The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, Hanoi, has started excavating a war-time air raid shelter, which was recently discovered in its grounds.
Construction workers uncovered the air raid shelter this summer, while building a new garden bar at the hotel. Having excavated more than two metres of earth and reinforced concrete and then jack-hammering through a 278mm ceiling, the hotel opened the hatch on a warren of flooded corridors, chambers and stairways.
Inside, they found an old wine bottle, a still-intact light bulb, air ducts and graffiti from the war that ended almost four decades ago.
“In the hotel’s history, we have a story of the American folk singer, Joan Baez, who sought shelter in this bunker during the Christmas Bombings, and who sang some songs beside a Vietnamese guitarist,” said the hotel’s GM, Kai Speth, who entered the shelter. “We’ve always known a bunker was here, somewhere in the garden between the pool and the Club Bar, but looking for this wasn’t even on our radar screen until my chief engineer tried to sink pilings for the new Bamboo Bar.”
The hotel is still undecided about how best to utilise the underground space, but Speth is determined to make something of this novel asset, if only as a museum to Vietnamese resistance during the war.
“We don’t know of any other hotels, in Vietnam or anywhere else for that matter, that maintained shelters for guests and staff,” said Speth.
Now that that shelter has been opened, more questions are emerging about the hotel’s role during the war. For example, who was Bob Devereaux, who inscribed his name in cement on the wall of the shelter on 17 August 1975? And is that when the shelter was sealed up?
Before that first trip underground, it took a full week of pumping before the water level could be brought down to 20cm. Speth then waded in then, wearing shorts, rubber boots and an old t-shirt, an outfit he’s donned several times now as he’s made additional excursions.
“I’ve worn a suit and tie for thirty years in my day-to-day as an hotelier, and I expect I probably will for the next 15 or 20 years, as well,” he said. “But now, there’s this chance to work some like Indiana Jones, and who can resist that?”