I was so happy when Sibba agreed to let me drag her around to a few historical sites on our last day in Hanoi – I’m a history geek! I’ve read a lot about the Vietnam war and the decades leading up to it (and the aftermath of the decades after it), learning a lot in the process about Ho Chi Minh and what he did for Vietnam. Upon checking our map, I realised the Mausoleum and Museum were within a stone’s throw of each other, so we decided to visit them both, first thing in the morning (we’d heard they get pretty busy later in the day).
Sibba and I actually walked the 2.5km from our accommodation at the Quoc Hoa Hotel, which was actually not too hard to navigate… until we accidentally stumbled into some sort of military compound (Google maps thought it’d be quicker to cut through it rather that walk around it) which we were sternly and swiftly told off for, and I imagine the armed guard said something (in Vietnamese) along the lines of “Idiot Australians! You can’t just walk through here!!!” His shiny uniform and large gun made his point, even if we couldn’t understand his words.
Anyway, we got there in the end, and first walked down through the enormous Ba Dinh Square leading to the Mausoleum. It was magnificent, silently commanding a quiet respect from the visitors. Despite his wishes to be cremated upon his death, he was instead embalmed and entombed in this Lenin-style mausoleum in the centre of the square, in the city where he read his Declaration of Independence in 1945 and thus establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
The 25 words or less history (not literally, I tried!) is that Ho Chi Minh received a French education, spending time in France, the UK, the USA and Russia in his early years. He became a Vietnamese Communist leader, taking the roles of both president and prime minister of North Vietnam, as well as leading the Viet Minh movement. He was fighting for Vietnamese independence, bringing the North and South together under one rule. There is, of course, a LOT more to it than that – I’d recommend reading up on it if you’re interested! Anyway, the mausoleum brings in hundreds of visitors every day, mostly locals actually, paying their respects to Uncle Ho. Tourists come in by the bus load too, and it is nice to see that for the most part, people were very respectful.
After spending some time under the watchful eyes of the guards and the big, grey structure itself, we walked over to the Museum, which was a real surprise. Built in the 90’s, it’s a supremely modern building, with an even more surprisingly modern interior. It’s dedicated to the plight of Ho Chi Minh and revolutionary fight for the country against foreign powers. The entrance fee was tiny, only a few dollars, and there was a lot to see – you can read a little more about the museum on their website, but I’d rather tell you about my impressions rather than re-telling something that already exists.
Upon entrance, you’re immediately faced with the first collection – mostly photographs and letters written in Vietnamese. It was interesting to look at, but even the descriptions were in Vietnamese, so we really didn’t have much of an idea of what we were looking at. We progressed up the stairs to the second collection in the second level, to be faced with a sort of ante-chamber, filled with the presence of an enormous, bronze Uncle Ho.
As we moved through one of the few entrances, we discovered the complete opposite of the simple, primitive display downstairs – an ultra-modern museum, with beautiful displays telling the story of the history of Vietnam…
It was well worth the visit and the tiny entrance fee – even Sib was fascinated! It was set up in such a great way that you really couldn’t help but learn, and you lingered at each new exhibit for a little longer than you expected to. It was also really interesting to note that there were more locals than tourists there; it seemed that they continue to be very interested in their culture and their past. I think that’s incredibly important, and was really wonderful to see.
I thought it was a fantastic place to see and spend some time in – we certainly stayed longer than we expected to! I would really recommend a visit if you are in Hanoi, it was a beautifully modern glimpse into a complicated past.