Published: September 26th 2008September 26th 2008
Writing my blog on the Vietnamese soft sleeper train ...
On July 30th I wrote, Thailand to Hong Kong by Boat and Train: Why on earth?
-- I want to go the slow, smooth, old way. I’m bored with planes and buses.
But can it be done?
It can be done - almost! It would be possible to do it with just a short bus ride across the Thai-Cambodian border to Siem Reap. But I approached Cambodia with a longer stint on a Thai bus because I wanted to enjoy more of Cambodia's water routes and railtracks. I found them all closed and I was forced to take three unwanted bus journeys. This was my first disappointment.
From Siem Reap it is definitely possible to get to Hong Kong overland by rail and river, but I mucked it up. From Nanning to Wuzhou I sat with my eyes closed, pretending I wasn’t on a bus and crawled off the vehicle into the busy streets of Hong Kong’s Mon Kok experiencing a second disappointment.
The train from Vietnam did duly deposit us in Nanning, the centre of Guangxi Province. Our original plan was to see a bit of Guangxi, return to Nanning and proceed by
... then sleeping soundly in a luxurious Chinese soft sleeper berth.
train to Guangzhou, from where we would pick up a rail or boat connection direct to Hong Kong: Easy! So why the second disappointment?
On the train to Guilin we studied the guidebooks and dredged through Graham’s memory; later we looked on the web. We found a photograph of the dormitory accommodation on board here
. The old backpacker route from Hong Kong to Guilin used to involved a boat trip from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and then a riverboat up the West River to Wuzhou, and a third boat along the Li River to Yangshuo and Guilin. And our Chinese guide book spoke of boats between the different cities. Train travel was becoming ho-hum and we yearned to experience the river route. We combed transport company’s websites for the boats we needed.
We found the websites (nobody has bothered to take them down), but everybody we met said, No more boats
. So - sadly - we decided to train some of it and make a short bus connection to Wuzhou. Surely we would find a boat there.
In Wuzhou we booked into a hotel overlooking the West River. That evening we walked along the river bank.
Another time Graham took to his heels - with company.
They have a fine, civic walkway raised above another pedestrian area lined with shops. We could only see a few floating wharves unloading open barges. The next day we saw a small wharf loading containers. That was all, and again the chant from everyone we asked, No more boats
. And so we booked more bus tickets, direct to Hong Kong. We boarded the vehicle at 8.30am on September 15th. About three kilometers outside of Wuzhou we passed a building on the riverside, labeled in Chinese “Passenger Terminal.” It was deserted.
A river trading station was established by the British in 1897 at Wuzhou, and many passenger boats ran up and down to Hong Kong right until the beginning of the Twenty-First Century. But now it is always, No more boats
. And Wuzhou doesn’t have rail links. It does have a railway station; the line even shows on some maps, but the tracks are still being laid. The irony for my trip is that we went to this delightful city at exactly the wrong time, in the interval between boat and train.
So I did make it to Hong Kong overland from Thailand, and mostly I sat in boats
Chinese express buses are of high quality ...
and trains - just not all the way.
Travel Notes The railways of Guangxi is excellent and the rolling stock modern. The network is still being extended. For example Wuzhou has a railway station which is signed on the city streets. The tracks even show on some maps, but they are yet to be laid! Express buses are modern but more expensive. Generally, those who can afford to prefer to travel by express bus.
Our Actual Route: not recommended to other travellers! We moved around Guangxi by train; our progress makes no logical sense, it was a matter of slotting our real arrival dates into the itinary we’d booked to satisfy my visa-getting process, and creatively following our noses.
We went direct from the Vietnamese border to Nanning (soft sleeper). We stayed there one night, and then went two-thirds of the way back to the border in a slower train (hard seat). We used a local boat to go to Butterfly Valley and a quick three-wheeler to get back to the station. We returned one third of the way to Nanning and stopped over to view the Leaning Pagoda in Chongzuo.
We stayed two more nights in Nanning. Then we took the train to Guilin (soft seat) and a connecting bus to Yangshao; after two nights there we returned to Guilin (tourist boat + lift + taxi). Then we spent two nights in Guilin, and after that we returned to Nanning by train. Our official itinerary had us making a direct train journey from their to Hong Kong. But by now we were longing for something different. Our Chinese guidebook spoke of riverboats, and we found websites and blogs that described river trips. We decided to return to Hong Kong by boat from Guilin. I’ve explained how that went wrong above!
... but the latrines are not necessarily so.
How I’ve been
I’m still in Hong Kong and I’m resting up really well. Last night there was a major typhoon warning and Graham says that my almost non-return home from a shopping trip deserves another post. I did buy a new camera, so perhaps he’ll get his wish.
I’ve now got a flight booked back to Bangkok for Saturday morning, and I plan to spend two days in Ayutthaya before I return to Brunei … exactly in time for Hari Raya. Excellent planning!
There are more photos below