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Saturday 15 Jul
Hanoi, Vietnam

Street life

I've never felt heat like it. When you step outside of an air-conditioned hotel room it engulfs you like the wash from a jet engine. Clothes are soaked in minutes. The narrow streets of Hanoi's old town area are crammed with hooting motor scooters, rickshaws, fruit sellers and smoking food stalls most of the day, but between 12pm and 3pm its like walking on to a deserted film set. Shop workers lie prostrate on the floor until the heat subsides (not that it ever really does). Only hot, red and bewildered looking foreigners brave the midday heat.

Vietnam has got a reputation in recent years for being too "touristy" which has probably put a lot of people off coming. True, there are lots of Westerners walking around the old town, but the vibrancy of the markets, shops, bia hoi stalls (fresh cold beer at 10 pence a glass) and people of this street-orientated city make Hanoi one of those places that will not be dictated to by anyone. Like London, the tourists are absorbed into the human pho or noodle soup and instantly become honorary citizens.

If you can raise your eyes above the constantly enthralling street level activities you'll see another Vietnam in the colourful facades of the old French-Colonial buildings and huge street-spanning trees which provide priceless shade and some shelter from the torrential rains.

Hanoi is a reminder of why cities, with all their noise, dirt and pollution can be just as spellbinding as any mountain, river or forest.

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