EZ and I had heard so many horror stories about travellers being denied VISA's into China, getting turned away at the border, having books such as Lonely Planet China confiscated by officials, that we were ready for anything when we began the process of getting our tourist Visas. Information on the government of Canada website led us to believe that travellers can only get their tourist Visa from a Chinese embassy in their native land. This was also false. We got ours at the Chinese Embassy in Singapore and the process could not have been smoother. Anticipating a lengthy bureaucratic process we went to the embassy on our first full day in Singapore. Within 48 hours I had a one-month multi-entry sticker on page sixteen of my passport. One day early. Independently getting your Chinese VISA should not be an issue, but, I'd still love to hear some more of those horror stories.
Visa's in hand, the next 'challenge' was the border crossing. We had slowly made our way through all of South-East Asia, took the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, avoided the throng of taxis headed to Sapa and made our way toward the Vietnam-Chinese border. Leaving Vietnam turned out to be a bit of a hassle. The border guards held onto EZ's passport for about a half-hour. We were directed to stand aside and wait. Over and over they looked at their computer monitors then up at us, silently skulking in the corner. Eventually EZ got it back, without incident. We were leaving their country after all, so why did they care? Who knows.
(The bridge between Vietnam and China.)
We walked across the bridge to China and the big moment had arrived. Our precious books were cleverly wrapped up and hidden inside our dirty laundry. Anticipating the worse but putting on a positive face, we confidently walked through the sliding glass doors and inside the customs building. We were greeted by a friendly official who gave us a form to fill out. Then we were greeted by another friendly official who instructed us where to put our backpacks. He also guided us to the customs clerk who greeted us with a cordial smile. While he was going over our documentation we noticed in front of him a tiny box that had buttons with images of very sad faces and a variety of happy faces. We were expected to 'grade' the performance of the border official by pushing the face that most represented our feeling about the experience. Efficiently the customs guard stamped us through and discreetly hinted toward the tiny box. Immediately I pushed the button with the happiest face, he smiled and we were on our way!
The first place we wanted to visit in China was the Yuanyang rice terraces so we walked to the Hekou bus terminal. We did not know that once you cross the border into China the clocks go ahead one hour. Lollygagging around the terminal we would have missed our bus had it not been for a kind Dutch couple who were also going our way. Thank you Hans and Ilona. I guess it all works out in the end, though, when it comes to my next story, the jury is still out on that...
In addition to lonelyplanet.com, this posting is also featured as a part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Carnival. Every two weeks one of Lonely Planet's favorite bloggers becomes the editor of a series of postings all centred around the same theme. This weeks editor is Georgia at gingerbeirut.com and her declared theme is "Rubber Stamp". Featured will be funny stories of border crossings, passport nightmares, baggage handlers, run-ins with the police, confiscated cameras, etc. So visit www.gingerbeirut.com on June 21 to read what the Blogsherpas came up with.