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Explore the Reunification Palace Saigon

There is quite a bit of war tourism in Vietnam: In Ho Chi Minh, the main spots we saw related to this were the Cu Chi Tunnels, museums (including the War Remnants Museums which we have yet to write about), and the Reunification Palace. 

The Reunification Palace was just a few kilometer walk from our AirBNB (into the heart of District 1). The streets there can be a little crazy, but really, it wasn’t too difficult to manage. We set out just after noon and made our way towards the Palace. It is located at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, in District 1.

Approaching The Palace

Get In

You enter the grounds via a small entry building, where you purchase your tickets. The tickets cost 30,000 Dong each (~ $1.50). There was a short line when we visited. From there, you are free to wander the grounds and explore the expansive campus. 

Palace Ticket

Reunification Palace Main Grounds

We made our way around the outside perimeter first, before venturing inside. The grounds were well kept. A large fountain graced the front and a few tanks (including the one that crashed the gate in 1975) were off to the side. We also found a nice patch of grass to practice some AcroYoga in, which we’ve been slacking on for years now. It felt great to do. Near the back end of the palace are some tennis courts and a few other sports courts.

Tank That Crashed The Gates
MIG That Bombed The Palace
A Large Tree In The Surrounding Garden
A Tree Out Back

From there, we proceeded in towards the palace itself.


Approaching The Side Entrance
Briana On The Back Balcony

Reunification Palace History

The palace was originally built in 1873 and served as the governor’s residence from 1887 to 1945. During World War II, the palace changed hands from colonial France to Japan, and then back to France. In 1954, after years of fighting with the French, the Vietnamese managed to win independence, and became divided along the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam. The South declared the palace, Independence Palace, and it served as the primary government building.

In 1962, a North Vietnamese assassination attempt bombed the entire left wing of the palace, rendering it impossible to restore. So the current ruler of the time, Diem, ordered the whole palace demolished and commissioned a new building. The palace was built in 1963 and inaugurated in 1966. It served as the headquarters for the American campaign during the Vietnam War.

On 8 April 1975, a communist spy managed to pilot a F-5 undetected and bombed the palace but caused no significant damage. The Palace fell on April 30, and signaled the end of the war. In November of 1975, negotiations between the North and South brought the two Vietnams together and the palace was renamed the Reunification Palace.

Front Lawn Fountain

Reunification Palace Interior

The palace is quite opulent, with 5 floors and a roof top, all open to the public. A large central staircase could get you up and down, as well as stairs at the end of each wing. Elevators also are placed throughout, but they are quite tiny and can only hold two or three people at most. There are many halls, adorned with gold, ivory, and all manner of luxurious materials. Each hall also served it’s own purpose and function.

Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Palace Theater
Plaque

A residential area was near the top with a nice grotto open to the sky to admire.

Foreign Dignitaries' Quarters Courtyard
Animal Mountings

On the roof is an area originally for meditation. But it was eventually turned into a dance floor for partying. The entire palace is very open air, and feels quite welcoming.

Bonsai On The Roof
Helicopter Pad on Palace Roof

On the bottom floor, you can check out the industrial kitchen that served the entire palace.

Palace Kitchen
Palace Kitchen Mixer

We managed to spend a good two hours checking out the grounds. If you want, you can take a tour with a guide. But we just elected to walk around by ourselves and read the placards. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re in Ho Chi Minh, plus it’s located near a bunch of other great sites!

~K~

Plaque
Gold Plaque

Belgrade Serbia

A City of History

At the confluence of the Sava and Danube, rises Belgrade – the capital and largest city of Serbia. The city has been settled, on and off, since the 6th millennium BCE, and has come under the rule of numerous empires such as the Byzantine, Frankish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires.

Where We've Been Belgrade

A City of War

Belgrade has seen 115 wars, and been razed 44 times. Even taking an attack by Attila the Hun in 442. Debatably, Attila lies beneath the Kalemagdan fort.

Today, the city is a peaceful and charming city, that offers a lot to do, at a very cheap price.

Clue 4- building

The Kalemagdan fort is a centerpiece of the city, rising above the rest of the city where the Sava and Danube meet. It’s a wonderful park, that is free to visit, and can easily keep you and a family occupied for a day or two.

Kalemagden Front Cliff

A City of Parks

Belgrade abounds with parks, and is incredibly easy to navigate on foot, or by tram. And astonishingly, the locals have done a phenomenal job of training their dogs. They’re everywhere, they’re off-leash, and they cause no problems.

Clue 6- Dog 2

A City of Churches

Other icons of the city are the Temple of St. Sava and St. Mark’s Church. As a whole, the city offers a slew of churches and cathedrals to visit.

St Sava

A City of Culture

When it comes to enjoying the more cosmopolitan aspects of life, you can head over to St. Mark’s Square. You may catch a rally happening (as we did) or you may instead check out the national theater which has shows frequently. We visited and saw the ballet “Don Quixote” at a wonderful price. As well, numerous shops ranging from clothes, to antiques, to souvenirs in the large shopping complex.

Clue

A City of Science

If you have the time to explore, you’ll find botanical gardens, parks, cemeteries, shops to your liking. Street art adorns the walls of buildings. The people also hold a pride for their heritage – most notably for their highly esteemed citizens such as Nikola Tesla, who you can find on the Serbian Dinar. There are numerous museums to visit and even an old concentration.

Bust of Nikola Tesla

A City of Food

As well, the food is cheap and plentiful, and has a delicious cafe culture.

Clue 8- Cafes
Belgrade bakery popular

It’s easy to grab a Plejkavica, or Serbian hamburger, for what amounts to barely a dollar or two and could feed a family, along almost any street.

The soviet history also brings to the city an imposing, yet oddly charming character. In Belgrade, you’ll be surprised at just how welcoming it can be. We spent five weeks in Belgrade, and enjoyed all our time there.

~K~

Clue 12- around town

Navigating Bangkok

Getting around Bangkok is not too difficult a feat to accomplish. It’s a large metropolitan area however, so you’re not going to be able to just walk around to get where you need. It’s not as easy or extensive as Seoul – though it’s less daunting; but it’s also far more convenient than Kuala Lumpur or Vietnam. There is a wide variety of ways to manage getting around.

Briana At A Temple In Bangkok

Tuk Tuk:

In this entry, I’ll also include motorbike taxis or Xe Oms. They’re easy to discover, they tend to wear orange vests that display their license (which is nice). The motorbikes are not likely able to carry multiple people or with large packs, but can be great for a short distance.

Tuk tuks are the pretty much the same as throughout the rest of Southeast Asia. They can be convenient, and if you find a reputable driver – nice. But it’s very easy to get ripped off, scammed, and just generally fed up with them. We don’t like using them, but it’s up to you if you want to use them. We wouldn’t recommend using them if you’re traveling a long distance, but for a short distance, it may be ok if you agree to a price before hopping on.

Taxis:

As with most other cities, taxis are the first and most obvious mode of transportation that you’ll take. They’ll overcharge you if you come from the airport (don’t they always?), but elsewhere, the rates are pretty reasonable. We only took a taxi a few times – but they were usually quite straightforward. Our first taxi didn’t quite seem to know where he was going, but figured it out rather quickly. The second taxi didn’t really speak English, but I showed him the address and a map and he got us there for 100 Baht (~$2.50). Our final taxi took us to the bus stop quite easily as well for around 150 Baht.

Grabbing a taxi is very simple as well, we never bothered to call for one – we simply walked out to the street and waved one down. There always seemed to be a taxi no matter where we were. It literally took me 30 seconds to flag down a taxi each time. One thing to keep in mind, is that traffic is awful in Bangkok, so the taxi will ask you if you want to take a toll road (highway) to get where you’re going, which you’ll have to pay for. We didn’t do it the first time, and it cost us over an hour’s drive – we took it the second time, paid 70 baht, and got where we were going within 20 minutes.

Be sure to use a metered taxi though! It will be cheaper, despite what the driver may say, but generally if you say use the meter, they will do it without complaint.

Boat Taxi:

If you find yourself anywhere along the river, you can take boat taxis. In fact, if you want to get to some temples, you may need to use these (Temple of Dawn). We never did end up using them, mainly because we just didn’t have it in our itinerary, but if you do there are a few things to keep in mind.

Canal Near Station

There are three main waterways: Chao Phraya River (the main river), Klong Saen Saeb (cuts across Bangkok), and Klongs of Thonburi (networks of canals throughout the city.

There are 6 boat types: River Taxis, Long Tails (tuk tuks on water), Ferry, Canal Boats, Private Cruises, and Hotel Shuttles. These are pretty self-explanatory and unless a tour or hotel has already arranged these for you, you will only be bothering with River Taxis, Long Tails, and Ferries.

There are 5 types of River Boat, indicated by the flags, and these will be how you decide which you want to take:

No flag (local line) – Stops at every Pier

Blue flag (tourist boat) – Stops when you want. Will cost more, but may be more convenient.

Orange flag – Stops at main piers

Yellow flag – Large express boat for commuters

Green flag – Express boat for commuters

If you want to take one, it is easiest to access the Sathorn Central Pier, located in front of BTS Skytrain Station Saphan Taksin.

Canal Near Traimit Station

Buses:

City buses are a convenient way to get around as well (though we never did use them). Generally quite cheap, with fares ranging from 7 to 20 Baht. They run 24/7, so they may be your go-to if you find yourself out after the metro has shut down. There are 12 lines of service, and most will have a stop near the main hotels.

Buses with blue signs in the window will run normal routes and stop at all bus stops, while yellow sign buses use expressways and have a limited locations. You purchase your ticket on the bus itself. Be sure to search a map beforehand though, to know which route you want to take.

Or arrange for a bus across international borders, such as we did for entering Cambodia. You read more about that here.

Van / Minibus / Truck:

You may notice throughout Bangkok what appears to be vans or trucks, with open backs and benches along the back. These are like buses, and tend to run some of the same routes, and some of the smaller routes that normal buses won’t frequent. You can simply hop on and pay the attendant a small fee (5 – 20 baht) and simply ride until you get where you need to go. Just let the driver or attendant know when you want to get off and you can simply walk off the back.

Metro / Subway / MRT:

Our primary method of getting around Bangkok was via the Metro, Skytrain, BTS Rail. It is not a streamlined as Seoul by any means – but they aren’t too difficult to manage. There are numerous stations that you can enter. When you come into the station, you will have your bags checked for bombs/contraband, but it’s pretty simple, and nothing at all like the airport (just open your backpack and you’re good).

Subway Card

Once in, you’ll usually find a small assortment of stalls selling food or drink. Ticket vending machines, which conveniently run in Thai and English, stand throughout. Simply tell the kiosk which station you want to go, then feed in the bills or coins. This makes for wonderful way to get rid of excess coins you’ll undoubtably collect. Once purchased, you will receive either plastic coins or cards to swipe to get to the platform. If you would prefer to talk to a person, there are regular kiosk operators as well (great if you have large bills to break).

Trains tend to arrive every 10 minutes, and can be a little crowded. We didn’t make it in once and had to wait for the next train, but usually it’s not a problem.

When you arrive at the station you will either leave completely or transfer to the next station. The stations are not as seamlessly integrated as Seoul. This means possibly needing to leave your current station and entering a new one, especially when changing from Skytrain to Subway. It’s not too difficult to manage, but it can throw you for a loop the first time you ride. You will need to purchase a new ticket at each station though.

BTS_MRT_Chao_Phraya_Express_Khlong

Conclusion

If you are going to be in Bangkok for a while, you can purchase a longterm rechargeable card for a more streamlined process. Keep in mind, that there seem to be no bathrooms within the metro system – so take care of business before you travel!

~K~

Vietnamese Style Thai Temple Bangkok