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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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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