Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

Independence Palace (Vietnamese spelling: Dinh Độc Lập) has been a symbol of unification and independence in Vietnam since 1975. Apart from a historical place you can visit, it also functions as a space for welcoming foreign ambassadors and staging national events. 

As a building that’s been center stage to much turbulence and fascinating history, Independence Palace hosts numerous activities to promote national unity and identity. It’s often highlighted in documentaries and many schools and various educational institutes schedule visits here. 

The most common misconception about this place is the name Reunification Palace, which is incorrect. Independence Palace is the officially recorded name of the building. 

Reunification Hall (Hội trường Thống Nhất) is the name of the department which oversees the Independence Palace. Reunification Hall is also not an actual hall inside the palace. And, Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất) is just the result of mixing up the two.

Things to See in the Independence Palace

Things to See in the Independence Palace
[ image by Nguyễn Hoàng Anh ]

The Independence Palace was established as one of 10 Special National Heritage Sites in 2009. When you come here, you can experience how this iconic building fulfilled its presidential and political purposes.

The approach to Independence Palace takes you through a meticulously designed garden.

The entrance to the building then opens up majestically into the Grand Hall, and various doors lead off to meeting rooms, VIP reception rooms, and personal offices. There are bedrooms, and even emergency bunkers in the basement, with detailed information about each room and the objects inside it. 

The highlighted objects on display outside include the replica of the T54B tank numbered 843 which crashed the auxiliary gate on the fateful day of 30th of April, 1975.

There are audio guides in English, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, Spanish, Russian, Thai, and Vietnamese. On the ground floor, visitors can watch the documentary on the History of the Independence Palace with English, French, Japanese, and Chinese subtitles each in a separate room.

One of the key exhibitions is the History from Norodom Palace to the Independence Palace 1868 – 1966’ which you can choose to include in your ticket or not. The exhibition is in a French-style building separate from the palace but still in the same area. 

The exhibits detail the time period when the Norodom Palace transitioned to the Independence Palace. This includes blueprints of the palace of different time periods, information about the architect Ngo Viet Thu, as well as Ngo Dinh Diem and Bao Dai.

Interesting Facts about the Independence Palace

The T54B tank numbered 390 which crashed the main gate
 The T54B tank numbered 390 which crashed the main gate
[ image by Alice Hamilton ]

1. According to Feng Shui, the palace is situated on the head of a dragon line, hence another name Dragon Head Palace (Phủ Đầu Rồng). And the tail of the dragon is pinned down by a nowadays popular hangout spot— Turtle Lake (hồ Con Rùa).

2. There’s land planning for tourist and preservation purposes around the perimeter. Buildings within the radius of 500m – 300m get gradually shorter towards the building. And within the radius of 200 – 300m, no buildings can be taller than the main building which is 26m high.

3. There was a light projection music show on the surface of the building on the 13th and 14th of December, 2013. The show incorporated 3D mapping technology and a live orchestra to depict the beauty of Vietnamese culture and tradition.

The History of the Independence Palace

The History of the Independence Palace
The ‘History from Norodom Palace to the Independence Palace 1868 – 1966’ exhibit
[ image by Alice Hamilton ]

Construction: The building began in 1868 as Norodom Palace for the governor of Cochinchina during French Colonialism. In March of 1945, the Norodom Palace became an office for Japanese Fascists. In September of the same year, French Colonialists came back and continued to operate in the palace.

Renaming:  On Sept 7th, 1954, Norodom Palace was handed over to Ngo Dinh Diem (Ngô Ðình Diệm) who renamed it Independence Palace. Earlier the same year, he became the Prime Minister of the Vietnamese Government.

Bao Dai was the last monarch of Vietnam and became chief of state of the State of Vietnam from 1949 to 1955. However, with the help of the US Government, Ngo Dinh Diem ousted Bao Dai in 1955 in order to eliminate French Colonialist power, and established himself as the president.

Assassination: Many people weren’t pleased with Diem’s rule and a number of assassination attempts were made. He was radically opposed to the Việt Minh, religions other than Catholicism, and brought US troops into Vietnam. 

In 1962, the army of South Vietnam sent two AD6 planes to bomb the palace. Due to the damage, Ngo Dinh Diem had the palace rebuilt in its entirety on the existing foundation. The reconstruction started in the same year and Ngo Dinh Diem moved to Gia Long Palace— now the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. 

Coup d’etat: In 1963, a second coup d’etat (the first one was in 1960) resulted in the capture and execution of Ngo Dinh Diem. Even though Diem ordered the reconstruction of the palace, he never actually spent a day there.

The present-day Independence Palace was finished in 1966. The person to have spent time here the longest time there was Nguyễn Văn Thiệu— the second president of South Vietnam from 1967 to 1975.

Independence: On April 30th, 1975, the tank numbered 843 crashed the auxiliary gate, followed by tank numbered 390 which crashed the main gate. This is the day that marked the reunification of Vietnam.

The Architecture of the Independence Palace

The Architecture of the Independence Palace
[ image by Nguyễn Hoàng Anh ]

The architect behind Independence Palace was the internationally acclaimed Ngo Viet Thu (Ngô Viết Thụ) who won the Grand Prix de Rome architectural award in 1955. He was also the hand behind the Hue Cathedral, Dalat Market, and many other modern masterpieces of Vietnam.

Construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966. The design combines the essence of Vietnamese philosophy, tradition, and the nature of the people within a modern architectural design.

One of the main inspirations for the design is Chinese characters and their meaning. The entire building, looking from above, is designed along the Chinese character 吉 meaning providence or fortune. 

The building front has characterized shapes which portray 口 (mouth) to emphasize teaching and freedom of speech, 中 (middle) as a homonym ‘loyalty’, and 三 (three) for the three elements required for a successful nation. These are:  humanity, knowledge, and strength indicated by 王 (king), which is transformed into 主 (ownership/ independence), and the overall encompassing character is 興 (prosperity).

The palace surroundings are covered in a wealth of green. From the grass fields to plants brought in from all over the world, and a lotus pond resembling those of traditional Vietnamese temples and pagodas.

Visiting the Independence Palace

The UH1 helicopter used during the time of Nguyen Van Thieu and the location of the bombing in 1962
The UH1 helicopter used during the time of Nguyen Van Thieu and the location of the bombing in 1962
[ image by Alice Hamilton ]

Independence Palace and Surrounding Locations

Best Time to Visit the Independence Palace

Into the bunker
Into the bunker
[ image by Alice Hamilton ]

Independence Palace opens every day of the week, including all holidays. If you happen to have the chance, coming on special days such as New Year’s Eve or Independence Day (September 2nd) is more lively and enjoyable. 

  • Ticket Hours: 08:00 – 16:00 (closes from 11:00 – 13:00)
  • Visiting Hours: 08:00 – 17:30
  • May close on special occasions like VIP visits.

Ticket Price for the Independence Palace

Ticket Price for the Independence Palace
[ image by Alice Hamilton ]

You can choose to purchase the ticket with or without the exhibition ‘From Norodom Palace to Independence Palace 1868 – 1966’.

Entrance ticket including ‘From Norodom Palace to Independence Palace 1868 – 1966’

  • Adult: 65 000 VND per person
  • Children: 15 000 VND per person
  • Buy 5 tickets and get 2 free tickets for the electric car ride around the palace.

Entrance ticket excluding ‘From Norodom Palace to Independence Palace 1868 – 1966’:

  • Adult: 40 000 VND per person
  • Children: 10 000 VND per person

Personal tour guides are 40 000 VND per guide, and an audio guide is 65 000 VND.

Tips for Visiting the Independence Palace

A documentary room Independence Palace
A documentary room
[ image by Alice Hamilton ]
  • Wear clothes covering knees 
  • Follow the instructions during the visit.
  • Do not bring luggage along (backpack is fine), food or drinks, or animals into the building.

What’s Around the Independence Palace

What’s Around the Independence Palace
[ image by Alice Hamilton ]

One of the best ways to see the Independence Palace is with an expert and informative guide. Tours often include a number of places in one morning or in the day. If you’re crafting your own itinerary, here are some of the best places nearby: 

The Ben Thanh Market, Central Post Office, War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, and the Saigon Notre Dame are all within a few blocks of here.

How to get to the Independence Palace

The Vice-president’s drawing room
The Vice-president’s drawing room
[ image by Roger Shitaki ]

On Foot: If you’re in District 1, walking is actually the most convenient way and you can easily walk to nearby destinations. 

Grab: Similar to Uber, a Grab Car is cheaper than a taxi, and a Grab Bike is really convenient if you’re by yourself. You only need a phone number to receive SMS and an Internet connection. For more information, see their English homepage

Bus: With Google Maps, after entering your location and destination, choose the Public Transportation tab. Each bus has a course number. Google Maps will show the bus to take, where to get off, and the extra walking distance. You can also use busmap.vn to see detailed information on the bus number and route. One-stop tickets usually cost around 7 000 VND.

Taxi: Taxis are easy to stop along the street or you can call one from your hotel front desk. Major taxi companies also have English smart apps for your phone. Search your app store for Vinasun or Mai Linh taxi companies.

Private Motorbike Tour: For a reasonable price, you’ll have a personal tour guide who can also take you to local go-to places. You can find these tours on websites like Tripadvisor.

Motorbike Rental Services: You can find many of these services online. They will require you to bring your passport along with your international and national driving license. It’s recommended to purchase insurance.

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