Ho Chi Minh is a city rich with history and culture– it has had moments of growth and glory, violence and horror, and change and beauty. For those hoping to explore the war-torn past of Vietnam, Saigon is just the place to start.
The Reunification Palace
The Reunification Palace in Saigon was where the dramatic end to the Vietnam War took place (known as the American War in Vietnam). The Communist tanks crashed through the gates on the morning of April 30, 1975, ending the conflict between the North and South. Before the end of the war the palace had been known as The Independence Palace, and was the capitol building for South Vietnam. It was the home of General Nguyen Van Thieu, the leader of the military junta after the President Diem was assassinated in 1963.
Operation Frequent Wind was the largest helicopter evacuation in history, and it took place on the rooftop of the Reunification Palace up until the moment the Communist forces took control of the palace.
Today, the reunification Palace has been turned into an unchanged relic of history. It has been preserved since the 1970s, and is a must-see time capsule for anyone interested in Vietnam war-history. It is open for tours and you can explore the palace as it was during the war. Some of the highlights are the bunker in the basement, which was a strategic command center against the North Vietnamese forces, and the tanks on the front lawn which replicate the machines that rolled in to take over the palace to end the war.
A tour guide is free and can be arranged in the lobby. These free tours definitely enhance the time spent here, as they can tell you the stories of the lives that were so dramatically changed within the palace walls.
The Reunification Palace is open daily from 7:30am to 11am and from 1pm to 4pm. The entrance fee is 30,000 dong (about $1.50).
The War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is home to countless war-time artifacts, unexploded bombs, weapons and war machines, as well as photos, maps, and videos that document the atrocities and history of war. If you are at all interested in the American-Vietnam War then the War Remnants Museum is not to be missed.
The museum was opened only months after the fall of the South Vietnamese regime, and as such it maintains many aspects of the North Vietnamese perspective at the end of the war. It is an eye-opening, informative, and sobering experience.
They have U.S. tanks, helicopters, howitzers, guns and bombs all available to see. There are accounts from soldiers and citizens, a detailed exhibit on the journalists that came to Vietnam from around the world and became enmeshed in the war– often sacrificing their lives for their stories, and a hall that shows in gruesome detail what happened to those contaminated by Agent Orange. The museum is the most extensive collection of wartime artifacts, memorabilia, propaganda, and information in Vietnam.
The War Remnants Museum is open from 7:30am to 12 pm and 1:30pm to 5pm. The entrance fee is only 15,000 dong (less that $0.75).
The Cu Chi Tunnels
A short drive north of Saigon are the Cu Chi Tunnels— perhaps the most interesting of all the war sites open to explore in Vietnam. The tunnels are an enormous underground network that once stretched up to 75 miles, clear to the border of Cambodia! They were used as a major command post and base of operations for the North Vietnamese forces, and were the site of many military campaigns. They were used as a hiding place for Viet Cong soldiers, and they include living quarters, food and weapon caches, weapon factories, hospitals, communication and supply routes, and even entertainment centers for the soldiers.
The tunnels were a huge part of the North Vietnamese force’s strategy to counter the American military effort. Cleaning out the tunnel systems was an enormous and almost endless task that took countless bomb and gas strikes, and resulted in the creation of ‘Tunnel Rats,’ or soldiers who specialized in tunnel warfare.
Today, the government has cleaned up sections of the tunnels near Ho Chi Minh (although the tunnels lie under much of the country), and they have been opened up for tours. After you explore the tunnels there is also a shooting range where you can try firing the same type of guns that were used in the tunnel warfare.
The tunnels are open daily, and a trip to Cu Chi is usually about 80,000 dong (about $4.00) for the transport to the tunnels and a half day tour, plus 90,000 dong (about $5.00) for the entrance fee. Just ask what is included with your tour when you book it.
Saigon is full of history
There are countless historical sites in Saigon that are well worth your time. These three are a great start for history lovers and casual tourists alike– but if you really want to dig into the past you can also explore the Museum of Vietnamese History, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, or the Rung Sac Military Base.
No matter where you go in Saigon you are sure to see pieces of the past and memories of its emotionally-charged history. The city wants to tell you its story, and it is one worth listening to.
Tags: Travel tours Vietnam