Posted by: kim | July 11, 2007

14 hours to Hanoi, bye bye China

We’ve made it to Vietnam and are currently sweating it out in Hanoi — it’s full of motorbikes, and crossing the road is a bit like playing Frogger, the computer game where you try and negotiate a busy road by jumping across it in stages. Only much worse.

Our journey here was non-stop; more of that later. We spent the last week in the pleasant Chinese city of Yangshuo, near Guilin. If you’ve ever seen any limestone karsts in Chinese scroll paintings, that’s basically what the area encompasses. You can cycle in between these hills (which we did), or ride a bamboo raft along the picturesque Yulong river (which we also did). Because it’s popular with many foreign tourists, its main pedestrianised street, West Street, is hugely different to the rest of the cities we’ve stayed in whilst in China. All the menus are in English and they all sell pizzas, lasagne, French Fries, burgers and banana crepes.

Transport in this are of China is quite humorous, and I believe the rest of Asia will be like this. The official bus station takes a certain amount of people (it basically waits until it’s full), but then it cruises down the street quite slowly, picking up stray passengers carrying random items like electric fans, and plastic bags of fruit that need to be delivered further down the line.

Eventually, the mini bus we were in one day was stopped by police after illegally carrying extra passengers. Rather than take the ticket and go, the mini bus hustled the extra passengers out and told them to wait further down the street once the police had gone. An hour later, we had the same experience when the driver of the fishing boat we rented suddenly pulled up on shore at a remote village on the Li River after juggling various conversations on his mobile phones. Turns out that the boats aren’t supposed to be cruising the river at certain times and the river police were patrolling the place (although we booked the trip under the impression that we were going to be receiving a legitimate service). We then had to wander around the village for 20 minutes until the driver’s friend with an electric bamboo raft carried us down the pleasant river for half an hour until the original driver caught up to us once the police were out of sight.

The next day we were up bright and early to leave for Hanoi. Thanks to Rob’s planning we were able to ‘smoothly’ travel to the border and into Hanoi, although many stages were involved. This included:

5.15: Wake up.
5.40: Check out of hotel.
5.45: Taxi to Guilin (if we’d taken the mini bus we could have been travelling for hours)
6.55: Arrive Guilin train station.
8.10: Stampede to hard seat compartment.
8.22: Depart on N701 train to Nanning, sitting opposite and next to old blokes with metal buckets carrying paraphernalia including mugs, instant cup noodles, buns, thermos of milk, etc. They looked at our backpacks curiously, too.
13.00: Arrive Nanning.
13.07: Taxi to Jing Nan bus station.
13.21: Buy tickets to border town of Pingxiang, while impatient and rude bloke tuts behind us.
13.30: Board bus. Impatient and rude bloke and his wife put their coach seats back as far as they can go.
13.40: Depart for Pingxiang. Bus plays pirated version of ‘The Rock’ with Sean Connery etc which jumps every two seconds and is dubbed in Chinese. No one’s watching.
16.20: Arrive Pingxiang; take taxi to border. Taxi stops to fill up with petrol and we change a small amount of leftover yuan on his black market setup to give us enough money to go to Hanoi.
16.55: Arrive at border. Cross it by foot and encounter various ‘procedures’ including the fake 2,000 dong health check which we pay grudgingly after a few minutes of argument (this is only about 5 pence).
17.30: Arrive in Vietnam! Taxi to Lang Son (50,000 dong). It’s actually 16.30 again, as China’s an hour ahead.
18.20 (China time): Mini bus going to Hanoi does the rounds, cramming as many people in as possible. Finally, it leaves to go on the highway to Hanoi.
20.50 (China time): Arrive Hanoi old quarter. Wander around for a bit looking for a room. Settle on a mid-range US$17 a night hotel with 50 channels (can Elaine from Seinfeld actually be on two channels at once?).
21.50 (China time): Dinner at the Tamarind vegetarian restaurant nearby.

We then sleep for about 10 hours!

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