Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Hồ Chi Minh Mausoleum (Vietnamese: Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chi Minh) is a large memorial to the Vietnamese leader in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is located in the center of Ba Ðình Square, which is the place where Ho read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
History of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Construction work began on September 2, 1973 and the structure was formally inaugurated on August 29, 1975. The mausoleum was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow but incorporates distinct Vietnamese architectural elements, such as the sloping roof. The exterior is made of gray granite, while the interior is gray, black, and red polished stone. The mausoleum's portico has the words "Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh" inscribed across it, meaning "President Ho Chi Minh."
In his will, Ho Chi Minh stated his wish to be cremated and to have his ashes scattered in the hills of north, central, and southern Vietnam. He said that he preferred cremation because it would be "more hygienic than burial and would also save land for agricultural purposes." The mausoleum was built in spite of his wishes.
The structure is 21.6 metres high and 41.2 metres wide. Flanking the mausoleum are two platforms with seven steps for parade viewing. The plaza in front of the mausoleum is divided into 240 green squares separated by pathways. The gardens surrounding the mausoleum have nearly 250 different species of plants and flowers, all from different regions of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh's body is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum, which is protected by a military honor guard. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. The mausoleum is closed occasionally while work is done to restore and preserve the body but is normally open daily from 9:00 am to noon to the public. Lines of visitors, including visiting foreign dignitaries, pay their respects at the mausoleum.
Rules regarding dress and behavior are strictly enforced by staff and guards. Legs must be covered (no shorts or miniskirts). Visitors must be silent, and walk in two lines. Hands must not be in pockets, nor arms crossed. Smoking, photography, and video taping are also not permitted anywhere inside the mausoleum.
A large area is devoted to Ho Chi Minh
In the centre of Hanoi, a large area is devoted to Ho Chi Minh. The centrepiece is a large mausoleum where his embalmed body lies in a bier inside a glass case. Visitors must join a queue and file through the room without stopping. No photography is allowed, and all personal possessions must be left outside (provision is made for this).
It’s a macabre experience, but most visitors foreign seem to find strangely moving, perhaps due to the undisguised reverence of the Vietnamese people present.
The building was erected with assistance from the USSR, and is a good example of Soviet architecture of the period. It’s guarded by an honour guard of Vietnamese soldiers in immaculate white dress uniforms who march around the building at regular intervals.
It is open from 08.00 to 11.00 from Tuesday to Thursday, and over the weekends
In fact, Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately known in Vietnam, left directions for his cremation in his will. However, at the time of his death in 1969, the year after the Tet Offensive, the war was still raging and morale was low. Communist Party chiefs recognised his iconic status and overrode his wishes, probably a pragmatically wise decision, but ethically reprehensive.
The embalming process was undertaken by Russian experts – each year in early autumn, his body is flown to Moscow for three months for maintenance.
The grandeur of the mausoleum is a strange contrast to the simple stilt house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked. Built in the style of ethnic minority dwellings, it overlooks a large carp pond and is a calm sanctuary. Visitors can look through the windows to see the austere furnishings and his few personal possessions. On his desk each day is a vase of his favourite blossoms, hoa hue trang, a sweetly scented flower rather like a tall white bluebell.
Nearby is the magnificent Presidential Palace, once the palace of the Governor-General of Indochina during the colonial period. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public.
In the opposite direction, the Ho Chi Minh Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the man’s life and work and his vision of peace and happiness. It’s informative, but understandably overlooks some of the more risqué episodes in his life. Close by, the famous One Pillar Pagoda is worth a passing look. Although it’s one of the symbols of Hanoi, it’s something of a disappointment as it’s a modern replica.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is open from 08.00 to 11.00 and from 13.30 to 16.30 daily.
A short walk across Da Dinh Square directly in front of the mausoleum takes you past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a stunningly beautiful monument especially when illuminated at night. From there, another short walk takes you to the Hanoi Citadel.
The site of the ancient Hanoi Citadel has been occupied by the Army for many years. It is now beginning to be turned over to the Hanoi City authorities in stages. So far, a couple of impressive pagodas have been restored and made accessible. Not far away, a major excavation on the site of what will be the new National Assembly building has revealed the remains of a substantial palace complex dating from the Ly Dynasty that ruled about a millennium ago. The findings have transformed knowledge about the early history of Vietnam and its links to China.
It has recently been announced that the Army will soon hand over the remains of the Citadel’s Forbidden City to the Hanoi’s People’s Committee. After restoration work, this too will be open to visitors.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Dos and Don't's
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum holds the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh; this massive granite structure looms over Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Had Ho's will been followed, though, the construction of the Mausoleum would never have come to pass: in his will, the founder of the modern Vietnamese state specified that his body be cremated, with his ashes scattered over the north, center, and south of his country.
The Vietnamese government did the absolute opposite of his wishes. Instead, they gave him the Soviet leader treatment (same as Lenin, Mao, and Kim Il-Sung) - embalming his body and installing it in an imposing concrete-and-granite block that stands before a vast square.
Construction of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum began a few years after Ho's death in 1969 - workers broke ground on September 2, 1973 and officially finished upon the mausoleum's inauguration on August 29, 1975.
Architecture of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum tears a page from the Communist leader personality cult handbook: embalm the venerable leader, place his body in a massive mausoleum in the middle of a gigantic square in a historic part of town.
Ho's Mausoleum takes some inspiration from Lenin's in Moscow, with its dour, angular façade of gray granite. Above the portico, the words "Chu tich Ho Chi Minh" (President Ho Chi Minh) can be clearly seen chiseled into the pediment, which is supported by twenty stout granite-covered pillars. The rectangular mausoleum is 70 feet high and 135 feet wide, creating the impression of a massive bulk looming over Ba Dinh Square.
Ba Dinh Square in front of the mausoleum is noteworthy as the site where President Ho declared the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. The square is composed of 240 patches of grass divided by intersecting concrete pathways; visitors are heavily discouraged from walking on the grass.
The door of the mausoleum is guarded by armed honor guards. In the mid-morning, a showy changing of the guards ceremony is performed partly for the benefit of the tourists in Ba Dinh Square.
Entering the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
To enter the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, you'll have to join a snaking queue of locals and tourists waiting to enter. The queues to visit the inner sanctum can get quite long, and the wait can be interminable - visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a highlight for many locals' visits to the capital, and very few Vietnamese visiting Hanoi pass up a chance for a pilgrimage to the father of their country.
Tourists are expected to surrender bags and cameras before entering the mausoleum; if you're part of a tour, you'll hand them over to your guide. Then you wait as the line slowly files through the door into the inner sanctum.
Inside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho's body lies in state under a glass sarcophagus, overseen by an honor guard of four sentries standing at each corner of the bier. The embalmed body is extraordinarily well preserved, and dressed in a khaki suit. His face and hands are illuminated with spotlights; the rest of the room is dimly lit.
Great respect must be shown while entering - chattering, hurried movements, and indecent attire will be singled out by the mausoleum guards. Visitors are expected to keep quiet and walk slowly and steadily through the mausoleum.
Upon your exiting the Mausoleum, you can continue your "re-education" in the Ho Chi Minh mythology by visiting the nearby Ho Chi Minh Museum, which contains an account of the man's life as told in allegory and his personal effects, and the Presidential Palace, on which grounds Ho Chi Minh lived after taking power (he never really moved in, contenting himself with living in the former electrician's quarters, then in a custom-built stilt house from the 1950s till his death).
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Dos and Don't's
Do maintain an attitude of respect. Don't talk, don't smile, and walk slowly along with the queue into the darkened inner sanctum. The guards will not hesitate to single you out if you don't maintain the proper attitude.
Do come early. If you want to be ahead of the queue, it's important to avoid the rush of people who line up early to pay their respects. The mausoleum opens at 8am, but be there by 7am.
Don't take pictures. Actually, you won't be able to - the guards collect all cameras before you enter the mausoleum. You will be able to reclaim your personal effects as you leave the area.
Don't wear shorts. Or singlets, or sleeveless shirts. This is one of the holiest sites in Vietnam, if such a word may be used in a Communist country; dress up with a modicum of decency, and wear clothes that cover you up, even in warm weather.
When to Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located in Ba Dinh Square, and is easily (and best) accessible via taxi. Admission into the Mausoleum is free.
From April to September, the Mausoleum is open at 7:30am to 10:30am from Tuesdays to Thursdays; 7:30am to 11am on weekends. From December to March, the Mausoleum is open on 8am to 11am from Tuesday to Thursday, and from 8am to 11:30am on weekends.
The Mausoleum is closed on Fridays, and for a two-month stretch in autumn (October and November) as the embalmed body is sent to Russia for some preventive maintenance and touching-up.