“Four years ago, I overheard a couple of backpackers in Khao San sharing their story of how they travelled from Beijing to Southeast Asia. I was so ignorant about geography and overland travel during that time. I never thought it was possible. I was so amazed that I told myself… someday I’ll also do it…. And so I finally did. Dreams do come true…”
The easiest way to travel overland is to book a direct train from Beijing to Hanoi which only runs on Sundays and Thursdays which unfortunately did not fit my schedule because I intended to leave on a Saturday. I did check though how much the cost and it was a staggering $320 online (some even have a higher rate). This is way above my budget.
I’ve decided to cut the trip in segments instead to save money.
Beijing to Nanning
Beijing Railway Station
This has a daily schedule and I booked a hard seat ticket at the train station for only 276 Yuan ($42.50). Note that if you’re booking a train ticket at Beijing Railway Station, you should go to Counter 16 where the attendant speaks English.
Train Ticket to Nanning
We left our hostel for about three hours ahead of our train schedule to give us ample time to commute to Beijing West Station and to look for the train platform.
After almost an hour of bus ride from our hostel which only cost us 1 Yuan/person), we finally arrived at the Beijing West station and had our bags scanned and started looking for platform where our train is located.
Beijing West Train Station
The waiting room was full of locals and there were only three tourists in sight. We were a bit too early when we arrived but I thought that it’s way better than being late and being left behind by our train.
Waiting Room for Platform 7
The best thing that happened was, the seat that we got was actually a soft seat eventhough we paid for just a hard seat. Lucky day huh!
The train left at exactly 18:50 of April 30th and arrived at Nanning at 00:45 May 2 which is a bit late compared to the ETA of 23:40 May 1.
Booking hard seats proved to be a nice experience to meet and interact with the locals. One nice Chinese lady even stitched the broken nylon cord of my water bottle.
Inside the Car 17 of T189
Nanning to Hanoi
After more than 28 hours of train travel, we arrived at past midnight at the station, we’ve decided to stay there and wait until 7AM until the ticket station opened. If you stay in front of the train station, there’re few shops around that are open for 24 hours and two public bathrooms on both sides of the station.
There’s also a roving patrol that ensures the safety of the commuting public. Sleeping on the benches though seems to be not allowed and in case you fall asleep, expect the police to wake you up. Don’t get offended though because they also wake up locals sleeping on the benches.
At around 6AM, a travel agency at the station opened up and we asked for the cost of the bus going to Hanoi. We were quoted for 300 Yuan per person which is more than double of what I’ve read online. We then walked towards Chao Yang Road instead to buy ticket at the Langdong Ticket Station and waited there for another hour.
Bus Ticket to Hanoi
As soon as it opened, we bought the ticket at only 148 Yuan per person. The Chinese attendant though doesn’t know how to speak English and thus gave us a written direction of where the bus station is.
It turned out that the bus is located at the Nanning International Tourism Distribution Centre (NITDC). There’s also a Langdong ticket station at NITDC so it would be more convenient for you to buy your ticket there instead.
From the train station, walk towards your left and after two traffic lights, you’ll see NITDC on your right.
The bus left at around 7:40AM and arrived at around 4:30PM which was pretty early than what I expected.
At lunchtime, we stopped at a canteen in Pingxiang where there were alot of touts exchanging Vietnamese Dong. Eventhough I was hesitant to exchange money, I still did because we didn’t have any dongs in our pockets. We exchange a small amount (100 Yuan) which I thought was more than for our first few expenses upon our arrival in Hanoi. I don’t recommend you doing this though.
People exchanging money at Pingxiang
From then on, we shared a cab to the Old Quarter with two other tourist and paid for 25,000 Dong per person.
In Between: Chinese Immigration and Vietnamese Immigration
From the Chinese Border, we were picked up by a small golf cart looking vehicle and taken to the Immigration Office. After going through the immigration officers (who asked how much my Deuter bag is) to get the exit stamp and the bags scanning process, we were then picked up by the same car and taken to the Vietnamese Immigration office where we got our 21 day entry stamp.
The process was a breeze and very convenient. The transport from one office to another is FREE!!! This experience was way better than my 2009 Laos -Vietnam overland trip where we walked in between borders.
Transfers between Chinese and Vietnam Immigration Offices
I never imagined this to be very efficient and hassle free.
In case you got bored reading my overland experience, here’s a quick note on how to do it.
1. Buy your ticket in Beijing Railway Station. The price depends on the berth class, hard seat cost 276 Yuan.
2. Check where your train departs, ask the lady before you leave the counter if it leaves from Beijing West or Beijing Main Railway station. in case of doubt, show her a map and point where you should go.
3. In Nanning, go to NITDC (From the train station, walk towards your left and after two traffic lights, you’ll see NITDC on your right). The ticket to Hanoi costs 148 Yuan.
4. Upon arrival in Hanoi, get to a cab that will take you to the Old Quarter. Do Not Pay for more than 25,000 Dong if you’re sharing a cab with others.
You’ll pass by a lot of scenic routes from Beijing to Hanoi
Passing by Guillin
Passing By DongDang
Photo Credit: Map by http://community.middlebury.edu/~scs/