Our ad­ven­ture with Un­cle Ho

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JONATHAN RICE

CLAY­FIELD, QUEENS­LAND AS a fam­ily we travel in­de­pen­dently over­seas, pre­fer­ring to wing it, rather than tak­ing an or­gan­ised tour. We do our home­work first, con­sum­ing guide­books and web­sites be­fore set­tling on an itin­er­ary.

You have more con­trol over how you want to spend your day and if you like a place you can stay a bit longer. But some­times the lan­guage bar­rier and not be­ing aware of the lo­cal law can land you in a spot of bother.

On our first trip to Hanoi, we headed off to Ba Dinh Square, de­scribed as Viet­nam’s cer­e­mo­nial epi­cen­tre, sur­rounded by Ho Chi Minh’s mau­soleum, mu­seum and one-time home. The Viet­namese con­tinue to idolise Un­cle Ho, who died in 1969 and, de­spite his ex­press wishes to be cre­mated, in good com­mu­nist tra­di­tion the gov­ern­ment had his body em­balmed and he went on dis­play in the grand, gran­ite-pil­lared mau­soleum in 1975.

We ap­proached the mau­soleum via the back af­ter vis­it­ing his house; ev­i­dently, this was not the way most tourists choose. All visi­tors must leave their bags and cam­eras at en­try points be­fore be­ing es­corted in­side by sol­diers. But we missed this bit. As we ap­proached the steps of the mau­soleum, I de­cided this looked like a good place for a photo so my wife took a pic­ture of me and our three kids. Four sol­diers swiftly de­scended, grab­bing her and the cam­era. Af­ter some or­ders given to us in Viet­namese and wav­ing of hands, the sol­diers marched off with my wife. My chil­dren and I were ush­ered into the mau­soleum to view Un­cle Ho’s body.

Nat­u­rally, this is a very solemn place, but my chil­dren were whis­per­ing: ‘‘Where have they taken Mummy? What are they go­ing to do with her?’’

Once out­side, we went to the main en­trance to ask where she had been taken but the guards didn’t ap­pear to un­der­stand me.

Af­ter about an hour, I fig­ured our only op­tion would be to take a taxi to the Aus­tralian em­bassy and re­port the in­ci­dent. Mirac­u­lously, she then ap­peared. The sol­diers had taken her to an ‘‘in­te­gra­tion room’’, in­spected the pho­tos, es­corted her into the mau­soleum to view Un­cle Ho, then re­turned the cam­era with­out delet­ing any pho­tos and re­leased her, all smiles and salutes. We en­joyed our Hanoi lagers more than usual that night. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@ theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive a Log­itech UE Mo­bile Boom­box, a por­ta­ble, wire­less speaker that lets you stream mu­sic from your phone, tablet or lap­top, and dou­bles as a speak­er­phone for hands-free phone calls. $99.95. More: log­itech.com/en-au.

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