Yellow and black streaked limestone karsts poke up out of the vast plain like so many rows of pointy teeth. We shiver with excitement – and yes, still chilly weather – to see this beautiful countryside shrouded in mist this early morning as we make our way to the Chinese border with Vietnam. We’ll be in Hanoi this evening 

After our long train adventure from Guangzhou to Nanning, we spent a couple restorative days here relaxing in our immaculate hotel room, complete with a heater and access to extra long hot showers. Nanning itself is not a particularly charming town, but we did highly enjoy the eclectic food market on Zhongshan Lu Road: grilled meat kebabs, stir-fried potatoes with spices, crocodile skewers and baby deer carcasses hung next to stands with round fish bowls full of all manners of pickled fruit. We indulged in something that looked like giant churros – basically just fried dough – that was appropriately greasy and pretty tasty.

Squid tentacle skewers were one of the tamer choices at the Zhongshan Lu road market.

Squid tentacle skewers were one of the tamer choices at the Zhongshan Lu road market.

The main point of being in Nanning though, was to secure bus tickets to Hanoi – 8 hours, a border crossing and lots of gorgeous scenery, we’ll arrive in a warmer and more international city for a few days.

Nanning, capital of Guangxi province in southern China, near the train station.

Nanning, capital of Guangxi province in southern China, near the train station.

So far, our experience in Guangxi, the southern-most province of China, has been surprising in many ways. First, the chilly weather is persisting, but we’ve been able to deal with it far better than in Hong Kong now with a heater in our room. I’ve also invested in a sturdy pair of tennis shoes in one of the numerous sprawling mall complexes in Nanning.

Second, the lack of tourists (or at least Western backpackers) is pretty unexpected given the proximity to the Vietnamese border. We are the only non-Asian folks we’ve seen for several days. It’s actually been really fun trying to communicate.

Thousands of electric scooters with various adornments are a common site in Nanning. Just watch your step!

Thousands of electric scooters with various adornments are a common site in Nanning. Just watch your step!

Third, despite my first impressions, the Chinese that we’ve been in contact with are quite polite and friendly. They do have the somewhat bracing habit of snorting their snot and spitting in public places, and their standards of hygiene are different than ours, but I was expecting (based on what I’ve read and heard from fellow travelers) rude, mannerless people and possibly trying to rip you off as is often the case in touristy locations. Not at all! Everyone, from hotel staff to people we’ve met in the street, have been smiley, curious and super patient with our lack of Chinese (very few people here speak any English at all). We shared a table in a street food stall last night with an old man who bought us tea and showed me how to properly hold my chopsticks. All with a smile and lots of thumbs up for encouragement.

For us, China gets a big thumbs up!