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Five minute’s stroll north up Nam Ky Khoi Nghia from Ho Chi MInh City Museum, a red flag billows proudly above the Reunification Palace. A whitewashed concrete edifice with Norodom Palace, a colonial mansion erected in 1871 to house the governor – general of Indochina. After the French departure in 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem commandeered this extravagant monument as his presidential palace, but after sustaining extensive damage in a February 1962 assassination attempt by two disaffected Southern pilots, the place was condemned and pulled down. The present building was named the Independence Palace upon completion in 1966, only to be retiled the Reunification Hall when the south fell in 1975. The reversion to the label “Palace” was doubtless made for tourist appeal.

Spookily unchanged from its working days, much of the building’s interior is a time capsule of sixties and seventies kitsch: pacing its airy banqueting rooms conference halls, and reception area. It’s hard not to think you’ve strayed into the arch – criminal’s lair in a James Bond movie. Before the tour you enter a movies room, where a potted account of Vietnamese history and the American War is screened half – hourly. Then guides usher you through the hall’s many chambers, proudly pointing out every piece of porcelain, lacquer work, rosewood and silk on display. Most interesting is the third floor, where, as well as the presidential library, there’s a curtained projection room, and an entertainment lounge complete with tacky circular sofa and barrel- shaped bar. Nearby, a set of sawn – off elephant’s feet add an eerie touch to the former command centre, where wood- paneled camber staff quarters yield archaic radio equipment and vast wall maps.

Adjoining the western edge of the Reunification Palace’s grounds is Conf Vien Van Hoa Park, a municipal park whose tree – shaded lawns are pleasant for a stroll and heave with life each Sunday. During the colonial era, the park’s northernmost corner was home to one of the linchpins of French expat society, the Cercle Spotrtif, Westerners – only sports club where the colons gathered to wswim and play tennis before sinking an aperitif and discussing the day’s events Today it functions as the Workers’ Spoets Club

 

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