We've seen a lot since my last blog! From Hong Kong we went by train to Guangzhou (2hrs) stayed there for one night and took the bus to Nanning (10hrs), two days after staying in Nanning and arranging our visa for Vietnam we took the train to Hanoi (15hrs). So a lot of travel in little time and a chance to reflect on China-Vietnam for its differences and similarities.
China (so far, 'cause we've only seen big cities). China is a lot of people. And this is reflected in different ways. A lot of noise, lots of smells, communism, not much individualistic point of views, and a lot of diversity in people. During Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) the entire country migrates to visit their family. Whow! Just. Whow! We were in Guangzhou, and most of its 12 million residents gathered at the local train station for their own journey. Unbelievable how many people were on the streets. All of them accompanied by a lot of luggage; bags of clothes but also bags full of presents, bags of food and what not. We were warned of all the migration happening in China during this time of year, but to stay put for another two weeks was not an option. That's also why we decided not to spend New Year with Bella and her family. It would take a lot of effort to get to her city and afterwards it was hard to get away. So the challenge in Guangzhou; get a ticket to Nanning. You have to know that after Hong Kong almost nobody spoke any English, which made it hard to get food but this was still arrangeable but to get a ticket on the right way of transport and to the right place in all the insanity around us, was sure going to be interesting! Happily we found a kind "volunteer", a young girl who spoke very little English but who was devoted to help us. Thank god! So after some walking (packed with our day- and backpacks) from one place to the next we got ourselves a "bed" in a bus towards Nanning that same evening, a true achievement :). After a meal we went to the gigantic park of Guangzhou and took a spin on the water in a little peddle boat. A real treat after being surrounded with all those people all the time!
In Nanning it was a lot more quiet. Still traffic everywhere (here they all ride a scooter bike but all electric!) and still no blue sky, since we left the Netherlands. One thing people on mainland China seem to do is spitting. Not your regular "just spitting" but the most repulsive collections of gathered spit from ambiguous places are smacked on the pavement just in front of your feet. Yuk! Further there are little market stands as far as you can see, and the smell is a combination of sharp disgusting something mixed with food and herbs. In Nanning we took the train to Hà Nội.
At the train we had a compartment of six and a hard sleeper. We had the highest beds. Bad, bad decision. In was very-very-very small. You could only lie down, and if you would turn your underarm up right, with your shoulder still lying down, you would almost be able to touch the ceiling. It was that tight. A special experience once more (because the bus was a true claustrophobic experience as well). At the border we had to get out with all our stuff. The second time in Vietnam I almost did not get my passport back because the guy would not see enough resemblance between my face and the picture in my passport. First, I thought he was just joking, but when he got another man involved in the issue and that man was also not really seeing "me". I was losing my calm. But fortunately at that moment he returned my passport to me. Next time I will try to look as much as my picture as possible to avoid these kind of situations, not really pleasant. After another few hours we got to Hanoi. Actually a train station far from the centre, so at 5am we had to try to get our hands on some money and try to get closer to the city. 'Cause we had arranged a stay at an apartment (via Couchsurfing, free stay in exchange for nice company). After a little adventure and surviving the jungle of hungry taxi drivers we got ourselves close enough to the city centre. We took a Chinese girl under our wings who was lost and losing her grip on the situation. After dropping her off at a decent hostel and eating some breakfast and freshing up we started to see Hanoi in daylight.
Hanoi, a beautiful city! You are constantly surrounded by the heavy buzz of hundreds of angry scooter-monsters who honk, beep and blast for their best chance of surviving in this wilderness. Which you have to cross step by step with the hope you don't get hit because the traffic never stops. But everywhere are women with conical Asian hats, carrying baskets of fruit on two sides of a long stick balancing it on their shoulder. Everything is so colorful here, little shops full of New Years decorations, herbs, candy, shoes, clothes, you name it and it's here.
But everything is "small", no giant shopping malls like you see in China. And the people here don't spit everywhere! A huge relief for me :). Furthermore the bamboo-bongs are popular here, so is sitting close to the ground, having your own business in whatever, and having little birds to show off the wealth of its owner. The ambience here is very nice, people are kind, our apartment is huge and will be ours, and ours alone, for the next couple of weeks, but after two and a half weeks we will get on with our journey southwards.
Our plan is to make some trips with Hanoi as centre point. First to a little island close to Halong Bay, and after that a visit to Ba Be Nature Park. I will let you know how all that is going to turn out!
Love and Light always,