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Ho Chi Minh Museum And Mausoleum Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh played a large part in making modern Vietnam what it is today. As such, you’ll see him pretty much everywhere you go in Vietnam. He’s on every piece of money, has a city named after him, and numerous other little spots in honor of his name. In Hanoi, you can find his Mausoleum and a museum dedicated to him.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

In Remembrance

While in Hanoi the first time, we made a trip into the old quarter and paid a brief visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh is considered a national hero, having led Vietnam to independence against the French and for establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. After his death in 1969, work was put forward to construct a memorial to him. Work broke ground in 1973 and was completed in 1975.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The mausoleum, which sits at the center of Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, was rated the sixth most ugly building in the world by CNN in 2012 – but I believe this is a rather harsh statement to make. The structure is 70 feet tall,135 feet wide, and made of gray granite, inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. The plaza in front is divided into 240 squares. Surrounding the structure is a garden holding 250 different species of plant and flower. The banner beside the structure says “Nuoc Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam muon Nam” – “State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam forever”.

Visit

We did not get to go into the mausoleum itself, because it was late in the day and you can only visit during the morning hours. But generally, you can see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh in the central hall of the mausoleum. There are strict rules however: be sure to cover legs, not have your hands in your pockets or arms crossed. No talking, walk in two lines. You also cannot eat, drink smoke, or take photography of any kind. They’re quite serious about paying respect to HCM in Vietnam.

The mausoleum is certainly a somber and imposing visit, but if you’re in the old quarter, definitely check it out. It’s hard to miss the big open space.

The hours are:

8-11am Tue-Thu, Sat & Sun Dec-Sep, last entry 10.15am (closed 4 Sep-4 Nov).

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Get In

After touring the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and it’s grounds, we stumbled across the Ho Chi Minh Museum by accident. They are located in roughly the same vicinity. But it was late in the day, and we weren’t really convinced on it either, so we didn’t go and decided we might come back another day.

Ho Chi Minh Museum Temple

During one of our last days in Hanoi, upon our return from Cat Ba, we decided to go see the museum since it was (kinda) within walking distance. The building sets the stage for what is to come, a large concrete building – imposing in the Soviet style and pretty much devoid of soul. Hello communism!

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Although everything online states that the entrance fee is 30,000 dong, it is really 80,000 dong per person (~$4). So right out of the starting gate, it left us with a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. When you enter, you start by walking up a rather grand staircase and begin the tour on the second floor.

Learn About the Party

It begins with a rather dull, though informative exhibition on the development of the Vietnamese Communist party from it’s conception to present-day.

Ho Chi Minh Museum Entrance
Ho Chi Minh Museum Room 1

Learn About the Man

You then enter another exhibition regarding Ho Chi Minh and his early life as well as who he became. The exhibit is purely a highlight reel, and takes liberties with his life where things are vague. Apparently, he was awesome guy, and was the greatest thing that ever happened to Vietnam. Totally not propagandist at all. Still, it was more interesting to learn about the guy, he certainly had an impact on the country and instigated many programs and did build a national unity.

Ho Chi Minh Museum Room 2

Soak In the Propaganda

Climbing up the next layer of stairs, you enter into an atrium with a grand statue of Ho Chi Minh. This room is probably the most inspired of the museum, and feels designed to show you that HCM is the big guy in country if you somehow missed it.

Proceeding on into the remaining exhibition room, you do a complete walk around the entire floor. The floor is far more artistic and showcases the struggles of the Vietnamese people, while of course tying it back Ho Chi Minh.

Some of the displays seem nonsensical, while others such as the clock showing time of death feel contrived. A few other displays just feel a bit pointless such as random journal writings from HCM.

Ho Chi Minh Statue
Ho Chi Minh Museum 3rd Floor

The museum as a whole is constantly trying to present this auspice of grandeur around the man. To most outsiders, it can come across as coarse and grating – it gets old after the 50th iteration of “westerners are bad, Ho Chi Minh said so”. It also left us a bit angry, seeing how overt the communist propaganda is within the country. The people are held back so much by their government, and the museum is a testament to it.

Ho Chi Minh Museum 3rd Floor

Finish Your Tour

We finished the museum within about an hour and half. You take an elevator from the top floor down to the ground floor and are released into the gift shop. Our feelings as a whole – way over priced, not particularly interesting nor astounding. I’d say to not place it at the top of your activities list. However, with all that being said, it was enlightening in the sense that you got to see the living propaganda and how pervasive it is within Vietnamese life – and you do learn a fair bit about Ho Chi Minh (if you assume it’s true…).

Ho Chi Minh Gardens

If you want to go, the address is:

Chùa Một Cột, Đội Cấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Keep in mind that photography is strictly prohibited (although no one bothered us when we took a few pics) and that saying disparaging things about the Communist Party or Ho Chi Minh is illegal and can possibly get you into some trouble.

So keep your voices low or wait till you’re out of earshot before voicing your “opinions”.

~K~

Ho Chi Minh Garden Flower

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Riding A Motorbike In Vietnam

To preface this: as an expat, you probably shouldn’t ride a motorbike in Vietnam. If you’ve never been on a motorbike before, you absolutely should not attempt to ride a motorbike in Vietnam.

So – I decided to try and learn how to ride a motorcycle in Vietnam. After all, how else could I expect to attempt a ride to Da Lat in a few days? It couldn’t be that hard.

Ho Chi Minh Traffic

My First Attempt

Our AirBNB host had a bike that he allowed guests to use to get around town. I had never ridden one and was really only familiar with the principals of using a scooter. So I decided to give it a shot. All in all, it did not go very well. At first I could not figure out how to get into neutral so that I could even move it. After thirty minutes, I finally figured out how to work the clutch. But somehow I’d managed to get the key cover closed, and couldn’t figure it out.

Bike In The House

Getting Started

So away to Youtube and Google I went. This actually was quite helpful. I figured out what I felt I needed to know. I knew how to get the key in the ignition finally, how to switch gears properly, how to kill the engine, control the throttle, and brake.

In the private front courtyard I managed to get comfortable riding the clutch in neutral and jumping into 1st. I got used to the “friction zone”. As well, I figured out how to purposefully stall the engine – and more importantly not stall the engine.

Testing Out The Bike

So feeling ready to take a more serious attempt at riding, I went out and began to make my way out of the alleyway. It wasn’t pretty. The throttle was jumpy, and the bike jerked forward and back and I managed to “power walk” my way through the first alley. Turning down the second alley I suddenly came across what seemed to be the entire neighborhood out enjoying the day.

It was obvious to the older adults that I had no business on a bike. Their faces only showed disapproval to put it lightly. I made my way past them though without any issues though (still hadn’t stalled the bike yet) and continued on down a third alley.

And my First of many Failures

I turned down a fourth and final narrow alley which would lead to the roadway – and managed to run into a wall. Luckily no one saw that happen and there was no damage to the bike because I was going something like 2 mph. However, the children caught up to me quite quickly and were quick to point and laugh at my ineptitude.

Watching the children mock me and looking at the busy street ahead of me, I decided that it would be beyond stupid of me to proceed out into the street. A Vietnamese roadway during the best traffic conditions is as bad as the worst traffic you’ve ever seen in a big city, during rush hour.

Ho Chi Minh Traffic

So I turned around and headed back towards the house. Once again, the elders shot ugly looks my way. Unfortunately, I messed up even further and managed to finally stall the bike directly in front of them. In shame and defeat, I got off the bike and pushed it back down the alleyway back to the house and right where I found it.

I could learn to ride, I had no doubt. But I needed more space than a narrow alley way and to not have the neighborhood shooting poisonous looks my way. Our host would be back the next day, and I’d just ask him to take me out somewhere to learn. It really is necessary here, because it’s just so inconvenient otherwise.

Reassessing Our Situation

The next day came and went, our host was coming back from a vacation in Da Lat for Tet and got in late. I explained the predicament to him, and he seemed pretty amused. He then explained that I could just use the automatic scooter he had instead as it was much easier, and the next day he would assist me in getting a SIM card for my phone so I could have GPS.

I got up early the next morning, and we went on our way to get the SIM card. I hopped on the back of the scooter and off we went. Luckily, riding on the back gave me a quick eye-opener into how to manage traffic which is much less intimidating once you’re a part of it and not on the sidelines.

Trying a Different Bike

Once we got back, I then took the scooter for a spin around the neighborhood to gauge my comfort level with it. I was amazed at the difference. It was far smoother and easier to handle, and thankfully no gears to mess with. It was just get on and go. And the traffic really wasn’t too bad to handle – though admittedly it was completely different from driving in US traffic.

Since I felt comfortable, I came back and we prepared for our trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels which would be a pretty serious test of our ability to ride a bike through Vietnam. It should have been a 40km trip each way – but things happen. You can read about our adventure here.

On The Way To Cu Chi
Riding Back From Cu Chi

How’s the Traffic?

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re driving around in Vietnam. I think one of the most important things is to remember that although there are rules – there are no rules. You should be ready and expect anything to happen: people driving on the wrong side of the road, jumping into traffic, stopping randomly, cows and livestock in the road, and people talking (or stalking) you. So you have to drive defensively, but be sure to take initiative.

Because of this, you should always wear your gear. Getting a full riding outfit is pretty difficult unless you know where to look or brought one from home. But at the very least, you can always get a helmet. It’s the law – for good reason. Traffic related deaths in Vietnam are soberingly high, and it’s in your best interest to protect yourself.

If you can’t get full gear in addition to a helmet, at least wear closed-toe shoes, sunglasses (for the sun and protecting your eyes from dust and such), and seriously consider wearing long-pants and sleeves if you take a prolonged trip. Getting a sunburn on your arms and legs is not fun as we discovered on our way to Cu Chi.

Sun Burn After Cu Chi

Know the Etiquette

Cars on the road also always have the right of way and they will act like it. If you see one coming the other way, or from behind, just move on over as far as you can to the right. The cars, while relatively few compared to the number of bikes, are still readily found. They have no problem going anywhere on the road, and won’t think twice about running you off the road. They will usually at least give you the courtesy of honking.

Which leads to the next thing: honking isn’t rude, it’s just the norm. You can use honking for just about anything in Vietnam. But it’s main purpose to inform others that you are passing them, coming up behind them, or want you to move. It’s something I’m not particularly used to in the States, but here I have had to force myself to do it.

You Won’t Have the Newest Model

Your bike is almost certainly used. This means that it’s parts are possibly going to break, if they’re not already broken. You might as well assume that the speedometer and odometer aren’t going to work.

Flat tires are a common occurrence (I got two flats in two days). And anything can break. The good news it that repairs are cheap (an entire new tire costs ~$20), fast, and just about everyone can fix basic repairs. A mechanic is seemingly always just on the next corner.

Biking In Cat Ba

Watch Out for the Popo

When it comes to cops (which we thankfully have not had to deal with – yet), the best advice I can give is to relay what I’ve read elsewhere. Do your best to not draw attention to yourself (by driving properly) and don’t make eye-contact.

If you should find yourself pulled over, then you should prepare to get fleeced. Vietnamese cops are notoriously corrupt, and they will ask for a “non-receipted fine” – read bribe. They’ll take what they can get from you, so it’s wise to have a “fake” wallet with only a few bills that you can hand off rather than a huge wad of cash.

Am I Allowed To Ride Motorbikes?

It is technically illegal for expats to ride and own bikes in Vietnam, you need a Vietnamese Driver’s License – an International Driver’s License won’t cut it. So when you get pulled over, the cops have all the power.

If the option is open to you, speaking English and feigning ignorance might get you off the hook because they’ll get tired of trying to deal with the language barrier, but cops are more frequently speaking English or know someone who can, so this option is being less reliable. You can also call a Vietnamese friend who “owns” the bike who might be able to get you off the hook. All in all, it is illegal, but there are rarely consequences in Vietnam if you do ride.

Why Is Everyone Interested?

So if you’ve decided that you really are ready to go anyways, you’re going to need a bike. The Top Gear Vietnam episode has inspired many people to make the ride from Hanoi to Saigon – an epic 2000+ km ride through the mountains, beaches, jungles, and valleys. We thought about trying it, but it’s not quite going to work out because we just have too much gear. But anyways, there are a variety of methods to obtain a bike.

Can I Buy or Rent?

Buying new is pretty much out of the question because of paperwork and needing a license. Buying used is easy – just go to any bike shop and make a purchase. You can buy one used for anywhere between $150 and $400. You can also purchase from other expats who have completed their journey and are selling the bike before they continue on. If you go this route, you will have to sell your bike at the end as well though, so keep that in mind.

If buying a bike isn’t your thing, you can rent a bike. This is a great option if you’re just wanting to ride around town. But at the same time you can get rentals that will allow you to go from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh via http://flamingotravel.com.vn/. They have a wide range of options and great support for any issues you run into along the way.

Renting, which can cost a bit more than buying depending on your intentions, does have the benefit of convenience. You don’t have to bother with selling at the end, and generally they’ll help if not take care of all repairs you may need to make.

Selfie Biking Cat BA

Great Rides and Beautiful Views

Our favorite place to ride was in Cat Ba Island. Here we pretty much had the island to ourselves and felt pretty relaxed riding around. It really was a great experience, although we did have to be careful to avoid the pot holes. Briana had a chance to ride around here, since the traffic was none existent and is a great place to learn in Vietnam if you’re uncomfortable.

Briana And The Bike Cat Ba
Briana And The Bike Cat Ba
Briana On The Bike In Cat BA

If a sense of adventure strikes you – definitely ride a bike in Vietnam. It’s a trip of a lifetime, just be safe!

Briana And The Bike Cat Ba

~K~

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Vietnamese Food

During our time in Vietnam, we traveled through Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Cat Ba. We got to try a pretty wide array of the local cuisine, and while the list of indigenous foods is far more extensive than what we got to try, we found that we did get a nice sample of the cuisine. Once you try it, you’ll fall in love with Vietnamese Food too.

Pho (Bo, Ga, Thit)

Pho

Probably one of the most famous of Vietnamese dishes, this is a noodle soup consisting of a thin yet flavorful, clear beef broth, noodles, meat, and herbs. It comes in several different styles: Pho Bo (beef), Pho Ga (chicken), Pho Thit (pork) and you can even find it with seafood and duck. There are many more varieties within those sets: such as Bo Vien (meatballs) and different cuts of meat. There are subtle, yet distinct differences between northern and southern style pho – the north is simpler (due to a poorer history) in it’s make. The south tends to have spicier pho, and offer a much larger offering of various herbs and spices to load into the bowl as well as including bean sprouts and lime.

Bun Bo Nam Bo (Ga)

Bun Ga Nam Ga

This dish I found in Hanoi from a place advertising itself as Pho Ga. But what came out was Bun Ga Nam Ga (chicken). Bun Bo Nam Bo (Beef) is delicious and reminiscent of Pho, but without the broth. instead, marinated meat is served atop white rice noodles with herbs and peanuts. A small amount of sauce similar to a spicy sweet and sour is found at the bottom to mix it all with. My dish also came with a side of broth.

Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue

Yet another soup, this time hailing from the Hue region in northern Vietnam. At first appearance, it will bear striking resemblance to southern style Pho – lots of herbs, spicy, and served with a slice of lime. But the real difference here comes from the broth and choice of meat. This is a pork based soup, and as such you’ll find pork loin, and pork knuckle in the bowl, though they often will include a few slices of beef as well. The big kicker here though, is the pork blood added to the soup that gives a very strong and greasy flavor. The taste is very good, but I found that afterwards I would always have a bloody aftertaste which I felt the need to rid my mouth of. Some will elect to skip the blood, but more often than not, it’s included.

Bun Cha

Bun Cha

This dish hails from Hanoi, but has spread far and wide among the country with regional variants. The dish is grilled pork meat, noodles, and herbs. It is served with dipping sauce on the side. In the south, particularly around Saigon, you’ll find it all mixed together in a soup similar to Bun Bo Hue. However, the cuts of meat are always grilled, and always fatty. In contrast to many other dishes you’ll find in Vietnam, it is not spicy at all – I found it rather sweet and savory.

Banh Mi

Banh Mi Chay

Next to Pho, this dish is also very famous the world-over. French baguettes became a norm in Vietnam during France’s extended colonial occupation of the country. While the French inevitably left, the food influence stayed and so the Banh Mi developed. A mini-baguette is stuffed with a variety of meat (typically sliced pork), pickled vegetables, and cilantro then given a once over with chili sauce. It makes for a great sandwich and you can find vendors pedaling them in every city and town on street corners – many cafes will also offer them. Since they’re made on the spot, it’s also easy to get a custom Banh Mi to your taste, so vegetarians will be pleased to find it easy to get one to their tastes.

Thien Nuoc Mam

Thien Nuoc Mam

I had no idea what I was ordering when I got this, but what came out was quite recognizable. Fried chicken wings. These aren’t your standard buffalo wings, but they are very similar. First chargrilled, then given a quick fry, they come out quite juicy, but with a slight crunch. The sauce I had was light, and very reminiscent of a BBQ sauce. It came served on top of sautéed vegetables and cucumbers.

Mi Xao Gion

Mi Xao Gion

I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture of the food while it was actually on the plate, but I did get a picture of the menu which has a pretty accurate representation of it.

Another simple, yet delicious noodle dish. Lo Mien noodles are fried to a crisp and then topped with sautéed vegetables, and various cuts of meat, swimming in a mushroom gravy. The gravy softens the crispy noodles, but still leaves a noticeable crunch. The meat can vary by the place, but mine came with fish balls, beef shank, beef liver, pork loin, and octopus.

Suon Xao Chua Not

My phone ran out of battery so I couldn’t take a picture, however you can refer to the menu picture above for the Mi Xao Gion.

This dish reminds me of Chinese food. It’s sweet and sour pork ribs. Sometimes it may be served over rice, other times noodles – but the core stays the same. Meaty and fatty pork ribs are pan fried then glazed with sweet and sour sauce and sautéed vegetables. Mine was served over fried rice and it was quite good. My only issue was attempting to eat the giant hunks of meat and ver much not-sticky rice with chopsticks.

Bun Bao

Bun Bao 2

These are stuffed steam buns. At first glance, they look rather plain and even unappealing. They’re a dull-white dough, with a quirky little twist on top. But inside they’re stuff with one or two hard-boiled quail eggs and sausage. The bun itself is moist and chewy with a mildly sweet taste, while the sausage has a pungent spice that compliments the eggs nicely.

Bun Thang

Bun Thang

This light soup hails from Hanoi, and has a distinct taste all its own. While it uses the same noodles as Bun Bo Hue, that is where the similarities end. This is considered a finicky dish, as it’s preparation is very exact: 6 month old chicken having laid eggs for only 1 week; evenly cut herbs of cilantro, green onion, and onion all laid underneath the noodles; scrambled eggs fried crispy then cut into noodles. Tofu and mushroom are added to the top. The bowl is then filled with a light chicken broth and topped further with scallions, red onions, cilantro, Vietnamese Coriander, shallots, thai chili, shrimp paste, and ca cuong (beetle juice). The dish is very good, and makes for a decent departure from pho.

Vietnamese Fried Fish

CatBa_Fried_Fish
While in Cat Ba, I tried out a little bit of seafood. One of the first things I got was fried fish. The fish on Cat Ba is quite good (though I have no idea what kind it is). The method of cooking is pretty simple, the whole fish is tossed in a pan and fried in butter and garlic. Eating off the bone is easier than I would have thought, and the skin turns into a nice crisp with a delicious flavor all its own.

Squid Salad

Squid Salad
Another dish I got on Cat Ba, the squid salad was not exactly what I was expecting – not that that was bad. It came as a little bit of vermicelli noodle, pickled carrot, and cooked (but cool) squid, on top of fried rice puffs. The dish was lighter than I was hoping for, but was delicious nonetheless.

Bun Nem Chay

Nem Ran Chay 1

This is a vegetarian dish that we got a from a Buddhist restaurant serving only vegetarian dishes. It’s rice noodles served atop a mixed salad of herbs and cucumber, and topped with vegetarian fried spring rolls. The spring rolls have a nice spice to them of cinnamon, clove, and anise, filled with mushroom. A light sweet and sour sauce compliments the noodles and salad along with a topping of peanuts. It’s a light, refreshing, and filling meal. Great for a hot day when you might want something cooler than hot soup.

Bun Rieu Chay

Bun Reiu Chay 2

This is a vegetarian styled dish based on meat rice vermicelli soup. This did not have meat, instead having fried tofu. This version is very different from the original, but does its best to keep with the inspiration. This soup has a tomato broth, and is filled with various vegetables and tofu. The non-vegetarian version contains crab and pig-blood. Regardless of the variety you try, it is very nutrient rich.

Bun Chuoi Dau

Bun Chuoi Dau

Yet another vegetarian dish we got – this was also a soup. This dish is a heavy, clear broth, filled with vegetables, noodles, and fried tofu. One of the highlights to this dish I found was the green banana. I’m not typically a banana fan (I actually hate them with a vengeance), but I found the green bananas to be a great addition, taking the place a potato normally would in a french style stew. This dish is very hearty, with a mildly sweet taste to it. I found myself ordering this multiple times.

Nem Ran (Chay)

Nem Ran Chay 4

These Vietnamese style spring rolls. Longer and thinner than the typical Chinese style spring rolls we’re used to, they are stuffed with pork, glass noodles, and vegetables and then deep fried to a golden crisp. Vegetarian (chay) versions skip the pork and will instead use tofu or mushroom as a filler. We got these while at a wonderful vegan restaurant in Cat Ba.

Pineapple Fried Rice

Pineapple Fried Rice

Briana got this while at Hum Vegetarian in Ho Chi Minh. Because of this, it was vegetarian (obviously). The key to this dish, which seems pretty ordinary and can be found pretty much everywhere is that it is served inside a hallowed out pineapple. Tiny bits of pineapple and peanuts are fried up alongside the rice (and meat if you choose that option) to create a sweet yet savory dish.

~K~

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