Designed as the home of former president Ngo Dinh Diem, the U.S.-backed leader of Vietnam until his assassination in 1962, this building is most notable for its symbolic role in the fall of Saigon in April 1975, when its gates were breached by North Vietnamese tanks and the victor's flag hung on the balcony; the very tanks that crashed through the gates are enshrined in the entryway and photos and accounts of their drivers are on display. Built on the site of the French governor general's home, called the Norodom Palace, the current modern building, designed when "modern" meant "sterile," was completed in 1966 -- it looks something like an old elementary school to our eye now, but modern-design fans love it. Like the Bao Dai Palace in Dalat, the Reunification Palace is a series of rather empty rooms that are nevertheless interesting because they specialize in period kitsch and haven't been gussied up too much. Tour private quarters, dining rooms, entertainment lounges, and the president's office that feel like everybody just up and left one day -- they did -- and a tour is almost eerie really. Most interesting is the war command room, with its huge maps and old communications equipment, as well as the basement labyrinth. There is an ongoing screening in a series of rooms in the basement -- mercifully cool and a good rest while touring -- of mostly propaganda about the war years (plays in French, English, Japanese, and Chinese in separate screening rooms).
The Conference Hall in the main room is still used for important national events. The carpeting you'll see on your visit is a shabby piece of cheap cloth used for display and protection purposes only. For special events, like the recent APEC summit and the signing of the WTO accord, the display rug is whisked away and the "for guests only" carpet, a plush, bright red piece with gold accents, is unveiled.
- © Frommer's 2013
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