When my husband John and I visited Viet Nam nearly 30 years ago, the country was under the United States trade embargo, begun after the war ended in 1975 and in place for three decades. We weren’t supposed to spend or exchange money, making travel pretty complicated. The evidence of that costly and convoluted conflict was everywhere, in the abandoned military equipment carelessly lying around parks and museums, and sometimes in the attitudes of the people. In general, we were greeted warmly and treated well.
One of the most impressive and nostalgic things we did, was visit the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. Inside the mausoleum, Ho’s body lies in state under a glass sarcophagus, overseen by an honor guard of four sentries standing at each corner of the bier. The embalmed body is extraordinarily well preserved and dressed in a traditional khaki suit. His face and hands are illuminated with spotlights; the rest of the room is dimly lit. Photographs are not allowed, but the scene was vividly captured in our minds.
A multi-dimensional and complicated man, Ho has been villainized by the United States and revered by his people. He is still considered one of the most significant world leaders ever, listed by Time Magazine in 1998 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the Twentieth Century.
Both of us having been very much around in the ‘60s and 70’s, our brains were flying to all types of thoughts as very serious military guards prodded us to move along during our eerie visit. Travel can unlock and rekindle many emotions, and with this moving experience that is exactly what happened.