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What to see in Hanoi - Part 1

 

The famous  Places and sightseeing  you should visit when coming to Hanoi : Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum,  Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh's House on Stilts, One Pillar Pagoda, Quan Thanh Temple, Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda, Ethnology Museum, the Literature Temple and Quoc Tu Giam, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son temple, Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Duong Lam Village & Ancient Houses, Perfume Pagoda and Traditional Village as Bat Trang Ceramics Village, Van Phuc Silk Village.

 

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleumis a large memorial in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, which is the place where Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh's body is kept in state in an impressively austere, Russian-style mausoleum. The entry is like that of an amusement park ride, snaking along, forwards and back, to its final destination. Lines can be very long, especially when gaggles of school children on field trips are being led through. Even then, at the end of the line, there is a suitable distance to go and viewers are only allowed to proceed one group at a time. Remember that You will have to check any photographic equipment before entering as pictures of the body are not permitted here. Once inside, you will only get about a minute to look Uncle Ho Body. After more 40 years of preservation, Vietnam's founding father is looking pretty good - a bit like he is just taking a nap. Teams of experts from Russia still visit regularly to consult and help out on the preservation of Ho Chi Minh's body.

It is worth mentioning that this sight is Vietnam's holiest of holies. A reverential and respectful attitude is obligatory and this is the one place where foreign visitors might be vigorously chastised, or even removed by uniformed guards if they do not comply with the provisions . There is an elaborate list of rules when you enter which you should try to adhere to, including prohibitions against the wearing of an 'unserious costume,' or being in a 'status of heavy sickness'. Do not cause noisily and speak loudly or laugh.

Looking at the massive white lotus-shaped structure that houses the Ho Chi Minh Museum's collection, one might wonder how so much real estate could be dedicated to one man.

You will pass through airport-style security to gain access and the first layer of exhibits is much what you would expect : a photo-history of Uncle Ho's life with brief but informative captions in French, English and Vietnamese.

As you proceed up the steps to the right to start a tour of the upper gallery, the situation doesn't become any clearer. The visitor is led through a series of exhibits, which aren't really museum exhibits at all: They are art installations in the tradition of the 1970s art scene.

Back then, they might have called them 'happenings,' and it's startling (if slightly embarrassing) to find a place in Vietnam where they are actually still happening. Some of the exhibits are just plain incomprehensible: The tram-line, human-powered funicular display, even after carefully studying the adjacent explanatory texts, is still a mystery to us.

Each exhibit focuses on one of eight themes: human hope and achievement versus the degradations of fascism, or Ho Chi Minh's hideout in Cao Bang Cave rendered as a human brain. It's post-modernism influenced by pop art, with a heavy dose of socialist realism. And in the tradition of Soviet collectivist art, none of the creators are credited by name.

The whole thing is utterly anachronistic, and sort of mind-blowing, which is to say, something you absolutely must see to believe. It's hard to imagine what contemporary Vietnamese who visit here would make of the place. Small children may subsequently suffer from very confusing dreams for years to come.

The explanation for how this odd museum came into being is quite simple. After the war with the US ended in 1975, the art world was well into the post-modernist era. The museum was made possible by Vietnam's strongest post-war ally, the then-Soviet Union, with its own history of artistic expression and its own take on modernity. Planning began in 1977, though construction only got under way in 1985, and the museum opened in 1990 on the anniversary of Ho Chi Minh's birth. The museum is actually a synthesis of various revolutionary and anarchistic artistic movements that would require an advanced degree in modern art to properly unravel, and all of which were dead and buried by the time the museum actually opened.

Strewn throughout the exhibits, as if the surrounding art actually provided meaningful context, are rather prosaic if historically important documents preserved in plexi-glass flip books to be perused by visitors. Most of the documents are in French and we saw no serious perusing going on during our visit. People were distracted by, oh, maybe the giant pineapple surrounded by yet-more-massive bananas.

So, definitely stop in to the happening in progress while you're in Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi is not uniquely Vietnamese: It's flat out unique.

 

Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh's House on Stilts

Just to the north of Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is the presidential palace. This is the place you can't enter, you only can look at or take some photos from outside, near that Ho Chi Minh's bungalow, often referred to as his House on Stilts.

Set in a stretch of mango tree-filled parkland around a small pond, this is a refreshing spot to take a wander around. Built of polished wood, Ho Chi Minh's bungalow has a light and airy feel, or as the brochure reads Uncle Ho's House on Stilts is a symbol of his simplicity and gentleness. There are only some rooms here, but all of them are full of wind, light and fragrance from the garden...

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