In Cambodia we decided to stop taking airplanes, we did not want to fly anymore. First of all, we really dislike the pollution coming from airplanes, and second over land is our preferred way of travel. From Phnom Penh we took a bus to Ho Chi Minh and explored the coast of Vietnam all the way to Hanoi. From Hanoi we wanted to cross into China to continue our overland journey to Europe.
There are several ways in which you can get to China from Hanoi. There are buses leaving at 7, 8 and 9 am in the morning that go to Nanning. The ride takes about eight hours and it is cheap and comfortable. Therefore we decided to take that option and we bought tickets online (Baolao is a pretty good website for bus and train bookings in Vietnam). However, we enjoyed Hanoi a bit too much the night before and woke up after our bus had already left. Our first response was panic followed by searching google like crazy for another bus. Our visa expired that day, so to avoid paying for overstay we really wanted to leave. Luckily we found another bus to Nanning leaving at 12.30. We hurried and made our way to the Chinese hotel selling the tickets. The hotel owner told us that he could not arrange anything in such short notice and that we should try our luck at the bus station. Hungover and stressed as we were we got in the first taxi we saw, but after one minute I found out we left our passports at the hostel.
We were defeated. This was the last bus going to Nanning that day and with picking up the passports we were never going to make it on time. We went back to the hostel to try and arrange something else. We already knew there was an overnight train from Hanoi to Nanning, but that was really expensive. We did not see any other option though and went to the train station to buy the tickets. It was much cheaper there compared to online and for a very luxurious sleeper train we only paid 700k. That evening we would go to Nanning.
The train left from the train station in Hanoi a little outside of the center. It was a very comfortable soft sleeper with four beds in one closed cabin. We shared our cabin with a lovely Chinese couple and were immediately reminded of the language barrier as little English is spoken by Chinese people. After about three hours we reached the Chinese border crossing. We needed to get off the train into the train station which also functioned as border crossing. It all looked very promising until the border guards picked us out of line. They took our passports and asked us to wait in the waiting area of the station.
After a while the guard came back handing Ewald his phone with an English speaking guy on the other end. He told us the bad news, we would not be able to cross the border and continue on this train. We were angry and surprised, we did not expect that this would happen. We argued and argued with the guy on the phone to get back on the train and let us enter China. The problem was that we entered Vietnam on an evisa and there are specific exit points on this evisa. Even though the town where the train station was, was a valid exit point, the only point we could cross was about five kilometres away from the train station. Obviously, the train was not going there so we could not exit Vietnam. When the train conductor came we asked if it was possible to get a refund on the tickets, but he declined. Now we had paid for two tickets to Nanning and were still in Vietnam. With a regular visa for Vietnam we probably wouldn’t have had this problem.
The border guards needed to fill in some paperwork on our failure of crossing here and said the other border opens at 7 o’clock in the morning. It meant we had about five hours to kill in the night and we were very tired. We ended up spending the night at the train station and I think it was one of the worst nights of this trip. The next morning we walked outside the train station, but in this small town, we did not see a single taxi. Fortunately someone working at the train station was able to bring us to the “friendship crossing” from Vietnam into China. Because of our delay we overstayed our visa for Vietnam by one day and when the border guard asked we just started talking a lot and showing our train tickets from the night before. He did not understand anything I guess, but he stamped us out of Vietnam without us paying anything for the overstay. Entering China was quite straightforward after that, and around 12 o’clock we were finally in China. The border town was this tourist area with many Chinese tourists. Many men were dressed in green army uniforms that were sold at the border and taking photos.
From there it was a short walk to the bus station. At the bus station we were able to find bus tickets to Nanning, but the bus would leave when full and there was no one in sight going to Nanning with us. They said it was better to try catching a bus in the nearby town of Pingxiang. We took a taxi four about 30 yuan to Pingxiang and went to the local bus station. A bus ticket to Nanning was an additional 80 yuan and 24 hours later than planned, we finally arrived in Nanning.