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Full Circle

Day 79: Dong Hoi to Hue

Michael Palin - Full CircleForty miles south of Dong Hoi the rain has passed out to sea and a hot sun is breaking through as we roll slowly across the Ben Hai River, better known by its line of latitude as the Seventeenth Parallel. Between the years of 1954 and 1976, it marked the division between North and South Vietnam.

Thirty years ago President Johnson's huge 'Rolling Thunder' bombing offensive swept across this soft, sylvan countryside. Some of the craters can still be seen, though most have been filled in to prevent them becoming stagnant breeding grounds for malarial mosquitoes. Defoliants, like Agent Orange, have left their mark too, but the trees they burned and poisoned have been replaced, mostly by fast-growing eucalypts. Mines, planted by both sides, are still being discovered.

For someone of my age the Vietnam War remains a source of appalled fascination. For ten years or more images of the utmost cruelty came out of this green and pleasant land. Today nature has covered up most of the scars and, seeing it with my own eyes for the first time, the landscape looks as innocent as a baby.

We arrive at Ga Hue at midday. (Ga, meaning station, is a phonetic Vietnamization of the French 'gare'). Nothing much advertises the fact that we are in what was once the old imperial capital of Vietnam. An ugly concrete girdle has been grafted onto the crumbling pink wash of the old French station building. Across a dusty square white metal tables are set out beneath a pair of thin acacia trees.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 79
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hue
  • Book page no: 116

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