Located in a large garden at the back of the Presidential Palace is a nice road covered with pebbles and bordered with mango trees that lead to a stilt house, Uncle Ho’s residence and office from May 1958 until his death. The perfume of jasmine flowers and roses is omnipresent.
At the back is a garden of fruit trees, where the luxuriant milk fruit tree donated to Uncle Ho by his southern compatriots in 1954 stands between two lines of Hai Hung orange trees. Other valuable trees belonging to more than 30 species supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Forestry, and several provinces represent the wide variety of trees growing in Vietnam. There are also trees imported from foreign countries, such as Ngan Hoa trees, miniature rose bushes, areca trees from the Caribbean, Buddhist bamboo trees, etc. Dozens of varieties of beautifully hang from the trees which blossom all year round.
Many people know the story of how Uncle Ho came to live in a small stilt-house rather than a grand palace. But it is worth retelling. Ho Chi Minh was never one for large houses and comfortable living. He was just 21 when, in 1911, he set out to travel “the five continents and the four oceans” to seek ways of saving his country. For 30 years he lived a nomadic life, changing addresses constantly. When he came back to Vietnam in 1941, he led the revolution against colonial rule and read the country’s historic Declaration of Independence at Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi on September 2, 1945. Not long afterwards, the French attempted to reassert control of their former dominion, and Ho Chi Minh and his generals were forced into the north-western mountains. During the resistance war of 1946-54, Uncle Ho reverted to his nomadic ways, for the only means of avoiding detection and capture was to live life constantly on the run. He moved from one hide-out to another several times a month, and only lived in stilt-houses. When the war was won in 1954, the Party, Government and Ho Chi Minh came back to Hanoi. But Uncle Ho eschewed the trappings of authority. A true egalitarian, he chose to live a simple life: he wore brown cotton garments and rubber sandals made from car tyros, and lived in a worker’s cottage out the back of the Presidential Palace. In 1958, Uncle Ho revisited the former resistance base in the north-west and saw some of the stilt-houses where he had spent the war years. When he got back to Hanoi, he said he wanted a similar stilt-house built on the grounds of the Presidential Palace itself. The Party commissioned an architect from the Department for Army Barracks to design the house, but told him to submit his plans to Uncle Ho for comment before work began. The initial design had three rooms, including a toilet. But Uncle Ho wanted the house to remain faithful to the real thing. “The stilt-house must have only one or two rooms, small rooms at that, and definitely no toilet,” he said. The architect amended the designs, and the stilt-house that Ho Chi Minh moved into on May 17, 1958, had two rooms of just 10sq.m each. He lived and worked there for the remaining 11 years of his life.
Today, the stilt-house and its furnishings have been preserved must as they were in the 1960s. In the area under the house, Ho Chi Minh would receive visitors and meet members of the Political Bureau. In the centre of the floor is a long table, with wooden and bamboo chairs around it. Uncle Ho used a rattan armchair in the left-hand corner to sit and read, or rest. In another corner are three telephones that he used to talk to the Political Bureau, the Operations Department and others, and a steel helmet that he wore during the years of the American War.
In the right-hand corner, he kept an aquarium with goldfish to amuse visiting children. The two rooms of the stilt-house are sparsely furnished. One, the bedroom, contains only a bed and wardrobe. The other, the study, houses a table, chair and bookshelf. His appliances were just the bare necessities: a palm-leaf fan, a brown paper fan, a bamboo mosquito catcher, a little thermos-flask, a bottle of water, a radio-set given by Vietnamese nationals in Thailand, and a small electric fan â€“ a gift from the Communist Party of Japan. A little brass bell used to hang on the door. In the stilt-house, Uncle Ho received top cadres, children and his close friends. He spent most of his time writing letters, revolutionary articles encouraging “good people, good deeds,” and documents of great historical value on important political tasks such as his 1966 Call against US Imperialism, for National Salvation. Plants and trees were grown in the area around the stilt-house, as Uncle Ho was a poet with a great love for nature and pet animals. The garden is bordered with hibiscus, and the gate of climbing plants is typical of rural Vietnam. The front garden is decorated with little bushes of fragrant jasmines and eglantines, while at the rear is a stand of star-fruit trees from the countryâ€™s south. Spring sends the garden into a colorful riot of mangoes, white blossoms, and orchids. Uncle Ho regularly practiced martial arts and taichi with the guards in the garden, also the place where he once conducted people singing the famous song Unity, like a real orchestra conductor. In front of the stilt-house is his fish-pond, teeming with fish that he fed with great care. He only had to clap his hands and they came in shoals for food. The house clearly reveals his humility, his erudition and his love of simplicity and nature.
As late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong once wrote: “It is not merely a landscape, but a way of life; it speaks of a priceless joy that the current civilization seems deprived of, with its polluted mega-cities and cluttered high-rise apartments.
Today, visitors flock to the stilt-house to remember what kind of a man Uncle Ho was, and to celebrate his memory – a man of sophisticated intellect yet simple pleasures, of revolutionary ideas yet of peaceful disposition.