Saigon’s secret underground bunker in a 100-year-old building

By Quynh Tran   November 26, 2018 | 06:54 pm PT
Built for VIPs by a puppet regime, the secret basement is a museum within a museum in Saigon. 
Saigons secret underground bunker in a 100-year-old building (edited) 

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum on Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1, once named Gia Long Palace, was designed by French architect Alfres Foulhoux. Its construction took place from 1885 to 1890.

The building was once used as the Commercial Museum and residence for Governor Nam Phuong Hoefel. In 1962, when the Independence Palace (now the Unification Palace) in Ho Chi Minh City was completely destroyed by a bomb, this place became the temporary residence of Ngo Dinh Diem (1901-1963), the President of South Vietnam, also known as the government of the Republic of Vietnam, a puppet regime of the U.S.

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While waiting for the new palace to be rebuilt, Ngo Dinh Diem’s family decided to build a basement here for fear of being bombed.

Architect Ngo Viet Thu was assigned to design the basement, but he moved to the U.S., so the job was taken over by engineer Phan Dinh Tang. Construction took place from May 1962 until October 1963. The basement’s entrance is located at the two ends of a corridor, with a height of two meters, only accommodating one person.

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The tunnel was dug four meters deep into the ground. "Iron concrete" at the rate of 170 kilograms of iron per cubic meter of concrete, was used to build walls a meter thick. The place was designed to withstand 500 kilograms of petard and bombs.

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The basement has six solid metal doors, each has a wheel and latch to lock it.

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In an emergency, it would take just five minutes to evacuate the VIPs and their minions to the basement that was adequately equipped to support external communication.

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The total area of the basement is approximately 1,400 square meter. The space is divided into six rooms. Its floors are cemented and paved with patterned porcelain tiles.

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The meeting room of President Ngo Dinh Diem in the secret basement.

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At present, many photos showing the development of the museum are exhibited in the grand hall.

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The blueprint of the basement under the museum is now on display. The basement’s construction cost a considerable, but unspecified sum of money at the time.

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This is a copy of an old newspaper article, which reported on the coup d’etat on November 1, 1963 in Ho Chi Minh City. A group of officers of the South Vietnam army opposed to President Ngo Dinh Diem carried out a coup against him. Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu escaped through the basement to their car and hid in Father Tam’s cathedral. They were later assassinated by opponents in their own government.

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The entrance of the basement is located at the back of the museum. Two exits of the basement lead to Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Pasteur streets.

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The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is well preserved until today. As the flooded sections are being repaired, only a part of the basement is open for visitors.

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