I am not going to lie, I became immensely curious about Vietnam’s history because of the West End musical, Miss Saigon which I had the privilege of watching on CD back in high school. I vividly remember my history teacher dividing the class into two groups, instructing each one to present a musical play as a quarterly project. My group mates, for some demented reason, concluded that I would be the one to direct our own rendition of the play. I reluctantly obliged due to the fact that I had never been involved in any theater production. It was basically a herculean task for me. But as far as I recall nobody wanted to take the responsibility, so me and my hero-complex-self at the time stepped up to save the day.
The rehearsal took off. Every afternoon, after class, we would practice in one of my group mate’s house. Little did I know that it was the beginning of my fascination to the history of Vietnam. I came to realized that as the rehearsal had been progressing, I was given a glimpse of what life was for the citizens and soldiers at the time. Miss Saigon might be a story of star-crossed lovers doomed by war, race and eventually distance. But it also depicted human pain and suffering inflicted by war. So as a naïve, lovesick and highly emotional high school student, I wept. I wept for the characters, I wept for Saigon and I wept for… my quarterly grades. Because our presentation sucked big time.
I’m no longer a high school student, obviously. I have learned to overcome my emotions about the musical play and well, my quarterly grades, but the impact of the war as depicted on the play stayed with me. Hence my personal quest to visit one of the closest thing to that period of Vietnam’s history: The Independence Palace also known as The Reunification Palace.
The Vietnam War
From November 1, 1955 – April 30, 1975 the country was divided between the North and South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army, supported by China and the Soviet Union, wanted to re-unify the country under communist rule. The U.S.A., trying to prevent communism to spread out in the rejoin gave their military assistance to the South Vietnamese Government. The bloody war occurred. Tens of thousands died on both sides. On April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank smashed the gate of the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace, resulting to the end of the war. The country was then unified under the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The Independence Palace
The site where The Independence Palace is currently standing used to house the Norodom Palace, the official residence of the Governor General of the Vietnam French Colonial era.
After the bomb attack on February 27, 1962, Ngo Viet Thu, a renowned Vietnamese architect was appointed by President Ngo Din Diem to design a new structure to replace the old and bombarded one. It was then renamed as The Independence Palace, which was constructed to be the residence and office of the President. Unfortunately, Diem died before its completion. His successor, Nguyen Van Thieu, lived and ruled South Vietnam inside the palace until his resignation on April 21, 1975.
Sitting in the garden near the palace’s entrance, these tanks are identical to the tanks deployed by the North Army. The aim: to smash the gates open that ultimately lead to the end of the Vietnam War.
Tank 390, a T59
Tank 843, a T54
Lieutenant Nguyen Thanh Trung of the communist party managed to infiltrate the South Vietnamese air force. He flew on F-5E, bombed the palace yet ensued no terrible damage. Identical plane can be seen on the palace ground.
F5E Fighter Aircraft
State Banqueting Hall
State dinners were held in this gold painted hall. Hanging on the center wall was an enormous painting by the palace’s architect, Ngo Viet Thu.
State Banqueting Hall
The president and his ministers congregated in this room to discuss the affairs of South Vietnam.
Five hundred guests can fit into this hall. Consequently, when the United States of America decided to pull their troops out of the country, President Thieu of South Vietnam favored to deliver his resignation speech in this very room.
The official office of the President.
Presidential Reception Rooms
National Security Chamber
The president, the US advisers and senior officers convened in this chamber. They put their heads together and deliberated about the situation of South Vietnam concerning the war.
National Security Council Chamber
The Independence Palace witnessed a great deal of significant and remarkable events in the history of Vietnam. It was proclaimed as a National Site in 1976. And in 2009 it became a Special National Site.
My visit to the palace was the realization of my teenage dream. I almost failed my quarterly grades due to my lack of talent in the art of directing but that school project turned out to be a learning experience. And I sure would not have it any other way.