Bleary eyed and confused we were waiting in line, at 3am off our train from Hanoi, to be allowed across the border into China. The young border guards searched our bags and we held our breathe to see if they’d find our guide-book and confiscate it….they don’t like bits about Tibet. But it made it through and we were in…well after the immigration official had a laugh at Ryan’s passport photo and passed it around to all the other officials! We were in….well though we had another 30 hours on the train… but we were in!
At 10pm the previous night we had found our way to the train station outside of Hanoi city centre, the only one with the same gauge as China’s train system, and got on with about 20 other people. Slightly disconcertingly we were in a carriage all on our own?!? Were we VIPs or just in the wrong place? We never really found out…but we did make it across the Vietnamese border (quite a ramshackle affair where a couple got what looked like a lot of porn confiscated from their bags ?!) at around 2am before arriving into China at their border crossing an hour later.
As we were going all the way to Beijing in one long go, when we arrived in Nanning we had to get onto another train to take us the rest of the way. Perhaps we were the only people mad enough to do this long journey or it was because we were foreigners, but there was a smartly dressed official waiting for us to show us to our cabin on the next train. This was ideal…as sleep deprived, new to China and without a word of the language we might have had a few problems on our own. It was only less than an hours wait before we were off again, speeding north, through brown winter countryside and dusty looking urban sprawl. Our soft sleeper cabin was comfortable and even better we didn’t have to share it with anyone else!
We arrived into Beijing West, one of the biggest train stations on the planet, surrounded by people and noise, breathed a sigh of relief that we’d made it through the first stage of our epic Chinese train saga….
Next we were heading north…to the coldest northern point in the country…