China Border Crossing

Entering China seemed somehow different from crossing any other country border we’ve crossed to date. It might have been the tenuous relationship between the US and China, the difficulty acquiring a visa, entering a country with a, ehm, strong central government or that the guide book warned that it might be taken from us on crossing because of its depiction of Taiwan as a separate country.

No photos were allowed, as is custom at every border, but the grounds the border crossing at the “Friendship Pass” were impressive. Sterile, oversized marble buildings suggested a, ehm, strong central government. A lovingly tended garden complete with shrubbery, grass and flowers made for a park on the Chinese side. This created stark contrast to Vietnam’s tiny buildings with greying white walls surrounded by asphalt in mild disrepair.

But despite our fears it was one of the smoothest crossings we’ve had. No bribes, no fees, no hassles. They even had a little machine that let you rate your experience with the immigration officer on a scale of 1 to 4. I gave mine a 4 (Very Satisfied).

As we made our way to our bus, we passed about 40 men, presumably soldiers, in dark red jumpsuits grunting as they moved in sync, practicing some form of martial art. Sasha and I exchanged the holy-crap-I-saw-this-in-a-movie look.

There was no question, we had entered China.

For people looking to cross from Hanoi, Vietnam to China via the Friendship Pass crossing:
1. English tour agencies in Hanoi charged $35 dollars (700,000 VND) for the bus route. Going direct to the source cost $22.50 (450,000 VND) direct to the “Tourist Distribution Center” in Nanning, China. We bought from Kim Liem Travel who mostly cater to Vietnamese and Chinese students and were surprised to see two foreigners turn up at their door. It does require taking a $5 taxi ride to the bus departure point. This was the only bus with an 11:30 am departure time (they also had 8:30 am and 9:30 am departures) and was a nice modern bus. They took care of us at the border making sure we didn’t get lost in the shuffle. We changed buses on the Chinese side and arrived in Nanning around 6:30 pm.
2. We applied for our visas in Saigon, since we read there were fewer problems there than in Hanoi and they were turned around more quickly there due to their proximity to the Chinese consulate. We used Sunrise Travel for visa services and paid $205 for a 90 day visa (US Citizen). Unfortunately, Sunrise Travel actually got us the, cheaper, 60 day double-entry visa. While we hope it was an honest mistake on their part, it has forced us to be a little creative with our itinerary.

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