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Full Circle

Day 76: Hanoi

Michael Palin - Full CircleWhile the big developers try to spring their monumental schemes on Hanoi, the city remains defiantly small and low slung. Ninety-five years of colonial rule has left behind a passable imitation of a warm French provincial town based around shady avenues of two and three storey buildings with wrought-iron balconies, pantiled roofs, tall green louvered shutters and stuccoed fronts. Baguettes are sold by the roadside, bicycles are stacked along the broad pavements, cyclos re-route round old ladies with shoulder poles and baskets. I pass a long wall, hung with jackets, in front of which is a heap of clothes languidly supervised by a hollow-cheeked old man and a young boy. A passer-by stops, rummages around, pulls a jacket out from beneath the pile and puts it on. It's hopelessly crumpled, and far too small for him, but the old man and the boy, like men's outfitters anywhere, nod approvingly.

In Hanoi you don't need to hail a taxi, they hail you. Constantly.

'Hey you!'

I always fall for it, wheeling round as if I'm about to be karate-chopped. So when I do choose a cyclo I go for someone who doesn't seem to be the slightest bit interested in me. His name, it transpires, is Than, an elderly man with a Ho Chi Minh beard, broken teeth and one wandering eye. He wears a blue cotton workman's jacket and a grey-brown pith helmet. Before he mounts the saddle he takes a long gurgling puff from a bamboo pipe, which he then tucks down behind the seat, and mounts the saddle, exhaling slowly and skilfully.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 76
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hanoi
  • Book page no: 112

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