We arrived in the morning in Nanning after a night in the train from Hanoi. We took the train at 9pm and we were surprised by the level of comfort inside. We had booked two soft sleepers in a cabin of four and we were lucky to be alone in our cabin! The beds were comfy with big blankets and we would have spent a great night if we had not to wake up twice to go through Vietnamese (at 1am) and Chinese (at 3am) immigrations. The Chinese immigration is quite impressive (I guess especially when you experience it at 3am). There is a soldier with army clothes, army helmet and a big gun, to search on your luggage, and then letting you go back to the train.
We arrived in Nanning with no delay at 10am. We were surprised by the city and the presence of only electric motorbikes and only a few cars. Very refreshing after the crazy traffic in Hanoi!
We looked for a decent breakfast and after turning around looking for a place that actually did not exist anymore (that’s when I realized my China guidebook dated from 2007), we ended up in a kind of food court, eating delicious egg and chive dumplings. People were very nice and helpful. One man even came to us asking if we liked the food in Nanning and what we could say to improve the city. Overall a great surprise! We started to walk around, looking for places to visit or just hang out to stop carry our backpacks. We came across Chinese elderly people playing Chinese chess and I could not resist to play with them! I never had the guts to do it in Singapore so here in the middle of Nanning I thought I should give it a try! I was very bad…! I knew some rules but it asked me a lot of concentration to remember the Chinese signs on the pieces. In Chinese chess, the pieces are all the same and they only differ with their name written in Chinese, which I cannot read! The man playing with me was quite amused and when we finished the game, I realized that several men had gathered around us to watch us playing.
After that, we went to People’s Park, a huge and breezy park in the middle of the city where we had a good nap. It was time to meet up with our host for the night, Dan. To go to her place we had to take a bus, which is not so easy when you do not know the city and when internet is not here to help you (that’s when we realized Alex’s VPN to get the internet was not working and that we were without any access to Google Maps because Google is banned from China). We asked a few people but none of them spoke English. However they were doing their best to help us! A group of young people looked on their phones to show us the right bus stop and even followed us on the street because we had been to the wrong one. We finally manage to take the right bus and meet our host. She is an English teacher and lives in a beautiful and modern residence (nothing to envy to Singapore’s condos). We watched a few episodes of Friends together and then we went to have dinner at the apartment of one of her neighbors who had cooked a traditional dinner for us: a lamb hotpot. It was delicious! There is a big jar of boiling soup in the middle of the table and we just drop some vegetables and meat inside.
After the dinner, Dan brought us to another neighbor’s, to drink French red wine. We had a very nice evening with four Chinese girls who barely spoke English but with who we had a lot of fun. They were amazed by how we could recognize the most expensive wine between two bottles without tasting it.
We left Dan the day after, keeping a very good memory of our first contact with China!
And we headed to the highway to hitchhike to Yangshuo…!