140613 Saigon Day 1 Part 2: The Independence Palace and a Discovery of My Travelling Style

Solo travelling will let you discover your true self. At least that’s one of my realisations.

Did I previously mention that my tourism teacher is going to kill me if she finds out how I cramped a lot of activities into my itinerary for just one morning? Out of four or five landmarks I planned to visit before lunchtime, I only ended up with one.


Because my wanderlust was so intense that I want to explore every corner and space of the first site I visited. (facepalm)

Accidentally zoomed in selfie at Saigon's Independence Palace
Accidentally Zoomed In: When you attempt a ‘selfie’ but forgot to return the Zoom settings of your lens to normal. “Nice one, Ethan. Just nice!” (rolls eyes) (laugh)

The Independence Palace (Dinh Độc Lập) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was the first landmark I ever visited in a foreign country.

It is known by many names:

  • Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất) – The current name of the landmark. It was named in 1975 after the negotiation convention between the communist North Vietnam and their counterparts in the South were completed;
  • Dragon’s Head Palace – because fengshui experts said that the landmark is on a dragon’s head.
  • Norodom Palace – its old name way back 1873 after Norodom, the then-king of Cambodia (1834–1904)

Aside from the fact that it is one of the closest landmarks from my hotel, Kaiteki Hotel, I really wanted to visit the Independence Palace because of its name (and history). Visiting it was apt for the sort-of theme for my solo travelling — a move to prove to myself that I can get out of the box on my own and survive. Also, if you noticed, I started the travel on June 12, which is the date for the Philippine’s Independence Day.

I think “Independence Palace” is the most popular name to call the landmark, but for some reason, I often receive a confused look from the locals every time I tell them that I am going to that place. Maybe its Vietnamese names are more popular to them. The name was coined around mid-1950s after the Republic of Vietnam was established with Ngô Đình Diệm declaring himself as president. He was so unpopular that his own troops killed him and his brother in a coup d’etat in 1963.

Entrance to the Independence Palace

I was surprised, in a delightful way, when I arrived outside the Independence Palace. There was a huge banner with a familiar flag on it. <3 [caption id="attachment_929" align="aligncenter" width="600"]outside The Independence Palace, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on June 13, 2014 Even other countries herald the Filipino’s independence day…[/caption]

Entrance fee was 30,000 VND. I read in a blog that I should buy “the book” as part of my entrance so that I will learn more about the place. And since I am so interested in knowing its history and stories, I decided to buy one. The Reunification Palace book cost 50,000 VND. Until now, I haven’t read it even just the first page (facepalm).

Independence Palace book and museum ticket (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
The book on the Independence Palace (50,000 VND), and the entry ticket (30,000 VND) to the museum.
front side of Independence Palace in Saigon, Vietnam
Ethan selfie at the Independence Palace or Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City
That obligatory selfie…

While I was roaming around the first level of the palace, I found an information booth or tourist help desk. From there, you can request for a tour in the area (I’m not sure if it was free and you can just give tips to the guide). It was also here when I realized what I was looking for… an information brochure for tourists in the palace! I thought the book I bought at the entrance can provide me guides while I was touring the area. It was a history book! Hahaha (double facepalm)

The Reunification Palace building map and brochure
The free tourist brochure with map of each level of the Palace

The information brochure was free! And it has maps on every level of the palace. And that’s one of the reasons why it took me around 3 hours to roam around — I want to explore every nook and space and capture them with my camera.

A Haven of Inspiration for the Interior Designers

The word “Palace” in the landmark’s name should conjure images of well-designed interiors and stunning atmospheres. And true enough, you will find these beautiful sights there. While the hallways seem bland and normal, interior designers (as well as the frustrated designer such as me) will be truly delighted when they get to see how each room in the palace is designed, including the ambassador offices and conference rooms.

Although you can’t actually enter the rooms, the doors and windows are wide open for you to marvel at the stunning interiors and take photos. Don’t worry, like any other tourist landmarks, there are little signs that tell you the story of each room. (But I got bored reading though. There was too much political information for me in them)

Saigon's Independence Palace Rooms, 1st Level
Some of the rooms in the first level…
Saigon's Independence Palace Rooms, 2nd Level
2nd-level rooms

A Delight for War Historians and Those Interested in Battle Tactics

The basement level of the palace is where you can find the interesting backstage of battles. There are war rooms filled with maps of old Saigon and surrounding countries. You can see old communication equipment such as the telephone with dials. There are also huge radio units that were used to provide battle updates for tactical officers. Going through the narrow, dim basement hallways, I was astonished to imagine how this area would operate in the past if an attack was commencing or a battle was ongoing. Ah, I can imagine scenes from old films.

Ethan in Independence Palace war rooms
Some old maps in the war strategy room

Saigon's Independence Palace command centre

command centre buttons in Saigon's Independence Palace

war room area in Saigon's Independence Palace
narrow paths…

message centre in Saigon's Independence Palace

equipment in Saigon's Independence Palace

communication areas in Saigon's Independence Palace

an office in Saigon's Independence Palace

President's room - Saigon's Independence Palace
Bedroom of the president in the war rooms
President's office - Saigon's Independence Palace
The President awaits your updates…
No Entry - Saigon's Independence Palace
more basement area… but No Entry. I wonder what’s in there…
empty hallway in basement area of Saigon's Independence Palace
I was sure I was lost…. where are the people!? (panic)

For some reason, tactical strategies and battle scenes seem to spark my interest. I love to think of the logic behind each techniques and it often amaze me how the people behind every battle would think. This must be the reason for me to choose The Independence Palace as my first destination.

The Game Rooms, Ballroom, Film Theatres, Guestrooms and More

Exploring the higher levels in the Independence Palace, you will discover more interesting rooms that made you wish your dream house will have. The gaming area is loaded with card tables. The film theatre looks like those you will find in shopping centres. You can also go up the Projection Room where the rolls of films were stored. Honestly, I thought the sign means that the room is where missile attacks are planned. I must have been intoxicated with war thoughts from the basement. Haha! (embarrassed)

a hallway in the Independence Palace
indoor garden in the Reunification Palace
indoor garden in the middle of the residential hall
gigantic painting in The Independence Palace
there are interesting paintings in every area
National Security Coucil Chamber area in the Reunification Palace
Where they plan for the security of the country…
President's office in the Reunification Palace
the official President Office
theatre room in the Independence Palace
Theatre room
the game room in the Independence Palace
the Game Room
game table in the Game Room of the Independence Palace
one of the game tables in the Game Room
Projection Room in the Independence Palace
Projection Room: When I read this on the higher levels, I imagined this was for missile launching. (facepalm)
huge, old projectors in the Independence Palace
They’re actually huge projectors for the films. (facepalm) I had too much of the War Rooms. hahahaha
Study Room in the Independence Palace
The Study
Helipad and helicopter on the Independence Palace
one of my dream rides! ahhahahaha.

Tips for Solo Travellers Going to The Independence Palace

Keep in mind that there will be lots of tour groups in the palace and your self-taken photos will be photobombed by many tourists. While you can book tours through a legitimate agency, I still believe that going on a solo trip is even more fulfilling when you want to know more about the Palace and a portion of Vietnam’s history. But if you don’t have much time and you’re really not interested in wars and histories, booking a tour will be a good idea.

Worried about not learning anything? Don’t worry. There are plaques and signs providing information about the rooms and you can take time to read them if you want. Alternatively, there are lots of group tours in the area and you can just move a little closer to them when you want to listen to some explanations from the tour guides. *sneaky* … and no, I did not do that. Because I have a bad ear. (huhuhu)

Don’t forget to bring water! Although the building levels above the ground are spacious, you will get dehydrated when you’re underground. There will be a beverage dispenser somewhere but the bottles are more expensive (almost 300% higher) than those from the city’s convenience stores.

beverage dispenser in the Independence Palace
Ooooh, the sight of Heaven!
water bottles in The Reunification Palace
Yikes! they’re overpriced here. huhu (15k VND versus the 4k VND in convenience stores)

Independence Palace is closed between 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM, and by that time, everyone is requested to leave the building. It’s the time when the staff takes a break or sleeps in one of the corners. I’m amazed with this Vietnamese habit. I also recall my Vietnamese friend who suddenly becomes silent when we chat around this hour because he was already taking a nap.

There is a playground and restaurant outside the building but within the Palace grounds that you can visit while the Palace is closed during lunchtime.

playground outside the Independence Palace

In keeping up with the battle and history theme, you might want to go to the War Remnants Museum which is only a walking distance away northwest from the Palace. I was planning to go there but since it also closes during lunchtime, I wasn’t able to.

If you’re looking for a different attraction, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Central Post Office are located northeast from the Palace, also a walking distance away. You will go through Cong Xa Paris Square, a boulevard and park filled with trees and benches. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also find lots of street food here at around 25,000 VND each. But I didn’t dare buy some because I am still scared of scams and awkward scenarios. (cries)

Realising My Personal Travel Style

My visit to the Independence Palace was a trip of many firsts and can be summarised as “solo in another country.” It gave me the opportunity to realise who I am when I am travelling. It also made me realise what my real interests are and what can really make me excited.

Battle tactics and behind-the-scene operations can spark my interest. I know I have the tendency to like battle stories but going through the underground part of the Palace made me realise how excited I would be. Just imagining how old-time operations work keeps my mind running for creative ideas. I don’t know why I am interested in these stuff. It must be because back at my workplace, I used to have a project wherein I pretend to be a head of a battle scene as I distribute tasks to my team mates and beat deadlines. Or maybe I was a battle strategist in my past life? Naaah!

I’m more interested in capturing images that show perspectives. While tourists have their pictures taken in front of stunning rooms, I am busy with capturing chandeliers, ceilings and walls as well as macro-shots of buttons, dials and other what-nots. Please tell me what’s wrong with me! Hahaha. It must be because of my OC, detail-oriented nature that I somehow have a keen eye for the minute stuff. A guard even gave me a shocked, confused look when he saw me taking photos of… the stairs! *chuckle*

Hat of 1st Lt. Bui Quang Tanh, who flies the flag on the roof of Independence Palace on April 1975
Amazing memento
Mercedes car in the Independence Palace
Mercedes car
shooting range inside the Independence Palace
indoor shooting range… Reminds me of the classic Canon computer game
outdoor walkway to playground outside the Independence Palace
Just outside the kitchen area…
Tree at the Independence Palace
I wondered what this was, so I zoomed in…
potted plant on the balcony of the Independence Palace
sexy symmetry…

I’m more interested in photos of things that are meaningful in my life. Such as images of electric fans while I was perspiring in the underground hallways of the Palace, a beverage dispenser loaded with cold drinks while I was dehydrated or an open door that lead to fresh, cool air. I’m definitely your crazy kind of tourist, huh?

ordinary fan at the Reunification Palace
I’m pretty sure tourists who saw me would think, “oh boy, there’s no fan in his country?” Hahahhaa. I don’t care.

I take things slow. Either that or I am just really slow! Haha. I spent time discovering every corner of the place then I rest for a while, read my personal notes and find my next destination. I rest to take in what I just saw and discovered. It may take a while for me to digest, but it will all be memorable. I can sit in one place for several minutes or so (the longest was an hour, I guess, after I toured the entire place). Hey, I must rest! I didn’t know how many kilometres I already walked from going back and fort the entire length of each floor in the Palace. Ha! (dizzy)

I often wander aimlessly until I realised that I have a map to check. When you’re alone in travelling and when you’re an introvert like me, your mind tends to wander aimlessly. From time to time, I have to check the information brochure to remind me that there are still lots of places for me to discover within the Palace. It’s a good thing though because you get to really be in the moment wherever you are. You will also have the chance to discover interesting areas by accident… such as the playground outside the building (after I wander aimlessly inside the kitchen area).

tank on the property grounds of the Independence Palace
This could have been the first tank that I would touch in my entire life, but there was a restrictive rope around it and my arms are short. (sigh)

Solo Travelling Lesson(s) Learned

“When travelling in a group, you will learn more about the place. When travelling solo, you will learn more about yourself.” ~ Ethan Llemit

Author: ethan

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