In that great communist tradition, the liberator of Vietnam Ho Chi Minh remains lying in state so his admirers can pay their respects, even nearly five decades after his death.
The mausoleum is set in sprawling Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh read out the Declaration of Independence in 1945. This is easily Hanoi's most popular attraction, at least when it comes to something you need to queue for. We showed up just after gates opened to find a line already snaking for hundreds of metres outside the entrance gate. Entrance is free, and your bags will need to be X-rayed, but you can keep them with you. We waited for around 40 minutes to eventually enter the small room where his embalmed body rests under subdued lights. Visitors circumnavigate the glass sarcophagus holding Bac Ho, in literally guarded silence, for about 60 seconds.
Considering how long he's been lying here, Vietnam's founding father is looking pretty good—a bit like he's just taking a nap. Teams of experts from Russia still visit regularly to consult and help out with his preservation.
While the room is small, the austere mausoleum itself is huge. Built between 1973 and 1975 with Soviet assistance and modelled after the one in Moscow where Lenin is on display, it's more brutalist in style than anything else and the approach, particularly given how slow it is, is all rather dramatic.
You can keep your phones and camera gear with you, but photography is strictly not permitted. While people were taking photos of the gardens and exterior of the mausoleum as we waited, nobody dared try anything under the watchful eye of the guards once inside.
None of this is actually what Ho Chi Minh wanted. Before his death in 1969 he asked to be cremated with his ashes spread in three areas in northern, central and southern Vietnam. A grave plot was, to his mind, a waste of land that might be otherwise productively used. But it was exactly this kind of earnest devotion to his country that made it impossible for his successors to honour his wishes. The cult of personality surrounding Ho Chi Minh was their best bet for keeping the country united after the war, and to preserve that, his body had to be preserved as well.
This sight is Vietnam's holiest of holies. A reverential and respectful attitude is obligatory; if you get a case of the giggles, bite the inside of your cheek.
By Samantha Brown.
Last updated on 1st April, 2017.
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