In September 2010 I went back to Australia for a while after spending months travelling in the US, Europe and Asia. My return was to catch up with family and friends, do some travel there and a few months of contract work to boost the coffers, then I had planned to move to the US. But with the economy still in the gutter I thought, what the hell, I am going to Vietnam and Laos for 2 months (via Singapore)! So I put the relocation off for a while and headed to S.E. Asia. I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 5 of that journey (a return to North Vietnam).
November 21st, 2010
I am now back in Hanoi, North Vietnam after spending a couple of weeks in Laos. I was running a bit late and ended up at the back of a long queue to pay my respects to Ho Chi Minh in his mausoleum in Hanoi, but once I got through the security checks, handed my camera over to pick up on the other side…of the mausoleum that is, then everything went quite quickly. Although the long walk to the tomb was slightly delayed by the little girl in front of me who was having technical difficulties with her pants, and kept hitching them up and correcting things.
Upon entering Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum (modelled on Lenin’s tomb in Moscow) there are numerous rules to follow:
1. Dress respectively
2. No hands in pockets
3. Do not wear a hat
4. Men must be on the right side of a woman if they enter together
5. Do not stop – walk slowly etc. etc.
White uniformed soldiers are at regular intervals to guard the tomb and quickly remind you of the rules (I got in trouble in Moscow for putting my hands in my pockets whilst in Lenin’s tomb, it wasn’t going to happen again)! Uncle Ho looks at peace inside a glass cabinet in the bowels of the building (although this was totally against his wishes as he wanted to be cremated). Before you know it, the experience is over and you are back outside in the heat!
On the grounds of the mausoleum is also the former French Indochina Governor-General’s Presidential Palace – quite a stately place. There is also a collection of Ho’s cars (Russian and French) and everything is set in nice gardens around a small lake.
From there you head to Uncle Ho’s former residences – one a large house he used from 1954 – 1958 (it was being restored so I couldn’t go into it), then a more traditional (and simple) stilt house he apparently lived in from 1958 – 1969 (the year he passed away). More white uniformed soldiers were guarding the stilt house that still has his offices, bedroom etc as it was the day he died. All very simple for the leader of a nation, but apparently he was not one for large houses and comfortable living – during the revolutionary years he lived a nomadic lifestyle and had to remain in remote mountain hide-out’s always on the run from the French colonial forces. When the first Indochina War was won in 1954 and the Communist’s came into power in North Vietnam he prefered to maintain this simple living rather than live in the Presidential Palace (plus it was a symbol of a hated former regime). He was also famous for wearing simple peasant like garments and rubber sandals made from car tyres (famously later used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War).
I believe there was a building nearby that acted as a bomb shelter. I would imagine that in reality Ho Chi Minh probably spent a lot of time in the shelter simply because the US were constantly bombing Hanoi during the Vietnam War and the leaders residence would have been a hard target to resist! The anti-imperialist style propaganda did not mention anything about this at the complex though.
Then onto the One Pillar Pagoda which was originally completed in 1054. The pagoda is a sacred site to the Vietnamese, as such the French destroyed the original on their departure in 1954 (no hard feelings?)! It was rebuilt by the 1960’s.
The final port of call in the complex is the Ho Chi Minh Museum – upon entering the first main atrium you are greeted by a huge statue of Ho. Then strangely the focus in this place is more on symbology reflecting the Communist victory over the French and the USA through the use of unusually artistic statues and displays. There are lots of photos and some of his personal possessions on display and it is quite an interesting place even if I didn’t actually learn much more about the man than I knew before!
My last day in Hanoi was only meant to be a morning, then head out to the airport (this didn’t quite work out as Jetstar Airlines changed my flight to 4 hours later, totally unannounced! Luckily I checked my email and didn’t head out to the airport at the original time). So I went to the Vietnamese Peoples Air Force Museum which I had missed on my last visit due to it being closed.
I am glad I went back to the VPAF Musem, it was a great museum. Lots of Soviet era aircraft on display, including the personal Mil Mi-4 “Hound” helicopter of Ho Chi Minh, Mikoyan Gurevich fighters and captured or destroyed South Vietnamese and US aircraft.
As always I was impressed by the massive Mil Mi-6 “Hook” heavy transport helicopter on display (I have also seen these huge beasts in Russia and Latvia). I have another short-term reminder of going inside this helicopter, as I smashed my head on some solid metal in one of the hatchways! Nice lump and bruise (imagine an egg on my forehead), one of the girls at my hotel gave me some Vietnamese deep heat type balm to put on the bump – seems to work! Still hurts though!
Like all former and current Communist countries they had a Soyuz rocket command module on display – this one for Vietnamese Cosmonauts that went up with the Soviets in the 1980’s. Inside the museum were plenty of relics from shot down US aircraft and US pilots helmets and uniforms. As always at these type of things I was in plane nerd heaven.
Next stop is Danang and Hoi An on the coast of Central Vietnam. I will miss Hanoi and the Old Quarter, it can be chaotic at times, yet has a certain charm that I do not think I will experience elsewhere in Vietnam. The people have been incredibly friendly and welcoming, there are so many interesting and historic places to visit and the food is fantastic. I mainly dined in local hole in the wall type places and the variety of choices was a delight. Goodbye Hanoi thanks for the memories.