After the fall of Siagon on April 30th, 1975 and President Duong Van Minh surrendered to the North Vietnamese the city was renamed to Ho Chi Minh.
Most of the travellers I have met in Vietnam have been very negative about ho chi Minh saying it was worse than Hanoi and difficult to get around so I was not looking forward to visiting this city and only planned to stay a couple of nights and then possibly go to Cambodia. I know I never mentioned going to Cambodia but a number of travellers suggested I should go and that I would enjoy the country.
After arriving at ho chi Minh airport at about 9 pm I took the taxi company advice of Minh my tour guide in Hoi An. I was very pleased the the taxi ride to my hotel from the airport was only $7.
Going up in the elevator I noticed the hotel had just opened a new spa and the were offering 70 minute foot massages for $7.50 and were open until midnight. I did not want to wander the city on my first night so decided the foot massage was a much better option for me. And i was right it was a lovely spa that served tea and gave delightful foot massages while listening to soothing music. Well sort of soothing music- guess they had an instrumental CD of Kenny G but it must have been his Christmas CD.
The next morning I slept in until
9:30 am and missed the free hotel breakfast. So I thought I would head to the travel agency Minh had recommended and stop for some breakfast along the way. My first impressions of ho chi Minh was that it is much cleaner than Hanoi and the people are more helpful giving directions even when not asked. Most streets have lights and are much easier to cross or maybe i am just getting braver. I came across a bakery and decided to stop for breakfast. A young girl sat beside me and we started chatting. Sharon is from ireland and she too is traveling alone and had just arrived in the city. After chatting for a while we discovered we wanted to see the same things in the city and wanted to see the Mekong delta area then on to Cambodia. So we decided to visit the travel agent together. The next thing I know we are booking a day trip to the Mekong Delta, I am booking another night at my hotel and we have purchased bus tickets for $12 to leave for Phenom Penh in two days.
It was midday now so we headed to the Independence Palace. The palace was constructed in 1962. There are 4 floors, 2 mezzanines, ground floor and basement. The palace was the residence and working place for President Thieu from 1967 until april 21,1975. On april 30th the Liberation army tanks crashed through the main gate of the palace and forced president Duong Van Minh to surrender unconditionally to the revolutionary army. Many of you will recall watching that event being played on the news as I do. So it was such an incredible and emotional feeling standing on these grounds as I remember the Americans trying to get on the last helicopters out of Siagon often leaving loved ones behind and not knowing what the future would hold under the new socialist regime.
The palace is still in use today for official government events. The grounds are very pristine and as you can see by the pictures are quite lovely One of the tanks that crashed through the gates is still on the grounds as is one of the helicopters used for evacuation. The most interesting area of the palace is the basement. This is where all the military intelligence took place and there was even a bed for the president to sleep. You will notice all the old radio, computer and teletype equipment used in the 70's. Boy have we come a long way in the technology world over the last 30 years. I could not resist sitting at the president's desk to make a few calls and issue some orders.
Beside our hotel we found a place to have a shampoo, blow dry, head and facial massage all for $7.50 so we could not resist taking advantage of the before heading out for dinner and the night markets. Of course I engulfed in a foot massage before retiring for the night.