Jeffer's Odyssey

Hanoi, Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum & The House-on-Stilts

OK. Things are getting way too summery, so let’s buckle down a bit. According to CNN’s 2012 ranking on the “Top 10 Ugliest Buildings in the World“, sixth on the list is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam. I wonder what they based the ranking on, since I was going through the list, and I wondered if I had to have some technical know-how on architecture and construction, because most of them looked pretty OK to me. That ranking did not seem to have an effect really, since it hardly made a dent on the high level of interest that the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum generated – and continues to generate – to this day. 

It doesn’t take a high IQ to figure out that Ho Chi Minh is a very, very important man. Even 45 years after his death, he is still very much a central figure in Vietnam, and I doubt that is going to change.

As Vietnam’s national hero, it is clear that the man is revered. While it is true that the southern city “Ho Chi Minh” bears his name, his presence and legacy is still very much felt in the north, in Hanoi. And that’s what we visited today: his resting place, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Originally, we planned on getting a cab to get there. It’s outside of the Old Quarter, after all, and we figured we may have a hard time finding our way. But an inquiry with the chatty (and cheeky, haha!) guy at our hotel reception resulted in him persuading us to just go there on foot.

And so we did.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Also called the Ba Đình Mausoleum, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a national monument (and Vietnam’s most important one) located in Ba Dinh Square that houses the preserved/balsamed body of Ho Chi Minh.

This widely visited tourist spot is the final resting place of Vietnam’s “Uncle Ho”. We kinda didn’t need proof of how much this place is visited, because the long lines around the complex is already indicative of that.

Admission to the Complex (and the Mausoleum itself) is free. Which was, wow, at least for me. And to see it so well-maintained and still heavily guarded and not charging the hundreds and even thousands of daily visitors is something I find very impressive.

Security is tight, and it appears that the moment you pass through this entrance, you’ll be immediately directed to the Mausoleum, so there’s an area where items that are not allowed to bring inside may be left. In my case, it was my camera.

They gave me a red bag to place my camera in, and got a corresponding number. (Later, after we exited the Mausoleum, I just had to present the number at a booth behind the Mausoleum, and they returned my camera to me.)

The place is vaaaaaaast. And there were men in uniform marching about, maintaining order. By the way, that large building in the pic below is the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which I’ll cover in a separate post.

Let me just talk about these pre-schoolers. Aren’t they just cuuuuuute? I just couldn’t help but laugh at how some of the boys unwittingly pull hard and high at the skirts of their girl classmates before them, though. Ah, the innocence of childhood.

And there’s the Mausoleum. The ugliest monument, or so they say.

Apparently, this mausoleum, which was built for less than 2 years (started in 1973, and was opened to the public in 1975) was modeled on Russia’s mausoleum for Lenin.

It was very orderly. People enter in two lines, and the moment you enter, it’s like you just stepped into a cavern. It’s quite chilly inside, which was done on purpose, in order to preserve the body of Vietnam’s “Uncle Ho”.

Uncle Ho is encased in a glass case, surrounded by around 7 or 8 guards at attention. The glass case is inside a sunken area of the floor, with granite or concrete barrier separating the viewers, who have to continue walking around the side until they have fully circled the glass case, then walk out the exit.

It was brief, barely even 5 minutes. But it was quite solemn, but yes, I got chills, and not just from the induced cool temperature.

Apparently, Ho Chi Minh did not want this mausoleum built, or to have his remains preserved in such a place. He preferred that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered throughout the agricultural soils of Vietnam. However, the people wanted to keep their Uncle Ho close to them at all times, so they built this.

The Presidential Palace Area

While entering the complex is free, checking out the other sections require a fee. If you plan on getting a glimpse of the place of residence of Ho Chi Minh when he was President, you’d have to pay 40,000 VND (Php 90.00 or USD 1.75).

We didn’t really enter the Presidential Palace itself, or even checked out the facade, because there were simply way too many people, and the crowd was so thick especially in that area, so we naturally ventured in the less crowded part of the estate.

This is the house where President Ho Chi Minh lived in, and worked at, from 1954 to 1958. From afar, it looked modest, until you notice the smaller details.

You’ll notice how it’s basically a group of buildings, and that is because there’s a separate area for his official duties, where he’ll receive and entertain other officials and heads of states, his personal living quarters, his kitchen, and the servants’ (or staffs’?) quarters.

I liked how wide the area in front of the main building is. It’s almost like having your own personal park right on your doorstep.

Unfortunately, the House is not open to the public, but the doors and windows are open, so you can still peer inside through the glass. The table set up on the threshold of the main building made me wonder if this is really where he entertained his guests, because it’s like they will be barely going past the doors. Or maybe it’s just set up like that so visitors won’t have to go in and ‘trespass’.

Anyway, according to the panel, this is the room where President Ho Chi Minh used to chair meetings of the Political Bureau and receive his guests.

Walk a bit further, and you can also take a peek into his personal living room and dining room, as well as his bedroom and study. Very minimalistic, and the wood patterns gave it a classic feel.

There’s a separate section that proves how boys will always be boys. This is the “Garage of Ho Chi Minh’s Used Cars”. At that time, some staff members were tinkering with something on the ceiling inside the garage, which explains their presence on the pics.

The one on the farthest left is the ZIS, which was given by Soviet Union in 1954 and used to serve Ho Chi Minh.

This Peugeot 404 was given by Vietnamese residents in New Caledonia (France) for the use of President Ho Chi Minh. It was given in 1964.

The green car in the middle is the POBEDA, another gift from the Soviet Union Government, given in 1955.

At the back of the House, there’s this wide carp pond where you can spot the House-of-Stilts clear across the other side. The pond is named Park Lake, or widely referred to as the presidential Park Lake,

Check out that line of people, though. They’re all headed to the House-on-Stilts.

The Mango Road

Know why it’s called the “Mango Road”?

Because it’s lined with… yep, mango trees. Mangifera indica, no less.

The length of this road actually runs along at the back of the Presidential Palace. You can’t go further past, though, because there’s a barricade and a guard.

There is a gazebo behind the Palace, with a statue of Ho Chi Minh. I guess this is where he escapes to from time to time for some fresh air.

The House-on-Stilts

Time to join the long queue to the Stilt House, or the House-on-Stilts.

Despite the Presidential Palace nearby, and the official residence buildings, Ho Chi Minh did not seem to find it at all comfortable to live in those places, knowing how the rest of the country is living. That’s why he had this modest house built on the palace grounds, overlooking the carp pond, where he could live in an equally modest manner.

The House-on-Stilts is where Ho Chi Minh lived the rest of his days.

Just like the Mausoleum, this one also had guards to ensure order. Guests have to be in two files as they walk to the House.

The 2-floor structure is made of wood, up and down. You can’t go inside the rooms, though. Just walk along and check out the rooms from the outside. Climb up the stairs on one side, look inside, then descend on the other side. It takes less than 5 minutes.

Check out that line of people out here to take a peek inside the House-on-Stilts.

For Ho Chi Minh, this house is in the perfect location, because it helps him indulge his love for fish and fishing. He’d wake up every morning, walk down the path to the pond, and feed the fish.

We spotted a couple of sellers of bread crumbs to tourists who’d want to feed fish themselves. Yes, this body of water is home to some real fish.

Just by walking around this place, the adoration and adulation of the people of Vietnam for their Uncle Ho is palpable. The state of preservation of all the elements in the grounds, and even the entire complex that houses the Mausoleum, the Palace and the House-on-Stilts are indicative of how they treasure the legacy of this man. And the sheer number of domestic tourists that come to this place is another indication that it’s a sentiment that won’t change any time soon. Or even at all.

If you’re in Hanoi any time soon, two to three hours is more than enough to check out this place. I suggest to be there real early, though, because it appears that the place is always crowded every day of the week. I shudder to think how much more crowded it could get on the weekends.

On another note, the Holy Week is here… how are you guys spending it? I made no plans to go anywhere, which is a first in a while. I thought I’d just pull back a little to finish some work and make headway with some other projects, since events and trips are going to start in earnest this coming May. Aja aja fighting~!

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