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Full Circle

Day 74: Nanning to Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam 
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Life in Hanoi. City tour on Mr Than's cyclo.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe road to Hanoi is equally slow, picking its way between sharp, irregular limestone peaks that give the landscape the look of a workshop, where new mountain designs are tried out. According to my guidebook this frontier area is still heavily mined. But considering that the Chinese were fighting their way through here only sixteen years ago and that eight years before that the Americans were bombing the place flat, the countryside looks remarkably unscarred. The red and white kilometre markers the French left behind when they colonized the area are still intact, and the rocky fields are carefully tended by men in olive-green pith helmets and tiny old ladies in the conical coolie hats I expected to see everywhere in China, but never did.

After an hour on a rough, meandering road through the mountains we emerge onto the rough, straight road that leads across the rich plain of the Red River delta. The countryside is filled with people. In the fields the peasants move in long lines through the rice fields - bending, cutting and loading the stalks into wooden-wheeled oxcarts. On the road, a great throng moves in both directions, like a scene of refugee exodus. Few have cars, most are either walking or on pedal and motor cycles. Every few miles, usually on a low rise beside the road, are monuments to the Vietcong army that defeated the French and the Americans. Nothing grandiose or militaristic, often nothing more than a whitewashed obelisk. The box-girder bridges across the Red River still show patches and repairs from the American bombings of the 70s.

We are in the centre of Hanoi by six - twelve hours after leaving Nanning. Two hours later I'm sat in a cyclo, something like a three-wheeled bath chair attached to a bicycle frame. My driver, who pedals from behind, moves me at a stately pace up the dimly lit streets towards the highly recommended 'N6' roof-top restaurant. Roof-top means exactly what it says - eating on a roof, beside pipes and chimneys.
Hanoi, Vietnam 
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Life in Hanoi. Fresh vegetables for sale.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 74
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Red River
  • Book page no: 110

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