I walked around Hanoi again today to take in several of the sites in the Ba Dinh District, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace. Ba Dinh Square is where Vietnam leader Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The current president of Vietnam is Trương Tấn Sang elected by the National Assembly on July 25, 2011. His 5-year term ends in 2016.
“The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow but incorporates Vietnamese architectural elements, such as the sloping roof. The exterior is gray granite, while the interior is gray, black, and red polished stone. The mausoleum’s portico has the words Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh (Chairman Ho Chi Minh) inscribed across it. In his will Ho Chi Minh stated his wish to be cremated and to have his ashes scattered in the hills of north, central, and southern Vietnam. He said that he preferred cremation because it is more hygienic than burial and saves land for agricultural purposes. The mausoleum was built in spite of his wishes.”
The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum and protected by a military honor guard. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. The mausoleum is closed occasionally for work restoring and preserving the body but is normally open daily to the public. Lines of visitors, including visiting foreign dignitaries, pay their respects at the mausoleum.
Another site in the same area is the One Pillar Pagoda. It’s the pagoda of a historic Buddhist temple and regarded as one of Vietnam’s most iconic structures. It was built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông who ruled from 1028 to 1054. The temple is built of wood on a single stone pillar and designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the Buddhist symbol of purity. In 1954, French Union forces destroyed the pagoda before withdrawing from Vietnam after the First Indochina War. The pagoda was rebuilt.
Another pagoda – the Trấn Quốc Pagoda – is the oldest pagoda in Vietnam. Trấn Quốc Pagoda was constructed in the sixth century, 1,400 years ago, by King Ly Nam De with the name Khai Quoc (National Founder).
The Hanoi Citadel was the former residence of Vietnamese monarchs dating back to Đại Việt, when the city was known as Thăng Long. Đại Việt means “great Viet” and is the official name of Vietnamese dynasties beginning with the rule of Ly Than Tong (r. 1054–1072). The headquarters of the Vietnamese military command is in the citadel. An underground tunnel enabled the military to flee to other parts in case of a raid. In 2003 construction work for the National Assembly building uncovered large remains of the Citadel dating back to Thăng Long. Some of the remains are now exhibited in the Vietnamese History Museum.
After viewing the historic buildings in Ba Dinh Square I hired a motorcycle driver to take me to the Hoan Kiem Lake area where I enjoyed people watching and a perfect cappuccino. The locally produced coffee is Highlands and it makes excellent espresso.
I’m amazed at the density and day-and-night pace of movement in Hanoi – much faster than Phnom Penh and every bit as fast as I remember Hong Kong and Bangkok. Tonight I will have dinner near the Night Market and see how things look under lights. Since I’m not much of a shopper, the markets are a bit overwhelming… What a world of voracious consumers we’ve become!