Lao Cai to Hekou
27.02.2011 - 27.02.2011 19 °C
With burning eyes and crooked backs, we disembarked the Hanoi to Lao Cai night train, stepping down onto the misty grey platform. We hadn’t yet decided whether Sapa was the next port of call, but the rainy weather made up our minds for us, China it was. A barrage of drivers greeted us in the foyer, offering lifts at extortionate prices. A bit of peace and quiet to flick through our guidebook would have been nice at that moment, but the onslaught continued. So we played them at their own game – “Where you go? Sapa?” …”In a minute”…”Sapa now?”…”No china” …”I take you border”…”We are going to Sapa” This continued and confusion ensued. With a growl and a scorned look, they left. Result.
I had been dying to use the loo for the last couple of hours of the journey, but had been reluctant to use the grotty one on board. Well that turned out to be a mistake. I walked into the station toilets, which was basically a 4 metre square room, with 3 squat toilets and no cubicles. Two of the toilets were occupied by a couple having a mothers meeting while crouching, doing their business. This is not something you want to see at any point in your life, let alone 7 in the morning, after being cooped up on a night train. After managing to overcome my stage fright, I thought it was about time for breakfast; I wasn’t making and moves to the border with this rumbling belly.We dodged past the transport stragglers and dived into the nearest café. Boiled eggs, baguettes and a cup of steamy Vietnamese tea, it was sure to wake me up. We didn’t want to hang around too longw now the decision had been made to leave Vietnam and so we found a taxi that would ferry us 5 minutes down the road to the border.
It was in sight! The border was in sight! I found myself getting excited for two reasons a) I was leaving Vietnam and b) Its was China, actual China. My friends have told me a great deal about it and now I finally had the chance to visit their country and experience it for myself. Checking out of Vietnam was simple; they were probably glad to get rid of us! Only the snide money changers stood in our way now and we practically bowled them over to get by, there was no way we were giving our precious dollars to these random badgers. STAMP! And we were out.
Ste was next and we breathed a sigh of relief that our names didn’t flash up on the screen as ‘CRIMINALS’ for not paying for our hostel that we were evicted from in Hanoi. We had a silent rejoice at the other side, but were rudely interrupted by an irritating sound “so you change dollar now?” It was that bloody money changer! How did he get here? He certainly wasn’t stamped out, the cheeky…”NO!” we chimed in unison. We turned our backpacks to him and headed outside. We posed for the obligatory ‘pointing towards the China sign’ photos and then crossed the river that forms the natural border between Vietnam and China.
We were met with smiles and curious glances, even a giggle or two. But a man assisted us with getting our arrival card which was printed directly from a machine by scanning our passports and visas…nifty! This was a breeze. The only thing that could go wrong was to get our China Lonely Planet confiscated! It has been known to happen quite often because China don’t like that fact that it lists Taiwan as its own country! Odd, very odd, but then again facebook is also banned in China, I guess it just one of those things. The smiley border controller spent a good minute comparing photo to face before letting us pass, but we were through. Ste was asked if he had books in his bag and was asked to remove them! But he just pulled out the Thailand bible and this was satisfactory. Thank god!
Hekou was clean, organized and instantly different to Vietnam. For a start there were pavements without cracks the size of the grand canyon to fall down. But as we hunted for an ATM we soon came to realise that no one spoke ONE WORD of English. People were extremely forthcoming in helping but it was no good with such a huge communication barrier. Even when people hadn’t spoken English in the past the word ‘ATM’ would get us by…it was an international word! But not here. Our efforts were futile and we could walk no further with our heavy packs. I sat on a step with our bags while Ste disappeared off. I was soon becoming the towns latest attraction; people were literally stopping in the street to stare and poking their heads out of their shops. It was like being back in Malaysia again. If this is what its like to be famous, I think I’ll pass! Ste eventually walked back past me, but this time with a young guy leading the way. “He’s taking me to a money changer (which was a little old lady sitting on a stool in the street) there are no ATMS”
With money we headed to the bus station, only to find from an English speaking guy, that there were no more buses to Yuangyang today (we didn’t believe him at first) and so we “should stay in his guesthouse.” It was a very kind offering, but the room turned out to be a complete dive; it was just so dirty! We couldn’t sit in there all day and so with great difficulty we checked into a hotel, which took about 20mins of drawing pictures and writing numbers.
We collapsed into our room and we were so tired that it took us a good five minutes to notice that the bathroom had a glass wall that you could see the toilet through. Maybe going to the toilet is not such a private affair in China?! Who knows?
We didn’t do much apart from relax and get plenty of sleep for the journey ahead. We made a trip to the supermarket to pick up a bag full of jellies (they are really obsessed with jelly over here) and noodle pot. Welcome to China.