A trip to Vietnam is always a thought-provoking experience, and the country has a friendly relationship with most Western nations, but certainly a complex past history. An often surreal experience to be had in Vietnam is visiting the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh, founding president of the People's Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was once an enemy of much of the developed world and a hero to the Communists as he led the Viet Cong to victory in the “Vietnam War” (called the “American War” within Vietnam). Despite the bloodshed associated with his name, Ho Chi Minh is nothing short of a national hero in Vietnam today. The city of Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon) bears his name, and he is affectionately known as “Uncle Ho” to many Vietnamese.
Ho Chi Minh's embalmed corpse lies in state in a gray granite mausoleum in central Hanoi. In an ironic twist of fate, Ho Chi Minh had requested that his body be cremated after his death. He believed that cremation was more hygienic, and he wanted to preserve land for agricultural development rather than as an elaborate burial site. His request, obviously, was not followed, and the desire of the people to have their hero immortalized was stronger than Ho Chi Minh's wish for a simple burial. Tourists are permitted to view his corpse, which lies in a darkened room under a glass case in the center of the stone building.
Entering the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a solemn event. Guards patrol the grounds, and tourists are strictly supervised as they walk slowly in silence through the building. Entering the dimly-lit room where Ho Chi Minh’s body lies is something of a rushed event, with guides pressuring tourists to walk through quickly. In the gloom of his tomb, walking past the striations in the glass case almost made the body seem to move, to turn his head slightly as the crowd of strangers filed past. Cool, piped-in air made the room feel like an underground cave.
After the brief interlude of darkness, visitors plunge swiftly back into the light and air of Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh first read the Declaration of Independence. The Hanoi today, which Uncle Ho could never have foreseen, is a whirlwind of activity, commercialization and rapid modernization.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is usually open between 9 a.m. and noon on most days. Tourists who wish to view the body must dress modestly (no shorts, sleeveless shirts or short skirts). It is better to dress up and be overdressed for this occasion rather than risk being turned away by the guards. Wear long pants and closed-toe shoes.
You will be required to pass through a metal detector and surrender any large pieces of luggage or bags, which will be checked into a locker for you to pick up on your exit. Cameras or recording equipment are not permitted, and visitors must be silent as they walk through the Mausoleum.
Odds n' Ends
Near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum you can go visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which will give you an overview of Uncle Ho's life. His history is quite interesting, and he spent time in France, in the United States (actually working in the Parker Hotel in Boston), and in China.
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