As part of our ongoing efforts to cut down our carbon emissions, our family decided to take a holiday in Hanoi this year, travelling by bus from Hong Kong via Nanning in China. I’ll give details of the journey as I know others might be interested in avoiding air travel.
We bought tickets from the China Travel Service (CTS) office at HK airport, which is where the bus leaves from at 7pm every evening. This was very straightforward, whereas going to a CTS office in town was less productive as they scarcely seemed aware of the fact that there was such a service to Nanning. The bus we took wasn’t full, but it only took us as far as the border with the mainland at Huanggang where we had to get through the two border posts before changing to our sleeper coach which would take us to Nanning. I’d never heard of a sleeper coach before, so I was a bit apprehensive as we had our two daughters, aged 7 and 9, with us, and I also recall the worst journeys of my life being on overnight buses in Tanzania: an absolute nightmare. However, these sleepers are state-of-the-art vehicles with each person having a sleeping compartment about 6 ft long, with a roll mattress, a duvet and a pillow. There were no seats at all, and no hassle about someone else taking your bunk. Everyone was provided with a bottle of water, and we set off close to the scheduled time. The only downside was that there was no light in your compartment, so you couldn’t read. The journey was trouble-free, with toilet stops every three hours, and the two drivers alternating every three hours. All in all, a comfortable trip in which we were all able to get some sleep, and which was quite a pleasant adventure for the girls. It took about 12 hours from HK to Nanning.
If we’d wanted to we could have connected with the morning bus leaving for Hanoi, which departs from the Lang Dong Bus Terminus, which was the terminus we arrived at from HK. However, the information we’d received in HK was that the bus for Hanoi would leave before we arrived. This, in fact, was wrong as there were buses leaving at different times in the morning, one of them a couple of hours after we’d arrived. However, we’d booked into a hotel for the night and left the following morning at about 9.30am. The bus was very comfortable, not crowded, and we were provided with a bottle of water. Near the Vietnamese border we stopped for a meal which was included in the price of the bus ticket. One of the many people offering to change money for us in fact gave us a better deal than we got in Vietnam. They were not over-persistent or irritating.
Having passed through the two border posts, we got on a Vietnamese bus which was also not full, and which was rather more worn than the Chinese one, but was still comfortable and relatively cool. We received another bottle of water and stopped after one and a half hours for food and toilets. The journey was slower as there was much more traffic and the road was single-lane with an occasional pothole instead of being a motorway, but still no problem. The journey from Nanning to Hanoi took about 8 hours, the border being roughly halfway. When we arrived in Hanoi, a company woman appeared on the bus and gave us useful information on what charges to expect for taxis to whatever hotel we were going to.
The whole journey went very smoothly, and the girls never complained. The scenery between Nanning and Hanoi is beautiful for much of the way on either side of the border, and there is much of interest in seeing the people working in the rice fields once you get into the plains towards Hanoi. If you go with kids, and stop in Nanning, take them to the Water Park for a thoroughly enjoyable day zapping down slides of all descriptions. Great for adults too. There’s a similar one in Hanoi that’s also a treat.
The only real downside to going by bus was the fact that it made us less willing to take the 4-day trip up to Sapa in Vietnam, which would have meant two overnight train trips plus 2 x 2-hour bus rides to get to the indigenous market we wanted to visit. We were further put off by someone who’d just been up there who said it was raining most of the time, this being the wet season. Never mind, a trip to Halong Bay is a must – very beautiful – and Hanoi has its pleasures, especially in the Old Quarter. Two good veggie restaurants – ’69’ and ‘Gecko’s’, both in the Old Quarter.
The journey back was equally smooth and efficient. Very impressive.