Hekou – Lao Cai

Saturday one week ago we walked a few minutes along the street until we were directly at the two border rivers, the Nanxi river and the Red river. We looked across the Nanxi river, and to the left there was the metre gauge railway bridge whereas to the right the pedestrian and bicycle bridge was. After walking around for a bit and taking some farewell photos we even encountered that we are at the lowest point of south-west China with an altitude of only about 76 metres. There were lots of cargo bikes around us in the town, until we realised that these were all people from Vietnam carrying something from China across the border. We were looking for the entry, but passengers were not allowed at the bike entrance. Hence we headed back for 200 metres and entered the border control building from the rear. The border controls worked flawlessly. Jojo chatted relaxed with one of the supervisors and told them that I travelled all the way down from Germany. He told her, that there are only a few international people taking this border station. After a few minutes I officially left China, and thought Jojo will follow me just a few seconds behind. But in the end it took much longer for her, as her ID card didn’t worked as expected. Then we walked relaxed across the border over the bridge. It’s my first border crossing by feet at this trip and even the first one I can even remember, where I had border controls. Back in Europe I crossed several borders by bike or foot, but luckily due to the Schengen agreement, there are no longer Border controls. The entry into Vietnam took a bit longer for me, as the officer needed to check my e-Visa in a back office, but in the end it was not a problem at all. Bye Bye China…Hello Vietnam.

We continued our walk until we reached the railway station. Here we found an ATM for me (and I was millionaire in just 2 minutes 😅), had some dinner and with the help of an owner of a nearby bar, I could even buy a local SIM for less than 4€ and a data package of 102 GB (Yes really 102 GB) for less than 2€ in 4G for sure! Jojo wanted to exchange some Chinese Renminbi, but the local bank told her, that they were not interested at all in this currency. In the end the bar owner knew a neighbour business man that wanted to exchange our money. He was originally from Taiwan and as Jojo speaks a bit of Taiwanese language (as it’s very similar to Cantonese) he made for us a very good exchange rate. Not perfect, but it could have been also worse. After we set everything up, we took the local bus to Sapa, which was extremely cheap. After we collected all guests through the town we drove up the hill and after 1.5 hours in total we arrived in Sapa. I was a bit shocked as there were so much white tourists. In China they are really rare and even in Hong Kong there are not as much of them. Jojo had looked for a homestay in the Cat Cat village, which is just 2 kilometres down the road. We found even a sign of it pointing to a school, but as we asked the facility manager, he just pointed into another direction. Hence we headed back and were two other people, all of them were pointing in other directions. In the end we walked back, and another local told us, it’s behind the school. The owner warmly welcomed us and we got without a problem a room. We also had our dinner there. But before that we spent some time together with the children in the kitchen, which were very interested in us (probably especially in me). At least we all had our pleasure.

Now I was in total 2 months in China with almost 4 weeks Hong Kong and Macau in between. But China is completely different to what I’ve seen before. The last 4 weeks I really enjoyed much more, probably due to the different landscape in Sichuan and Yunnan province and the people living there. But in general most of the people behaving completely different than Europeans. Hence,

  • Do you want to listen to people speaking loud the whole day? Go to China.
  • Do want to hear people listen to music always without ear plugs? Go to China.
  • Do you want to see loud Chinese tourist groups, where the guide has for sure a loud loudspeaker? Go to China.
  • Do you want to listen to loud vendors at the street, where you don’t understand any word, but they still want to sell you something? Go to China.
  • Do you like to see people constantly spitting everywhere? Go to China.
  • Do you like to see people puking on the street? Go to China.
  • Do you like to see people pissing in the middle of the town – day or night, doesn’t matter? Go to China.
  • Do you need some extensive experience in queue jumping? Go to China.
  • Do want to see people pushing into a subway while you want to get out? Go to China.
  • Do you want to hear honking scooters and cars the whole day? Go to China.
  • Do you want to see people constantly ignoring any traffic rules? Go to China.

You’re asking if they don’t have traffic lights in China?!? Yes, sure they have. The traffic lights even changing colour from red, to yellow, to green and vice versa in a few seconds, and also there is mostly a time counter how long it stays red or green. But honestly, do you really think anyone would give a fuck, if this person is in a hurry. And in the end every Chinese person is in a hurry. Hence, they are driving wherever and whenever they want. Especially scooters can be found at both sides of the road.

Some Chinese are really interested in you, but the vast majority is only interested, if you have any benefit for them. And the best benefit you can give, is your money. Almost all Chinese people just care about one thing. And that is, making money. The more the better. They don’t have any conscience or mercy. They don’t care about their acting to others or the environment, as long as they don’t get paid for it. If this is still the impact of the cultural revolution 50 years ago, I don’t really know it. But I was advised to go to Taiwan to see the real Chinese culture.

This is for sure not applicable for every Chinese person. I still had some very nice acquaintances especially with my CS hosts throughout the last three months. Nevertheless, I felt that this was relatively rare to meet such kind of people. In a first row, most of the Chinese people acting differently to me.

Nowadays, China is making large, and I mean really large, steps into a fully digitally country. Where you could only pay cash 10 years ago, they are now looking suspicious to you if you don’t have AliPay or WeChatPay. Hence, surviving without a smartphone in China is nowadays nearly impossible. The most useful apps I used in China was Google Translator, a reliable VPN client, Metroman in larger cities and Amap, as Maps Me has only rough information for China available. Amap is completely in Chinese but it has all public transport information available. Even if I can’t read Chinese symbols, I can read a map which displays different bus routes with its stops. And with the help of the GPS signal, I even know where the nearest bus stop is and which bus numbers leave from there. In the end I always found my way. I never ordered a DiDi, a took one of the several shared bike apps. The latter just because the apps weren’t working well on my phone, and hence I didn’t trust them to spent any money in the app. As there were lots of complaints in the ratings. After entering I had again the first time free and fast internet since I entered Russia in May (OK, except for HK) and ping times are much more faster than in these two countries. And I finally can access again all websites without any blocking.

Railway border was closed today
The old railway station from the French is no longer needed as such, as only freight trains are driving here
The Vietnamese people even taking the old steel from China across the border
Border bridge, China in front, Vietnam at the other side
Last view back to China and the railway bridge
Nevertheless, the railway continues along the street in Vietnam
Red River
Finally we arrived at the railway station of Lao Cai
Big Business…no only exchanging Chinese money
Driving uphill along the rice terraces at the hills…
…in the minibus
Walking down to Cat Cat village, which is again in the clouds
Playing with the kids and waiting until the dinner is prepared for us. The owner even offered some self made rice “wine”, but in the end it was hard liquor 😯.

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