Overnight sleeper buses in South East Asia are every backpacker’s best and worst part of travelling. I’ve caught a few, so let me elaborate on why they will be your saviour and nemesis.
In Thailand, heading from Bangkok to Chiangmai, we had to book an overnight bus. Unbeknownst to us, it was ‘busy season’, and the overnight sleeper train has sold out. Rest assured, there were seats still left on the VIP bus. Dream!
VIP in Thailand means something different to what you’d expect. The bucket for cleaning yourself off with was perched on top of the toilet, rendering it useless. Dinner was provided, which was a biscuit, and the seats didn’t recline quite as much as promised. We made the most of the angle we could, and tried to settle in for the night.
Front row seats, on the second floor of the bus, made for a great view of the world flying past. It didn’t make for such a good time every time we braked, and our feet pushed against the windscreen, moving it slightly in it’s leaking frame. We stopped briefly for a toilet break along the way, and there were dogs galore in the toilets. I have no idea where they had came from, or why they choose these particular toilets to nap in. Some questions are bigger than I am.
Sleeper buses in Vietnam promised a whole new experience. Fully reclining beds meant I was quite looking forward to the journey! Once we boarded, I realised they weren’t quite horizontal, but we were making progress.
One bus had been overbooked, and we picked up a couple in the middle of the night, only to stop five kilometres down the road, and have the driver yell at them to get off, in the middle of nowhere, as there was now no space for them. They were bewildered as to what they were meant to do. Confused, we watched as we drove off. And then, half an hour later, turned around to get them again. By this stage, I knew it wasn’t even worth questioning anything anymore.
After that chaos, you can imagine my joy when we got on a night bus, and they had allocated seating. We were finally onto something! You can then imagine my heart quickly sinking somewhere down near my ankles when I realised we had been given the back row.
The back row doesn’t mean the fun back seat like it does when you’re on a school trip. Nope, the back seat means there’s five seats, all reclined. And you’re suddenly closer to a very broad shouldered Danish boy than you’ve ever dreamed of. Who needs Tinder?! Just jump on a Vietnamese night bus.
Deciding it was easiest to just rest my arm on top of his, I began to wonder if I should just dive right in and sleep on his shoulder. I can’t read Danish, but one of his messages did have a big red heart in it. Back to the drawing board.
For anyone that’s caught one of these night buses, you’ll understand what’s coming. So, you Google map how long it’ll take you to get to your destination. Google Maps reckons ten hours. Twelve max. The hostel says fourteen when you book. You wonder where you magic another four or five hours from.
Cue: random stops all over the countryside to pick up people and supplies that weren’t part of the schedule. When we had the great Evacuation of the Stranded Couple, we dropped off a lady before we went to pick them back up, in the middle of nowhere. We then went back to collect her. I’m guessing since we didn’t really have room for her. But rules, or very vague outlines, are made to be broken right?
Despite my adventures, sleeper buses still do deserve credit where credit is due. For starters, they are cheap. In Vietnam, they are about a third of the price of the overnight train. For most people backpacking, that would be a no-brainer. You can also take your motorbike, which is kept under the bus. This is especially handy on roads you would rather not wing it on, or in the wet!
Another plus is that you don’t waste a day, so you can get the most out of your travel. This is a handy option if you’re short on time, or want to make the most of the sunshine. It also means you don’t have to pay for a night’s accommodation, which is another win. If you’re only going to be sleeping anyway, you might as well wake up somewhere new!
The overnight sleeper buses in South East Asia are an adventure, but one you really shouldn’t miss. As long as you go in with
low zero expectations, it’ll be amazing. They are a great way to travel cheaply, and make the absolute most of the time you have on the road. If you’re still not sure, book a nice hostel or hotel for your arrival (you can get your first stay free with booking.com by clicking here), so at least you can have a good shower when you get there. Time to go wash off the Danish shoulder sweat!