When the opportunity to attend the recent DPRK-USA summit in Hanoi recently came up, it was a no-brainer. I live in the Chinese province of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam, so the trip was a relatively easy one to make. I am also a cheapskate, so it behoved me to make the trip as cheap as possible. This left two options: the train or the bus. I had initially planned upon the former, but being a frequent rider of the rails and a moron meant that I got my tickets mixed up and missed my connecting train. I thus missed the evening train into Vietnam, and instead had to spend the night in Nanning before taking a morning bus.
Langdong Bus Station
First things first – you need a ticket, which can be bought directly at Langdong Bus Station. The ticket will run you around 200 RMB and requires presentation of your passport (as is standard in China).
Buses start at 7:30am and finish at 9:40am, so make sure you get there early. The bus takes 7-8 hours.
You’d be forgiven for expecting a less-than-salubrious and somewhat overcrowded bus, this being China, but the Hanoi bus has the virtue of being an international one, and so is much more of a pleasant experience than your typical Chinese intercity. It remains quite empty (for some reason, Vietnam is not a massive tourist destination for the Chinese) and is comfortable and clean.
The border crossing
The crossing is relatively straightforward – you’ll be taking the same bus over the border, so disembark (take your valuables), go through Chinese and Vietnamese passport control, and wait for your bus to pick you up. There’s no need to take any luggage you’ve stored in the bus’s storage compartment, and the whole process should take around an hour.
Getting local cash and SIM cards
The bus will stop for 20 minutes or so for some Pho (included in the price of your bus ticket), and there’ll likely be some Chinese guys hawking local SIMs and exchanging RMB for Vietnamese Dong. You’ll lose a little in commission, but it’s not extortionate. A SIM card will set you back around 200-300 RMB and will last you around a week or so.
Arriving in Hanoi
Once you’re off the bus in Hanoi, you’re on your own, and it ain’t easy getting a taxi at the bus station. Much like every other country ever, the taxi drivers are not averse to fleecing an easy mark, so if you do manage to flag a taxi, insist on the meter going on.
Failing that, download Grab and order a taxi using that. Grab taxis are ubiquitous, take cash, and — more importantly — will not try to rip you off.
To make sure you’re not being taken for a ride (and also to communicate to your driver where you’re going), download maps.me and keep an eye on where your driver is going.
Hanoi may not be the City of Sin that its southern counterpart of Saigon is, but there’s plenty to occupy your time there – butter BBQ, Bun Cha and its multitude of bars will see you right (until midnight).