Best and Worst

Tour 1

Worst Journey by Train

Guilin, China to Hanoi, Vietnam

This was a night train, with sleeper compartments.  The trip was to take fifteen hours – little did we know that more than a third of that time would be devoted to customs stops.

The above photo is from the Chinese train, which wasn't so bad.  Kumiko is reading her Vietnam guidebook while Davy, our new friend and compartment companion, enjoys some munchies and the boring scenery.

Our first stop was in the evening of the first day – in Nanning, China.  We walked the area of town around the station, had some dinner, and went back to the station at 7:00pm (as instructed) just so we could wait more than an hour to reboard the train.  At least the seats in the waiting area were comfortable, as you can see from these photos of Davy and Kumiko.

Later, back on the train, we made our beds and climbed in for a good(?) night's rest.  Then, around midnight, we were rudely awakened at the customs check for China.  At least we didn't have to get out of our cozy bunks, since the customs agents boarded the train to do whatever it was they had to do – which took three hours!!!  At 3:00am, we got under way again and went as far as Dong Dang, Vietnam – arriving at 5:00am – and stopped for the Vietnam customs check.  This time, we had to pack our stuff, get off the train, and go sit in a dingy, dimly lit waiting room.

The Vietnamese customs agents must have learned the art of bureaucracy in India.  We had to go to one window for some unknown purpose, where they checked our passports; then go to another window for another unknown purpose, where they took our passports, two forms we had to fill out (with passport photos attached), and an exorbitant amount of money for visas.  Then we had to sit and wait until they called us back to the window, at which time we would find out whether or not they were going to let us into their country.  With all the waiting between visits to the various windows, this stop took another two hours.

When we had all safely clear customs, we boarded a different train – of the Vietnamese variety – and got under way again.  This one wasn't nearly as nice as the Chinese train and, as you can see from the photo below, it had heavy-duty wire mesh covering the windows.  I had already discovered the reason why from reading my guidebook – it seems that one of the favorite pastimes of Vietnamese boys is to throw rocks at passing trains.  I imagined that they probably had elaborate rules for scoring, with bonus points allotted if a passenger was actually injured in the process.

Anyway, we finally made it to Hanoi and, with little sleep and surly dispositions, we had to deal with all the touts at the train station trying to get us to take their taxi, or go to their hotel, or buy their guidebooks, or just about anything to separate us from our money – especially US dollars!!!