Hong Kong seen, done and themed t-shirt acquired it was time to move on to destination number two, Hanoi. This first leg would see me travel some 25 hours across Southern China on two buses, changing in Nanning near the Vietnamese border. I looked up and planned the journey online by means of a series of more experienced travellers' blogs, so surely it would be a simple itinerary to follow right? Well no, apparently not for me! Seb + world = disaster.
The first minor hitch arose at Hong Kong border control. All previous blogging travellers had been ushered through the process by the CTS tour operator in “an organised fashion”. Now maybe I was just the lucky one but after a lengthy process getting through customs, I arrived at the other side to find no CTS personnel, not even my bus. Instead, what I faced was a series of unlabelled platforms and equally unlabelled, interchanging buses. After a few desperate attempts to get the message “Nanning bus where?” to a baffled official, I was put on two incorrect buses (I'm not sure how Dongquing sounds like Nanning) the second of which departed with me still on it! Luckily however, this turned out to only go as far as the mainland customs in Shenzhen. There, I was soon spotted by a member of CTS and shown to my bus, which for some reason was not even in the station but in a closed construction site far enough away that on the walk over I began to wonder if my guide was legit or if I was walking unawares into a mugging!
The bus was thankfully real, and more than that it took the term night bus to a new level. Instead of seats, ten bunk beds has been installed which you fastened yourself into with a generously named “seatbelt”, so loose that I think it was just for show. However that aside the cabins wee actually pretty decent and just big enough to be able to lie flat. The journey itself wasn't too bad either and though the quality of the roads left much to be desired, I was able to get a half decent nights sleep.
My five star accommodation!
The next morning I pulled into Nanning at around 7:30. “The green city” earned it's nickname by supposedly being the Chinese city with the most green spaces and parks. An easy title to acquire, rather like winning a Miss Antarctica beauty pageant, the city still very much resembled an enormous construction site, and I don't think I remember seeing a tree either!
Outside the largest Chinese cities, very little to no English is spoken, but I managed to communicate what I needed at the ticket office by writing in Kanji, the Chinese characters used in Japanese (stay in school kids, you learn stuff). Due to their mutual intelligibility I was able to get by with most simple questions and the process was made much easier. So to anyone thinking of taking a backwater route I would recommend taking along a piece of paper with your point of origin and destination, it'll grease the wheels both literally and metaphorically!
The China-Vietnam Border
Leg two saw me pass through some incredible scenery, especially in southern Guanxi province where huge limestone formations indiscriminatingly tore through a carpet of emerald green rice paddy fields. The Vietnamese side brought more of the same and on a much larger scale as rock formations became pillar like mountain ranges coated with rainforest. The ride here was smoother too, leaving aside the endless blaring of the bus driver's horn as he cut off whoever was unfortunate enough to be in his way. Vietnam (unsurprisingly) turned out to be even more chaotic than the petrol guzzling scramble we had left behind in China, but we managed to make the capital in good time, that is what the the driver considered to be the capital; a service station half an hour outside the city (Not ideal, but what do you expect for 16€?). Anyway this was a minor hitch, I was once again to be rescued by the omnipresent Japanese, as I was to discover that the man sat to my left was an expat based in Hanoi and being far more prepared than myself, had left his moped in secure parking at that same service station! And that, dear, worried relatives was how I braved Hanoi's lawless traffic for the first time… On the back of a one-man moped with two rucksacks and my drivers luggage balanced on my knees- well I was hardly going to pay the extortionate rates for the same pleasure on a tuk-tuk was I?