Final stop Guilin then goodbye China

30 04 2010

We left Chengdu and the fantastic Sim’s Cozy hostel and took the sleeper train to Guilin. The train was due to depart at 4.26 but got delayed three times until it finally left at 5.10pm. The train seemed almost empty- there weren’t many people in hard sleeper and one carriage was almost empty. The hot water come from a boiler heated by a fire on board the train. It was old and scary. The scenery started to change into rice fields and water buffalo and farmers in c0nical hats and the weather started getting warm and humid on the train.

The train was almost 3 hours late in arriving, getting into Guilin around 7.30pm, then by the time we got a taxi to the hostel it was past 8pm. We asked about the closest vegetarian restaurant and got given the name and directions to one off the main shopping strip. We found the restaurant after asking a policeman for help, followed the sign into an elevator in a dis-used and abandoned building–we had arrived in the service entrance. We walked around past the kitchens and confused staff to the front of the restaurant where they showed us their vegetarian menu. It seemed to be okay, but the taro tasted strangely of egg, despite their repeated reassurances that there was no egg in the dish.

The next day we went on a Li River cruise. It was a litle overcast with some rain in the afternoon so the view wasn’t as impressive as it might have been. We got picked up by a van from the hostel, paid 1 yuan to use a toilet before getting on a bamboo boat powered by what looked and sounded like a whipper snipper. After about 90 minutes of cruising along the river, looking at the limestone mountains and admiring the piles of rubbish strewn in every tree along the bank we stopped for lunch at a terrible place. There was nothing for us to eat so we waited. One of the Chinese boat drivers threw a chip packet into the river, so we’re glad to see they are looking after this important tourist attraction and maintaining the pristine beauty of the famous Li River. The bamboo boat stopped at a random place and we all got out and piled into a bumpy pink golf cart to go the remaining distance to Xining. From there we transferred into a bus and drove to Yangshuo. Initially we had thought that we would have lunch in Yangshuo, but by this time is was 2.30pm and we just turned around and caught an express bus for Y15 back to Guilin. The toilets at the bus station were a long trench along the length of the room with small 1m high walls every metre or so for “privacy”. Just squat where ever and don’t expect any water to come and wash anything down either…

We bought bus tickets for Nanning at the Guilin bus staion, walked past Shan Lake and Elephant Trunk Hill then had dinner at a temple restaurant called Vegetable Dish. It wasn’t marked or sign posted but we were able to eat lots and make up for the loss of lunch.

We decided to leave China a day early as the 1st of May is a public holiday which means the hostel couldn’t book any train/bus tickets for us, and we had been warned that the roads/rails would be busy. So we left on the 30th, hoping that it would be less crowded.

Early in the morning we caught bus number 2 to the Long Distance train station. Then we found our express bus headed for Nanning. It was comfortable, with big seats, air-con and free water and snacks. About 4 and a half hours later we arrived in Nanning. We had to find the train station, which turned out to be on the other side of town. A policeman, who spoke no English, with the help of charades, directed us to local bus number 6 which went from the bus station to the train station. 45 minutes later and only because Benno could read the chinese characters “fire vehicle station” on the bus map we arrived at the train station. We went into the ticket hall, which was packed. There was no room to move, it was hot and there was no air-con. We lined up at counter 16 for maybe an hour or more while people pushed in line, until it was our turn. The electronic board was displaying 0, 0, 0, 0 next to our train number for the next 2 days and I was praying that that didn’t mean no seats on any trains for the next 2 days. However, there was no problem and we handed over our passports and got tickets for the train that evening departing in 2 hours time. Soft sleeper, Y228 each, leaving around 6.30pm.

There was no time for lunch or dinner so we went to the supermarket and got snacks for our journey. There were lots of people lined up for the train, but most of them were in seats and got off in the Chinese border town Ping Xiang so there were actually few people on sleepers crossing the border into Vietnam. At 6.45pm we departed, there were trilingual announcements on the train (chinese, vietnamese and english) and staff came around with a dinner menu. We made two stops in China, the second one being Ping Xiang at 10.30pm. We had 90 minutes where we had to fill out our disembarkation forms, hand in our passports to the train official to be stamped, carry our luggage out of the train and through the x-ray machine in the office then back on the train.  Back on the train we went to sleep, only to be woken up at 12.30 when we had arrived at Dong dang, the Vietnamese bordr town. Again, we got our luggage out of the train and into the station office (not that they were checked) then filled out the embarkation form, had our passports stamped and back on the train. We arriving in Gam Lai station, Hanoi around 5.45 (4.45 am Hanoi time). Despite the early morning there were taxis waiting. We had issues over price negoitiation – thought we had fixed a price but then when we got out the driver wasn’t happy. Ended up paying $US5 which we think was fair.


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