We made it! Finally! It was a hell of a long journey, far longer than it should've been, but we're here. Let me elaborate...
We spent our last day in China in Yangshou relaxing and taking in the beautiful scenery of the peaks around us. We ate a hearty breakfast (from a place recommended by our room mate Zach, from Canada) but got caught out in a torrential down pour so headed bak to the hostel. After spending hours organising our upcoming trip to Vietnam and the logistics to get there we went and had a very good last Chinese meal (clay-pot beef and vegetables for 8 Kuai) before heading to the bus station to Guilin. And this is where the excitement - or better said, typical Chinese annoyances - started.
Our bus was meant to leave from Guilin train station at 11pm. It didn't. When our bus finally arrived - and we were promised a sleeper bus with comfortable two metre long beds to accommodate my long legs - we were in fact greeted by a minivan for 5 people. Unimpressed I began to query the situation before being quickly calmer down by the driver telling me that he was to take us to a spot on the motorway where we would be picked up. The reason was that the bus was running 20 mins late and this way we could keep to schedule. So we got into the minivan relieved that we wouldn't have to spend the next 9 hours in such a confined space.
After the 'short' ride to the motorway, which our driver said would take 10 mins but in fact took just under 40, we were at the pick-up point. The bus would be here any moment, only 20 mins behind schedule. We were excited to get going. An hour an a half past before our bus arrived, and at 01:00 (2 hours later than planned) we were finally on our way to the border. Great news! The not so good news was found out after dumping our bags in the haulage and getting onto the bus. The bus was overbooked so we had no beds. It was so overbooked that there were people sleeping on the floor of the aisles. The girls managed to share a small bed at the front of the bus but were very cramped. I, on the other hand, had the fortune of sitting next to the gear box. Needless to say, I was not at all impressed, very tired, but was just once again reminded of China's occasional incompetence to follow through in the way your are normally told it should.
It was gone 04:00, and my backside rather sore from sitting on the floor by the gearbox, that I finally got a bed as people disembarked. Finally I could sleep! Ecstatic with the prospect I quickly tucked myself into bed, which was actually in the middle of the two aisles, and tried to sleep as people would walk up and down knocking my feet, arms and face. At one point, a lady who was getting ready to get off thought it appropriate to just put her bags on my legs. I was too tired to say anything expect 真的吗？(which means 'Really?!').
The rest of the journey to the border was interrupted by constant stop-offs to let people on and on the bus. Web I finally fell asleep at 06:00, a young boy behind me decided it was time to wake up. And by wake up I mean wake the whole bus up. He proceeded to take his mother's phone and play ringtones on full volume for the rest of the two hours. What inrigues me is that the Chinese seem impervious to such sounds so it was just Lenk and myself gritting our teeth in a tired state.
We finally got to the Sino-Vietnamese border at 08:00. The easiest part was border control. What should have apparently taken over an hour took merely minutes, and we were finally walking across the bridge from China into Vietnam. We made it!
Actually.....not yet. We had to get to Hanoi so proceeded to look for a public bus which we had been told should take about 3 hours. Many hawkers were instantly offering us transport at extortionate prices.
Some chap even asked for £100 pounds EACH to get to Hanoi. We brushed him off quickly, laughing. We found a taxi who would take us to the nearest bus station. We took it and were there in minutes. It was interesting to see Vietnamese people speaking Chinese, although this was short lived as we drove further away from the border. We found a bus which had a sign for Hanoi on the front. We discussed price and ended up getting the same price as the locals which was nice. We got on the bus, exhausted, but uplifted by the fact we would be soon in Hanoi eating some Pho and drinking some local beer. Just 3 hours to go!
No! There was a reason it was a cheap bus. It didn't take us 3 hours. It took us 9! How a distance of just over 100km can take so long to cover is beyond me, but it did. On the bus however, we did meet some lovely Vietnamese people who were keen to talk to us. But neither of us could communicate. For the first time in my life I was somewhere where I couldn't communicate anything beyond hello and thank you. It was very frustrating. I'd got used to getting around in China with Chinese. But Vietnam is a different story. Along the way we also saw some stunning scenery of flat rice fields, farmers tilling the earth, and beautiful clear water.
After 3 stops for toilet and food breaks we got into Hanoi at 18:30. The final task was figuring out how to get to our hostel. It was amusing to see 7 Vietnamese men staring at a map trying to figure out where we were. It took them about 10 mins before they have up. At least they knew where we wanted to go, so we hopped into a taxi and after another 30 mins ride across Hanoi we found our hostel. The street in Vietnam are ludicrous. I thought China's traffic was bad! It is tame in comparison. Plus, I have never seen so many motorbikes in my life! Wherever you look, and on whatever road, there is a constant flow of traffic 24/7. On our way to the hostel there were several times where we came close to hitting a bike. A great way to immerse ourselves into the new culture.
So there, we made it! We checked in to a very friendly place just in time for the hour of free beer they offer every night. We dropped off our bags and had a couple of beers before heading out to dinner with two roommates from the UK - Stephan and Orla. They took us to a place they'd been too before and we had something called Bun Cha. The easiest way to describe it is a beef burger in a soup of vegetables and vermicelli. It was delicious and only cost 30,000 Vietnamese Dong. Oh yeah and that's another thing. The currency here is utterly ridiculous. 33,000 Dong is £1! It'll take us a while to get our heads round that.
After dinner we went for a walk around a lake nearby and saw some local women dancing to some Latin American music in a park. Hannah and Lenk joined it. It was amusing for everyone! Then it started to rain, as it had been on and off throughout the day, so we rushed to fun shelter in a bar. We had a few drinks and headed back to the hostel.
An extremely tiring and interesting day, but I wouldn't change it. The experience was great and we did everything as the locals would which we are happy about. Tomorrow we will spend some time around the old quarter and other interesting sights in Hanoi. It is now almost 01:00 so I'm off to sleep. I look forward to seeing Hanoi in the light! Good night!