Our adventure with Uncle Ho
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.