In the morning, we visited Cat Lai Terminal, Vietnams largest shipping port, located in District 9 of Saigon. Cat Lai specializes in loading exports onto mid size cargo ships that carry 20 foot, 40 foot, and 45 foot long containers. Usually the smaller containers carry goods that are heavy but do not take up a lot of space, such as rice. In addition, Cat Lai unloads imports from countries like Vietnam, Japan, and Singapore. Cat Lai is not an international terminal, like ones in Singapore or China, so the ships which dock there are usually coming or going from a bigger terminal or the destination country of the goods.
It was incredible to explore this 300 plus hectare facility. We got to see men unloading rice imported from the Mekong Delta on barges, as well as witnessing oversized cranes unloading ships and transporting cargo around the shipyard.
Their are customs x-ray machines at Cat Lai, which help officers inspect suspicious cargo. Most of the customs work is simply done by keeping track of weight and source of specific cargo. All the logistics are now done using a modern software, although not long ago the shipyard had to log everything that went in and out by hand.
Cat Lai is the primary shipping port for the southern third part of Vietnam. Saigon is home to some 10 million people, and is close to the important Mekong region, so this is an excellent location for Cat Lai to be in. It is linked with other smaller ports along the “dragon nation’s” coast, as well as large ports near Hanoi, in the North, and Da Nang, in Central Vietnam.
After an American lunch at PizzaHut, we took a tour of the old “Independence Palace,” or as it is called now, the “Reunification Palace.” This is the landmark that represents the victory of the Communists and the end of the democratic government in southern Vietnam. The tour guide kept referring to the day when the tanks stormed the gates, April 30, 1975, as “liberation day.” Still I could sense that this place also symbolized the lost cause of the Vietnamese people who did not want to live under communism.
The French built the palace in the late 19th century and set up their ruling government there. In the 1950’s, the first president of South Vietnam moved into the palace. He was followed by President Thieu, who lived there for most of the Vietnam war. The palace was renovated from its old colonial look into its modern twist in the early 1960s.
Inside the palace, their were beautiful conference rooms, offices, ballrooms, dining rooms, and a giant bunker. Outside their seemed to be an endless stretch of gardens and green lawn. I wish the palace was still the home of the South Vietnamese president and not a museum, but it is impossible to change what has already happened in Vietnam.
During the war, the palace was bombed multiple times, and it was ultimately seized on April 30, 1975, when the Communist tanks busted through the gates and the Communist flag was flown from the roof.