Are you ready for a weekend adventure?
Leave Hong Kong on a Friday evening after work. Stay overnight in Guangzhou. Then, take an early morning train to the Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province. Spend the day exploring this second-tier Chinese city – and then take an overnight sleeper train and arrive in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Yes, it’s that simple! (with a little preparation, of course!)
Hanoi is an amazing city. The streets, packed with scooters, that are impossible to cross. The mouth-watering street food on every corner. Vietnamese coffee drunk off small plastic stools, or in trendy cafes. Beautiful temples. Complicated history. It’s a city that truly merits a weekend break. But did you know you could travel there overland by train Hong Kong – and in the space of a weekend?
Preparation required: You will need to buy 3 railway tickets:
- A ‘through train’ ticket from Hung Hom (in Kowloon) to Guangzhou East Station (2 hours)
- A high-speed rail ticket from Guangzhou South Station to Nanning (4 hours)
- An overnight train ticket from Nanning to Hanoi (Sleeper car – 8hrs)
You can buy the ‘through train’ ticket on the MTR website, here: http://www.it3.mtr.com.hk/b2c/frmindex.asp?strLang=Eng
<how to get from Hong Kong to Guangzhou East>
The other two can be purchased here: https://www.china-diy-travel.com/en
<how to buy Chinese railway tickets>
You will also need a valid Chinese visa and a valid Vietnamese visa.
<how to get a Chinese visa>
<how to get a Vietnamese visa>
I left Hong Kong’s Hung Hom station in Kowloon on a Friday evening after work. After two hours on the train, you arrive at Guangzhou East Station. Here, you pick up your tickets for the next day.
<how to pick up your tickets in Guangzhou East Station>
You have the option to stay in central Guangzhou – and go explore.
<where to go/what to do in Guangzhou – evening version>
Since my train was early the next morning, I opted to take a taxi to a hotel near Guangzhou South Station (where the high speed rail trains leave from) – grabbed a bite to heat and had an early night.
<how to get to Guangzhou South Station>
<where to stay near Guangzhou South Station>
The next morning, after breakfast, we headed to the station and caught the XXX train to Nanning. The trains takes about 4 hours. It was a comfortable relaxed journey – making cheeky faces at Chinese children, looking out the window at the countryside streaming past, having a snooze. The train pulled into another huge, white, gleaming, modern high-speed railway station – Nanning Station, in the capital of Guangxi province.
Once you get out of the station, you have an afternoon and evening to kill, before you board the sleeper to Hanoi.
Nanning is a second-tier Chinese city. It’s not one China’s most famous cities, nor does it have any particularly famous sites. But it does have a few interesting places to explore.
I spent a few hours at Guangxi Provincial Museum. There are two things in China that are noticeably numerous and gigantic in modern China – those are the high-speed railway stations and the museums. On this trip you get to see a few samples of both.
At the back of the museum are some lush green park areas with some architecture of the XXX ethnic miniority of southern China. I also grabbed lunch here and relaxed as I had a beer- and ended up chatting with the chef and some customers. People are very curious about tourists in this part of the world.
I then headed into the centre of town – and wandered the streets and shops of modern Nanning.
<what to do in Nanning>
[Guide to a day in Nanning].
Later on – I bought some water and some snacks and made my way to Nanning Railway Station – which serves the non-high-speed rail network. If you are a bit old –fashioned, and yearn for the days of sleeper train carriages rumbling through the countryside, this is the place for you. These trains still run all over China – and can make for memorable trips. After waiting in the hall, I boarded the train – and found my carriage. I was surprisingly (especially to them!) sharing with two students from Shenzhen and an old lady who had run away to Hanoi many years ago.
The train leaves at XXX – and life on board is a mix of perhaps chatting with fellow passenger, reading, internet, planning your next trip – or having a snack in the railway carriage (was there one?). The carriages are comfortable and you can settle down to sleep whenever you want.
The one problem with this trip is that you need to cross the border. The train arrives at the border around 3am. People emerge sleepy eyed from the train – and everyone goes through the bureaucratic fund of Chinese-Vietnamese border controls. It’s a nuisance – but it’s also fascinating.
You then re-board the train, collapse on your bed and try to grab some more sleep. You might rouse from your slumber from the light coming through the window – or from the bustle from the train around you – but by early morning you will realise you are trundling through the Vietnamese countryside and almost in Hanoi – your destination from the day before.
Discussion point: I was slightly crazy but had booked a day tour to Halong Bay that day. Although it was fun, in hindsight (and if you had more days) you might leave that for later. But if you are pushed for time and want a real weekend adventure – why not? I still had a few hours before they came to pick me up for my tour – so I went to my hotel to see if I could rest there. The staff at the hotel were very kind – and let me check in and go to my room. (You don’t ask, you don’t get!) – they also said I could grab breakfast at 8:15 before the tour guide came to pick me up. I grabbed a wonderful 40 winks, a quick splash in the shower, some food – and was ready to hop on the bus to Halong Bay at 830.
<a tour to Halong Bay>
I arrived back, grabbed some food and explored Hanoi by night.
The next day I wandered some of the more interesting sights of the city, before catching a flight back to Hong Kong in the evening.
This really was a true (long) weekend adventure.