The Reunification Palace in Vietnam
The Reunification Palace, located in Ho Chi Minh City, is one of the most historically and architecturally interesting sights in Vietnam, and it shows. It might not offer a lot of spectacle for the casual tourist, but inside it remains a perfectly preserved piece of mid-century Modern Vietnamese, from the open air party solon up top to the bunkers buried below, and it’s stunning.
This beautifully modern building, unique in Vietnam, saw every historic event that occurred in South Vietnam from the date of the Geneva accord and the withdrawal of the French to the moment that Liberation forces crashed through the front iron gate on April 30, 1975, terminating the regime of South Vietnam.
Let’s take a tour through time and space!
Dining room at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

This is the state banqueting hall. Banquets with up to 100 guests were held in this room. One of the most notable was the inauguration dinner of President Nguyen Van Thieu and his VP on October 31, 1967. The rooms gold color scheme was intended to create a convivial atmosphere.

art at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

It’s focal point is the massive painting in 7 sections by the Palace architect, Ngo Viet Thu, representing a scene from a Chinese poem known as an evocation of national unity. It’s opening lines are “The land is as lovely as a length of brocade, all its growing things ripening in peace.

Presidential office at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

Nguyen Van Thieu was born in 1923 in Tri Thuy village in Ninh Thuan province. He was trained at the officer’s school in Da Lat and proceeded to finish his education in the USA and France.

Having taken part in the coup d’etat against President Diem in November 1963, he made a rapid rise to power, becoming Prime Minister with the additional stints as Minister of Defense and National Assembly President, then President of the Southern Republic in 1967. Thieu wrote to the US President on 25 March 1975, pleading for an air assault against the areas held by Vietnamese Revolutionary Forces and for continuing American support for the Southern Republic – he was denied. He resigned on April 21, 1975, and fled South Vietnam. He died in 2001 in Boston.

room at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

In the first of the two presidential reception rooms, the President’s chair is placed on a platform in front of a striped panel symbolizing the flag of the Republic of Vietnam. Facing the President’s throne-like sea is a chair intended for the guest of honor. Both are carved with a dragon heads. Other chairs are carved with a phoenix head or characters symbolizing longevity.

Between October 19-23 1972, six meetings were held in this room between President Theiu and Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was attempting to convince Thieu to accept the agreement that was eventually enacted as the Paris Peace Accords (January 1973).

reception room at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam
The second reception room is considerably more simple, but is still a brilliant mashup of modern Western architecture and Vietnamese influences.
rug at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam
light fixture

Totally unique in terms of official Vietnamese buildings, the building has stood the test of time well and continues to impress with this modern style, coincidently just coming somewhat back into vogue now. Just like Khoi Thom, the Western and Vietnamese aesthetics play together quite well.

Ancient art at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

Modern lines meet ancient-styled art in many of the rooms. I wonder how much that table weighs?

Modern art at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

I REALLY like this piece covering one of the second floor room walls! Pity these nasty air con devices are in the way… or are they part of the work?

private cinema at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

Entertainment was a priority for President Theiu, and he had many modern conveniences such as a private theatre/cinema installed for him and his buddies. Also maybe foreign dignitaries, if they’re in the mood.

modern furniture at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

This room didn’t have a sign, but my GOD I am in love with that circle couch!!! Scratch that, I’m in love with that whole room – everything from the rocking chair in the bottom right to the shelving units along the back to curtains is totally my bag.

Solon at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

This gorgeous space on the roof of the palace, the Salon of the 4 Cardinal Directions, was also known as the meditation room, and was intended by the architect as a space in which the head of State would find the calm necessary to reflect with due care before taking decisions determining the country’s future.

President Thieu, apparently lacking any sense of irony or foreshadowing, transformed this space into a party room with space for the entertainment of 100+ guests. The dance floor was constructed from high-quality hardwood and the windows were constructed from blast-proof glass 12mm thick.

On April 30, 1975, at 11:30 AM, Lieutenant Than raised the flag of the Provisional Revolutionary Government from the flagpole above this room, having first taken down the flag of the newly dissolved Republic of Viet Nam.

This is the view of Le Duan Street extending from the front gates of the Palace. I can see the appeal of this location as a party room, incidentally.

view from the solon at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

Out the back of the Solon is a view of the upper terrace and helipad. The red circles indicate where bombs were dropped on April 8th, 1975.

roof at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

Beneath the palace lies a major bunker.

early computers at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam
Ancient computers! Cool!

Designed by the Lt. Col. Phan Van Dien, the construction of the Presidential bunker took 3 months. The rooms are linked by narrow passageways and protected by reinforced concrete walls. It consists of two sections.

bunker maps at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam

The command centre has a dept of .6 meters and is protected by a concrete wall capable of resisting a 500kg blast. Its telecommunication equipment was installed by the Americans in the 1960s.

The maximum security shelter, at a depth of 2.5m, has a blast wall capable of resisting explosion of up to 2,000kg. A staircase gave the president direct access to the shelter from his second floor office. During the bombing of the Palace on April 8, 1975 the President’s whole family took refuge in the shelter.

Tanker at the Reunification Palace in Vietnam
The grounds of the palace are 12ha in size, bordering four major streets, and filled with gardens and enormous trees. There are several tanks on display. Whether they’re the same ones that crashed through that iron gate 40 years ago, I can’t say (I didn’t see any signs), but it’s interesting to see them in context.
All in all, the Palace is now a monument frozen in time. It’s gone from the site of a French Governor’s house to headquarters for Vietnam’s only democracy to a triumphant symbol of North Vietnamese efforts to unify their fractured country. It looks pretty damn nice these days, even if it’s just basically a mausoleum.
All in all, totally worth a 30k stroll some morning or afternoon (but be warned, they’re closed for mandatory naps between 11:30am-1pm). It’s not the most exhilarating attraction, but this artistically interesting building is a feast for the eyes! If you’re into history or architecture, please do yourself a favor and check it out, and then grab brunch at Au Parc just a block away (don’t miss the Turkish brunch!).
P.S. Some of these weird facts and dates I’m reproducing from the signs littered through the palace, some verbatim. Vietnam ignores copyright and ownership issues on a daily basis… when it Rome! Just in case you mistakenly think I read a book or something about this. ha ha. No, sorry. I’m just hoping to provide a bit of context for both of us.
Do you have any other interesting sources of information about this building? Please leave in the comments – I really enjoyed this tour, and would like to learn more!