VIETNAM-WAR-RELATED PLACES IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Intersection of Le Loi and Nguyen Boulevards is sometimes called the Vietnamese Time Square. During the Vietnam Way it was filled with Vietnamese hustlers and drunk American GIs looking for action. GIs also roamed the bars nearby on To Do (Freedom Street), where they bought "comfort ladies" $5 shots of whiskey that were really tea. Today the intersection is dominated by young Vietnamese men on motorscooters racing around, showing of for their girlfriends. The 100-year-old Municipal Theater is on Le Loi and Nguyen Boulevard.
Former U.S. Embassy is where the last Americans out of Saigon boarded helicopters on a rooftop pad and flew out of the country on April 30, 1975, hours before North Vietnamese tanks rumbled through the gates of the embassy compound. Built behind a concrete barrier, strong enough to repel rocket-propelled grenades, this complex includes a swimming pool and numerous buildings. In the waning years of the war it was one of the busiest U.S. diplomatic posts, issuing tens of thousands of immigrant and visitors visas a year, mainly to Vietnamese with family connections in the United States. See History
After the War the American Embassy was taken over by the state-owned oil company, Petro Vietnam. In 1998, the U.S. embassy was torn down to make way a new consulate that went up next door. The Vietnamese government erected a red-stone memorial to Communist heros outside the main gate on the sidewalk. For a while it was tourist attraction. Tour buses mainly drove up to it and let visitors look at it through the windows of their buses. In September 1999, a new United States consulate opened in a new building built on the site of the old American embassy. The first American ambassador to Vietnam, Pete Peterson, was a navy pilot who spent 6½ years as prisoner of war in Hanoi.
Famous Ho Chi Minh City Hotels
Rex Hotel (Intersection of Le Loi and Nguyen Boulevards) was a famous watering hole for diplomats, spies, officers and war correspondents during the Vietnam War. As was the case then, there are some attractive and friendly women that spend a lot of time at the hotel. The cabaret show at the Rex is entertaining. The show used to combine traditional Vietnamese dances with Russian folk songs but these day the shows are geared more for Westerners. The cats are the topiary garden that were once fixtures of the rooftop bar are gone.
Emily Brady wrote in the New York Times, During the Vietnam War, the Rex Hotel was the home of the “Five O’Clock Follies,” the daily briefings the United States military gave the press corps. Today, the palm-lined rooftop bar provides a kitschy setting — complete with giant ceramic elephants — for a sunset pastis (65,000 dong) or fresh pineapple juice (48,000 dong).” [Source: Emily Brady, New York Times, December 18, 2008]
Hotel de Ville (Nguyen Hue Blvd and Dong Koi Street) is one of Saigon's most noticeable landmarks. Brightly lit up at night and built between 1901 and 1908, it is a garish colonial building situated in front of a lively square with food vendors and amusements. Visitors are not allowed in the Hotel de Ville, which is closed to visitors. The building is now known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall or Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee Head office.
Brink Hotel (Hai Ba Trung Street) is gone, but the tall dilapidated building that housed it is still there. On Christmas Eve 1964, Viet Cong terrorist drove a jeep with a huge bomb into the courtyard of the hotel, a popular hang out for U.S. army officers. The explosion killed two Americans and wounded 58. Today there is a monument at the site with a concrete relief of American bodies mixed with debris.
Continental Hotel (132-134 Dong Khoi Street; 84-8-3829-9201; www.continental-saigon.com) was founded by a Frenchman in 1880. A popular watering hole for journalists during the war. It has high ceilings and lots of carved wood. Tien Dat wrote in The Saigon Times Weekly: “In the late 19th century, he high-class traveled in the city by horse-drawn carriages. This means of transport was quite popular on the Catinat (now Dong Khoi), the main street in Saigon at the time. In 1880, French architects started work on a luxury hotel there, which was to be seen as a landmark in the city's social and economic life and a milestone of the hospitality business in Saigon. The majority of the Continental Hotel's customers were French officials, high- ranking civil servants, ladies and luxury travelers who stopped by Saigon on their tours from Hong Kong to Japan or on their trips to the Angkor Temples, the world's seventh wonder. [Source: By Tien Dat, Saigon Times Weekly, September 29, 2002]
The builder of the Hotel Continental Palace was Pierre Cazeau, a home-appliance and construction material producer. “In 1911, Duke De Montpensier, a famous playboy in France, came to Vietnam, carrying with him a car to make a trip to the Angkor Temples. When he was in Saigon, De Montpensier decided to buy the Continental Hotel from the owners and offered it to a countess. A monument he left in Vietnam is the Lau Ong Hoang (Tower of the Lord) in Phan Thiet (Binh Thuan Province). In the 1920s, Catinat Street, where Hotel Continental Palace was located, was dubbed Saigon's "Canebire," the name of a famous street in the city of Marseille, France. The famous French writer Andr‚ Malreaux and his wife were among the hotel's permanent guests from 1924-1925.
In 1930, Le Van Mau, a Vietnamese landlord in My Tho Township, bought the Continental Hotel from De Montpensier, and transferred the property to his French son-in-law—Mathieu Franchini— for management. It is certain to say that Mau was the first Vietnamese owner of then largest hotel in Vietnam. Franchini ran the hotel successfully for 30 years. He left Vietnam after the French colonial regime came to an end. Philippe, Mathieu Franchini's son, ran the hotel until 1964 when he left Vietnam.
“The 1930s were the heyday of the Continental Hotel which was renovated to French standards. Only wealthy people could afford to stay at the most luxurious hotel in Saigon at that time where they could sit in the terrace enjoying the fresh air from the Saigon River, drinking wine or tea and watching traffic on Catinat Street. Among the celebrities who stayed at the hotel were noted Indian poet Ranbindranath Tagore.
During World War II, several American magazines stationed their bureaus at the Continental Hotel, Time on the first floor and Newsweek on the second. In the 1950s, before the Vietnam War, renowned British writer Graham Greene stayed in Room 214 where he created "The Quiet American," a book about the waning days of the French in Indochina and the beginning of the American presence in Vietnam which was made into movie in 2001.
Then came the time when "Newsmen covering the Vietnam War measured the ups and downs of its course by the fortunes of the hotel," as written in the book "Great Oriental Hotels" by Martin Meade. William Tuohy, Newsweek magazine's Saigon Bureau chief, wrote in his book "Dangerous Company": "After writing our stories, we would gather around for dinner and drinks." The reason for the Newsmen to choose the Hotel Continental was simple: It is located in the heart of Saigon, adjacent to the National Assembly (now the municipal theater) where the press circle would gather around for collecting information and discussing political issues and all. The hotel was then called "Radio Catinat."
The hotel was closed after April 30, 1975. In 1986, the hotel was officially taken over by Saigontourist Holding Company. In the early 1990s, the Hotel Continental was renovated but its original French architecture has remained unchanged. Some VIP guests who graced the hotel after 1975 included French President Giscard D'Estaing and Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac (later French president).
The Continental is now a three-star hotel with 83 rooms, two western restaurants, a 200-plus seat conference hall, a bar and other facilities like sauna and massage. Apart from the reputation as Vietnam's oldest hotel, the Continental enjoys a prime location in downtown Saigon near the Municipal Theater and is considered a cultural landmark of the city. In 2001, its occupancy rate averaged 80 percent. Most guests were Britons, Germans, French, Japanese, Americans, Canadians and Australians. To attract customers, the hotel is promoting online marketing through a website with six languages (English, French, Japanese, Spanish, German and Vietnamese).
Continental Hotel: Address: 132-134 Dong Khoi Street, District 1, HCM City Tel: 8299201 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Website: www.saigon-tourist.com/continental, www.continentalvietnam.com
War Remnants Exhibition
War Remnants Exhibition (28 Vo Van Tan St.) used be known as the Museum of American War Crimes until U.S. war veterans complained and the name was changed to the War Crimes Museum. A few years later they complained again and the name was changed to its present name. Despite its anti-American slant, many of its visitors are Americans and other Westerners along with 2,000 Vietnamese school children a day. It is housed in the former U.S. Information Agency Abraham Lincoln Library. Hours Open: 7:30am-4:30pm; Admission: US$2. Getting There: taxi, motorbike or. Bus Route No. 14, No. 28 and No. 06
Among the items on display are guns, flamethrowers and other weapons; photos of bombed hospitals, massacred villagers and planes and helicopters on bombing missions; experimental bombs that released thousands of tiny darts; models of the notorious tiger cages used by the South Vietnamese army to keep Vietcong prisoners; a deformed baby in a jar reportedly produced by Agent Orange; and examples of fragment bombs and napalm side by side with photos of mangled "Frag bomb" survivors and napalm-charred bodies.
There are also photographs of: 1) a Vietcong soldier "being thrown from a flying helicopter" for "refuging to answer interrogations,” 2) American soldiers burning villages and arresting women, 3) an armored personnel carrier dragging a Vietnamese man to death, and 4) captured Vietcong sympathizers in the middle of being tortured.
One particularly disturbing pictures shows four American soldiers, who look as if they are still their teens, posing and smiling behind two propped up Vietcong heads and two decapitated bodies. Another shows an American soldiers kicking a badly mutilated body. This one is accompanied by the caption "this soldier seems satisfied.”
Most of the photographs were taken by American photojournalists. Many are accompanied by English captions like: "There was a blood streak found out from a bush in the garden, flowing along to an underground shelter, and the moaning of a wounded person was heard clearly inside. An American soldiers threw down two grenades. The moaning died out completely. Another American soldier fastened the legs of the peasant with a rope, then dragging out of an underground shelter."
In the courtyard of the museum is a rusting American M48 tank, a CBU-55 bomb (powerful enough to suck all the oxygen from an area a kilometer across), a 15,000-pound "seismic" bomb, and a large yellow bulldozer that purportedly was used by the Americans to bury villages. There is also a guillotine said to have been used by the French and the South Vietnamese. It is accompanied by a sign that reads: "The blade only weighs fifty kilos." After taking in all the blood, gore and weapons of destruction, you can relax with a performance of Vietnamese water puppetry in a theater that is part of the museum complex.
The War Remnants Museum established in September 1975 not long after the Vietnam War ended. According to the Vietnamese government: the museum contains “countless artifacts, photographs, and pictures documenting American war crimes. Such documents illustrate the killing of civilians, spreading of chemicals, torturing of prisoners, and the effects of the war on the north. Planes, tanks, bombs, and helicopters are also on display. Outside the museum are some rooms displaying cultural products of Vietnam. Over the last 20 years, over 6 million visitors entered the museum. Among this number, nearly 1 million were foreign visitors, including American tourists.”
Reunification Palace (entrance on 106 Nguyen Street) is the former Presidential Palace of the South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu. Known before the reunification of Vietnam as Independence Palace, it looks like an administration office building on the outside but is filled with rare woods and treasures and communication gear on the inside, and reportedly has been left exactly as it was when Thieu lived in it to show the decadence of the South Vietnamese regime. The capture of the palace on April 30, 1975 is considered the end of the Vietnam War. Hours Open: 8:00am-4:00pm; Admission: US$2.; Getting There: taxi, motorbike or buses buses number 04, 18, 31, 36, 42, 52
Reunification Palace is also known as Reunification Hall or the Presidential Palace. It is officially known as Thong Nhat Conference Hall, Construction of the palace began in 1962 after Norodom Palace, the old French colonial palace used by the French governors, was damaged by South Vietnamese air force planes in a coup that tried to kill the hated South Vietnamese president Ngo Dihn Diem. The planes failed in their mission but Diem was assassinated by his own troops in 1963 before he had a chance to live in his pleasuredome, which was completed in 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War escalation.
Reunification Palace has been described as both “awfully kitch and seedy” and a “fantastic and amazing contradiction —non-Vietnamese at the same time. It incorporates some Chinese and Vietnamese auspicious symbols: the T shape is derived from the Chinese character for good destiny and another shape is linked to the character for prosperity. It is open daily from 7:30am to 11:00am and 13:00am to 4:00pm. Foreigners are welcomed at a main desk and escorted up with English and French-speaking guides. Video of bombing raids are shown in one room. Make sure to catch the demonstrations of Vietnamese music in a hall near the souvenir shop. Visitors are allowed to try the musical instruments.
History of Reunification Palace
After 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem and his family lived in the Norodom Palace. Diem rebuilt the palace after the 1963 coup attempt and bombardment and this was replaced by another one, Independence Palace. It was designed by Western-trained architect Ngo Viet Thu. The construction was undertaken by Saigon engineers.
The palace was paid for largely with American tax dollars that had been earmarked for other purposes. One U.S. Senator accused the Diem Regime of siphoning off $2 million ofin American money to pay for teak floors and 100 fountains. Diem was outraged by the accusations. The palace has only one fountain, one of his aides later, “We had quite enough money to build it without outside help.”
At 11:30 on 30 April 1975, the palace was overrun by Liberation Army tanks. Duong Van Minh, who was president at that time, together with his 45-member cabinet, surrendered unconditionally. After the liberation of Saigon, the Independence Palace was turned into the Headquarters of the Municipal Military Administrative Committee. In December 1975, the palace welcomed a conference for national reunification. To mark the historical significance of the event, the building was renamed Thong Nhat Conference Hall (Reunification Conference Hall). Reunification Palace was opened to visitors in 1990.
Rooms in Reunification Palace
Located on a vast park in the middle of the city, this "shamefully opulent" palace has four main floors and two mezzanines with gambling parlors, a trophy room with severed elephant feet, a dance hall, carpeted reception halls, a private movie theater, a collection of horse tails, exquisite porcelains, crystal chandeliers, and beautiful works of art.
The five-story building has rooms and chambers decorated with the finest modern Vietnamese arts and crafts. The ground floor room has a boat-shaped table that was often used for conferences. Upstairs, a room called Phu Dau Rong was where Nguyen Van Thieu received foreign delegations. The residential quarters are in the back of the building. On the third floor, there is a card-playing room. This floor also possesses a terrace with a heliport where a helicopter is parked. The fourth floor was used for dancing, and even had a casino. The most interesting part of the building is probably the basement containing a network of tunnels, a telecommunication centre, and a war room.
Visitors get a chance to see all this as well as Thieu's office, the basketball-court-size cabinet room and conference hall, guest halls, a dance hall, card-playing rooms, the state room and an international reception room with elephant tusks and carved teak furniture. On the terrace on the roof is a helicopter pad. There are 95 rooms in all and they cover a total floor space of 20,000 square meters (65,000 square feet).
Worth a look are the “rumpus room,” with gold-leaf beams, laminated shelving and linoleum floors; the main dining room, dominated by a painting of the palace’s architect, Ngo Viet Thu; the marble-sheethed columns at the entrance; a reception room coated in gold lacquerware and a desk for the President Thieu that was purposely built higher than the seats used by guests; and a den with a barrel-shaped boat and oversized sofa. The rooftop mediation center was used by Thieu as a disco.
On the grounds of the estate are lotus ponds, a relaxation area called the Four Directions Pavilion, topiary gardens, a guest house with 33 rooms, a reserve generator with an output of 350 KVA, tennis courts, a Highland house on stilts, and a park with trees and flowers. Today, you can also see the Vietcong tank that crashed through main gate of the palace on April 30, 1975, and an F5-E fighter that dropped bombs on the palace.
In the final days of his rule Thieu spent much of times in the basement, an underground warren of tunnels, bunkers, map rooms, long empty corridors and rooms filled with sophisticated communication equipment. One of the tunnels lead all the way to Gia Long Palace, now the home of the Revolutionary Museum.
Museum of the Revolution
Museum of the Revolution (one block from Reunification Place on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, No.65 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1) is housed in Gia Long Palace, a lovely white neo-classical mansion built in the 1880s and occupied by the French lieutenant governor. In the courtyard, partially hidden by vines and flowers is a Huey helicopter, a tank and F-5 phantom jet. Inside in the exquisite colonial halls and chambers are displays on French colonialism, diagrams of the Cu Chi Tunnels, false-bottomed arms smuggling boats, and photographs of burning monks and of dead Americans and Vietnamese taken during the Tet offensive.
The construction of the museum building started in 1885 and was completed in 1890 under the design of French architect Alfred Foulhoux. Following that, the building became the residence of Japanese Governor Minoda. It was also the office of the Nam Bo Provisional Administrative Committee (1945) and of the Republic of France High Commissioner. The building was later reconverted into the residence of the Governor of Nam Ky. Until August 1978, the building was finally turned into the Ho Chi Minh City Revolutionary Museum.
The museum displays items related to the invasion of Vietnam by French colonialists, the founding of the Vietnam Communist Party, the anti-French resistance in Saigon-Gia Dinh (1945 to 1954), the anti-American movement, the national resistance of Saigon-Gia Dinh and the Ho Chi Minh Campaign.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020