Set on wellmaintained and spacious grounds, this historic building is a prominent symbol of the country’s political history. During the 19th century, Independence Palace was the site of the Norodom Palace, former residence of the French governor general. It was later occupied by South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem, and named the Presidential Palace. In 1962, much of the structure was destroyed when Diem’s own air force bombed it in a failed assassination attempt. The building was rebuilt soon after, but Diem was killed before he could move in.
It was in this former palace’s International Reception Room that succeeding President Van Thieu received potentates and presidents, until he boarded a chopper from the rooftop helipad and fled before North Vietnamese troops took over Saigon. In 1975, the South surrendered to the North, and the palace gates were knocked down by a North Vietnamese Army tank. The photograph of this event has become emblematic of the reunification of Vietnam.
Today, the interior remains largely unchanged, with high and wide corridors that open onto cavernous lobbies and reception rooms. The living quarters, built around a sunny atrium, are lavishly furnished with glittering chandeliers and elaborate antiques. Also not to be missed are the elephants’ feet in the “presidential gifts display” and the large lacquer- work piece depicting scenes from the Le Dynasty
In the basement is a bunker and military operations center, with radio transmitters and maps. Oddly, the third floor also features a gambling room.
Adjoining Independence Palace is a park with trees that offers a place to relax.