A Weapons Vault Vaults Into A Café in Saigon
A café takes visitors down a unique memory lane as a living museum to the Vietnam War.
In Saigon's District 3, the café at 287/72 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, opened over a year ago, used to be a weapons vault supervised by Tran Van Lai.
Lai’s son Tran Vu Binh, who runs the café now, said it is decorated with memorabilia of soldiers in the Vietnam War, the country's war against American invaders which ended in 1975.
"I was researching materials to rebuild this house in its original form and collecting artifacts to make this a historical café for people to visit. This idea was born out of my affection and respect for the soldiers," he said.
The three levels building still has its original brick floor and tiled roof. The house’s specialty is a tunnel system that opened to visitors in 2018.
In the 1960s, under the guise of repairing the house's bathroom drain, Lai asked his trusted workers to build this vault to store weapons transported from the suburbs.
In order to avoid detection, the dug-up soil was put into cartons and taken out in a car. It took almost a year for the basement to be completed.
About over 10 meters long and 2.5 meters high, the tunnel is plastered with thick waterproof cement. The tunnel has four round frames connected to the drainage pipe, which was of the perfect size that a person could use to escape.
From 1966 to 1968, nearly two tons of weapons and ammunition including guns, explosives, detonators, shotguns, grenades and bullets were transferred here.
Iron boxes and wooden barrels for weapons are also put on display.
The underground tunnel also has a secret passage leading to the second floor of the house.
From the narrow walkway in the underground tunnel, residents could climb the ladder to reach upper floor.
The tunnel’s entrance is placed under a bathroom sink. From here, people in the house could escape through the balcony and roof.
Many objects used to make the tunnel are displayed at the café.
The Citroen Car from the French colonial period belongs to Lai. It was used to transport weapons to the tunnel.
During the Lunar New Year of 1968, in the famous Tet Offensive, soldiers used the same vehicle to carry weapons and explosives from this place for an attack on the headquarters of the US puppet regime, today the Independence Palace.
A diary in a glass case is turned to the historic date - April 30, 1975 – now celebrated as Reunification Day.
The coffee shop also showcases items used by Saigon residents many decades ago, evoking nostalgia for a bygone era.