Hong Kong – HK to Vietnam Overland

hongkong

It’s a great adventure and according my calculations, you’ll save 0.84 acres of forest by not flying! There are three main legs of the journey which should take around 30 hours
1) Hong Kong to Guangzhou
2) Guangzhou to Nanning
3) Nanning to Hanoi

You don’t need to book anything, but try to arrive at the Guangzhou and Nanning at least two hours before departure. Remember that travel during New Year or Golden Week is likely to be impossible considering.

Print some currency converters from oanda.com

1) Hong Kong to Guangzhou

  • Take the special Guangzhou train from Hong Hom KCR station (next to Tsim Sha Tsui). The immigration process can take over an hour. Ensure you have your HK ID on hand.
  • There are cash points on the China side of the station.

2) Guangzhou to Nanning

Below are the schedules at the time of writing…

  • Leave Guangzhou 7:05, Arrive Nanning 18:54
  • Leave Guangzhou 14:30, Arrive Nanning 1:45
  • Leave Guangzhou 16:02 Arrive Nanning 5:50
  • The latter is the one to aim for – there will be a counter catering to ‘foreign tourists’.
  • The prices are RMB 179 for a hard sleeper (6 beds, not locked) /RMB 286 for a soft sleeper (4 beds, locked). A hard sleeper is fine; if you get a bottom bunk you can lock your backpack under the bed. Put your valuables at the bottom of your sleeping liner/bag.

3) Nanning to Hanoi

  • Take the train from Nanning to Pinxiang (7:58am or 10:56 am, 4 hours, RMB 52)
  • Take one of the small taxis to the border (about RMB 30, try to share with other travelers). Arrive at customs and immigration before it closes at 4:30pm. The process takes about 20-30 minutes. You may have to pay US$2 for a quarantine ‘medical check’ – which they’ll give you a slip for won’t actually do! You can use a black market tout to change money immediately after immigration – there are no ATMs so just get 100,000 Vietnam Dong, which will cover you until Hanoi – and use a currency converter (see above).
  • Put your watch back an hour.
  • Now take a taxi to Langson bus station. If there is no meter, negotiate a price (about US$4, I think) and expect to be taken not to the bus station but to somewhere like a random petrol station in Langson where they will try and transfer you directly to a minibus to Hanoi. There is very much a culture of backhanders, taking cuts etc… and you’ll pay more unless you go to the bus station. Don’t buy any lies about it being shut down, or closed for a holiday – apparently everyone who came overland through the border had this trouble.
  • From Langson, take a bus to Hanoi. It’s not an entirely comfortable ride, but takes about 3 hours and 50,000 Vietnam Dong is the standard price. Try and keep your backpacks with you.

Returning to Hong Kong

  • Returning to Hong Kong is a lot less fun – coming from Hanoi, you need to be up at 6am to get an early minibus to Langson (check your guide book for which bus station you need). Aim to be at the border for lunchtime. On Tuesdays and Fridays there is said to be a direct train from Hanoi to Nanning (it continues to Beijing should you wish to get the Tran-Siberian Express back home to Europe!)
  • The Pinxiang train to Nanning leaves sometime between 2pm and 3pm – put your watch forward an hour as you return to China.
  • The best train back to Guangzhou leaves sometime between 11pm and midnight – arriving at around midday the following day. You may end up with a few hours to burn in Nanning.
  • Take the Kowloon Express back to Hong Hom – my bag wasn’t even scanned, but remember that the authorities may fine you several thousand dollars for any counterfeit CDs/DVDs you bring back to HK. I understand you can get around this by purchasing a CD folder and making them look like your own copies