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
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.
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”.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…).
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”.
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