"Sài Gòn Special Forces" tour - An unique tourism product in HCM City

April 30, 2023 - 09:29
In recent years, the “Sài Gòn Special Forces” tour has been chosen by many tourists.
Group of foreign tourists enjoy the "Sài Gòn Special Forces” tour. — Photo courtesy of the museum

By Xuân Đăng

On the occasion of Reunification Day on April 30, the famous historical sites of HCM City attract a lot of attention from domestic and foreign tourists. In recent years, the “Sài Gòn Special Forces” tour has been chosen by many tourists.

In 2020, the tour series was designed and introduced by the city's Department of Tourism and the Traditional Club of Sài Gòn-Gia Định Resistance Force on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Reunification Day on April 30, 2020 .

The Sài Gòn Special Forces is the name of the Special Task Force of the South Việt Nam Liberation Armed Forces, kind of commando force, that specialized in making quick attacks against the Sài Gòn-US forces in the city during the Việt Nam War.

During the tour, visitors can travel by cars or motorbikes once used by members of the special force to their secret hideouts back in the days at 113A Đặng Dung Street, District 1, to enjoy Đại Hàn broken rice meal at Đỗ Phủ coffee shop on Võ Văn Tần Street, District 3, then explore the place formerly housing a secret mailbox, money, gold and other war memorabilia.

Đỗ Phủ coffee shop used to be the headquarter of the Sài Gòn Special Forces, which specialised in hiding cadres and stored weapons to prepare for the Tết Offensive in 1968.

The house was bought by a liberation fighter, Trần Văn Lai, using his personal money.

He and his wife secretly dug a tunnel, reinforcing it to create three large basement rooms that could store about two tonnes of weapons.

Very few people know that underneath this common coffee shop is a cellar that used to hold weapons of the special forces.

Nowadays, the coffee shop is also the place to display many historical artefacts associated with the special task force.

This coffee shop is designed in classical style with many stylised features, giving visitors the opportunity to return to the city of Sài Gòn in the 60s and 70s.

Trần Vũ Bình, son of the late Sài Gòn Special Forces member, hero of the Việt Nam People's Armed Forces Trần Văn Lai, said that to stay undercover, the house used to be a mattress, sofa, and curtain supplier for the Independence Palace of the Sài Gòn regime.

Office of the late Sài Gòn Special Forces member, hero of the Việt Nam People's Armed Forces Trần Văn Lai. — VNS Photo Xuân Đăng

Nguyễn Bảo Quốc, 21, from Bình Thạnh District, said that he learned about the Sài Gòn Special Forces on the internet.

"When I found out about this place, I really wanted to come and experience it. Glad to have learned a lot of useful historical knowledge. It is a valuable piece of war history that proves the incredible victory of Việt Nam. The house is open free to visitors, but a working cafe that serves excellent coffee and a tasty portion of broken rice is worth a try," Quốc said.

Not far from there, located on the second floor of a house built in 1963 on Trần Quang Khải Street, District 1, there is the Sài Gòn Commandos Museum.

The museum is a place to store artefacts to preserve historical values ​​for future generations. — Photo courtesy of the museum

The house was originally the secret operation base of the Sài Gòn commandos, a special force of the South Việt Nam Liberation Armed Forces, and also under the command of Lai.

“Coming from affection for the soldiers, we collect each artefact to make historical memorabilia combined with cafes for people to visit,” said Bình.

Walking into the museum, visitors have to use an old elevator made from intricate patterns of iron and wooden crates, etched with many motifs. On the second floor, more than 100 artefacts are decorated with memorabilia of soldiers in the war.

Some artefacts are being kept at the museum. — VNS Photo Xuân Đăng

This is also the first private smart museum in the city. Applying smart technology, learning history becomes much more attractive and natural, especially for young people.

Trần Trọng Nghĩa, grandson of Trần Văn Lai and also founder of the Sài Gòn - Gia Định Commandos Museum, said that in the first quarter, HCM City witnessed an increase in the number of foreign visitors, about 1.8 million, almost equal to before the epidemic in 2019 and more than 35 times that of last year, and most of them travel to Việt Nam to visit historical sites.

In particular, the relics of the Sài Gòn commandos' base welcome hundreds of foreign visitors every day. The number of visitors in the first quarter was about 4,000-5,000, an increase of three times compared to the same period last year.

More artefacts displayed at the museum. — VNS Photo Xuân Đăng

The commandos museum does not operate for the purpose of making a profit, but creating real value ​​for tourists.

Each destination is associated with stories about the Sài Gòn Special Forces, creating a space for visitors to learn about history.

The tour is being advertised by travel companies such as Saigontourist, Vietravel, Fiditour, etc.

Nguyễn Ngọc An, deputy general director of Fiditour Travel - Vietluxtour said, "This is also one of the typical cultural-historical tourism products that the company has developed and exploited very effectively."

“We hope that the tour will not only attract local tourists but also become one of the typical products of the city, creating a unique and meaningful mark for other provinces and foreign tourists," An added. — VNS