The worst journey ever.

Trip Start Apr 08, 2005
Trip End Jan 19, 2007

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Flag of China  ,
Friday, October 7, 2005

We asked the Hotel receptionist which was the best way to get to Hanoi from Yangshou "By bicycle?" she replied inquisitively. We think she knew something.

We asked around and as it was National Holiday (the Chinese get 7 days holiday in October to celebrate the conception of the the Peoples Republic, tickets for the overnight train would be difficult to get. One guy phoned up and there was only one left. So rather than leave Teena on her own while I took the train we decided to both get the bus. "Anyway" says the ticket man "the train takes 24 hours and the bus only 12 to the border and its 2 hours to Hanoi from there". OK then we'll go by bus. And besides the bus was less than half the price.

When we got to the bus station, "Jack" accompanied us past all the fancy buses with aircon and TVs to our transporter. Ours not only had no aircon and no TV but was also full of potatoes and we later found out, chickens. The thing was stinking. Really bad. It looked like a prison bus, a Russian prison bus and a bad one at that. We should have argued there and then and got another bus but we didn't. Anyway it's only 12 hours and we'll be sleeping. Luckily people started smoking, which disguised the smell of the chickens.

Two Swedish girls then joined us and we had a laugh about the state of the thing, then they told us that we would be changing buses in Nanning at 5am for the bus to the border. We weren't told about changing buses?

Then we set off, initially for a tour of the bus station, then for a tour of the town, then finally on our way at about 9pm. We had already been on the bus since 7pm.

The "beds" were just matting on some metal grid, no seats. So they were not comfortable. Not comfortable enough to get any real sleep and especially not if you have the co-driver snoring in your ear and the rest of the bus having a 'discussion' at typical Chinese volume.

Every hour or so we stopped for a toilet stop. And because the boxes of potatoes were blocking the isles it meant that I got clambered over by everyone wanting to get off. One woman literally sat on me so she could swing her legs over. Personal space was not a luxury we had.

Finally, at 3:30am they stopped shouting and clambering. But only because they had to unload the chickens and potatoes. Rather than through the door to minimise disruption to the 'sleeping' passengers, they decided it was more appropriate to pass the boxes over me and Teena and through the windows. I opened my eyes at one point to be greeted with a Chinese guy grinning from ear to ear literally inches from my face, "Don't mind me" I said, so he didn't and continued with his boxes. This went on for an hour. Then at last it was quiet and we were on our way to Nanning. Time for some sleep. 20 minutes later and we arrived, fresh as daisies.

We were then chaparoned to the next bus 45 minutes across town to another bus to the border. A further four and a half hours on twisting roads. This time there were seats and a TV and aircon and no chickens or potatoes.

At the border a Chinese girl piped up that she would 'help' us to get to Hanoi as she could speak Vietnamese and was going there anyway. This turned out to be another Manderin translation problem as 'help' obviously means 'Argue with the cabbies and nearly get you stranded at the border, in the meantime try to con the westerners into paying for my cab to whichever destination I wish to go'. Luckily we had read the translation and didn't fall for it.

So, after the obligatory argument over price with the cabbies (actually if you are ever in the area you should know that if they say a price, they will not move far from it and if you annoy them they up it as they know you are stuffed without them) we got a cab to the 'bus station'. This turned out to be a Vietnamese translation problem as 'bus station' really means 'petrol station with my mate the mini-bus driver conveniently waiting' (clearly Vietnamese has the same problems as Chinese with regard to translation issues). Then it was a 2 hour ride to Hanoi. The only problem once in the mini bus was that T thought we were going to wake up in a rice paddy sometime in about a week, with no clothes. Thankfully we got dropped just around the corner from the Hotel.

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