Finally, my first bit of real tourism in Hanoi!
Although my dad’s right about to arrive, our schedule will be absolutely packed – so in order to see everything I decided to knock off just one major sight beforehand. That sight is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, mainly because it’s only opened until 10:15am (!!) making it the most difficult to schedule.
(Side note: this is actually my third attempt to visit the mausoleum. The first time I arrived at 10:45 as it’s supposed be opened until 11…but apparently they stop letting people in around 10:15. The second time turned out to be the only day of the week it isn’t opened. Oops.)
The line to get in was insane, as I quickly learned that I’d come on a major holiday weekend. The very Chinese-like tendency to cut in line didn’t help much either; people would literally just step right in front of me, helping themselves to a spot of their liking. Once or twice I tapped them on the shoulder to indicate that it wasn’t cool but of course they’d just smile and continue to stand there. Eventually I shoved them aside. “Thanks, but I’ve been here for an hour – you can wait your turn just like everyone else” 😛
The process of entering the building, looping once around the sarcophagus, viewing the embalmed corpse of Vietnam’s most beloved communist leader, and exiting was a pretty cattle-like affair. In truth Ho Chi Minh looks more like a wax figure than a dead body – but it was interesting to see nonetheless, especially because I missed out on Chairman Mao in Beijing.
Still, I had been expecting a bit more of a reaction from the locals. According to Lonely Planet, the mausoleum is “the holiest of the holies for many Vietnamese,” and watching their reactions is one of the most interesting aspects of a visit. As far as I could tell most people just sort of glanced briefly inside. Far more interesting to me was the security: dozens of armed guards standing around with exaggeratedly sombre expressions, shushing anyone who utters a word. A bit strange, really.
After seeing Ho Chi Minh himself, I joined a Dutch traveler I’d met in line for an hour or so of exploring the memorial complex in search of its other attractions.
They were remarkably difficult to find…
…Mainly because every path was blocked off with “no entry” signs – the whole place seemed to consist entirely of exits. Wherever we walked a guard would be there to tell us “NO,” then ignore us when we asked where we could go.
The one exception was the Ho Chi Minh Museum where we actually did find an acceptable route to the door. When we got there a guard told me I should finish my popsicle before coming in, so I did so just a few feet outside. I finished, threw away the stick…and he slammed the door in my face. The clock had just struck 11, which is when they stop letting people in.
You’ve got to be kidding!
So we gave up on the complex and parted ways 😛
(As an interesting side note, my Dutch companion was on her way back from a 3-year stint in China. She pointed out that the feel of the complex is pretty typical communist behavior: trying to control every step you can take. She also reiterated my observations almost verbatim about how similar Vietnam feels to its big brother to the North. Even one of the tour operators I’d met during the preceding week, a French expat, mentioned that “whatever the Chinese government does the Vietnamese essentially copy.” I guess that would explain it!)
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place on Saturday, April 30th.