Hong Kong -> South China -> Vietnam
01.08.2007 - 06.08.2007 30 °C
So we've finally made it to Hanoi and it's very, very sweaty. It's barely possible to explain how sweaty, but lets just say that I haven't been dry since I arrived. It's been quite the journey here - by bus, plane, train, tuk tuk, taxi, metro and foot - and we did it in record time.
Our flight took us to Hong Kong, a long journey but worth every tedious second for the veiw of the bay when we landed. For tight students such as ourselves, there was only one real option for accommodation, the enormous Chungking Mansions. Comprised of about 5 towerblocks, each with about 15 floors connected by 2 lifts (one for the even floors, one for the odd ones.. of course) and a pair of filthy, sordid stairwells. We were shown the way to our guesthouse by the manager Mr Jonny, who sold us a cramped triple room with air con and rather amusing tv for a few quid a night. Perfect.
It turns out that Hong Kong is pretty pricey... to be exact, it's one of the world's priciest places to live, so the obvious place to begin our monster budget adventure into asia. All the same, the city offers plenty to do on the cheap - the island itself is a photographer's playground of skyscrapers, the park, the zoological gardens and of course the view from Victoria Peak. The latter in itself is an adventure into the heart of a carnival of capitalism. At the peak, accessible by a very pricey tram (we got a taxi, the queue was about half a mile long), you have to ascend about six floors of shopping mall to get to the viewing station before battling hordes of snapping tourists to get your own picture.. heaven forbid anyone actually quietly enjoy the view. That aside, the view is jaw dropping, and its title of one the world's greatest cityscapes is well earned. With so much to look at, it's a sight you could gaze at for hours and still be fascinated. We had only seconds at a time between jabs and pushes from our photographer comrades. Mark, having seen all this before, had attempted to find a more private view, following a route he had taken in the daytime 3 years ago.. which lead to an hour's sweaty hike into the now darkened hills only to find a view overlooking the other side of the island. Good exercise I suppose!
The next day we went to China, which really was as easy as it sounds. We were guided through the border formalities by helpful signposts that were translated into English - "no refluence", "no lingering" and "no U-turns". Having saved time by avoiding all that refluence we usually do at borders, we arrived into China, by this point rather hungry. Feeling rather pressed for time, we ran a gauntlet of delicious looking noodle stalls to head for the tickets, and boarded the train to Guangzou (pronounced Guang jow, I think). Our next move was to take a train to Nanning, further into the south of China, but this was not to be - the only option available to us would be to stand for 13 hours overnight in a carriage of pigs, which wasn't really an option at all (although Mark seemed quite keen on the idea!). After an episode on the metro, we managed to get ourselves pretty cheap tickets on an overnight bus instead, and settled into Guangzou bus station for the 4 hour wait. We were now ravenous, and had no choice but to brave the bus station canteen. The chinese have a very waste-not-want-not attitude to meat, which is unfortunate, since we were treated to all kinds of greasy chicken claws and the like. I didn't eat much. It was then that we realised that we were not only the only westerners there, but probably only members of a very small group of westerners who had ever been there. Our every move was fascinating. On our occassional ventures outside to pass the time, people would just stop and stare at us in a bewildered mix of awe, horror and amusement!
Anyway, we got the bus, and my oh my what a bus it was. I used to worship the south american camabus, but no longer. These busses have real beds in tiny little compartments, complete with blankets and pillows and air con. The only person on board who was less than amused was Mark, who sizes up to 6'4, and looked a little cramped. From Nanning, another bus to Pingxiang, a rather exciting moment when we wondered whether Lucy's pronounciation of where we wanted to go would actually have sent us in another direction all together. At Pingxiang the fun really started, with a 30 minute ride in what would generously be called a tuk tuk, but should really be called a big, big mistake. The three of us were housed in a tiny little container, comprising of a metal floor and seats and a canvas awning, which was in turn positioned precariously on top of the back of a motorbike, supported by a pair of feeble wheels for good measure. As we started off, it occurred to us that all the other tuktuks had only one passenger. Ours had three, including Mark and 3 large bags. Over our shouts of terror we could hear the friendly driver howling with laughter, and the vibration numbed our feet as the little tuktuk struggled up hills and zipped down them in neutral. Out of the back of the tuktuk minibusses sped past us, and everyone in them was laughing at us, and I guess I can see why!
Still with all our limbs intact and attached to the right parts of our bodies, we crossed into Vietnam, exactly 24 hours after we left Hong Kong. It was another bus ride to Hanoi, and here we are.
When the guidebook said that Hanoi is relatively laid back, it lied. Old Hanoi is like walking down the main corridor at school, but with motorbikes. The pavements are used as motorbike parking, the kitchen, shops, dining room and bar so it's impossible to walk in a straight line down the street - instead it's a case of dodging on and off the pavement in the hope that no-one hits you. Mark has mastered road crossing faster than Lucy and I. This skill involves marching into oncoming traffic and hope that the oncoming motorbikes don't hit you. Mark insists that if you keep going at the same speed the bikes will zip around you, which to me still seems unlikely, in the face of speeding Vietnamese! Each street in the old town is devoted to selling a certain kind of product. There's a street for toys, a street for bags and so on. By now desperate for a good meal, we headed to the street food area, and sat on tiny little stools at a little plastic table and enjoyed a mound of beautifully flavoured noodles, beef and veg. Again, most of the locals found our presence quite entertaining, but with the beer costing 4000 dong (25p) and the whole meal a pound each, I'm quite happy to provide the evening's entertainment!
Hope everyone's well, and that the British weather hasn't degenerated again!
Love etc from a rather warm Sophie