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In the tradition of great Communist leaders, when Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 his body was embalmed, though not put on public view until after 1975. The mausoleum is probably Hanoi’s most popular sight, attracting hordes of visitors at weekends and on national holidays; from school parties to ageing confederates, all come to pay their respects to “Uncle Ho”.
Visitors to the mausoleum (note the very limited opening hours) must leave bags and cameras at one of the reception centres, the most convenient being that at 8 Hung Vuong, from where you’ll be escorted by soldiers in immaculate uniforms. Respectful behaviour is requested, which means appropriate dress (no shorts or sleeveless vests) and removing hats and keeping silence within the sanctum. Note that each autumn the mausoleum usually closes for a few weeks while Ho undergoes maintenance.
Inside the building’s marble entrance hall Ho Chi Minh’s most quoted maxim greets you: “nothing is more important than independence and freedom”. Then it’s up the stairs and into a cold, dark room where this charismatic hero lies under glass, a small, pale figure glowing in the dim light, his thin hands resting on black covers. Despite the rather macabre overtones, it’s hard not to be affected by the solemn atmosphere, though in actual fact Ho’s last wish was to be cremated and his ashes divided between the north, centre and south of the country, with each site marked only by a simple shelter. The grandiose building where he now lies seems sadly at odds with this unassuming, egalitarian man.