Ho Chi Minh was, by all accounts, a very modest leader, just as happy tending his garden and fishpond as plotting to defeat American Imperialism. He is one of the few revolutionary leaders whose reputation survives relatively unscathed. His wish was to be cremated and half his ashes scattered in each part of the country when it was finally united (he died in 1969 before the end of the war). A shame then that, in the tradition of Lenin (whose last wishes were also ignored) and Mao, he has been embalmed and interred in a huge granite mausoleum in the centre of Hanoi.
However despite any misgivings we duly joined the long queue. This is the most popular tourist attraction here and coach loads of foreign tourists join the Vietnamese school parties to go and see the man who masterminded the biggest defeat ever suffered by Uncle Sam. Why do the tourists come one wonders? Are they celebrating the Vietnamese victory? Is this an act of solidarity with all the oppressed people's of the world? Hardly as these messages hardly appear in the mausoleum itself.
Instead it is treated as an almost religious experience. Cameras are strictly banned. Knees and shoulders must be covered. Sunglasses and hats removed. Arms down by one's side and strict quiet is enforced. We troop through, hurried past Ho lying in a glass case looking for, all the world, like a plastic dummy.
Next door the Ho Chi Minh Museum is an equally surreal experience. Around the outside is the story of his revolutionary life with especially interesting sections on his time in Paris before the Second World War. Inside are a series of tableaux supposedly representing the revolutionary struggle and the building of a socialist society. One, for example, represents the cave where he had his headquarters on his return from exile in 1941 as the inside of a brain. Others are largely unfathomable.
A more logical and useful account of the struggle for independence can be seen in Vietnam Military History Museum, just down the road. With accounts of the fight against not just the Americans but the French before them it is a sobering reminder of the struggle Vietnam had to go through to break free of foreign domination. (Inevitably the British have a walk on role being tasked with accepting the surrender of Japanese troops after World War Two. When the Vietnamese objected to their presence the British general simply used the Japanese troops to suppress them). The centrepiece is a 'mash-up' of downed US planes (see photo) but elsewhere there is testimony to the ingenuity of the Vietnamese who defeated the most powerful nation on earth often using home-made weapons.
Outside are some veterans of the war against the USA being escorted around as part of a group of visiting soldiers. They don't look entirely comfortable and judging by some of the things we have seen inside it is understandable that they would not want to be reminded of what they endured.