Easy overland travel: Hong Kong to Hanoi…

Since we have just completed the China to Vietnam stretch of our trip without any major hitches we thought we’d better tell you how we did it, in case you want to follow suit!!

Our plan for China – Vietnam went like this… We travelled overland to China from Nepal, which meant that we entered the country through Tibet. Since this is an autonomous region, the visa rules are slightly different to those that apply to visiting ‘mainland’ China and we had to get a single entry group visa (and travel with this group until we left Tibet). This group visa allows you to also enter the mainland and is valid for a month so we used this to travel to Beijing, Xian, Dengfeng and Shanghai. We then went into Hong Kong and spent a week there. As we hold British passports we didn’t need a visa or permit to enter Hong Kong, so staying there after our Chinese group visa expired wasn’t a problem!

As we wanted to go overland to Vietnam and this involves travelling through mainland China again, we needed to apply for a brand new Chinese Visa whilst we were in Hong Kong. If you fly straight to China, or don’t enter through a special region like Tibet, then this probably isn’t necessary – just make sure that if Hong Kong is part of your Chinese itinerary, that you apply for a multiple entry visa in the first place.

Just in case you do need to apply for a Chinese visa like us, it couldn’t be easier! Don’t use a travel agency or special visa agency – it really isn’t necessary and you will pay over the odds! Just go to the Chinese Embassy on Hong Kong Island yourself. This is in the Wan Chai district and is really easy to get to. Go to the China Resources Building on Harbour Road and follow the visa office signs. If you walk from the Star Ferry Pier (Wan Chai) over the footbridge you will spy a big red brick building in front of you – this is the China Resources Building.

The visa office is on the 7th floor – you have to put your bags through security first, then you can go straight up in the lift. Once you get into the office, get a visa form from the back right-hand side of the room. There is usually someone there handing them out. Once you’ve filled in the form, show it to the person there and they will give you a piece of paper with a number on it. Take a seat, and wait for your number to be ‘called’ (there are big red, digital signs in front of the counters). We waited about 2 hours for our number to show up.

Once it’s your turn, go up to the counter with your passport, one photo and form – you don’t need to pay now, only when you pick up the passport again.

Normal processing time is 4 working days (including the day you submit the form). The fee is dependent on the passport you hold – e.g. for British passport holders it’s HK$400 plus HK$150 processing fee. You can choose to pay an extra HK$150 for Express Service, which gets you your visa in 3 working days or an extra HK$250 for Rush Service, which takes 2 working days.

We opted for Express Service as we still needed to get our Vietnamese Visa too and didn’t want to stay too long in Hong Kong, as it’s not cheap!

Be warned – most people seem to go to the Chinese embassy to apply for their visas on a Monday – if you do the same, you’re likely to come across a big queue! We went on a Tuesday morning and had no problems getting inside.

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As far as the Vietnamese visa went, this was even simpler! We picked up our passports 3 days after we submitted them and went straight to the Vietnamese Embassy (also in Wan Chai district) – this is in the Great Smart Tower, 230 Wan Chai Road and is on the 15th floor. Here, we filled out the form by the counter, handed it in with our passports and one photo, waited half an hour and got it back again! We opted for the Express Service which costs HK$500 and takes 30 mins. The normal processing time, if you have lots of time to spare is 4 working days at a cost of HK$230.

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Now for the overland journey itself! We booked our tickets at the China Railways counter at Hung Hom station, who were really helpful and gave us loads of info!

To get to Hanoi, you need to get a bus or an overnight train from Nanning, in South China. These leave daily from Nanning (the train from the main station and the bus from Nanning International Tourism Distribution Centre, aka Lang Dong bus station). Buses leave from Langdong at 08.30, 09.00 or 10.00 and take 7 hours to get to Hanoi at a cost of around 150RMB.

To get to Nanning from Hong Kong, you have to go via Guangzhou on the train – this only takes about 2 hours and there are about 12 departures a day – you can get the times from the information desk at Hung Hom Station, Kowloon. The train arrives at Guangzhou East Station, so you need to get the metro to Guangzhou Main Station where the overnight train to Nanning departs.

Once at Guangzhou, you may need to ask somebody which waiting hall you need as the signs are all in Chinese. The sleeper train we had was number 2571 – very basic, but clean and quiet! It leaves at 16.52 and gets into Nanning in the early hours (around 6am) the next day. Be prepared for a rude awakening though as they turn the lights on at 5.45 and practically throw you off the train when you arrive!

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If you plan to get the train to Hanoi, you can buy tickets from Counter 16 at Nanning Station. You will have to wait until the ticket office opens however, as you’ll get dropped at Nanning at around 6am in the morning and the station is pretty much closed at that time. You’ll find yourself having to step over lots of bodies of weary rail passengers asleep throughout the station – very eerie at that time of the morning!

The bus station (Lang Dong) isn’t far from the train station – it’s a good idea to get someone to write the name of it down in Chinese for you before hand (we asked the woman at China Railways) so you can give it to the taxi driver. Be warned, they will try and charge you over the odds but the trip takes about 5 minutes so don’t pay them anymore than 10-20 Yuan!

You will see the ticket counter as soon as you enter the bus station – there are sheets up with the Nanning to Hanoi or Halong Bay bus route, price and times written on and the staff there can speak ‘okay’ English.

When you get on the coach, you’ll be allocated a seat number and then the hostess comes round and gives you a free bottle of water and a snack bag. It’s a fairly comfy journey as the Chinese roads are quite good and takes around 3 hours to reach the border.

Once you get to the border you will need to get off the coach and get into a ‘golf buggy’ which takes you to the China customs/immigration office. Remember to keep around 2yuan in cash for the Vietnam Border ‘fee’. You get your passport checked about two times, along with your luggage, then you get back into the golf buggy, which then takes you to the Vietnamese customs office. Here, you fill in an arrival card and get your passports checked and once this is done, the golf buggy brings you to your new coach!

It’s all much more organised than it first appears to be and if in doubt just follow everyone else and keep giving people in uniforms your passport!!

The onward trip to Hanoi was not the most comfy – our bus was slightly dishevelled – the seats were all broken and the engine sounded like it was about to give up at times! The roads were also not that smooth so we bumped around a few times! The scenery did get pretty great though and got us very excited about our upcoming stay!

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Approaching Hanoi was a bit of a nightmare due to the traffic and we couldn’t believe the amount of motorbikes that were using the pavement as a fifth lane! Even cars started going up the pavement to avoid the queues!

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Eventually we pulled up beside the bus ‘station’ more of a bus stop in a back street and all filed off the bus! There was a gaggle of taxi drivers touting for business as soon as everyone got off, but we just ignored them and walked to the main road where we got a taxi to our hotel.

So that’s it really – the journey from Hong Kong to Hanoi overland is really simple, so long as you can cope with a bit of actual ‘travelling’ by train, metro and finally a bus! We left Hong Kong on Tuesday 21st September at 11.28am and arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday 22nd at around 5pm – not bad going really!!


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  1. October 07, 12:05 #1 Aisleen Author


    Cool – doing the same journey as us! The bus ride to ‘Nam is certainly an experience! Try not to sleep though as you’ll see some great sights out the window! Yes, the bus goes from the Tourism Dist Centre – about 5 mins round the corner from Nanning train station. The ‘bus station’ is basically at the back of the centre – most of the long distance buses go from there. When you get your tickets they’ll just point you to the back of the building and the buses are all lined up out there. Unfortunately we didn’t find a way to book the tickets in advance – you need to buy them as soon as you get to the office, but you shouldn’t have a problem – the Nanning Train gets in early in the morning so you’ll be the first ones there to get your tickets!

    Have fun and enjoy the rest of Shanghai! (go to Cloud 9 bar at the top of Jin Mao Tower – it’s awesome!)

    Aisleen & Rich

  2. October 07, 08:55 #2 kell

    Hi there – very helpful page!

    we’re a few weeks behind you coming out of china overland, currently in Shanghai. We wanted to ask you if the Halong bay bus goes from the Tourism Distribution centre or whether we need to go somewhere else when we get to nanning. And were you able to buy tickets in advance of your arrival in Nanning?

    enjoy the rest of your travels

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