Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

  - darkometer rating:  7 -
As the name says: the mausoleum of Vietnam's great communist leader Ho Chi Minh in the capital Hanoi. It's one of the "Big 4" of such mausoleums in the world and as such one the country's premier dark tourism sites too.

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: Ho Chi Minh didn't want a mausoleum – let's get that point out of the way first, as it's always pointed out with fervour by Western guidebooks. Indeed, in his will he asked to be cremated rather, and his ashes to be scattered in different parts of the country. And he definitely wouldn't have wanted as grand a mausoleum as he got after his death, having been a rather modest and unassuming man in life who wasn't keen on the usual symbols of power. (On the other hand, the same cannot be said of Mao, but Mao too requested that he be cremated rather than be put in a mausoleum – and he wasn't granted this wish either.)
In any case, after his death in 1969 – the Vietnam War was still in full swing – his successors must have thought their former leader's remains were too valuable to be cremated. So they kept his body – and in 1975, after the country's official victory in the war, Ho was finally put in this mausoleum.
Vietnam received help from Russia in the embalming and preservation techniques required, which the Russians themselves had perfected in the preservation of their revolutionary leader Lenin (whose mausoleum apparently was the inspiration for having one for Ho too).
Later, they would lend a hand to China passing on the acquired knowledge second hand, as it were, when Mao died and the subsequent Chinese leadership also preferred to preserve the big man. (No. 4 of the Big 4, North Korea's Kim Il Sung, received direct help from Russia again, in the 1990s.)
What there is to see: Of all the "Big 4" communist leader mausoleums, Ho Chi Minh's is probably the grandest from the outside (though the Kims' mausoleum in North Korea is much bigger).
It's an imposing and elegant structure, made of grey polished granite, blending European and Vietnamese architectural styles (with an emphasis on the former, though). It's basically a cube, with symmetrical square columns on each side, which sits on a giant pedestal. Allegedly the whole structure is supposed to represent a lotus leaf too, though the square shape of the structure doesn't exactly push the association. The large square in front of the mausoleum is kept free of tourists by guards, which helps to emphasize its grandeur.
The building is flanked by flagpoles flying the Vietnamese and communist party flags. Ceremonial guards perform the usual spiel in front of the building. (Think white uniformed soldiers goose-stepping, changing of the guards, etc.)
To get into the holy of holies, the inside where Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body lies in state, you normally have to queue up. And the lines can be long! There are strict rules, and appropriate attire and behaviour are non-negotiable. Vietnam's great father figure is still genuinely revered by his people, so this is a pilgrimage site that demands the requisite respect.
Once you're inside you have to slowly shuffle past the glass coffin and move out again. During those two minutes or so, you get a good glimpse in the dim light of Ho, his hands crossed over his chest, his wiry beard still looking as if he'd died only yesterday. But somehow his head appears to be too big for his body – photos of Ho can also give that impression, but here it's even more noticeable. (And that despite the fact that in life Ho was anything but big-headed!)
It's a short, but sombre experience. Compared to the other Big 4, it's somehow more respectful, though a lot more fleeting and far less theatrical than the Kims' Mausoleum. If I had to rate them, I'd say Ho's is in second place after the Kims overall, just slightly ahead of Lenin's on the grounds of the elegance of the building and the proceedings and also the greater authenticity of the pilgrimage experience.   
After the mausoleum you should walk round the building to the north towards the gardens and past the imposing Presidential Palace – a grand French colonial pile painted in a slightly garish orange. Modest Uncle Ho found the palace too grand for him and preferred living in an unassuming traditional stilt house in the gardens. This has been preserved too and these days forms part of the pilgrimage to the mausoleum. So when you've finished there, drop by and join the queues around the stilt house and up the stairs.
You can see his humble abode (almost) as he left it when he passed away in 1969. His dinner is still on the table (presumably cold too by now), and you can also peek into his simple bedroom and study – pictures of the great inspiring figures of Karl Marx and Lenin hang on the wall.
In fact, the stilt house is only one of the Ho residences here. While the stilt house was being built specially for Ho, he resided in a small stone building (apparently the former electrician's house by the Palace). Don't miss that one before proceeding to the actual stilt house.   
In a garage, Ho's cars are also on display, including a fairly modest make, a French-built regular passenger car. That it was the product of the former colonial power didn't seem to bother him, though you would have expected an Eastern Bloc make … a GDR Trabant would have been fitting … 
In a low building a bit further on beyond the stilt house, a surprisingly wide and kitschy range of Ho merchandise is on sale. Here you can get your Uncle Ho plate or T-shirt to take home with you, if you so wish. It's a strange contrast to the respectfully subdued atmosphere inside the mausoleum, but somehow it doesn't feel as exploitative as it looks or sounds.
Location: to the west of the centre of Hanoi, on Ba Dinh Square, about a mile (1.5 km) west of the Old Quarter and close to the botanical gardens and Ho Tay Lake.
Google maps locator:[21.0368,105.8347]
Access and costs: restricted, but free (Mausoleum).
Details: The mausoleum is open only in the mornings, Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday/Sunday, from 7:30 to 10:30. At certain times, usually October and November, the mausoleum remains closed altogether (because Ho Chi Minh's body is sent to Moscow for re-embalming – i.e. the Lenin experts are still at work on Ho too, to this day).
Admission is free – but strict rules must be observed: decent attire (no shorts or flip-flops, though ties are not required, so it's a bit more relaxed than at Kim Il Sung's Mausoleum).
No photography is allowed, obviously enough. So either leave your camera behind when going here or hand it to a guide, if you have one, while you're inside.
Appropriate behaviour is required too, i.e. in particular respectful silence – but that comes naturally, given the solemnity of the atmosphere of the whole place.
The Ho residences (including the stilt house) are in the Presidential Palace's garden next door, which is open daily 7:30 to 11 a.m. and 1:30 to 4 p.m. (on the same days as the mausoleum), and costs a minuscule nominal admission fee (ca. 3000 Dong).
Time required: only a couple of minutes inside, but expect long queues moving slowly. Also allow some time for admiring the building from various angles from the outside.
Combinations with other dark destinations: the obvious combination is Ho Chi Minh's former stilt house (see above) and just round the corner to the south-west of the mausoleum is the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Beyond that see under Hanoi/Vietnam.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Hanoi.
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 1 - with out-of-bounds square in frontHo Chi Minh mausoleum 1 - with out-of-bounds square in front
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 2 - with Vietnam flagHo Chi Minh mausoleum 2 - with Vietnam flag
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 3 - with parading guardsHo Chi Minh mausoleum 3 - with parading guards
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 4 - national flags galoreHo Chi Minh mausoleum 4 - national flags galore
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 5 - the presidential palace that Ho did not useHo Chi Minh mausoleum 5 - the presidential palace that Ho did not use
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 6 - instead Ho used this humble stilt houseHo Chi Minh mausoleum 6 - instead Ho used this humble stilt house
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 7 - dinner presumably cold by now tooHo Chi Minh mausoleum 7 - dinner presumably cold by now too
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 8 - socialist study complete with Marx and Lenin on the wallHo Chi Minh mausoleum 8 - socialist study complete with Marx and Lenin on the wall
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 9 - only a humble French car for HoHo Chi Minh mausoleum 9 - only a humble French car for Ho
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 9b - merchandiseHo Chi Minh mausoleum 9b - merchandise
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleumHo Chi Minh mausoleum

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