It’s a macabre experience, but most visitors foreign seem to find strangely moving, perhaps due to the undisguised reverence of the viet nam people present.
In the centre of Hanoi, a large area is devoted to Ho Chi Minh. The centrepiece is a large mausoleum where his embalmed body lies in a bier inside a glass case. Visitors must join a queue and file through the room without stopping. No photography is allowed, and all personal possessions must be left outside (provision is made for this).
The building was erected with assistance from the USSR, and is a good example of Soviet architecture of the period. It’s guarded by an honour guard of Vietnamese soldiers in immaculate white dress uniforms who march around the building at regular intervals.
It is open from 08.00 to 11.00 from Tuesday to Thursday, and over the weekends
In fact, Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately known in Vietnam, left directions for his cremation in his will. However, at the time of his death in 1969, the year after the Tet Offensive, the war was still raging and morale was low. Communist Party chiefs recognised his iconic status and overrode his wishes, probably a pragmatically wise decision, but ethically reprehensive.
The embalming process was undertaken by Russian experts – each year in early autumn, his body is flown to Moscow for three months for maintenance.
The grandeur of the mausoleum is a strange contrast to the simple stilt house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked. Built in the style of ethnic minority dwellings, it overlooks a large carp pond and is a calm sanctuary. Visitors can look through the windows to see the austere furnishings and his few personal possessions. On his desk each day is a vase of his favourite blossoms, hoa hue trang, a sweetly scented flower rather like a tall white bluebell.
Nearby is the magnificent Presidential Palace, once the palace of the Governor-General of Indochina during the colonial period. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public.
In the opposite direction, the Ho Chi Minh Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the man’s life and work and his vision of peace and happiness. It’s informative, but understandably overlooks some of the more risqué episodes in his life. Close by, the famous One Pillar Pagoda is worth a passing look. Although it’s one of the symbols of Hanoi, it’s something of a disappointment as it’s a modern replica.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is open from 08.00 to 11.00 and from 13.30 to 16.30 daily.
A short walk across Da Dinh Square directly in front of the mausoleum takes you past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a stunningly beautiful monument especially when illuminated at night. From there, another short walk takes you to the hanoi Citadel.
The site of the ancient Hanoi Citadel has been occupied by the Army for many years. It is now beginning to be turned over to the Hanoi City authorities in stages. So far, a couple of impressive pagodas have been restored and made accessible. Not far away, a major excavation on the site of what will be the new National Assembly building has revealed the remains of a substantial palace complex dating from the Ly Dynasty that ruled about a millennium ago. The findings have transformed knowledge about the early history of Vietnam and its links to China.
It has recently been announced that the Army will soon hand over the remains of the Citadel’s Forbidden City to the Hanoi’s People’s Committee. After restoration work, this too will be open to visitors.
Maybe like: The beauty of Ham Rong Mountain in sa pa, Lao Cai