Goodbye China, Hello Vietnam

By Stephen Ewashkiw | February 7, 2014

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When we rolled our bikes off the elevator and into the hotel lobby this morning there were two guys there who were very interested in our set-up. They both spoke English and one of them asked us, “Where are you riding to today?”

“Vietnam,” I replied.

Since we were only 100 km from the border this didn’t seem to surprise him much, but it felt great to say it out loud. Yes, today we are riding to Vietnam!

One of the men is from Indonesia, and we talked a bit about our plans when we finally reach there, probably in three months. He gave us the usual warnings about certain areas being dangerous and then we rolled out of the hotel – and all the way to a new country.

Hotter Than A Snake’s Ass In A Wagon Rut

The ride was uneventful, but the weather was hot and muggy. I am expecting a lot of muggy weather as we ride through Southeast Asia, so this was a good warm-up I suppose. I am not a fan of this kind of weather, having grown up in Southern Ontario where the summers can be painfully humid and hot, without a breeze to be had.

fishing village in china

We passed a beach resort, fishing village, and industrial area. They were all in the same place, Guangxi.

Jane, on the other hand, kept saying, “I don’t mind this so much. It’s better than being cold.” She does have a point.

Bienvenue A Vietnam

It took us a couple of tries to find the correct entry point at the border – it is strangely hidden. Partly this is because you cannot drive across the border between Dongxing and Mong Cai. It is a pedestrian-only crossing. Well, pedestrians and bicycles thankfully, although we were the only ones with bicycles.

Very exciting sign, 13 km from the border to Vietnam.

Very exciting sign, 13 km from the border to Vietnam.

Our border crossing was painless. All the guards seemed quite interested in us and our bikes. The Chinese ones asked us about our trip in China, asked us to come back and visit again, and had us stop for photos in front of the final mile marker at the border.

A Vietnamese guard said, “Welcome to Vietnam.” It was all quite friendly and simple. Not at all the serious, stressful event that is crossing from Canada into the US.

Everyone was getting their picture taken on the Vietnam side, Dong Xing border crossing to Vietnam.

Everyone was getting their picture taken on the Vietnam side, Dong Xing border crossing to Vietnam.

Most of the people crossing were Vietnamese, and had come to China to buy goods for resale in Vietnam. Men and women were hauling massive boxes, strapped to their backs, that were loaded with clothes and shoes. The boxes were huge, and obviously painfully heavy. Carrying them made most people double over under the weight. It made us thankful our luggage is attached to our bikes and rolls along with us.

You’re Money’s No Good Here

In Mong Cai, on the Vietnamese side of the border, we stopped in at a bank to exchange our leftover RMB. The woman at the bank told me she could only exchange US dollars (or a few other currencies), but not Chinese Yuan. I asked her if there was somewhere we could exchange them, and she walked me outside and told me that down the road, about 50 metres, sitting under a tree, was a woman with a box. She would exchange it for me.


I asked if we should wait until we got to Ha Long or Ha Noi to exchange our money and she told me we actually wouldn’t be able to exchange it there. We could only do it here in Mong Cai. We had not read this anywhere before, so it came as a surprise to us.

We figured out what the exchange rate should be and rode down to find the lady under the tree with a box. Sure enough, there she was. She actually gave us a decent exchange rate, showing it to us before taking our money, then counting our money out, showing us her count on the calculator and multiplying it by the exchange rate. No sleight of hand or trying to confuse and rip off the tourists here. In no time at all we had Vietnamese cash.

(We have since discovered that changing RMB in Hanoi might be possible, though unless the bank is in cahoots with the money changers, it seems like a weird thing to lie about. Especially considering we got a very good exchange rate.)

It felt odd to be changing our money like this, but it was an interesting experience. Definitely not something I have ever done before.

It’s My Birthday Too, Yeah

Oh, and happy birthday to me. Yes, today is my birthday.

Stephen's birthday breakfast. As close to cake as we could find.

Stephen’s birthday breakfast. As close to cake as we could find.

It’s a really nice birthday present to have crossed over into another country. I am looking forward to seeing what Mong Cai has in store for us for dinner tonight.

Soundtrack: Elliott Smith, Roman Candle | Jeff Tweedy, Sunken Treasure: Live In The Pacific Northwest | Elastica, 6 Track EP  

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  1. Comment by Diane

    Diane February 9, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Hi Stephen,
    Happy birthday ! I have been having trouble connecting to the internet so i am sorry we are late with the good wishes. We are just staring to sail upriver to Saigon. We are so excited to see you both soon!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen February 9, 2014 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks Diane. It is quite understandable. I wouldn’t expect you to have much access to the internet. We are in Ha Long – look forward to seeing you in a few days. Enjoy Ho Chi Minh City.

  2. Comment by Patti

    Patti February 8, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Stephen, I hope you have a happy birthday. I know someone else who celebrated a birthday in Vietnam once! Hope it was all great!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen February 9, 2014 at 2:24 am

      Thanks Patti! We rode to Ha Long Bay today and Jane said, as we rode in, “Hey, I recognise this. I have been here before!” Even in the wintery mist it is beautiful. Can’t wait to get out an explore the islands.

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