Over the border

Monday, March 11, 2013

We boarded the train at 18:00 for our 18:20 departure. We chose to travel by train instead of bus which is:

a) cheaper
b) takes less time
c) travels during the day
d) more convenient for our hostel in Nanning

All for the simple reason that we could keep an eye on our luggage. We weren't overly concerned about anything being taken from our luggage and we always carry valuables in our day packs but we were more concerned about something being added.

We departed on time and after a few hours we got to the Chinese border town. Guards handed out departure forms and then collected them and disappeared with our passports something that would have phased us a few weeks ago. Shortly afterwards we were asked to disembark with our luggage and were directed into a building through an x-ray machine and back out to the train. We were off the train for less than 5 mins, nobody said anything to us and nobody was watching the x-ray machine. A very strange process it was as if they were just following an old protocol although nobody knew why. We have no idea what if anything they were checking for as we had our bags scanned at Nanning before getting on the train and we are now leaving the country anyway!

After we got our passports back the train trundled forward for approx. half an hour to the border town in Vietnam and this was even stranger. We all had to get off again with our bags and went into the station. We then lined up to hand over our passports before lining up to have our bags scanned (again)

A tiny 'shop' turned out to be the front for an illegal money exchange and we managed to exchange our last Yuan at an impressive rate, we only lost a couple of £'s and they took even the tiny notes. No sooner had the last people changed their money the small 'Money Exchange' sign disappeared and they continued to pretend to sell snacks. Hilarious.

The passports then started to come back and it was like being back at school the big chief stood on the staircase and proceeded to call out people's names to come forward and be inspected in front of everyone else before handing over the passport. The only problem was he was Vietnamese and couldn't pronounce the Chinese names let alone the Western ones so he recruited a Chinese guy to help. Afterwards we were free to get back on the train. There was no customs declarations, no questions, nothing, all very strange.

After all the excitement it was about 1am so we decided to get some sleep. Only to be woken up by the guard over an hour before we arrived reminding us we need to get off, firstly why couldn't he have done that 10 minutes before arriving and secondly as it was the terminus and the train wasn't going straight back why couldn't we stay on the train until a reasonable hour?

Anyway we arrived in Hanoi just before 5am the slowest journey yet... just under 400km in 12 hours! (clocks went back an hour at the border)

After getting off we were immediately hassled by lots of taxi drivers and after we couldn't find the taxi company the hotel recommended we decided we would have to go with one of them. So the haggling commenced! The driver wanted 250,000VND but after much haggling Ross got him down to 100,000VND. Having heard about the numerous scams we double and triple checked the price was for both of us and he reluctantly agreed.

So we set off and then came scam 2 - 'Your hotel closed I take you somewhere else' Our reply 'that's strange as when we asked you to take us there it was open a few minutes ago, also I spoke to them yesterday'

He went quite and continued driving...

Scam 3 - 'I drop you here hotel down alleyway' Before Sonya got out Ross went to investigate and couldn't find it. We agreed to pay an extra 20,000VND for door to door service. In fairness it was down the alleyway but much further than Ross walked.

The meter only showed 70,000VND but we worked out that it only cost us approx £3!

We arrived at the hotel at 5:30am and unsurprisingly reception was shut. After rattling the door a few times we thought we have to spend a few hours on the kerb but a blurry eyed Vietnamese guy opened up. We were prepared to pay for an extra night so we could drop our bags but after a lot of tapping on the keyboard he said 'We only have one room today... 'the Honeymoon suite!' Not as glamorous as some Honeymoon suites out there but a step up from the backpacker hostels we have been staying in, a great freebie and a great way to start our time in Vietnam.

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