We had planned to spend the afternoon at The Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City after having lunch at a local restaurant.
In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Vietnam in general, you have to make the decision to head out to see the museum’s or many of the other attractions either before 11am or after 1pm. This is because of the two hour lunch breaks that most of the places and businesses have.
It feels like the whole city slows down and goes to sleep during this period.
You can see the opening hours for The Independence Palace below where I have the address, pricing and other details for you as well.
The Front Gates
If you catch the bus into the city like we did you get to walk around the outside of the palace walls before you see the front gates. The front gates are significant in the history of The Independence Palace because of the tanks that smashed through them on April 30th 1975.
At this time The Independence Palace was the Headquarters of the Saigon Government and pretty much when you go through the palace now it is as it was from 1975. I won’t go into the history of the palace too much here and comment on it either as it isn’t my place.
But if you head to The Independence Palace website there is a lot of information about the history of the palace and also much more information about each section of the palace you get to see while walking through.
Of course you can get all of this information if you visit the palace too!
You catch glimpses of the palace walking around the fences on the way in. But until you hit the front gates and the ticket office you don’t really get to realise the stature of the front gates, gardens and the building. It is big! Also re-imagining the tanks back in the day smashing through the gates, running over the grass and onto the palace. It’s a pretty powerful visualisation before you even get inside.
The ticket prices for The Independence Palace are 40,000 VND for Adults and 10,000 VND for Primary and High School Children. If you have younger children they are free. This is just over two Australian dollars, so pretty economical. I didn’t see the age groups for children’s tickets as I walked in, but I’d say it may go on height and also rough estimate of ages.
Once you pay your money through the front entrance you can have a look at the tanks and the plane in the gardens to the right of the fountain. There are two tanks on concrete platforms, Tank 390 and Tank 843. These tanks are identical to the ones that made the break through the gates in 1975.
Tank 390 was manufactured in China and deployed in the 60’s and Tank 843 is a Russian Tank delivered to the Vietnamese in 1972. The tanks are in pretty good condition too, well painted and kept.
The aircraft you see is a F5E Fighter Aircraft which is similar to the aircraft used to carry out a bombing raid on The Independence Palace on the 8th of April 1975. As you will read and see further down I have a photo from the top floor where one of the bombs hit.
These aircraft were equipped with in-flight refueling capabilities, target determination radar, two 20mm cannons and two guided missile launchers.
Here is a video for you which takes you from the FSE Fighter Aircraft, past the tanks and through to the entrance of the palace.
Architecture of The Independence Palace
The Independence Palace was designed by the architect Ngo Viet Thu and the construction of the new palace started in 1962 and finished in 1966.
The palace was designed to incorporate the key themes and principals of Eastern Philosophy and also include the harmonious combination of Eastern and Western styles.
There are 95 rooms in the palace (no, we didn’t visit all of them) covering 3 floors, 2 mezzanines, one terrace, one ground floor and a basement.
Every single room in the palace has a function and has been designed, constructed and decorated to suit the function.
Not all of these 95 rooms are open to the public. But after you walk around for a while you will see that most are.
I have taken lots of photos, too many to share here. So I have decided to put some of the main rooms here and write a little bit about each one just so you get a feel for the place and the way it is laid out. Then when you visit The Independence Palace yourself you will be able to experience it for yourself.
The rooms of The Palace
The Conference Hall above was used for receptions and can hold up to 500 guests at a time. It was mainly used for the installation of a new cabinet in the Southern Republic and now it is used for Official Receptions and other important Official Events.
This hall is pretty amazing and there are many other meeting places on this floor. If you look closely at the photo you will notice the doors on the right hand side. These doors are both on the left and the right hand sides and can be closed. They are open currently so tourists like us can have a look at the room from many different angles.
The National Security Council Chamber pictured above was used for meetings between the President and all of his US Advisors.
There are maps adorning all of the walls. There was also a row of old dial telephones in a row on a table. I was trying to get a photo of the writing on the phones to see who they were a hot line to. These telephones were all different colours and they were faded. I’d say the pink ones use to be red and were the hotlines to other offices.
The State Banqueting Hall is the main dining room in The Independence Palace and it certainly is grand!
The banquets held in this hall would have up to 100 guests and the meals were served from the massive kitchen that is downstairs in the basement of the palace.
The Rooftop of The Independence Palace
There are many rooms you can see on the way up to the Salon of the 4 Cardinal Directions.
These include the Conference Hall, State Banqueting Hall, Cabinet Room, National Security Council Chamber, the Presidential Reception Rooms, the Presidential Office, Vice Presidential Office, Vice Presidents Reception Salon, the Ambassador’s Chamber, Presidential Bedroom, the First Lady’s Reception Room, the Cinema and the Game Room.
I’m sure there are more but these are the ones we had seen and the ones I have photos of.
The Salon of the 4 Cardinal Directions is a room that was also known as the Meditation Room used for meditative contemplation, but it was transformed into a party room used for entertaining for guests.
Currently it is a place where you can take in the views of The Independence Palace grounds and also have a look at the helicopter and landing pad too.
Video of the Entrance and Gardens
Here is the view you get looking towards the front entrance of The Independence Palace. I was standing on one of the main little balconies up in the Salon of the 4 Cardinal Directions.
The Salon of the 4 Cardinal Directions area now has a little shop you can by drinks from and also a souvenir shop too.
It was a great area to break up walking around the museum for a while.
F5E Bombing in 1975
You get to look down on top of the helicopter landing pad from the top floor too. If you look at the red circle on the concrete it says “AT 8:30 AM APRIL 8th 1975 FIRST LIEUTENANT PILOT NGUYEN THANH TRUNG FLEW F5E AND THREW DOWN TWO BOMBS AT THE RIGHT TARGET HERE”.
This is where the palace was bombed twice by one of its own F5E Aircraft (similar to the display one). There were four bombs that day I have read. Two were intended for the palace and two were for the US Embassy. The first ones missed and exploded in the palace gardens. So the pilot had to come around for a second time to get the job done.
This is such an intriguing story and it is documented on The Independence Palace website in more depth.
Heading into the Fortified Areas
From the Salon of the 4 Cardinal Directions we headed into the fortified area of the palace. This is where a lot of the communication took place and the whole area is like a bunker.
The Command Centre is a heavy shielded area that was used as the Intelligence Co-ordination Centre.
As you can see, there were maps covering the walls with writing all over them. With only one central desk it makes me wonder if they would’ve had many more desks in here.
This above is the Communication Centre, this was the main receiving station for the coded intelligence messages. It was also used for National Radio Broadcasts when there was emergencies.
There was plenty of old equipment all around this room. To get to these rooms all below we passed so many smaller rooms. These smaller rooms only had one or two desks, filing cabinets sometimes and also maps.
All the rooms had uses during the war and now are just left for people like us to come through and imagine what it would have been like during the last days.
It was time to leave
So it was time to say goodbye to The Independence Palace.
This place is truly amazing and has a great story behind it that is totally immersed in Vietnam’s history.
I’m glad with what they have done with the palace. It has a great flow to it and is really informative too. Also reading about the facts on the website and also reading Tom Dolings book “Exploring Ho Chi Minh City” has certainly added to the experience too.
There was a big group of tourists leaving The Independence Palace at the same time as us. As you can see their method of transport was very different to us taking the bus into the city.
So if you are holidaying in Ho Chi Minh and are in a hotel close to the city. Make sure to catch a Cyclo (three wheeled bicycle taxi) to The Independence Palace for the morning or afternoon.
You won’t be disappointed!
The Independence Palace
135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street,
Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Phone 080 85037
7.30am to 11am
1pm to 4pm
Adult 40,000 VND
Children 10,000 VND