I celebrated my birthday in the most random manner this year – by crossing the Vietnam-China border! Nope, it wasn’t on my wish list. All I wanted was to spend my birthday in Hanoi, my most favourite city in South East Asia by far.
We arrived in Hanoi train station at 6am in the morning. By 9am, we decided that we should do the border-crossing and started enquiring about transportation. Why? Our 30-days stamp was almost up and we might need to spend more time in Vietnam. Well, we had an open plan, so we thought it would be better to get an extra 30-days then to hurry through later. The fastest way was to exit Vietnam and re-enter, because if we were to apply for an extension, it takes 7 days!
9.00am – Enquired about the bus tickets, reserved our seats and paid. The tickets were 150 000 VND each, from Hanoi to Dong Dang.
9.45 am – Waited at the agency for the bus to pick us up
10.00 am – Off! on the bus to Dong Dang
It happened at the spur of the moment that we didn’t even have time to meet TB (who came over to join us). I left a note at the reception for him. Right before we left the hostel, we saw him having breakfast and quickly told him why we needed to cross the border and hurried off.
When we bought the tickets, we were told that it’s a big bus that can fit 40 people. Great! But when we got to the “bus”, it was a minivan for 10 people. Perhaps the driver will attempt to fit 40 people in here, not surprising at all in Vietnam. The minivan was almost full when we got in, so we had to squeeze between all the people. My seat wasn’t even a proper one. It was a makeshift stool which was placed right beside the sliding door.
The journey took 4 hours and it was bumpy. Roads had potholes in them. Crazy drivers on the road. Cows, bullock carts, bicycles, motorcycles, kids, etc. The attendant tried talking to me in Vietnamese which I couldn’t understand, then he tried a few words of English and I told him we want to stop at Dong Dang. The girl beside me had motion sickness and held on to a plastic for dear life while her mother soothed her. We stopped along the way for refreshment and toilet breaks.
We finally arrived in a town near Dong Dang and were told to get off coz the bus doesn’t go to the border. There were 2 other Chinese men and Ed asked them in Mandarin what was happening. The minivan driver paid a taxi to take us to the border. We arrived in Dong Dang at a huge empty parking space. There were buggy cars there and we were told that we had to take these to the immigration. It costs 10 000 VND per person for a short ride.
Once at the Vietnamese immigration, we had our passports stamped and walked over to the Chinese side. Ed was like, “Look, China! Your first time in China!” I must say, the Chinese side was pretty impressive. Massive compared to the Vietnamese side. From far, you could see huge buildings and manicured plants.
It was cold! We were not prepared for that. I was in a knee-length pants, t-shirt and sandals. At the immigration, the lady asked if I speak Chinese. I said a little. After that, we took a taxi to the nearest town of Pinxiang (we paid 30 RMB). We asked the driver to recommend a reasonably-priced hotel and he took us there (90 RMB for a double room with PC inside).
We spent a night in Pinxiang (my birthday eve). It’s a newly-built town without much character. Shops selling construction materials, basic necessities and surprisingly, an entire road dedicated to clotheswear. We decided to buy a pair of trackpants each since it was super cold. Some of the locals looked at us in shorts + sandals and thought we were crazy. One man even laughed at us!
Departed for Hanoi the next morning. Repeated the same process all over again and took another minivan back to Hanoi. There, it was that simple to obtain an extra 30-days. I guess we were lucky that there was a border crossing nearby.
When we got back to Hanoi, we spent the day indulging in all our favourite Hanoi-ian food & snacks. Then, had a lovely dinner to wrap up my birthday.
Yep, I spent my birthday in China AND Vietnam. Definitely memorable.