After spending a few days in Nanning waiting for our Vietnam visa to be processed, we boarded the 8:00am bus on Thursday to Hanoi. The ride was pretty uneventful, but the border crossing was pretty amusing. This was our first time crossing a border by bus, so we were used to the relative ease of crossing by train – where the officials do all the work. This crossing involved two buses, two shuttle carts and intense scrutiny of Tina’s passport photo.
The bus to the border from Nanning was only about three hours – including the multiple breaks taken about every hour. Once we got to the border, everyone had to get off the bus, grab their luggage, then hop on a shuttle cart (a golf cart that sat 12 people) and get carted about 300 meters to a building where we had to fill out an exit card for China. We then went downstairs to have our passports stamped and luggage scanned.
Now, you loyal fans of this blog have noticed that I have not kept the same clean cut appearance that I sported in SF – which makes me closer resemble a homeless Berkeley hippie then the guy in my passport photo (taken eight years ago). Tina, however, still looks pretty dang close to her passport photo – which is only a few years old. But the customs guy didn’t look at me twice. Yet when Tina got to the counter, he made her remove her glasses, change her hair and even called someone over to help him decide if it was really her.
Once they accepted Tina’s visual legitimacy, we had another another shuttle ride to the next building where we filled out all the paperwork for Vietnam. The paperwork was pretty simple, but the arrangement of the building was confusing: the window with the customs paperwork was at the far end requiring you to swim upstream back towards the entrance to hand in your paperwork and wait for the stamp (Westerners served last, thank you).
Then you went to the middle window to get a “medical exam” where they declared you in perfect health provided you had the right amount of money – which we didn’t, but some nice Canadian girls we befriended on the bus helped us out. Behind the counter at the medical exam desk, there was a computer screen that had what looked like a sonogram that changed when either of us moved, and there was also a digital thermometer reading that seemed to fluctuate wildly.
Since our (us and the two Canadians) passports were processed last, we were the last to board the bus which had plenty of room in the rear prompting us to holler, “Westerners in the back!”. Once we were seated, the bus pulled out, and we resumed our trip to Hanoi. The scenery seemed to change right as we crossed the border: it was more lush, more tropical plants and endless rice paddies with farmers in the conical hats bent over picking rice out of the ground.