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Published: October 8th 2013
Three Hour Chinese Highway Jam
Yes, it's a true phenomenon after all. I've heard of worse, in fact, can you believe jams that last for days and even weeks?!?!
Anyway the locals look used to it. Everyone alights from the vehicles to chit-chat with one another, until its time to move another ten metres forward again.
And so with the final grains of sand in my hour glass tourist visa falling, I had to race down south to the Vietnamese border for (yet another) visa run. No stranger to such a necessity, having already had to do the same twice in Thailand, this time it was nevertheless a much more arduous journey.
It started with a early morning speedy one hour flight from the Shangri-la airport back to Kunming. Then from Kunming it was a twenty minute subway transfer from the airport to the East bus station. Apart from some waiting time here and there between, things had been relatively straight-forward, and I was scheduled to arrive at the Hekou-Lao Cai border with Vietnam sometime in the early evening. I'd read that the border officially closes at 11 pm Chinese time, but LP warned about getting there much earlier, preferably before 8 pm. In any case I was probably still going to be on time, having caught the noon-ish bus out of Kunming for what was supposed to be a 6-7h ride.
And then I was introduced to the Chinese Highway Traffic Jam.
How could there be a jam on
Some lovely scenery for company along the way though.
a highway several hundred kilometers long? Well it turns out it's possible. And in China, such jams don't last twenty, thirty minutes. They last for hours! This was the type of jam where the drivers turn off their engines, and all the passengers in the entire row of cars get out to chit-chat. Then when some progress can be made after ten minutes, everyone gets back into their vehicles, moves forward ten metres, and then has to stop again for another ten minutes.
And this went on for about three hours! During which time I am pretty sure my bus barely moved a few hundred metres.
Now I've been in traffic jams before - Jakarta, Bali, Bangkok, KL and even my home country of Singapore come to mind. But this must have been the mother of all traffic jams for me.
Thankfully, it finally came to an end, and we were able to carry on at a reasonable pace again. But we were about three hours behind schedule, and by the time I arrived at the Hekou bus station, which was still another few kilometers from the border crossing proper, it was already slightly past <a style="color:
You know you're in Vietnam when you see motorbikes, motorbikes, and more motorbikes.
Of course at that time of night, there were no taxis in sight in the vicinity of the bus station. So all the passengers just started walking towards what we believed was the direction of the border. It was somewhat bizarre seeing everyone drag their luggage in the dark through the eerily quiet, deserted outskirt streets of Hekou.
Finally after some walking, a couple of taxis showed up to take those who were willing to pay to the border. And so by the time I made it there, it was almost 10.30 pm, and I was already wondering what to do if it was closed. The thing with Chinese entry visas, is that they only show your entry date, and not the latest permitted exit date. I knew I had a free "15-day" visa. But what did that mean? I'd already stayed 14 days. Was it still ok if I stayed an extra night? Or would I be fined or worse, arrested if I couldn't exit in time? Would they accept my explanation of the 3h jam I had to endure?
Fortunately, as I approached the immigration building, I saw that
the lights were still on, and they were still processing exits! I don't think I'm normally relieved to find LP being inaccurate, but this time it was wrong after all, the Chinese border does indeed operate until the stated closing time.
But the Chinese border was only half the task. I still had to walk across the Friendship Bridge to the Vietnamese side. It did occur to me that if the Vietnamese border was closed by the time I got there, I might be stuck in No Man's Land on the bridge, cos I knew from my Thai-Cambodian visa run experience that you couldn't re-enter a country unless you got the stamps from the other side. So I'd never been so relieved as to see a Vietnamese immigration officer in his green uniform sitting behind the counter. I got through, quickly found a hotel (turned out to be a nice one) and called it a night.
I'd originally planned to just stay one night, and cross over back to China, and take the early bus to my next destination. But still exhausted from my loooong day, I decided to stay an extra night, and spend some time checking
Lao Cai Immigration Building
Ah, Chinese packaged tourists with yellow caps...
out the Lao Cai-Hekou border area.
And I was glad I did, as I spent a leisurely afternoon sipping strong cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced milk coffee), reminiscing the last time I was in the country almost a year ago, and then walking the busy streets of Hekou in the evening. Hekou in particular was activity-filled, it still being the Chinese national day celebrations. And I found out that because Chinese citizens have restrictions exiting the country, it's the Vietnamese who cross-over to do business with them. Especially the Vietnamese women, I think you know what I mean...
Stayed at Hoang Lanh 1 Hotel.
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