Woke early to catch the train from HK to Guangzhou East, with only a rough idea of how we were going to get across the rest of China; the lack of a guidebook, other travellers or the internet for reference made it all abit tricky! Sad to be leaving Hong Kong but excited to be moving on to the next step...
After arrival in Guangzhou around 1pm we were told by an information helpdesk that our planned sleeper train to Nanning was "sold out" which, upon reflection may not have been quite true but rather an attempt to extort money from travellers! As an (expensive) alternative we set out to get a sleeper bus to Guilin, and were told that it was "so so close" to Nanning that it would be easy to catch a bus. We booked tickets and waited around until it was time to get driven to the bus station... we use the term 'bus station' loosely as the actual definition would be 'dodgy looking back alley with a few child sized plastic stools to sit on'. We settled down and waited for our luxury sleeper bus regardless. 2 hours later we found ourselves attempting to crowd onto a run down bus hazardously pulled over onto a dual carriage way.
Was an awesome experience, but possibly not the best way to go about getting a good nights sleep, especially when toilet stops are few and far between!! We arrived in Guilin at 6am and hopped on the train to Nanning, and as the only Westerners in the entire train station we were like D-list celebs. 5 Hours later we arrived in Nanning to a packed, noisy and very crowded ticket hall and began the challenging and time consuming business of explaining to the staff we wanted to go to Vietnam; not such an easy task when the Chinese word for 'Vietnam' differs from ours!
Tickets purchased we found some relative luxury in the "VIP" departure lounge (soft armchairs, no loo roll) and cleaned ourselves up before the overnight journey to Hanoi. Shared beers and stories in the restaurant carriage with some other travellers who we met on the journey.
Were woken up multiple times by train staff and immigration officials, heavily quizzed about a small rip in (Sam's) passport, hopefully wont impact border crossings further on in our travels... we shall see.
Was an incredibly tiring and sometimes stressful journey, but from our windows we saw some amazing scenery and were shown some great human kindness.
It is a country we would very much like to see properly... hopefully with a guidebook in our daysack next time.