I’m typing this sitting on a soft sleeper train, in the dark, on my way to Hanoi while a chinese guy is snoring next to me, as it’s 20:44 and I definitely don’t feel like I want/can sleep. Today is January 2nd. (yeah, I know, this is late)
My time in China is over and my Vietnamese visa started on the 1st of January for 30 days.
From Guilin there are different ways by which you can get into Vietnam. There’s obviously the airline possibility, but it’s always more
expensive and probably you have to fly via Guangzhou, so not really a feasible option. The other two options you have from Guilin is a night bus (I don’t know if there are sleeper buses for this) that takes 12 hours and an overnight train that departs from Nanning at 18:45 and takes 12 hours. I ended up choosing this last option because I hate buses (they make me feel sick) and I try to avoid them like the plague when I can.
Regarding these transportation means, there are sleeper buses. Think of them as normal busses where they have removed all the seats and all the decency and have put as many bunk beds as possible, leaving almost no headroom for you. And, of course, they come in Chinese sizes, so if you are tall, you are going to have a bit of a problem fitting in! I have never seen these kind of buses in Europe.
Then, the trains here come in two varieties, well, they have two different cabins, to be precise: soft sleepers and hard sleepers. The difference is in comfort and number of people in each compartment. The hard sleeper has 6 bunk beds and they have no door, just a curtain (and from what I’ve seen they have the light always on). The soft sleeper compartment has 4 bunk beds and a door that you can close. I paid 248 Yuan for the trip from Nanning to Hanoi, which is approximately £25, not bad.
In order to get to Nanning I took this morning a 5 hour ordinary train to Nanning. It was fully packed and the guy sat next to me kept leaning on me while he was falling asleep. You don’t always get a Chinese dude falling asleep on you. Joy. The interesting thing I noticed on these trains is that they sell instant noodles all around the train so you can buy them if you are hungry and then go to a hot water tap at the end of each car so that you can get them ready to eat. That’s very nice. What’s not that nice is that everybody smokes in the train despite being forbidden. Well, everybody smokes in China anyway.
It is a shame because I couldn’t take any pictures on this ordinary train (It was too packed). Also, I took one on the night train to Hanoi, but a guy who works for the train company came and told me that I can’t take pictures. Don’t know why.
The process to get into Vietnam includes one stop at the Chinese side of the border, clear immigration and getting your exiting stamp. This happens in the middle of the night at the Chinese border station, where you have to get out of the train. The funny thing is that it was foggy, and looked like a Russian movie, while Chinese border officers look at you funny. After you’re done with this, you wait there for around 45 minutes while they change locomotives or something, and then the train moves a bit more for half and hour to stop at the Vietnamese side of the border. Rinse, clean, repeat… The same operation here, the same looks at you, except that with different uniforms, and a bit more interesting. Same same, but different different.
You know, the train stops, in the middle of nowhere, and they ask you to get out of the train. Same thing as with the Chinese. But hang on a minute, it’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere, and it’s dark, like, literally nothing. So, here we go, a guy guides us in the dark with a torch into a building where there’s no electricity. Interesting as it might look, it seems a bit confusing, and scary. A lot of people are waiting there too, all of them Vietnamese and Chinese. Only a handful of westerners, all with the same poker face. Nobody tells us what to do so we wait. 10 minutes later, electricity comes back and we see that the place actually looks like a Vietnamese border office, but nothing compared to the Chinese border. More decrepit.
Now, this is the funny part. A drunk Vietnamese officer asks us to give him our passports. Drunk because you could smell the alcohol in his breath and feel that he was drunk. It got even more interesting 10 minutes later when he came back with a bunch of passports, giving them back to people, but using a young Vietnamese girl to dispatch them, at the same time he’s joking around with her. He’s handing them in to this girl and telling her (and other people) things which apparently are funny as she’s giggling and everybody is laughing. Everybody except us westerners, of course, as we don’t understand a fucking word of what he’s saying in Vietnamese.
After a while, he grabs my passport, opens it and tries to read my name, which he can’t, and then says something in Vietnamese, to which everybody in the room laughs. Nice, I’m being laughed at, at the Vietnamese border, by some random officer who’s too drunk to read my name. But at least I got my passport, stamped.
It got a bit worse with Laura, a girl from Scotland who was traveling on this train, when he tried to read her full name in her passport. He couldn’t, the Vietnamese girl he was giving the passport to couldn’t either, and then, after asking me and Laura to say aloud her name, he refused to give it to her and took it back to the office. All while Laura was looking at him astonished. A bit silly, and a bit scary at the same time, as the dude was drunk, and we didn’t know what he was saying.
In the end, this dude repeated this prank 3 times and finally Laura was able to grab her passport off his hand, at which point we quickly run to the train for our final leg of our China to Vietnam trip. All good so far.
Arriving at 5 in the morning in Hanoi, Laura, Dennis (Laura’s bf) and me jumped on a taxi whose driver asked us to pay him a fixed $20 flat rate to get us to our hostel. We told him to use the meter as $20 sounded like a complete rip-off (We had done our homework). 20 minutes later we arrived to our hotel and final fare was $7.5.
Welcome to Vietnam, where everybody will be trying to get money off you!