Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 Hanoi Trip - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh)

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnamese: Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh (Lăng Chủ is Vietnamese for 'Mausoleum', tịch for President)

Full experience of my visit to Hanoi can be accessed through the list below:


More about Hanoi can be read through the list below:
Vietnamese Dong


A landmark is the beacon which tourists invariably flock towards upon visiting a location. Without such prominent markers of a location, a nation or city would lose its identity in the mind of tourists. In the South-East Asian countries, such landmarks are numerous, ranging from the historic Angkor Wat and Ayutthaya to the modern Marina Bay Sands and Petronas Twin Towers.

Visitors to Hanoi would be hard pressed not to seek out Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum regardless of their ideology. This is where the body of the nation's founder, President Ho Chi Minh, lies embalmed. And this is also the landmark of Hanoi, one which immediately reminds people of the city despite its relative youth in the millennial city.

A squad of honor guards on the front of the mausoleum.

Most accounts and articles on this mausoleum agree on one thing: if Ho Chi Minh had it his way, this structure would not even exist. The revolutionist and founder of a nation wanted a simple cremation, his ashes scattered across the country. What he got upon his death however was one of the grandest memorial in the world, and definitely the most iconic structure of Hanoi.

The leaders of Vietnam began works of construction of this mausoleum a few years after Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969. Ground breaking officially commenced on September 2, 1973 and the mausoleum was completed with an inauguration on August 29, 1975. The leader's body was then treated in the same way as other famous Soviet leaders - embalmed and displayed in a grand mausoleum standing in the middle of a historic square for people to visit and to revere.


The iconic view of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, with its prominent columns, tiered structure and cubic footprint. There is a certain art deco charm in the angular architecture, its grimness set in contrast by the colorful gardens of floras around the mausoleum.

I learnt later that the square was a historic pavilion where Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam's independence on September 2, 1945, Ba Dinh Square. Iconic images of the mausoleum are usually taken in this square, facing the structure at an oblique direction.

Gray granite formed the building blocks of the mausoleum as well as forming the exterior wall. The iconic cubic mausoleum lies on top of a tiered base, supported and surrounded by equally squarish columns. In stark contrast to the grim memorial however are floras from around the country being planted in beautiful gardens, forming a truly wonderful environment for the body of a deceased leader.

The long winding corridor towards the entry checkpoint counter. Yes, this is not yet towards the entrance of the mausoleum.

After checking in your belongings, you will be given a luggage ticket like this (notice the spelling mistake). There is no charge for leaving your luggage there but you must reclaim it before the mausoleum close for the day (10.30 a.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. on weekends).

We had the misfortune to arrive at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum during the closure of the memorial. For close to two months every year, somewhere between September to November, the mausoleum has to close down and the body of Ho Chi Minh sent to Russia for maintenance (yes, the embalmment  needs maintenance). So it definitely would be wise to check ahead with your tour agency or hostel clerk regarding the mausoleum's closure if you are visiting during those months. Interestingly for us though, both the tour guides and hostel receptionists knew that the mausoleum was closed for maintenance but not when it would reopen.

Fortunately for us though, the mausoleum reopened on the last day of our trip, November 7, and we managed to get a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh before we left Hanoi. We joined a super long queue of people, a nearly equal mixture of foreign and local tourists, walking towards the check in counter where our camera and electronic devices needed to be checked in. If not for the aforementioned gardens, the walk would be rather tiresome, lasting close to 20 minutes before we reach the counter, and that was another 20 minutes before reaching the mausoleum entrance even.

There will always be locals (as well as some foreigners) cutting the queue past the shuffling throng, indifferent and oblivious to the indignant glare of foreigners, so be patient with these people. Long the queue may be, but at least it was moving albeit at a snail's pace. Once our bags were dropped at the counter, we were given a tag for collecting them upon the end of our visit. With that matter off our hands, we continued shambling with the crowd until we reached the mausoleum entrance. It was only in hindsight did we realize we had walked from one end of the mausoleum grounds to the entrance.



It took us a roundabout route within the mausoleum grounds to the entrance of the memorial itself. The grounds within were a sight to behold, with gardens of striking beauty and vast expanse of space accompanying us in our shuffle towards the entrance.


The exit of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was on the other side of the structure, bringing us to a pathway snaking through the gardens. Here the crowd could walk freely, so we took our time to enjoy the scenery and took some photos of a side usually not shown about the mausoleum, its back, which was no different from the other three sides except being in a position unable to be seen unless one stood at the exit of the mausoleum.

The interior of the mausoleum was not vast, surprising considering the size of the mausoleum from the outside. However the corridors were wide enough to accommodate two abreast with much room to spare. We noticed that the interior was rather dimly lit and cold, lending an even grimmer and dour sense of the place. Honor guards stood at intervals along the path, silently staring at passersby with an air of indifference. And shuffled we did along the somber corridors until we reached the heart of the structure, the small area where everyone wished for a glimpse of.

We entered a rather small area where everyone's attention was fixed on the dais in the middle of the room. Encased within a glass sarcophagus was the body of Ho Chi Minh, the nation's leader. He looked rather serene, lying within the sarcophagus with hands clasped and sandals on as if asleep, with only the waxy face betraying a hint of his embalmment. The overall lighting was dim in this inner sanctum, making the amber light shining on the body all the more eye-catching. A curious glance above revealed a tall inverted tiered ceiling.

It took us more than 30 minutes to reach the heart of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum but less than 5 to walk past the body of the deceased leader.


The front of the mausoleum was a building in construction, one which seemed to rival the edifice in grandiose. Both modern buildings were countered by patches of greens, offering natural beauty in contrast to the angular man made structures.

Most guides will recommend in a short sentence one other event to witness while visiting Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - the changing of guards. I however recommended strongly to be there at the right time to witness it. We were at the guard post nearest to One Pillar Pagoda (read more on our adventures in 2013 Hanoi Trip - One Pillar Pagoda) on a day when the mausoleum was not available for visit, and we witnessed the guards marching over in tandem and in style, with one of them exchanging place with the current one. Thanks to the lack of visitors around the area, we could snap as much photos as we would like to without the hindrance of people blocking the view. 


The changing of guards at the station nearest to One Pillar Pagoda.  The white uniformed honor guards moved with precision and a great display against the backdrop of the grim mausoleum.

The honor guard marched quickly, but slowed to a snail's pace once passing in front of the mausoleum. This image is only possible when the mausoleum is closed. On days available for visits, this area will be lined with visitors trying to get a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh.

Further away from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum are manned stations attended by green uniformed military officers (or soldiers?). I was surprised when both of them stopped chatting and snapped to attention together, then marched away from the post. Fortunately my camera was at a ready and I snapped them on the spot to record such a memorable moment.

Is there mausoleum worth visiting? I would say it depends on your purpose. One may not hold much interest in the bygone communist days of Vietnam of for the deceased leader of this nation, but the monument itself is such a landmark of Hanoi that one could barely claim that one has visited the city without snapping a photo in front of the edifice. Following the queue may not be necessary for most, if you are only there to take a picture of the gray facade.

A visit to the mausoleum may prove inevitable in the end since Ba Dinh area held some of the most iconic as well historic areas of Hanoi. There was One Pillar Pagoda, a reconstructed millennium old icon of Vietnam, and a recently unearthed Thang Long Royal Citadel, with a history as long as the former but an unrivaled footprint which extent is still being discovered. 

Important things to note about Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum:

  1. No shorts, no mini skirts, no singlets. Cover as much of your body as possible.
  2. No camera, no handphones. All must be and will be checked into a counter way before reaching the entrance of the mausoleum.
  3. Because big bags are required to be checked in, bring smaller carry bags, such as handbag or sling bag for your water container. Do not bring valuable items with you just in case they need you to check in those bags anyway.
  4. Queue cutting by locals and certain tourists are usual. Just be patient.
  5. Do not put hands in pockets when inside the mausoleum. Do not talk and do not smile or laugh when inside as well.
  6. Arrive early to avoid queuing under the mid morning sun.
  7. Check with locals (tour agents or hotel receptionists) before planning your visit to Hanoi for a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum will be close somewhere between September and November for two months, and you may arrive just to be disappointed.
  8. The mausoleum is closed on Fridays and Mondays.
  9. Do check out the changing of guards. It is a very posh performance. We observed it between 10.45 - 11.00 a.m. If your interest lies solely with the changing of guards, and taking a picture of them without much hindrance from visitors, plan your visit on Friday or Monday.
  10. When asking the locals for direction to the mausoleum, they may confuse 'mausoleum' with 'museum', which stands in the vicinity as well. Once you get to either one, you will see the other one.









Environment:      A mausoleum standing in the middle of a historic square
Suitable for:         To see the remains of a leader who helped form a nation
Visit worthiness:   7.5/10 (most of your time is spent on queuing, no photographs allowed within the mausoleum )
Historical value:        5.0/5.0 
Architectural value:  2.0/5.0
Photographic value:  3.0/5.0
Landmark value:       5.0/5.0

Entrance Fee:                 free
Opening Hours:             8.00 - 11.00 a.m.; closed on Friday and Monday
Best Moment to Visit:  Arrive early to avoid queuing under the sun, but we saw the changing of guards on 10.45 - 11.00 a.m., an event which is highly recommended.
Length of Visit:             1 hour or less
                                
Address:                 Hung Vuong, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam




Source:

  1. Wikipedia - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  2. Rusty Compass - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  3. About.com - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  4. Vietnam Travel and Living Guide





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