(Guess I better hurry up and finish my Vietnam posts since I will soon be heading to India and then will be recounting stories from there.)
Looking at a map of Asia you will notice a decent-sized land border between China and Vietnam.Â Many backpackers through Asia take advantage of this and go overland from China into Vietnam or vice-versa.Â I decided to go overland as well; however, I decided to take one of the less common routes…
Guangxi å¹¿è¥¿ and Yunnanäº‘å— are the 2 Chinese provinces sharing the borders with Vietnamè¶Šå—, and both are popular with backpackers in Chinaä¸å›½.Â So let’s begin the story in Nanning, provincial capital of Guangxi, a 3 hour flight southwest ofÂ Shanghaiä¸Šæµ·.Â (Yes, China is large.)
From Nanning å—å®, I took a 3-hour bus ride (67å…ƒ) to Beihai åŒ—æµ·, famed in China for its “Silver Beach” é“¶æ»©.Â Beihai, obviously lies on the coast and is geographically southeast of the border to Vietnam.Â From Beihai to Dongxing, its another 3-hour bus ride (57å…ƒ).Â Dongxing is the Chinese border town and arriving there already feels much more laidback Southeast Asia style compared to the bustling metropolises of Nanning and Beihai.Â To get from the long-distance bus station to the border, I took an open air taxi, though really more like a golf cart (10å…ƒ, I think I overpaid).
I knew I was taking the less common route, when at the border I was nearly the only person crossing, and the only white person I saw in more than 24hours.Â This is not the case of the express Nanning-Hanoi route where all the travelers get up and catch the 8am bus from Nanning to Hanoi together.Â At the border I had to pay a 10å…ƒ departure tax, something I’ve certainly never done when leaving China before.Â And I was grilled at the border–do you come here often? uh, no… What do you do in China? Why are you coming here? … Wait, let me ask you a question, why did I have to pay 10kuai to come upstairs and get cross-examined by you at the exit border?
Finally escaping China, I walked across the no-man’s land bridge and almost walked straight into Vietnam with no one looking at my passport.Â Since there weren’t any signs, I figured it was full steam ahead…not quite.Â Filling in some forms, going to multiple windows to have my passport looked at, stamped, etc and then finally I set foot in Mong Cai, Vietnam.
Considering I was spitting distance away from China, and at a border crossing, I (naively) figured someone would speak Chinese or maybe English.Â The closest I found to someone who spoke either language I knew was a scamalicous(!) cab driver who spoke to me in broken Chinese-Vietnamese.Â While he was helpful, and I avoided his first trap of trying to scam me out of $10 while changing money, I found he did siphon off 80,000VND ($5) and buy me a bus ticket on the slowest possible local bus from Mong Cai to Hanoi.Â While I’m not pleased about the lost money, I was even more displeased about wasting my time by putting me on a 10-hour bus ride (120,000VND) from Mong Cai into Hanoi.Â I later realized there is an express bus that plies that route in about half the time, maybe less.Â The local bus was an interesting experience as it was most definitely local.Â People brought their furniture and bedding, and their fruit and other food onto the bus. No one spoke a single word of English or Chinese, even gestures like pointing at my watch didn’t seem to translate.Â The girls behind me acted like they’d never seen another non-Asian before as they got a kick out of touching and later pulling my hair, and stealing my sunglasses to try on.Â Between the taxi driver taking his service fee and the bus ride, I sure had a swift introduction to Vietnam.
Arriving in Hanoi, I needed to take another taxi to the hotel (VND50,000, which I believe I overpaid on again).
So in summary, in 13 hours of travel time, I’d taken these forms of transport to get from my hotel in Beihai, China to my hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam: walking – bus – taxi – walk acorss the bridge – taxi – bus – taxi.
Would I recommend this route to others?Â It depends on your goals and how much time you have.Â I wanted to see Beihai, which was actually disappoininting as it was not even as nice as beaches around Los Angeles–so many sand crabs!Â And this is the most direct route to Vietnam from Beihai, but it is time consuming and as a solo traveler, very isolating.Â It is a good way to see the countryside and interact with local people during the trip.Â Just don’t drink too much water, lest you have to use ‘toilets’ which are comparable to rural China’s worst excuse for a ‘toilet.’Â Â 😉
Alls well that ends well.Â Most of the people were friendly and nothing was stolen (on that part of the journey) and I arrived safely and easily met up with Jeni and her parents.