by Cassandra Winters
One of the most fascinating sights in Hanoi is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the embalmed remains of the communist leader rest within an impressive monumental building.
The construction of this enormous monument and preservation of his body actually go against Ho’s last wishes, which were stated in his will: He asked that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered across all of Vietnam. The Vietnamese government gave his body the exact opposite treatment, and it has been embalmed and preserved for over 40 years.
The monument is somewhat similar to the monument for Lenin in Moscow in its use of austere and imposing gray granite. At just over 21 metres high and 41 metres wide, the massive structure looms over Ba Dinh Square. The location is significant as Ba Dinh Square is where President Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s Independence on 2 September 1945.
As you walk through the chamber where Ho Chi Minh lies, surrounded by guards and lit up with spotlights, you will marvel at how he looks like he is peacefully napping and might wake up at any moment. His hand and face are lit by spotlights and the rest of the room is dim. It’s a powerful image that will stay in your mind long after leaving Hanoi.
Tips for Visiting the Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place is a very popular tourist attraction so you can be sure that it will be busy. Fortunately, because it has become such a popular destination, there are plenty of places to stay in Hanoi. Many tourists are intrigued by the mausoleum, and even Vietnamese people who visit Hanoi flock to the site.
Your best bet is to show up early to get a good spot in the queue as the last entrance is at 10:15 a.m. Remember that the mausoleum is closed on Monday and Friday. The queue snakes all the way out of the entrance and down the street, but don’t be daunted by a long queue; it will move quite quickly as tourists are guided through the mausoleum.
Keep in mind that the museum will be closed during October and November when Ho Chi Minh’s body is sent to Russia for maintenance.
Dress respectfully when visiting Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. To those in Vietnam, this is an honoured place and wearing revealing clothing is perceived as a sign of disrespect. Even though it may be hot outside, dress respectfully and cover your shoulders.
Keep your voice down and your behaviour sombre and dignified while visiting. The guards will single you out if you are not acting in an appropriate manner. Keep your hands out of your pockets and don’t cross your arms. Eating, drinking and smoking is not allowed anywhere within the mausoleum.
Photos are only allowed from outside the mausoleum and you will be asked to check your camera, which will then be transported to a third office outside the exit where you pick it up afterward. Your luggage will also be inspected and you might be asked to put it in the coat check; your visit will be easier if you don’t bring much with you.
Adding to Your Experience
If you have time, definitely visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum, located directly beside the tomb. This building has many fascinating exhibits about the history of Ho Chi Minh’s life and his connection to his country. The displays are labelled in English and French, and the admission fee is 25,000 Dong (about US$1.25).
You could also visit Ho Chi Minh’s house where he lived and worked from 1954 until he died in 1969. After he took power he didn’t move into the Presidential Palace but was happy living in the former electrician’s quarters. This humble house has been preserved exactly how he left it and you can even see two of his cars. Guided tours are available and the admission is 25,000 Dong.
The Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and its accompanying sites may not have been what Ho Chi Minh had in mind for his memorial, but they are certainly fascinating and profound to all who come to visit.
Cassandra Winters is a freelance travel writer who is currently making her way around Southeast Asia. She has fallen in love with Hanoi.