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Published: March 15th 2007
The train ride back to Hanoi was significantly more pleasant than in the other direction. We bought hard seat tickets, but the train was configured with sleeper cars which meant that you sat on the bunks instead of hard wooden benches. We had 8 people in our compartment, which meant three on each of the bottom bunks and one on each of the top bunks. The ride took most of the day and we pulled in after dark.
Mickan and I headed for the hostel which was about 15 minutes away on foot. After checking in we went out and got some dinner. It was raining off and on so we just headed straight back to the hostel after eating.
The next morning I got up early and headed straight to the Chinese embassy. I arrived just as it was opening, but I found myself at the back of a line of about 25 people. For the next 2.5 hours, perhaps 10 people were admitted into the embassy(!). There was nothing I could do other than plan to come back the next morning early enough to be at the front of the line. How the embassy was only able to deal with 15 people in 2.5 hours is beyond me. I guess it was my first taste of Chinese bureaucracy.
I headed back towards the old quarter and met up with Mickan for lunch at an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet. I don't think they anticipated how much food two hungry backpackers can eat! Afterwards we took care of some errands and checked out a few used book stores. On our way to one of the book shops, we stumbled upon a western food store. We went inside and I almost jumped for joy. They had shelf after shelf of (mostly) American products. They even had wheat flour, which I haven't seen anywhere else in asia. So, we decided to buy flour, some baking powder, milk, and butter to make scones and pancakes. I also grabbed some Dr. Pepper, which was a nice treat.
We got back to the hostel and stashed our goodies and spent the afternoon chilling out. That evening, Mickan baked the scones and they were delicious. Maybe the Swedish did invent the things? We also ended up hanging out with the Swedish guys I had met when I was in Hanoi a few days earlier. Unfortunately, they had to catch an overnight train and so we only got to talk to them for a couple hours before they left. We spent the rest of the evening watching a movie before turning in early.
The next day I was up and at the Chinese embassy by 6:45. Even so, I was still the 5th person in line. The embassy didn't open until 8:30 and so I listened to music and tried to stay dry despite the steady rain. By the time the embassy opened I recognized several other people from the previous day in the line with me. I got inside about 5 minutes after it opened, and after a brief wait inside I dropped my passport off and was on my way.
I spent most of the day walking around the old quarter checking out the various markets with Mickan. We also went on a mission to find the (supposedly) correct bus station so that I could get a ticket to go to China. After some walking through one of the dirtiest, and most local markets I've ever seen we found a little station where they most certainly did not serve foreigners. Feeling a bit dejected, and pissed off at the rain that would not go away, we walked over to a travel agent and I paid $20 for a bus that would take me all the way to Nanning in China. I figured it would be worth it for the convenience of not having to find another bus at the border.
The travel agent told me to come back after 5 to pick up the ticket, so we walked back to the hostel and then I set off to the Chinese embassy to pick up my completed visa. Everything was in order, and I paid my $105 (!!!) and was on my way. I also headed to the travel agent and got the bus ticket before going back to the hostel. I arrived just in time for happy hour. At the happy hour I discovered that they had raised the beer price by nearly 50% as a direct result of our massive consumption the week before! Oh well, they were still reasonably cheap and there were about 15 of us sitting upstairs on the terrace hanging out waiting for the burgers to be ready.
The burgers were delicious (again) and I had 2 of them. After eating, we decided that we should use up the rest of the flour and make some "American" pancakes. I normally use pancake mix from a box, so I dug up a recipe online and it actually turned out pretty well. We didn't have enough butter to oil the pan properly so the first couple didn't turn out very well, but we solved the problem by using oil and the rest were pretty good. A couple of other Swedes joined us and they were absolutely raving about the pancakes. Mickan had to be up at 4:30 the next morning to catch her flight to Laos, so we said farewell and headed off to bed.
I got up around 6 the next morning, packed up and headed off to find my bus to China. I was running a bit late, but I managed to find it about 10 minutes before it was due to leave. I'll continue this in the next entry, so stay tuned for China!
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