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Full Circle

Day 79: Dong Hoi to Hue

Hue, Vietnam 
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Hue. A bathroom by the Perfume River. The basin is an American army helmet.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWe leave the train here and take a boat up the Song Huong - the Perfume River - as far as the famous Thien Mu Pagoda. Its popularity as a tourist attraction is evident from the amount of transport available, ranging from catamarans, their prows decorated with gaudily-painted tin dragons, to the bobbing sampans with semi-circular rattan cabin covers, fan shaped bows and sterns and long-stem outboards, nimbly steered by foot or even groin. As we chug up river I see a woman bending over the side of a boat washing her hair. She rinses it with scoops of water from an American army helmet.

At the jetty below the elegant seven storey brick pagoda, children gather round, hands outstretched.

'Pen?... Chewing gum?... Money?'

There is a small monastery up on the hill behind the pagoda. It was from here that a monk called Thich Quang Duc left for Saigon in June 1963, and became the subject of one of the most famous photographs of the century by setting himself alight on a public street as a protest against President Diem's treatment of Buddhists. His car, a four door light-blue Austin sedan, registration DBA 599, which appears in the background of the photo, is now on display in a corner of the monastery. In colour, make, model and quite possibly year of manufacture, it is identical to the one in which my father used to take us on holiday.

Back in Hue, cyclo drivers outside the hotel offer us 'Dancing', 'Boom-boom' and 'Eighteen-year-old girls'. But in the end we settle for Princess Diana. Her Panorama interview, filling a huge screen, plays to an almost empty hotel bar.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 79
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Song Huong River
  • Book page no: 117

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