Founded during the Yuan dynasty, NANNING (南宁, nánníng) was just a medium-sized market town until European traders opened a river route from neighbouring Guangdong in the early twentieth century, starting a period of rapid growth that saw the city supplanting Guilin as the provincial capital. Largely untouched by the civil war and Japanese invasion, it became a centre of supply and command first during the Vietnam War, and then a decade later when China and Vietnam came to blows in 1979. Following the resumption of cross-border traffic in the 1990s the city has capitalized on trade agreements with its neighbour, and today Nanning is a bright, easy-going place with a mild boom-town atmosphere and mix of leafy boulevards, modern architecture and a handful of narrow, colonial-era streets. There’s good shopping, decent food, a museum strong on regional archeology, and both international and domestic transport connections – in particular, over the nearby open border with Vietnam.
The border crossing lies about 170km southwest of Nanning beyond the town of Pingxiang. Through trains and buses into Vietnam plough past without stopping, but a couple of offbeat attractions – namely rare monkeys at Chongzuo Ecology Park and Hua Shan’s prehistoric rock paintings – might tempt you to spend a couple of days in the region before crossing the border on foot.