visitors. It used to be a “free for all” but the local government had to step in to make sure that the area was not totally destroyed by tourists that had no regard for the fragile environment. Today there are only a few beaches where the boats are allowed to take tourists that want to go swimming. This restriction obviously mean that the most accessible beaches get overrun by people and the obviously takes away ,most of the enjoyment of the beach trip. The boats are also only allowed to anchor up in certain areas and after an accident in 2010 they are put in the same areas so as to have help nearby should anything go wrong.

The Ti Top island has a statue honoring the Russian Cosmonaut that is tis named for, Gherman Stepanovich Titov (1935-2000).
Ti Top island has a statue honoring the Russian Cosmonaut that is tis named for, Gherman Stepanovich Titov (1935-2000).
The sun came out to shine on Ti Top island and the beach.
The sun came out to shine on Ti Top island and the beach.
A bit more crowded here at the small Ti Top island beach.
A bit more crowded here at the small Ti Top island beach.
More limestone cliffs against dark rain filled clouds.
More limestone cliffs against dark rain filled clouds.

Long way to Ha Long…

Long way to Ha Long, is if the company that takes you there from Ha Noi doesn’t take the toll road to get there. The long way (about 190km with lower speed limits) adds a lot of time and may take as long as three to four hours. The toll road (150km) is much faster, about two hours. The scenic value of the slow road does not make up for the added time. I did not know this in advance, so I wound up on the slow road going there. Going back I changed to the toll road which is a better choice.

This is the not quite so scenic, but much faster route.
This is the not quite so scenic, but much faster route.
Speed limits on the toll road leaving Ha Long Bay going back to Ha Noi.
Speed limits on the toll road leaving Ha Long Bay going back to Ha Noi.

VIETNAM

– The come back kid!

Vietnam has endured many wars over time. Four of the wars were in modern, fairly recent times with the latest and hopefully the last war being against the US November 1 1959 – April 30 1975 . When Saigon fell and the war was over the NVA (People’s Army of Vietnam) was the Victor. When the war was raging during the 60’s and 70’s it was the Vietnam war that made the headlines and spurred protests around the world. Images such as Eddie Adams’ photo of an officer shooting a man in the street point blank during the “Tet offensive“, and images of Vietnamese people including children fleeing the Napalm bombings were seared into the memories of a generation, – my generation!

HAN – Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport is bustling with activity.
Inside the terminal at Noi Bai International Airport.

Today Vietnam is a country bustling with activity and an economy that rivals many countries in the S/E Asia region. Building activity is fervent and there seems to be a real optimism in the country. It is really great to experience how the country and the people of Vietnam has moved on from the years of war. The kindness and welcoming attitude of the people makes you feel really welcome to their part of the world. I was not sure what to expect before my first visit, would there be a lingering animosity from the years of war? But no, at no time did I feel that there was any kind of animosity towards me from the local people I met. There was more curiosity and friendly interest in people from other parts of the world and as mentioned I felt a very welcome to their beautiful country. I can’t help but think that it may have something to do with Bill Clinton’s normalization of the relationship with Vietnam with the help of the late Senator John McCain.

Nhật Tân Bridge across the Red river on the way from Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport into town.
Ha Noi’s old quarter at night.

The old Quarter of Hanoi can be a slightly challenging place at times, but I do think this is the place to stay in Hanoi,. Although, be aware that if you are not in good physical shape, then maybe staying outside of the old Quarter should be considered. In the old Quarter you will at times feel like you are running an obstacle course when you attempt to cross the street. Crosswalks and traffic lights mean less here than in many other places in the world. Other parts of the city is slightly less hectic and have wider sidewalks and better options for crossing the road, but they may lack the charm of the old Quarter.

Political propaganda billboard in Ha Noi.

Vietnam is a Socialist Republic that has adopted many of the Socialist manifestos and ways of governing. Just don’t let this prevent you from visiting, as a visitor you are mot likely to notice much of it other than some posters with messages that you will not be able to read unless you can read Vietnamese.

There is a massive amount of construction in Ha Noi currently in July 2019.
Cranes over Vietnam.
This is what the new suburbs of Ha Noi looks like, less charm and individuality as compared to the Old Quarter of Ha Noi, but also wider streets and sidewalks and a cleaner look – it is all in the eye of the beholder….

Visit Vietnam and see this beautiful country, eat the great foods and interact with the friendly Vietnamese people. The culture is very interesting and the arts are strongly supported by the government. This is very much unlike countries such as the US where art has been forced to take a back seat in schools and other places due to budget cuts and an unwillingness to spend money on the arts – that way of thinking is just very shortsighted.

A country that has a “Temple of literature” like Vietnam does in Ha Noi, must be in the top as far as the arts and in particular as far as philosophy goes!

Dawn over Ha Noi’s old Quarter