When it comes to travelling by bus, Tina and I have done it all. From buses travelling up near vertical roads through mountains to run down local buses through Myanmar. Buses are usually the cheapest form of transport and we like to challenge ourselves to keep travel as cheap as possible. In Vietnam, you are bound to find yourself on at least 1 sleeping bus on your journey. You could take a plane but this option is the most expensive and also limited to major cities. You could take a train, which has more stops than a plane but the trip takes longer than a bus. Finally, you can take the cheapest option which are the sleeping buses. These buses connect most of the unmissable places of Vietnam.
You Never Know What To Expect
Tina and I have been on a lot of overnight buses and experienced many ups and downs. We save on accommodation which for us is a bonus but we have had some crazy experiences. In Thailand recently, we went on a night bus from Bangkok to Phuket which was meant to take 10 hours. Needless to say, it didn’t go as planned. We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere with 6 other travellers at a random cafe at the side of the road where the bus had left us. The bus driver didn’t even tell us what is going on, only that we had to wait. We were sitting there thinking we were really stuck. After a couple of hours another bus came bustling along and picked us up again. It was all very confusing. 18 hours later we arrive in Phuket totally exhausted. But yeah, we made it to our destination in one piece! Surprisingly enough, we are still not deterred from using buses as transport.
Misadventures always make interesting stories to tell your friends. For us, having a bed on a Vietnam night bus sounded much more comfortable than a chair. We had heard many stories both good and horrifying about these buses in Vietnam. We both decided to give it a go as we travelled from Ho Chi Minh in the South to Hanoi in the North. As a backpacker, you want to make your money stretch as far as possible, however in saying that these night buses are usually very long and not that uncomfortable. You will probably find yourself bouncing in your bed down bumpy roads. There will be a lot of honking of horns and swerving of the bus. Before you step onto the bus, you need to accept the fact that you will find it difficult to sleep a wink.
On The Bus
You are boarding the bus and you are probably going to feel a little claustrophobic. The beds are very narrow and you aren’t going to have very much leg room. You will usually get assigned a bed. If you are tall, sorry to say it but this bus ride is going to be a bit of a nightmare. When you are on the bus, it is hard to know what’s going on at times. If you see everyone getting off the bus that is usually a green light to follow and stretch your legs.
When the bus stops, it means that you will have a chance to grab some food and go to the toilet. You will get a chance to stop at a local restaurant to sit down and eat some food. Just be aware that local food in more rural areas can potential make you a bit sick in the tummy due to less hygienic conditions. If you are worried about that try and eat packaged food. When you are on the bus just remember to remove your shoes or you will feel the wrath of the driver! Be aware that you might also encounter some smelly feet too which is less than ideal.
When you board the bus, you are in it for the long haul. So, get comfortable! Lets go through a few tips on how to make your journey as stress free as possible.
Surviving A Night On A Sleeping Bus
Shop Around For Your Ticket
It makes sense to shop around for a good price because the prices vary a lot in Asia. On the plus side, it is easy to buy a bus ticket from any of the travel agents in the street or at the reception desk in your guesthouse. I would recommend taking one bus first and see if this type of travel is going to work for you. If you are a savvy backpacker and want to travel on buses all the way, get yourself an open bus ticket. This is a ticket around $55 for all the stops along your trip through gorgeous Vietnam. It will save you money doing it this way rather than buying each destination of your journey separately.
Have Accommodation Booked
Make it easy for yourself and I promise, you will thank me later. When you hop off a night bus, the last thing you want to be worrying about after having little to no sleep is where you are going to stay. Before you get on the bus, book a room and write down the address so you can give to a driver when you get there.
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Keep Your Valuables Close At All Times
Your big backpack will be in the hold underneath the bus. No matter where you travel make sure you keep a close eye on your valuables. I usually travel with a smaller day bag which has my passport, money, laptop, camera and I would take that on to the bus with me. My day bag also has a little lock on it that I would use for extra peace of mind. To be safe, don’t leave your electronics out on your bed when you go to sleep. When you get off the bus for any reason take all your stuff with you.
Don’t Drink Too Much Water
By drinking I mean water of course. You will never know when the next stop will be, so you don’t want to feel like your bladder is going to explode. There is a toilet on the bus but it didn’t work on every bus we had in Vietnam. Make sure you use the bathroom before you get on the bus and go to the toilet when ever the bus makes a stop. Keep hydrated and sip on water but try not to have too much.
Bring Your Ear Plugs
These bus journeys are going to be long. It is worth having a few things like wet wipes, deodorant, lip balm, moisturizer, an eye mask and ear plugs. All these items will come in handy on your long trip especially when the guy next to you is snoring. We bought toilet paper for in our day bag because there are situations where you don’t want to be stuck on the toilet without it.
Wear Comfortable Warm Clothes
Wear your most comfortable, loose clothing on the bus. I would wear those baggie hippie pants that are so popular with backpackers, a loose top and a jumper. The air-conditioning can be quite cold and you will usually be given a small blanket but you probably still be a little cold. If you are someone that gets really cold, then a compact sleeping bag, a hoodie and some warm socks will keep you nice and cosy. I always travel with a lightweight compact sleeping bag that I easily strap onto the outside on my big backpack from Decathlon (great store to visit if you are in Europe). I have found that having a compact sleeping bag is super handy on my travels and you can get one from any quality camping store. If you are freezing cold, it will be very hard to sleep. It is better to have more clothes than not enough. If you take a layer off you can use it as an extra pillow. Bonus!
Take Music Or Something To Do
You are going to be on the bus for a while so bring something to entertain you. Have your headphones ready with some good music. I usually have my iPad with me on the bus with a few movies for long trips. With a lot of time to kill we found that it was always a great opportunity to do some writing or photo editing.
Go For The Top Bunk At The Back
In my opinion the top bunk on the bus is better for 2 big reasons. These buses are very cramped and small as you can see from the photos. If you are on the top bunk it will feel a little less claustrophobic. You have more head room, more light and you be able to see out of the window. Being on the top you will feel less vibrations through the floor and noise from the road.
Account For Delays
Buses in South East Asia are always late. On my first couple of bus journeys I would look at the time and are we there yet?! When it comes to buses, you will get there when you get there so just expect to be a bit late. With the crazy traffic you will be an hour or two later than planned.
The bus driver will make one or two food stops where everyone will pile off the bus for a quick bite to eat. It will probably be a basic roadside restaurant that serves local cuisine. It’s always worth carrying some snacks like pringles, biscuits or fruit just in case you feel ravenous in between stops.
Always Have Some Cash With You
When travelling, I would recommend having some cash in local currency on you at all times. You never know what will happen and it is a good safe guard to get you out of a tight situation. You will need to pay for meals at bus stops and also the taxi from the bus to the accommodation. ATM machines can be few and far between in parts of Vietnam so just keep that in mind.
So there you have it. Buses are the cheapest option but in this case you get what you pay for. If you want a little more comfort (and safety) you can always choose to take the longer journey on the trains. We hope these tips will help you get through your next night bus ride in one piece!
Have you ever been on a sleeping bus? We want to know about your experience! Add it in the comment box below.