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Hanoi, Vietnam

Heavenly Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum


The city of Hanoi belongs—and probably always will, at least in spirit—to the late leader and founder of the modern country, Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho, as he loved to be called. He never married and claimed the citizens were his family. They’ve kept him alive via a series of exhibits, museums, a one-time embalming, preserved homes and countless souvenirs you wouldn't want to miss in Hanoi.

Mornings are the best time for exploring the above and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the natural starting point. The trip there is a picturesque one through tamarind-shaded streets on which French-style villas loom. One also encounters the kind of brutal and somewhat ominous municipal buildings left over from the Soviet era of influence. At the heart you'll find Ba Dinh Square (marked by an enormous Vietnamese flag), where the leader read his Declaration of Independence in 1945. Inside the mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body lies in a spare room held in local red-tinged marble. Be aware that in this solemn atmosphere pictures, shoddy dress, bags and the like are forbidden. To enter one must sign in and “buy” a brochure at 8 Hung Vuong Street.

The area is also host to a glut of museums such as the Ho Chi Minh Museum with its gonzo collection of memorabilia. Photos of nuclear reactors, plastic fruit, depictions hinting at U.S. military failure, murals and highly articulated Russian-style interiors are amongst the gaggle of details worth searching out. The Fine Arts Museum offers a good introduction to Vietnam’s storied visual culture. This shabby yet lovable building once was the lodge for French female students. Curated by the government, the choice of objects is interesting in its celebration of things agricultural and, of course, related to the nation and Uncle Ho. But there are also rooms full of bronze relics, folk art and lacquered items that would be anchors in any collection in the West. Finally, there is Ho Chi Minh’s Residence—complete with slippers, typewriters and well-arranged books.

Ho Chi Minh’s Residence

Counter the obsessive attention to organization at the museums with a lunch back in the chaotic Old Quarter. An institution, which originated what may be the most famous dish next to pho, Cha Ca La Vong serves a namesake specialty in a gritty old building. Cubes of fish are scented with fresh turmeric and dill and DYI-dipped into a coal-fired pot of hot oil. You then mix them in a bowl with fish sauce, peanuts, several varieties of mint and rice noodles and wrap them in lettuce. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the trip to Fanny Ice Cream afterwards for flavors like young rice, tamarind or corn when in season.

Sculpture from the Fine Arts Museum

Art lovers can—and do—spend days immersed in Hanoi’s active gallery scene. Be forewarned that fakes, mass production and price padding are common here, so consult experts like Suzanne Lecht (84-4-927 2349) before you buy. She gives advice and also runs Arts Vietnam (30 Hang Than) and can arrange studio visits. Beeline it to Trang Tien Street for one-stop surveying at Red River (#11), Hanoi Studio (#13), Van (25/27), Tonkin, Opera, and Kinh Bac (#29 A, B, C), the last dealing in a mix of antique furniture. On Hang Gai in the Old Quarter is perhaps the most famous of all galleries, Apricot (40B Hang Gai). The range of work is shocking and can cover European pastoralism, German Expressionism and a Chinese sense of the rustic. But there is something magical about the best Vietnamese works and new artists always on the rise.

Set the evening aside for a restful bath or shower and secure a reservation for a touch of Hanoi’s high life at Le Beaulieu in the Metropole. Chef Didier Corlou has been knighted by the French government, speaks fluent Vietnamese, works with a Hanoi-born chef to preserve local dishes, and presents a mix of his passions nightly in the most elegant of ways. For something more modern, Bobby Chinn is the eponymous haunt of a California-trained chef with East-West panache and a cocktail lounge where the local beau monde comes to play.

Continue to Day 3


Au Lac
57 Ly Thai To St.
Hoan Kiem Dist.

Bobby Chinn
1 Ba Trieu St.
Hoan Kiem Dist.

Brothers Café
26 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
Ba Dinh Dist.

Cha Ca La Vong
14 Cha Ca St.

Fanny Ice Cream
48 Le Thai To St.
Hoan Kiem Dist.

Green Tangerine
48 Hang Be, Old Quarter

Hoa Sua
28A Ha Hoi St.
Hoan Kiem Dist.

Hue Restaurant
6 Ly Thuong Kiet St.
Hoan Kiem Dist.

Le Beaulieu
The Sofitel Metropole
15 Ngo Quyen St.,

1A Xuan Dieu St.
West Lake District

Wild Rice
6 Ngo Thi Nham St.
Hoan Kiem Dist.

* Old Quarter, Gate to Old Quarter, Sculpture from the Fine Arts Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake and French architecture images courtesy of

(Updated: 08/21/13 RD)

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