An underground bunker, used during the war in Vietnam, was uncovered at… (David Lamb / Special to The…)
The Metropole, Hanoi’s legendary colonial hotel built in 1901, is offering four daily tours to its recently reopened underground concrete bunker where guests, staff and anti-war activists such as Joan Baez and Jane Fonda sought safety from U.S air raids during the Vietnam War.
The bomb shelter, 12 feet beneath the surface and equipped with ventilation, was sealed and buried after the war. Many old-timers knew about it, but no one had been able to figure out exactly where it was.
It was discovered accidentally last year when engineers struck concrete while digging during the reconstruction of the hotel’s Bamboo Bar.
Dark, damp and eerie, the shelter consists of a long corridor and four small rooms. During the tour the guide, a well-informed historian, plays a recording made 40 years ago: Air raid sirens wail, followed by the din of exploding bombs.
The heaviest U.S. air attacks on Hanoi, North Vietnam’s capital, took place during 11 days in December 1972, referred to in Vietnam as the Christmas bombing. Baez was among the Metropole guests who rushed from their rooms to the bunker, sometimes several times a night.
When the war ended in 1975 and North and South Vietnam were united, the Metropole, which had been the center of French colonial society for decades, was renamed Thong Nhat (Reunification) and fell into disrepair as a government guest house. It was closed 1989-1992.
Today, the now-renovated Metropole is on many lists of the world’s best hotels.
Although the tours are reserved for hotel guests and staff, if you have a particular interest in Vietnam or the war, chances are pretty good that the concierge will let you tag along.
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