HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM COMPLEX
To the west of the Old Quarter is the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex (Central Hanoi map), a traffic-free area of parks, monuments, memorials and pagodas. This important place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese combines the secular and the spiritual, and it’s usually crowded with groups off all ages, who have come to pay their respects.
The entrance to the mausoleum complex is on the corner of Pho Ngoc Ha and Pho Doi Can. Photography is permitted outside the building but not inside, and visitors must leave their bags at a counter just inside the entrance. There’s no charge for this service. The soundtrack for a 20-minute video about Ho Chi Minh is available in Vietnamese, French, English, Khmer, Lao, Russian and Spanish.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
In the tradition of Lenin and Stalin before him, and Mao after, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh (admission free; open 8am-11am Tues-Thur, Sat & Sun, Dec-Sept) is a glass sarcophagus set deep in the bowels of a monumental edifice that has become a site of pilgrimage. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum – built despite the fact that his will requested cremation – was constructed, between 1973 and 1875, of native materials gathered from all over Vietnam. The roof and peristyle are said to evoke either a traditional communal house or a lotus flower, though to many tourist it looks like a concrete cubicle with columns. It’s closed for about three months each year while Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed corpse goes to Russia for maintenance.
The queue, moving quite quickly, usually snakes for several hundred meters to the mausoleum entrance itself. Inside, more guards, regaled in snowy-white military uniforms, are posted at intervals of five paces, giving an eerily authoritarian aspect to the macabre spectacle of the embalmed body with its wispy white hair. The whole place has a ‘sanitized for your protection’ atmosphere.
The following rules are strictly applied to all visitors to the mausoleum:
· People wearing shorts, tanks top etc not be admitted.
· Nothing (including day packs and cameras) may be taken into the mausoleum.
· A respectful demeanor must be maintained at all times.
· For obvious reasons of decorum, photography is absolutely prohibited inside the mausoleum.
· It is forbidden to put your hands in your pockets.
· Hats must be taken off inside the mausoleum building.
Most of the visitors are Vietnamese, and it’s interesting to watch their reactions. Most show deep respect and admiration for Ho Chi Minh, who is honored for his role as the liberator of the Vietnamese people from colonialism, as much as for his communist ideology. This view is reinforced by Vietnam’s educational system, which emphasizes Ho’s deeds and accomplishments.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the changing of the guard outside Ho’s mausoleum – the pomp and ceremony displayed here rivals the British equivalent at Buckingham Palace.
Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House & the Presidential Palace
Behind Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is a stilt house, Nha San Bac Ho, where Ho lived on and off from 1958 to 1969. The house is built in the style of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, and has been preserved just as Ho left it. It’s set a well-tended garden next to a carp-filled pond. Just how much time he would have actually spent here is questionable – the house would have been suspected that Ho could be found here.
Near the stilt house is the Presidential Palace (admission 5000d; open 8am-11am & 2pm-4pm), a beautifully restored colonial building constructed in 1906 as the Palace of the Governor General of Indochina. It is now used for official receptions and isn’t open to the public. There is a combined entrance gate to the stilt house and Presidential Palace grounds on Pho Ong Ich Kiem, inside the mausoleum complex; when the main mausoleum entrance is closed, enter from D.Hung Vuong near the palace building.
Ho chi Minh Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum (Bao tang Ho Chi Minh; admission 5000d; open 8am-11am & 1.30pm-4.30pm Tues-Thur, Sat & Sun) is divided into two sections: Past and Future. You start in the past and move to the future by walking in a clockwise direction downwards through the museum, starting from the right-hand side of the top of the stairs. The modern displays all have messages, eg, ‘peace’, ‘happiness’ and ‘freedom’.
It’s probably worth taking an English-speaking guide, since some of the symbolism is hard to figure out. The 1958 Ford Edsel bursting through the wall (a US commercial failure to symbolize their military failure) is a knockout.
The museum is the huge cement structure next to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Photography is forbidden and upon entry, you must leave bags and cameras at reception.
One Pillar Pagoda
Hanoi’s famous One Pillar Pagoda ( Chua Mot Cot; Pho Ong Ich Kiem) was built by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to he annals, the heirless emperor dreamed that he had met Quan The Am Bo Tat, the Goddess of Mercy, who, while seated on a lotus flower, handed him a male child. Ly Thai Tong them married a young peasant girl he met by chance and had a son and heir by her. As a way of express his gratitude for this event, he constructed this pagoda in 1049.
The One Pillar Pagoda, built of wood on a single stone pillar, 1.25m in diameter, is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow. One of the last acts of the French, before quitting Hanoi in 1954, was to destroy the One Pillar Pagoda; the structure was rebuilt be the new government. The pagoda is between the mausoleum and the museum.
Dien Huu Pagoda
The entrance to Dien Huu Pagoda is a few meters from staircase of the One Pillar Pagoda. This small pagoda, which surrounds a garden courtyard, is one of the most delightful in Hanoi. The old wood and ceramic statues on the altar are distinctively northern. An elderly monk can sometimes be found performing acupuncture on the front porch.