When we started looking into how to get from Hong Kong to Hanoi overland, it seemed like it could be one logistical nightmare…
First, we needed to get back to China. This was the simplest task of the lot. A few stops on the wonderful underground network – the MTR and we were at Hung Hom Station – the departure point for trains heading into mainland China. A couple of hours later, and around £17, we were in Guangzhou. Next we had to make our way from where the train terminated to a different railway station. This involved taking the ride on the busiest metro I have ever experienced. Never have I seen so many people pile out of one small carriage. Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more people, more and more AND MORE pile out. Children emerge crying and adults a sweaty mess. The worst thing about watching the zoo-like scenes is knowing you would have to soon be boarding; a challenge in itself. Let’s not forget – this is China – queuing goes out of the window (despite the posters on the metro doors telling everyone to be civil and wait in line) so there is no other option but to barge your way on board. It was this point we knew we had made the right decision to completely bypass China after Beijing and there was the happiness knowing we would soon be in Vietnam.
After the awful metro journey came to and end and we fought our way out of the crowds, we entered the far-from delightful station. We had an hour or so wait before us and we sat in a filthy waiting room until it was time to board the night train that would take us to Nanning.
As our experiences in China have taught us, trains are always busy and unless you book a good few days in advance, there is no hope of getting a decent seat. We had hard sleeper tickets, but were glad to know they were bottom berth after the claustrophobic night we had spent in top berth on the way to Hong Kong from Beijing. The carriage was completely open plan and full of beds. There were the classic nut chompers on board who, as Ed timed, managed to consumer over 25 nuts in one mere minute. There were the token starers on board who would insist on staring at us every move we made. This, as always, is irritating but we ignored it and tried to get some sleep. Sleep is not easy; the train stops at a million and one places on the way and people are getting on and off and marching up and down the carriage throughout the duration of the night. 06.30 ticked by, and we had arrived in Nanning. £30 (including the whopping £10 commission per ticket that we had to pay in Hong Kong) and 14 hours later we were at the next leg of the journey.
This was the part we were least looking forward to – attempting to find the bus station. Information we had read online only made us more concerned. Word on the street was that were only one or two buses, that left not long after 6.30. If we missed the bus we would have to wait in Nanning and hopefully get the night train that same day down to Hanoi – an option we were not enthralled by the thought of. After following directions I had made and getting lost, I got my trusty note out. Made the night before, I wrote down the Chinese for ‘Bus to Hanoi, please’. After showing a few amused locas, we were pointed in the direction of the bus station and, to our delight, there were about 4 or 5 buses going throughout the morning. And, best of all, it was half the price of what the train would have been, quite a steal at just £15.
An hour later we were on board with some fellow Chinese who thought it would be appropriate to spit on the floor throughout the journey. A couple of hours into the ride, we rocked up at the border. We piled of the bus, were driver in little yellow buggies and went through the Chinese customs and emerged out the other side into a strange no-mans-land. There was no one around so we just wandered down and found the Vietnamese customs. A few minutes later, we were back out and officially in Vietnam. And… relax.
We had about another four hours on the bus, which was not too bad until we arrived near to the city and some extreme horn honking took place. We were dropped off a good few km out of the centre, and of course there were tuk-tuk drivers waiting for us with some extortionate prices. We only had US dollars on us, and one chap offered us the bargain price of 200 dollars to take us to town. I politely chuckled in his face, walked to the main road, withdrew some dong and hailed a cab. £3 later and we were at our hotel.
All in all, the journey was long, tiring and tedious. But, it ended up being fairly straightforward despite being a little lost in China, and, most importantly, we arrived in Vietnam in one piece and without taking to the skies!