Destination: Vietnam: Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Unless you’ve seen Lenin in his glass coffin in Moscow, visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum will undoubtedly be one of the most bizarre travel experiences of your life. The massive building, clad in gray granite, is a lesson in Communist-era architecture; at its center lies the eerie, dimly lit room that houses the glass coffin holding the former leader’s embalmed body, surrounded by four guards. Visitors are speedily shuffled through after having been repeatedly reminded not to speak and to remove their hands from their pockets before entering. Says Indagare member Pamela Murdock: “The sight of him ‘under glass’ is pretty wild. If you go, hats, sunglasses or hands in pockets are not allowed. Respect is key, and they’re not kidding.” The fast tempo—you feel like you are marching past the body—is reportedly because when the mausoleum first opened to the public, the central room was one of the few spaces in Hanoi that had air-conditioning, leading some clever locals to linger here. If you arrive at 8 A.M. to beat the crowds, as your guide will insist you do, the whole experience takes all of 10 minutes. A dress code is enforced (no bare shoulders or legs). Close to the Mausoleum, your guide can take you to see Ho Chi Minh’s former home overlooking a scenic lake.
Hoa Lo Prison
The infamous Hanoi Hilton is a must for history buffs. Americans know it mostly from John McCain’s biography, but the prison was in fact built by the French in the late 1880s and used for political prisoners; one room still holds a guillotine. The displays have an interesting bias; the rooms dedicated to the French occupation list in detail the atrocities committed by the colonists against the Vietnamese prisoners, while those dedicated to the Vietnam war do their utmost to counter the tales of McCain and other internees, portraying American soldiers as well-treated and even displaying photos of prisoners playing football in Hoa Lo’s courtyard. But the dreary halls and granite cells speak for themselves, making this a sobering sightseeing stop.
Temple of Literature
Part of this large compound, with four courtyards and a magnificent ornate main hall, dates to 1070, when it was built as a Confucian temple. It was also the site for some 700 years of Hanoi’s first university, founded in 1076. Definitely come here with a guide who can elucidate all the architectural details and the many Confucian symbols and icons.
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