After getting my tickets from the travel agent across the road, I headed back to the railway station to just sit down and wait for my train to Hanoi. By now, it was getting as hot as Singapore, and the humidity after the rain before I arrived was getting onto me.
Again, I have to walk through the security screening to access the station compound.
After ticket checks, you enter the station hall where you check for your waiting area.
Mine was Waiting Area 3 for the train T8701 to Jialin (嘉林). No one here may get you if you use the Chinese variations of Vietnam or Hanoi, including the ticket counter. Seems like just another Chinese town to the unassuming tourist, myself included.
Join the queue, or the lack of it, once boarding commences for the train. Not everyone is heading for Hanoi, there are 14 hard and soft seat coaches that terminate their service at Pingxiang, so you need to ensure you make it to your train on time, as the gate would close 5 minutes before departure, which is when all passengers are cleared just in time.
Tickets for Hanoi are all manual. Queue at the right side where your tickets will be checked under the red sign. The queue for the gates under the blue sign are for domestic passengers travelling up to Pingxiang with the blue magnetic ticket.
Check for your platform number here too. This is listed on the second last column of the board.
The door from the waiting area leads to the overhead bridge to access the platforms.
If you can’t remember your platform number, just look out for your train number which is flashed before the staircase down to the platform.
The display also shows which staircase you should take to access your coach easily. For trains to Hanoi, the coach numbers do not include the Chinese character “加” in front of the coach number.
My coach is towards the right staircase.
The Nanning – Hanoi (Gia Lam) destination sticker in Chinese and Vietnamese.
As a general guide, the coaches to Hanoi are usually in the older orange livery, while the coaches that terminate at Pingxiang are usually in the newer dark green with yellow stripe livery. Head to the orange end of the train if you’re heading for Hanoi.
Before you board the train, the conductor will take a look at your ticket and reassign you to another coach and another berth. I assume it’s to compact all the passengers together for smoother customs clearance when the officials come on board to check the train at the border.
The corridor of the Soft Sleeper. It looks pretty similar to the Trans-Mongolian, except that this has air-conditioning. The train to Hanoi only runs with Soft Sleepers.
The interior of the Soft Sleeper compartment. Each passenger gets 2 pillows and a thick blanket. The berths are also made for you before you board the train.
The space on the lower berth. Most passengers just laid down on the berth to get some rest as the border crossing is in the middle of the night, so it was not used as a seat on this train.
The space on the upper berth.
The hot water dispenser at the end of the coach.
My reassigned Berth 35 in Car 2. The conductor exchanged back this card only when arriving in Hanoi (Gia Lam).
Leaving Nanning. Hmm, maybe I should have stayed for a night in this city just to explore it a little.
Stopping at a rural station just after Nanning. Ah, finally, the feeling of classic train travel is back.
The toilet on board this coach, in case you’re curious.
Remember the speeches to prepare for a Chinese train trip?
Some serious things you may wish to prepare yourself for the journey if you speak Chinese, and totally I did not expect this beforehand:
- Update yourself on your country’s political situation between China and Taiwan.
- Understand the medical approaches in your country’s hospital, especially those related to TCM.
- Understand the education system in your country.
I met a couple in my compartment who were traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners, taking a holiday to Hanoi. Indeed, they asked the three exact same questions as the conductors did on the Trans-Mongolian. They know of the situation of local Chinese working in Singapore, and they were pretty against the random spitting when walking too, which was good. Guess not all of them are the same. However, they did mention that “西药全都是毒的！” or “All western medicines are poisonous!”, which got me reconsidering what actually is going on.
As the train travelled to Pingxiang, all gangway doors on the Nanning – Hanoi rake were locked. This means that you cannot take a walk around the train nor get off at stations, and the passengers on the Nanning – Pingxiang rake do not mix with you. There is also no restaurant car on this train, so bring your own food or eat your dinner before boarding the train. I only had a bun and a bottled tea since I spent my last few yuan paying for this train ticket in cash.
At Pingxiang (Chinese border), get off the train with all your belongings for immigration and customs clearance. Not sure why we needed to bring our bags down since it wasn’t checked or scanned by anyone here. Proceed into the air-conditioned building where there are immigration counters, and head straight after that to a waiting area with seats and a washroom to wait for the glass door to be opened, similar to how Woodlands Train Checkpoint operated for trains from Malaysia to Tanjong Pagar, Singapore before 1 July 2011.
At Dong Dang (Vietnamese border), get off the train with all your belongings for immigration and customs clearance. You will be directed to an x-ray machine on the left of the entrance to place your bags. Once you have collected it at the other end, which is a dead end, u-turn back and proceed for immigration at the counter ahead. You may be held for a while by the immigration officers who want a “stamp fee”, but I was not affected. They mainly asked the “fee” from the Chinese and Vietnamese. Should you end up in such a situation, you may wish to pay the “stamp fee” of 10 yuan (S$2.02), or not pay and get sent to the seating area where they will not stamp your passport until you wish to pay them. They would stamp your passport anyway when the train is about to depart, but that means you will have to sit around for about an hour. Once your passport is stamped, you can head to a small table by the entrance to get some money exchanged (CNY to VND or vice-versa) and to get a SIM card if you wanted one. To exit the station back onto the train, you have to show your stamp to the immigration officer standing at the entrance. If you haven’t got your stamp, it means you haven’t been cleared because you probably haven’t paid your “stamp fee”.
There are many online reports and guides saying that the T8701 will change to a Vietnamese train bearing the train number MR2. The train number might have changed, but the train that I took went through from Nanning to Hanoi. No change of trains were required on my trip.
The train arrived at Gia Lam on time. This is the end of the dual-gauge line from Pingxiang into Vietnam.
There are some taxi touts before the exit, it is best to ignore them. Sit around in the station building for a few minutes, or grab breakfast before getting a cab. It might save you quite a lot of money.
I did enquire at the station for the next train to Hanoi Railway Station, but it seems that they didn’t understand by question as they kept replying “Here Hanoi”. Gia Lam is one station away from Long Bien which is near the Old Quarter, and two stations away from Hanoi Railway Station, near the main city of Hanoi and is where most trains originate and terminate from. I got a cab in the end to Hanoi Railway Station to leave my bags for the day, as after some guessing from the station boards, the next train to Hanoi was in around 4 hours time.