Monday, 25 October 2010

Into China..

First off, a brief introduction on driving your car into China.

1. Its bloody hard to arrange and its almost prohibitively expensive. Up until fairly recently it was illegal for a foreigner to drive their car into China - But following the change in the law, a couple of specialist firms have popped up offering a bespoke import service.

This border entry took a lot of advance planning with our Chinese tour company, and even after the comprehensive planning it took them another 2 months to arrange the vast array of permits required. Permissions are needed from central government, local government, the army, the police, customs, immigration and every province and district that you drive through etc...

2. Chinese law requires..

a) The tour company to appoint a guide to sit in the vehicle with you whilst you’re driving - We've been told that this is designed to deter James Bond types from being too snap happy with their camera. Our guide has strict instructions not to let us drive past or even near to a military installation etc..
b) The vehicle to have a Chinese MOT test
c) The drivers to be issued with Chinese photo card driving licences (What a cool souvenir!)
d) The car to be issued with Chinese number plates - Another great souvenir.
e) You to specify a fixed route in advance - You cant deviate from this.

Right, enough of the rules and regulations, back to the blog!

Rise and shine…Its time to find out if the Kazak passport police are happy with the number of stamps in our passport… Out to the carpark and the drunk lorry driver from the night before is looking more than a little ropey but still manages a big grin “ I OK, wodka, no goood. Good luck you ma freeeends!”

Back to the border and its all looking good, in less than an hour we’re through Kazak customs and motoring through no mans land towards the Chinese border. The final word from Kazak customs is that we should expect to see them again in less than an hour, hardly anyone gets into China with a car, everyone is sent back to Kazakstan. Fortunately for us, I’ve been using the most professional firm in China to arrange our entry and it was to be entirely hassle free. See you later Kazakstan! Much, much later...

We pull up to the border, a much more formal affair than anything we’ve seen so far. A large Chinese flag billows proudly in the breeze. A soldier walks over to us and spotting our weird GB number plate, forms a cross with his arms and gestures for us to turn around. Just up ahead, camouflaged soldiers with machine guns stare down at us from imposing watch towers that line the road.

We sit tight, eventually a Chinese military officer in pristine dress uniform marches over to the car. He speaks better English than me, I explain that we have a guide waiting for us at the border with all of the required entry permits (Circa 300 sheets of paper I’m told). He’s relieved to hear this and says our tour company must have friends in high places, even today its tricky to get a foreign car into the country.

This officer was to prove a great help, after the initial formalities coversation soon turns to beer, football, Porsches and iPhones. My request for some definitive instruction on the correct pronounciation of “TsingTao” Chinese beer proved to be a great ice breaker! (ChingDao in case you wondered)

He calls our guide “Serena” and issues permission for her to enter the border zone to come and meet us. Five minutes later she arrives and the rest is history, she talks us through every step of the import process and several hours later we’re unleashed onto Chinese roads. Released, but not entirely free. Customs say they need more time to process our permits, so they escort us to a local hotel for the night and we’re told to call again in the morning.

The weather on the day of our aborted entry was superb, hot and sunny, probably about 80 degrees. Things are very different now though, its freezing cold and raining heavily…Hopefully the sun will make a re-appearance soon.

We check into a local hotel, the power for the whole city is down because of the heavy rain, so we retire to our room for some sleep. Later on we head into town for a bowl of delicious homemade noodles and some local beer. (£1 a head for food and beer. Yes, £1 !)

In less than a Kilometre from Kazakstan the food has changed entirely. Out with the dodgy Russian grub and in with noodles, stir fried dishes and fried chickens feet, but more about those later..

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