I had been in a total head spin for weeks regarding the cheapest and most time effective way of entering China then touring China, all within 30 tight visa days. Where to start? I had checked out flights while in Cambodia back in March which were roughly around $150pp from Hanoi to Hong Kong, suddenly in May they had jumped to $350pp inclusive of tax from anywhere in Vietnam to anywhere in China. Although we try our best to live like flash packers on a basic backpacker’s budget, spending $700 felt insane. The buses were quoted at $79 which changed at the border from hard seat to sleeper; this would take 45 hours from Hanoi to Hong Kong, but after our sleeper bus experiences I could not face any more hours horizontal on a bus. The next option was the train, this cost us $150. We finally decided one thing we have is time, one thing we don't have is lots of money, so we decided to go through to Beijing and then criss cross back down the country, this we were told would take 50 hours, for this cost we were promised much lie down luxury, similar to the Orient
Express, I didn't hold my breath.
As soon as we got out the taxi at the station this weirdo man grabbed both our tickets and ran through the station with us in flustered tow, thanks to my acupuncture energy sessions I sprinted after him with no problems. He kept telling us to sit there, sit, sit here, not sit there, he was clearly insane. I grabbed our tickets back from his clutches. The night train was to leave at 18.30, he ran up the platform in front of us, we had our tickets punched by two officials with no problems, we got on one of two run down shitty carriages which I thought was a fine start to a poor show, he showed us to our cabin, then he made a right old scene about payment, we gave him 20,000 dong, $1.50 and told him to hop it. He started screaming and screaming for 50,000 claiming our tickets were fake. I asked the French boys in the next cabin what their tickets looked like, theirs were different to ours, a white booklet with tickets in it. A couple from Utah also had different tickets to ours, again
a white booklet with tickets in it, ours was a green slip that looked like an invite to a garden fate with a free raffle ticket attached. I stayed calm and went to call our pervious hotel 'Gia Thinh' who confirmed our tickets were fine and we would not be thrown off the train in the middle of the night in the middle of know where like in China somewhere, as I was on the phone a young man who spoke English told me the ticket was fine and the ranting man in question was a local scammer, what he does is pass the likes of us on to his drunk mate somewhere on the platform who has an unofficial copy red arm band and red stamp to match that is also totally bogus which says 'Arse Hole Suckers & current date' in Vietnamese and charges $10 for this humiliation, but the ticket stays the same.
I returned to the cabin to find Stu squashed in the corner with six over sized breathing porcelain dolls, along with various sized luggage that blocked all fire exits. They looked Chinese yet they didn't sound Chinese, more like Russian, they took over
our $150 bottom berths including all available space between, banishing us both to the low ceiling top berths with ticket value $50, which was right under the Siberian blizzard air con, similar to being a test dummy in a wind tunnel at sub zero temperatures, I was all wrapped up like an Eskimo. The ladies talked, yakked, applied make up, ate noodles, talked, yakked, applied more makeup and ate more noodles, it was relentless. We left the station at 18.30, the train rocked and rocked, I turned onto my side as hypothermic motion sickness come over me, the train rolled and rolled then slammed to a halt, it stopped for what seemed like forever, I was half waiting to hear the familiar sounds of a hammer, a spanner and duck tape, but thankfully nothing. It continued to drag on, cars passed us, mopeds passed us, disabled motorised wheel chairs passed us, this was tedious. To think it would to be like this for a whooping 3145 km's of pure ear ache from the ladies and tummy turning nausea for an estimated 50 hours into valuable Chinese Visa time.
We were abruptly awoken at midnight and told to take all
Legs & Co.
Pot noodle & Pants
our stuff and get off, the clack of lower berth women just sat there on our beds; I thought it was something to do with our dubious green rail tickets? But everyone was getting off the train which swiftly left the platform. We had arrived at the Vietnamese boarder of Dong Dang, this was a simple affair. We go to one booth in departures, get ticket confirmed (luxury bigger spaced bottom berths), get passport stamp, ink was unfortunately a bit dry and rubbish on this occasion, so just visible. Back on to a newer Chinese lush train with a plush red rug runner in the isles, one scrummy scented duvet, two soft pillows that smelt of forests, but we were to continue sharing with Russian speaking chatter boxes, the Chinese trains top berths had more space and the AC had been carefully designed not to turn noses in to igloos and dripping snot into icicles.
We moved off at 01.35 am and a team of Chinese customs officials and passport control people popped in to ask for passports and look at our bags, they asked if we were 'Eingor', we said yes, 'Eingorish' they did everything official while we
slept. I listened to my MP3 as we sped faster than any milk floats through the southern parts of China, I got comfy under my soft duvet as I changed sleeping sides I glanced down to see one Russian lady totally naked and very comfy as she slept half out of her duvet. Morning came quick and we were awoken by the Russians this time they were half dressed in flammable nighties, pins clipping curled hair, eating more pot noodles. At the end of each isle is a hot water boiler, which I thought was a very sensible idea as noodles are all the Vietnamese and Chinese seem to eat. Stu and I got deli sandwiches made up special for the 3 day journey, which if I'm honest the veggie salad ones lasted around the 14 hours before content went soggy. Western toilets are to the right, they are very clean as no one uses them, squat loos to the left, messy stinky and impossible to balance upon, they seemed more popular.
We were told to leave the train again, but this time to take small hand bags with us as we had arrived in Nanning - CHINA. Oh
it felt good to get off the train, the air was cooler and seeing all the train attendants stood in line to greet us like we were in a royal line up. We were told to go to the waiting room, I must say for other travellers doing this same route that this is a perfect time to take all chargers MP3, Mobile phone, with you. The charging points are hidden behind the massive AC units, in all 4 corners of the room, one night of MP3 listening my battery had run down by ¾. This waiting room had plush armchairs. We boarded the train again and I managed to chat to the French boys who were really pissed off as they thought they were going to Guangzhou but had only just realised they were actually now going to Guilin, they bought the wrong ticket in Hanoi.
The train had an inbuilt rather annoying radio that played the Chinese version of Bat out of Hell at high screeching volumes, then Chinese Radio 4 played this week’s 'The Chinese Archers' which personally I find the English version quite hard to follow, then Bat out of Hell again followed by renditions
of Happy Birthday To You fondue style. I hunted for the off button, which is on the right window side of cabin hidden between top and bottom berths this took 2 hours to find. The French boys and Gerry and Fred from Utah departed at mountainous Gulin, they gave me their fruit chips for which I was very grateful as our food was starting to turn into liquid and we had no Yuan currency nor pot noodles, we were told in Hanoi that the train will take our Vietnamese dong for the whole way, for the record this is not true, but you can do black market with harmless individuals in nearby cabins, who are amused to have demented Eingorish chat rubbish to them.
The second night on train we were in need of SOME space, but this was never going to happen, we were in such a small space we started to go a bit insane and slagged them off, my legs and lower back were aching from lying down most of the day, there is only so much you can lie down or walk up and down a same single isles on the same train, this is
normally when flight attendants insist you do preventative DVT exercises, so you don't die on them then sue the airline. A mighty boosh of a Russian lady wearing much Barbie pink who we had not seen before squeezed into the lower berth, she was very glam. She told us they were all Mongolians, a penny dropping moment, this made perfect sense. They were all from the United Business for Mongolian Women, including one man. The party of ten had been to a convention in Hanoi to get Mongolian women back to work and were on their way to the same thing in Beijing, then they were to catch the one train that runs direct from Beijing to their home town near the Gobi Desert and would we like to visit them soon? Sonia applied more make up just in time for bed. I glanced down to the Mongolian lady as she removed her under pants; she shook the day from them and hung them up on a hanger to air. I didn't sleep well on the second night as the soft duvet had welded itself into my backside and the bed was now a hard plank of plastic. The two
remaining lovely Mongolians snored in harmony.
The following morning was much the same as the previous morning, the ladies opened the curtains put their two day old freshly aired pants back on and boiled more pot noodles at 05.00 that's AM! I wore industrial ear plugs but it was the intense slurping of soup that woke me, it sounded very much the same to intense snoring, there was no difference. I was near screaming inside my head with it all. So I walked up and down the aisles stretching legs, doing hip swings and hung out with the old men 2 cabins away and we all watched the Chinese country side pass us by. Important items to bring on such a long journey: an understanding of personal space & your boundary levels prepared to be exploited, wet wipes, plenty of them, travel soap, moisture cream, pot noodles (plenty of them), ear plugs/(saved our lives), socks, moon boots, clean pants, warm sweat top, balaclava, scarf and mittens for first part of journey, good book, MP3 - Mobile phone chargers, large bottles of water, toilet paper, note book and pen, camera cause funny things can happen, sense of bloody humour. China
railways got us to 'Beezing' (Beijing) in 43 hours, shaving off a good 7 hours.
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