Nanning, China at night

Nanning Nightscape (Pic du Jour)

Nanning is the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China along the border with Vietnam. With a population of 6.6 million, it’s probably one of the biggest cities you’ve never heard of. It was also, by far, the least smoggy city I’ve visited in China.

Snapped in October 2010

Previous posts about Nanning:

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A Dog at the Market

You can now cross Boiled Dog in a Nanning Market off your list of things to see before you die.

I’ve posted this pic a couple times before but it’s the first one to come to mind when Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack asked visitors to share some market pics in her latest challenge.

More about that October 2010 market visit –along with a dog and cat consumption in China update– is here. It was also the Gadling Photo of the Day for 18-Oct-2010.

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Nanning to Hanoi by Bus

That’s the first public toilet you’ll see when crossing into Vietnam from China via the Friendship pass. But fear not, there’s another, a newer one,  just a few hundred meters away.

This summary I posted back in March 2007, about bus service then between Mombasa and Nairobi, has become of the most visited posts here, so I thought this one, put together from a few notes I scribbled into my notebook, might be useful to some as well.

Heading south from Nanning to Hanoi by bus is the only real option, unless you think you’ll be passing through this corner of the world again. There is train service, but it’s overnight, which might mean a somewhat decent night sleep, but you wouldn’t really see a thing.

Nanning Bus Station

There are several departures daily from Nanning’s busy but orderly station; one-way is just 148 RMB ( 16 EUR/22 USD), and includes, as we were pleasantly surprised to learn later, a nice lunch in Pingxiang, a sleepy town of about 100,000. Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended.

Service with a smile – ticket taker in Nanning

The bus travels along China National Highway 322, a well-maintained four-lane highway which ends at Friendship Gate (aka Friendship Pass), the border point between China and Vietnam. I traveled on a Sunday; it was almost eerie how empty the highway was. It also felt a bit surreal watching Harrison Ford’s heroics in Air Force One during the ride.

lunch in Pingxiang

After finally parting company with my official government handler for the past four days –he reassured us that he would not accompany us to the border– we were off at 10 am, as scheduled. About an hour out of Nanning the landscape shifted dramatically, from a mix of relatively flat fields and gently rolling hills, to one with small jagged peaks –karsts, as their called in Halong Bay—bursting through the earth on both sides of the highway. That didn’t change until the border. Quite stunning if you’re seeing mountains like this for the first time.

About an hour southwest of Nanning

Crossing involves a bus switch; about a half mile from the Chinese post –a stunning and attractive large stone building—you collect your bags, hop on large golf cart-like shuttles, and are taken through Friendship Gate to the exit building where a pleasant border official will bid you farewell. (Don’t forget to press the feedback button.) From there you’re shuttled to the Vietnamese post, which is decent enough, but quite modest by comparison. From there you’ll shuttled again, past the day’s first large portrait of Uncle Ho Chi Minh, and to the other bus. (There were plenty of signs of construction on the Vietnamese side however, a large hotel among them, to join the small restaurant that is there already.)

Friendship Gate atop Friendship Pass

Both borders were relatively hassle-free; this particular Sunday wasn’t busy at all, and the bureaucratic part on both sides took about 45 minutes, shuttles to and from the buses and border posts included. Then we were forced to wait for a few remaining passengers who for whatever reasons, were held up. That, coupled with traffic on the two-lane highways in Vietnam, extended what was to be a seven or so hour ride to nearly nine-and-a-half.

Once in Vietnam (remember to move your watches one hour ahead), the pace slows considerably, and you begin a long gradual descent through lush valleys and sprawling fields. Drivers in general, and bus drivers in particular, like to lean on their horns. A lot. But I still managed to doze off between kilometer markers 133 and 85.

We were dropped off about seven kilometers from the center of Hanoi, where a slew of eager taxi drivers were waiting. I don’t know if this varies by bus company, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

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Twenty Minutes in a Pair of Nanning Markets

These are a few shots from quick stops at two street markets in Nanning last Thursday. Our tour guides/chaperones/handlers, assigned to us by the foreign ministry’s provincial office, didn’t want to stop here, but we were fairly insistent, so they gave in. The pic at the top shows a freshly-boiled dog. So is the one below, which looks more like a mythical beast than a mid-sized pooch.

“Do you find this interesting?” Edward, my shadow for five days, asked.

“Yes, very,” I reassured him.

From what I’ve gathered, dog is eaten in southwestern China (along with northern Vietnam) but isn’t found on most restaurant menus or corner fast food stalls. After assessing our collective reaction, Edward reassured us that dog is only eaten on rare occasions.

“We don’t eat very many dogs,” he said. “We are still a developing country.” I wish I had 10 yuan for every time he used that line.

In January Xinhua reported that legislation banning the eating of dogs (and cats) is being considered. According the China Daily, those convicted of eating dog could be sentenced to 15 days in jail if the ban is enacted.

Here are some freshly slaughtered chickens. No extra charge for the eggs.

Onwards to the fish department. I don’t know what kind of fish these were, but I did enjoy some fabulous seafood creations in Nanning last weekend.

I can’t remember the names of these mushrooms, but the ones on the left were absolutely exquisite.

Onwards to market No. 2, which mostly featured live animals –for pets, not food. Squirming in the boxes below are some worms and maggoty-looking critters which are sold as food for birds.

And finally, some turtles. There were an amazing number in various stalls, in an assortment of sizes and colors. China has nearly 1500 registered turtle farms, bringing in an estimated $800 million annually. They’re raised as delicacies for upscale restaurants, ingredients for herbal medicines, and as pets.

“People in China like and respect turtles very much,” Edward said. “We’d all like to live long lives like turtles.”