Hanoi is the 33rd Stop

Trip Start Jan 12, 2013
Trip End Feb 14, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, January 13, 2013

From Hekou, Yunnan, China to Lao Cai, Vietnam takes about 5 minutes when your passport is in order. My entry took about 20 minutes:

"Where's your entry stamp for when you entered CHINA? There's no stamp in your passport."
"In my old passport--this passport is brand NEW. Look!"
"Where's your OLD passport?"
"In Kunming. I live in Kunming and I have a residence permit right there in my NEW passport. Look!"
"Where did you enter China?"
"From Hong Kong, Luo Hu station."
"I'm not sure...uh, in July sometime, 2011."
"What's the number of your old passport?"
"I don't know."
"We'll have to confer. Wait here."
After conferring for fifteen minutes: "OK, next time you leave China, bring your OLD passport, the one with the stamp in it. But we'll give you a new stamp for today."
And they let me through.

Today you can get 3300 Vietnamese dong for 1 Chinese yuan from sellers on the street just 50 feet from the border gate (under an awning) on the Chinese side. OR, you can wait to get to the Vietnamese side (which is a whole building) and just before leaving the building you can get 3300 Vietnamese dong for 1 Chinese yuan from a guy sitting in an unmarked booth and out of uniform--he looks like a seller who just walked in off the street.

Then you can go to the train station and buy a sleeper-berth ticket ($21) on the evening train--3 leave every night between 7:30 and 9:15 p.m. and get to Hanoi in about eight hours. You can also buy a comfortable soft theater-style seat ticket ($8) available in one single car on the daytime train which leaves every morning at 9:15 a.m. and gets to Hanoi in exactly eleven hours, OR, you can buy a hard-seat ticket ($6.50) in one of the train's other 9 cars. Smart people reserve tickets for the soft-seat car. I stood in line like an idiot at the ticket window an hour before the train pulled out and could only buy a ticket on the ninth car of hard-seats which are only slightly less uncomfortable than church pews. The day train's 33rd stop is Hanoi.
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