Of all the attractions in Saigon, the Independence Palace is the most prominent thanks to its immense historical value, along with its architectural grandeur and prime location. Taking a tour of the Independence Palace is a golden chance to witness a close-up of how the Vietnam War ended – such an important event that brought Vietnam peace and the two once separated Northern and Southern sides of the country reunited.
The Story of the Independence Palace
The colonial era: The building was named Norodom and was used by the French governors as their residence and office. The interior bore the Neo-Baroque architectural style with the construction materials imported directly from France.
Paintings and pictures of the Norodom Palace in its heyday
Word War II: Japan took over Indochina from France as part of their feat, and the Norodom Palace became the headquarter of the Japanese officials
Post World War II: in 1955, the Ngo Dinh Diem regime, representing the Republic of Vietnam and financed by America, was established. The palace was then renamed to the Independence Palace and became the office and residence of Ngo Dinh Diem and his family.
Vietnam War: The rebellious bombing in February 1962 left the palace in irreparable damage, and as a result, President Ngo Dinh Diem ordered to rebuild the place entirely. The construction of the new palace started in 1962 with the design owing to the Vietnamese architecture Ngo Viet Thu. However, Ngo Dinh Diem couldn’t make it to see the new palace as he and his brother had been assassinated before the construction finished. The Independence Hall served as Nguyen Van Thieu home and office from 1967 – 1975, until the historic day of 30th April, 1975, when a tank from the North Vietnam army crashed through the gate, marking the victory that would unite the nation.
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The name of the palace was later changed to Reunification Palace (Dinh Thong Nhat), but the locals and sometimes even expats still remember and refer to it as the Independence Palace (Dinh Doc Lap).
The instructions and guides at the palace mainly provide the stories since the official inauguration of the Independence Palace in October 1966. However, since the attraction goes beyond a place of interest and carries such a great piece of Vietnam’s history that we would recommend visiting with a Private Tour Guide in Saigon to learn about the full picture.
How to Get to the Independence Palace
Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1
Its front gate is at the three-way intersection of Le Duan Street and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, so you can easily recognize the building from afar. If you are staying in hotels in District 1, it would be a 20-minute walk or a 5-minute ride to the attraction. It is also a short walk from the Saigon Central Post Office and Notre Cathedral Dame, two of the other Saigon primary attractions in Saigon’s city center.
Independence Palace Opening Hours
The palace opens for visitors from Monday to Sunday (including Vietnamese holidays)
Morning: 7:30 AM – 11 AM
Afternoon: 1 PM – 4 PM
Independence Palace Entrance Fee
Buy your ticket at the office to the right of the main gate, then follow the instruction sign inside the office to enter the main hall.
Including the exhibit and the palace:
Adult: VND 65,000
Child: VND 15,000
Palace admission ticket:
Adult: VND 40,000
Child: VND 10,000
Guided tour: VND 350,000/group of less than 25 people
Electric car: VND 15,000/pax
Independence Palace Audio Guide
The Audio Guide’s launch offers a better experience as an aid to the docent’s guide at the Independence Palace. You will be provided with a headset and can choose from six available languages (English, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese). A presentation in the selected language on the headphones allows you to understand the historical attraction more thoroughly.
***Notes: Ticket price does not include docent and audio guide; you can request one at the information or front gate booth for a different ticket price. A group with a docent is limited to 25 adults/group and 50 kids/group. After the tour, you can watch a 25-minute documentary about the Independence Palace.
Price: VND 90,000/set
Regulations for Visiting the Independence Palace
* Follow the posted instructions and the security guard’s instruction
* Wear appropriate clothing. Shorts and dresses are allowed, but not too flashy outfits
* Leave large luggage, food, and drink outside of the palace
* Do not bring weapons, toxic and combustible substances inside
* No pets and animals allowed
* Most of the halls inside the palace have red ribbons hung on the outside, meaning you’re not allowed to step in or touch the displayed objects
* If you break any rules, you will be forced to leave by the security guards and held responsible for any intended damages
Visitors are not allowed to step inside the rooms
Comfortable and breathable clothing is advised as a lot of walking is expected to explore the entire building.
What to See inside the Independence Palace
1. The First Floor
The Cabinet Room
Most meetings of the Presidents and Ministers of the old government were organized in this room. From 1967 – 1975, there were five reshuffles in the Cabinet with the person who held the longest term being General Tran Thien Khiem. In the end, at 10 AM on 30th April 1975, the Saigon Radio Station gave the announcement from President Duong Van Minh that the Republic’s army had surrendered and transferred their power to the Provisional Revolutionary Government.
The State Banqueting Hall
This room was used for notable events held at the palace with a capacity of up to 100 guests.
The Central Staircase
The Conference Hall
In this room, on 21st April, 1975, President Nguyen Van Thieu announced the US government’s decision to stop their support to the Republic of Vietnam government and withdraw from Vietnam. After that, Vice President Tran Van Huong continued to manage the palace but was later replaced by General Duong Van Minh. Since the reunification day, the Conference Hall has been utilized for high-level political meetings.
2. The Second Floor
National Security Council Chamber
This room was where the President met with his advisors and generals. On the walls, there are maps of other countries and the map showing the situation of each combat zone in Vietnam. In March 1975, from this room, President Nguyen Van Thieu ordered some forces to withdraw from Hue because of the attack of Viet Minh soldiers.
The Presidential Office
This office is where the President worked every day. Because the death of Ngo Dinh Diem had happened before the palace was rebuilt by architect Ngo Viet Thu in 1966, he did not have the chance to stay in the palace. Therefore, the palace was later handed over to the new president, Nguyen Van Thieu.
The Presidential Reception Room
In 1972, Henry Kissinger – the national security advisor of the USA – met with President Nguyen Van Thieu in the room to persuade him to sign in the Agreement that would cease hostilities in Vietnam, but the President did not accept the suggestion.
There are two parts of the room; one is for foreign countries’ ambassadors, and one is for the Republic of Vietnam governors.
The Vice-Presidential Reception Room
This reception room was used for meetings between the Vice President and his distinguished guests. It is decorated with many types of unique furniture, including two oil paintings drawn by artist Thai Van Ngon.
The Ambassadors Chamber
Architect Nguyen Van Minh designed the room based on Japanese style art. The big “Binh Ngo Dai Cao” picture hanging on the wall describes peaceful Vietnamese life in the 15th century. Besides that, eight fire sconces are lit at every special ceremony.
Before 1975, most of the embassies of other countries in Saigon were close to the Independence Palace. Many ambassadors presented their credentials to the President of the Republic of Vietnam in this room. On 18th April 1975, the last person to give the presentation of his credentials in this place was Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Hitomi.
The Private Area of The President’s Family
Behind the Ambassadors Chamber is a small rock garden, a display of rare gifts, and the President’s private family space with bedrooms and a dining room.
The President’s Family area lies behind the Ambassador Chamber
The Vice Presidential Office
The person who worked with President Nguyen Van Thieu in the Independence Palace was Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky. He had been trained in the air force centers in the US and France and used to be a Prime Minister and President of the Central Executive Committee before becoming the Vice President of the Republic of Vietnam. His office was just opened to tourists in 2016. The painting of the beautiful woman hanging on the wall in this room is Madame Tuyet Mai, the Vice President’s wife.
The workplaces for the Vice President and the Vice President’s wife are placed opposite each other
Next to the office are the stairs to the President’s bedroom
3. The Third Floor
The First Lady’s Reception Room
This room is where the First Lady met with her guests – representatives of national and international organizations and other leaders from many countries. The decoration in the room was quite simple, with statues of the Vietnamese God of Fortune, Property, and Longevity, representing the Asian belief and a cubist picture, a Western-style painting. Besides the furniture, the lighting in the shape of a blooming flower add a ladylike touch.
The Game Room
The room was for the President and his officers to enjoy recreational activities such as playing cards and billiards during their break.
From this angle, you can have a full view of the Reunification Palace’s front and its surroundings. The floor was meant to create a quiet and peaceful area for the President to relax and reflect.
4. The Bunker
There is a bunker under the Independence Palace, which acted as an emergency hideout and the command center in times of war. There are stairs down to the bunker at all levels of the palace and we would recommend going from the rooftop. The command center in the basement is equipped with different means of communication, old radio broadcasting devices, battle maps, and a bed for the President.
Stairs to the bunker from the rooftop
The Command Central
All messages and information from combat zones were received in this room. Besides, there were maps of combat zones in the whole country and figures of military forces joining the Vietnam War hanging on the walls.
This department ensured that all information was transmitted to battlefields throughout Vietnam and the military forces and Embassies of the Republic of Vietnam in other Southeast Asian countries.
5. The Rooftop
The Rooftop Hall
The hall was initially built as a place for the President to unwind and relax after a day of hard work, but gradually it became a room for entertainment with a hardwood floor specially made for dancing, and a stage for artists to perform.
The UH1 Helicopter
This remnant is exhibited on the roof of the building; it was used for inspection tours of President Nguyen Van Thieu. The helicopter was manufactured by Bell, a US weapon brand, and used in the Vietnam War from 1962. It can take off and land on many surfaces and be used for combat, training, war missions, and emergency evacuations.
The two red circles mark where the bombs hit the palace in 1962 by the 2 rebellious pilots of the Republic of Vietnam
6. Behind the Independence Palace
Cafes and Restaurants
There are cafes and restaurants inside the premise for you to enjoy a nice cup of Vietnamese coffee, and nearby are a shooting range and a kids’ playground
The Mercedes Car and the Jeep
Both used the main means of transportation to drive the President outside, and now a popular outdoor exhibition for tourists to snap a picture.
7. Armament Remnants
The 843 tank produced in Russia is a T54 tank, and it was the first tank to try to ramp down the gates of the Independence Palace on 30th April 1975. The first tank failed to bring down the gate, and it was the 390 tank that crushed the gate successfully and moved into the central yard of the Independence Palace. The historical moment marked the success of the long Ho Chi Minh revolutionary campaign and the official independence and reunification of Vietnam.
The 390 tank was produced in China and was a kind of T59 tank. Both of the tanks exhibited in the yard of the palace are just replicas of the real tanks. The actual remnants are displayed in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
The F-5E Aircraft
At 8:30 AM on 8th April 1975, pilot Nguyen Thanh Trung, the spy of the Vietnamese Revolutionary Force, flew this F-5E aircraft and bombed the Independence Palace to threaten Nguyen Van Thieu’s government. That was the second time the palace was raided after the attack of the other two pilots, which destroyed the left-wing of the building on 27th February 1962.
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Conclusion on the Saigon Attractions: The Independence Palace
Going through many historical events, the Independence Palace is a real witness of the Vietnam War with the US and the Indochina War with the French. You should not miss out on this travel attraction to learn more about Vietnam’s history on your trip to Saigon.
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