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Full Circle

Day 78: Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam 
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Hanoi. Afternoon in the park.
Michael Palin - Full CircleEven twenty-five miles an hour seems optimistic as we struggle to extricate ourselves from Hanoi. The railway line may have been a great symbol of peace and unity when it was opened at the end of the war in 1976, but it doesn't look as if a penny (or, more correctly, a dong) has been spent on it since. At times the narrow-gauge track is nothing more than another Hanoi backstreet. The locomotive threads its way through the heart of densely-packed neighbourhoods, its cyclopean headlamp illuminating a tide of humanity on the line ahead - old ladies, mothers and babies, bikes, scooters, men with filing cabinets on their heads, children balancing on the rail like acrobats. The horn blasts. The crowd parts instinctively, skilfully, and at the very last minute. As soon as The Reunification Express has passed, it re-forms and the railway line becomes a street again.

Around midnight we reach the coast at Hoang Xa and out there in the darkness I can just make out the first glimmer of Pacific since we left Qingdao over three weeks ago. As I'm turning in, the train guard cautions me against sleeping with my head by the window. Miss Ha translates.

'He says you must be careful when the train stops at night. People may try to get in.'

'Can I lock the window?'

'The window is locked,' Miss Ha explains, reassuring me for a brief moment. 'But they may break it.'
Hanoi, Vietnam 
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Hanoi. English lessons.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 78
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hoang Xa
  • Book page no: 115

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