There’s something about old school Communist leaders that inspires those around to preserve them for all of eternity, despite the deceased’s personal wishes to the contrary. Lenin wanted to be buried next to his mother, but has been on nearly permanent display since his death in 1924. Ho Chi Minh wanted a simple cremation, but he too got the Soviet embalming treatment shortly after his death in 1969. Of course, by this time the Soviets had spent decades perfecting their embalming techniques and had a specialized lab with at least 35 employees working there. Other communist leaders of the old Eastern bloc were embalmed, but Ho Chi Minh’s body was a special case, as the country was at war with the U.S. at the time. Moscow flew in a team of specialists to embalm his body in Hanoi, and until the end of the war his body was kept in a secret underground bunker/mausoleum with proper cooling and ventilation. The North Vietnamese army had a lot of security around this location as they knew the Americans were trying to locate the body (something too, that the Soviets were afraid of with Lenin’s body during WWII: it too was kept hidden, but in this case from the Germans). In any event, by 1973 the construction of the mausoleum began and two years later it was finally opened. It was based on Lenin’s tomb in Moscow, but is much bigger, with a few Vietnamese elements (like the sloping roof). The banner across the portico reads Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh, which simply means Chairman Ho Chi Minh.
I came here in March 2005 on my first visit to Vietnam. I remember the very long line snaking it’s way to the entrance, the local women obsessed with my pale skin (I’ve never been touched by so many strangers at one time in my life), and how fast and short a visit it was to walk around the enclosed body of Ho Chi Minh. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it’s been just over 13.5 years. Today I went for a return visit, even though I knew the mausoleum would be closed. Since I am in Hanoi on business, it was the only free morning I had. Although there were some tour groups milling around, overall the large square was pretty empty. I happened to walk up right at the changing of the guard, so that was kind of interesting.
I had hoped to see some regular cemeteries while visiting Hanoi, but they are just too far out from where I am staying in the Old Quarter. I did see numerous cemeteries in the Ninh Bình area yesterday on my sole day trip here, but I (regretfully) did not ask my driver to stop at any of them – I figured I have plenty of more chances later on, but that hasn’t been the case. Ah well, all the more reason to come back again soon.
Monument: the brutalist building that is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. There are some other buildings and museums to visit in the area.
Grounds: very flat, a lot of wide open spaces.
Visitors: not many, as this was Friday morning when the mausoleum is closed.still, there were quite a number of people there regardless.
Notes: check updated times and entry cut off times to make sure you get a chance to go inside.
Site: Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
Established: August 29, 1975
Notable Internment: Ho Chi Minh’s preserved body
Location: Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hours: Tues-Thurs 07:30-10:30, Sat/Sun 08:00-11:00, closed Mon and Fri