EXPLORING SAIGON’S WAR HISTORY

Travelling to Saigon and sightseeing as we explore Saigon’s famous historical war sites

Saigon sightseeing – exploring Saigon’s war history: Prior to arriving in Saigon, I had a rough sightseeing plan mapped out for the five days I’d be there. For any newcomer there’s a number of attractions in District One which most put on their tourist bucket lists: Ben Tanh Market, the Grand Post Office, the Catholic Cathedral, and the Opera House. I’d already seen them and decided to concentrate on the War History Sites in and around Saigon.

Saigon's Grand Post Office

The Grand Post Office is a bucket list sightseeing attraction in Saigon.

Exploring The Independence Palace & War Renmnants Museum in Saigon

There are two main sites to visit as we explore some of Saigon’s most interesting war memorial sites within the city’s precincts (District 1). These are the INDEPENDENCE PALACE and the WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM. Both these sites are easy enough to get to and can be visited independently (no guide).

Visiting The Independence Palace, Vietnam

This historical landmark of the Vietnam War era is located in the center of District One (it’s easy enough to find on Google Maps). The palace was the end point for the second Indochina War. On April 30th, 1975, two North Vietnamese Army tanks crashed through the gates to proclaim victory over the Southern forces.

The grounds of Independence Palace

The tanks which crashed through the gates on April 30th, 1975

On-site – Exploring Saigon’s War HistoryThe entry fee is 65,000 VND and if you want the audio tour, that’s an additional 90,000 VND. There’s some military hardware of the day – tanks, field guns, helicopters, and fighter jets – placed around the site to enhance the historical aspect of the tour. For anyone who has an interest in recent Southeast Asian history (the Vietnam War Years) this place is worth an hour of your time.

Independence Palace in Saigon - exploring saigon's war history

The Independence Palace Building in Saigon.

A Brief Tour Guide of the War Remnants Museum

This site has the biggest collection of US Military hardware of any in Saigon. This includes helicopters, tanks, field artillery, and fighter jets. All of this hardware is sitting outside the museum building. Check it out before heading into the air-conditioned relief of the building.

The war remnants museum - exploring Saigon's war history

The military hardware on the grounds of the War Remnants Museum.

What It’s Like In The Saigon War Remnants Museum Internal Area

To be honest, the internal area of the museum is a bit of a propaganda statement against the French and American Military/Governments. It’s also a statement regarding the country’s thirty years of struggle for independence. There are rooms dedicated to the Dien Bien Phu Conflict, war crimes, agent orange use, and the political and social influence effect at the time. There’s also lot’s of photographs, placards, and communist jargon from that era.

The Dien Ben Phu Conflict - exploring Saigon's war history

Part of the room dedicated to the Dien Bien Phu Conflict

Other War History Sites Located Close To Saigon

Further afield (outside the city) are another two excellent locations for exploring Saigon’s war history: the VC tunnels at CU CHI and the VC CAMP at Can Gio Biosphere (aka Monkey Island). The best way of of getting to these sites is on a guided tour through a travel agent. They provide transport to and from your hotel, a lunch, and the entry fees for the sites. The average cost for a group tour is 30 – 40 USD per person.

The Cu Chi Tunnels - exploring saigon's war history

Squeezing through the small tunnels at Cu Chi

A Walkthrough of the Ben Duoc (Cu Chi Tunnels)

The majority of tourists going to Cu Chi invariably go to the most popular location, Ben Dinh, which is closer to Saigon, has less travel time, and is easier for the tour companies. Accordingly, it’s the most crowded site of the two. I’d done a bit of research on-line and found out Ben Duoc, although a few kilometers further, is actually the better site. It is larger, is located in a jungle setting, and has more tunnels available to explore.

The cost for the tour, with a guide, was very reasonable US 30 Dollars (tour booked with MT TRAVEL on Pham Ngu Lao Road). Pick-up time from the hotel was 8.30 am and travel time to the site was around two hours (this included a 20-minute drinks and toilet break at the disabled artists center).

Ben Duoc tunnels

About to head into one of the tounnels open to the public

Other Historical Sites At Ben Duoc – The Military Museum

As a bonus there’s a military museum, just outside the entry gate to the tunnels area, where sightseers are given around 20 minutes to look at the war damaged tanks, helicopters and a very impressive C-130 transport plane. You then have about two hours exploring the tunnels’ site.

Ben Duoc site - exploring Saigon's war history

Some of the US Military Hardware on the grounds of the Ben Duoc site

Exploring The Ben Duoc Tunnels

The local guide takes you on a very interesting tour, while explaining the history and function of the tunnels. Sightseers are given the opportunity to enter several tunnel locations. Back in the day, the only access was through tiny manholes which the larger US soldiers couldn’t squeeze through. Stairways have now been put in place to allow easier access for tourists. The stairways take you down to an initial bunker room, which allows you to prepare yourself for the crawl through the tunnels. The longest tunnel, for a tourism experience, is about thirty meters. Even so, it’s a real squeeze. If you’re claustrophobic, it’s probably an experience to avoid as the tunnels are dimly lit.

Cu Chi manhole

The tiny entrance used by the Viet Cong to enter the tunnels

Wildlife Watching In Vietnam – The Can Gio Biosphere (Monkey Island)

This is another historical VC site, located approximately 53 km south of Saigon. The main attraction is the VC camp, but a tour also includes stops to see monkey’s and crocodiles. I booked a tour through MT Travel (Pham Gnu Lao Road) and the price was a very reasonable 650,000 VND. Pick-up time from the hotel was 07.30 am and travel time to the site was just two hours.

NOTE: If you want to make this tour, try to avoid weekends and public holidays as the site can get very crowded on these days. Additionally, travel time to get there could take up to three hours (mainly due to the waiting time for the ferry crossing en-route).

The Viet Cong Camp

One of the historical displays at the Viet Cong Camp.

How To Feed The Monkeys At The Can Gio Biosphere

Once you arrive onsite the tour leader will give a briefing on how to feed the monkeys, and not get bitten. For those wanting to get involved, the tour leader will give you a handful of peanuts. The monkeys, as soon as they see that peanut bag, start swarming around.

For the unwary, who haven’t taken precautions to guard personal items, you may end up losing your sunglasses or baseball cap. To get photos, without losing your phone, you’re better off letting someone else do the feeding while you stand back and click away.

Monkey Island

There’s plenty of Monkeys at the Can Gio Biosphere.

Sightseeing at the Crocodile Pond At Can Gio Biosphere (Mokey Island)

After around fifteen minutes of interacting with the monkeys the group will head down the trail to the crocodile pond. There’s an elevated viewing platform, with an access path, among the mangroves. For the safety of sightseers, the viewing platform has solid safety rails and is about four meters above the pond. There are some large crocs in the pond, all the saltwater type, with some being five to six meters in length. For 20,000 VND, vendors provide poles with dead eels hanging off them to feed the crocs.

The crocodile pond

Feeding the crocs at Monkey Island

Trekking Through The Mangrove Forest Attraction in Vietnam

The distance from the crocodile pond to the VC camp is approximately one km. The group will make a leisurely walk, on a solid pathway, through the mangrove forest. According to the guide, the forest covers 36,000 hectares and is a UNESCO designated site.

The mangrove forest

The pathway through the mangrove forest, to the VC historical camp.

A Visit To The VC Camp, Vietnam

The solid trail through the mangrove forest eventually leads onto an elevated boardwalk. The boardwalk then winds through a spread of thatched huts depicting the daily operations of the VC fighters during the war with the US and republican army. Each hut has dressed manikins replicating activities such as: the hospital, the kitchen, operations planning and the workshop. According to the tour guide, the camp was first established in 1963 as a guerrilla base near the Saigon River.

Many VC died from US bombing raids, but a good number (upwards of 1000) personnel were also taken by crocodiles. Back in the day, crocs were everywhere throughout the mangrove forest. Once the tour through the camp is completed, the group will board the transport boats for a fast ride through the mangroves and back to the waiting bus.

A display at the VC historical camp

A depiction of the VC using US UXO to make land mines

Click HERE for more on the war history of Vietnam.

Safe travels,

Mega.

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