Sleeper buses are an exhausting experience. Contrary to what their name would suggest, sleeper buses are not a place that much sleeping will happen. Even if you’re on one for almost 20 hours like I recently was.
This relaxing display of soothing night lights is an example of what a 15 hour sleeper bus journey from Hanoi to Hue might involve.
This bus actually continued on to destinations much further away- though we can all take some solace in the fact that the lights get turned off and on again at random intervals, for added relaxation. Sometimes the full set of bright white lights would come on for no particular reason which, coupled with incessant horn-honking and slamming on the brakes, made for a really great night’s sleep.
In Thailand I had the luxury of a private sleeper minibus at one point, with lots of room and comfy reclining chairs. I also did a 13 hour journey on a regular bus that had nothing sleepy about it at all.
Here in Vietnam we’ve enjoyed public buses – usually dirt cheap, with prices like $12 for the day long journey from Hoi An to Mui Ne, although currently priced a little higher due to the lingering cloud of lunar New Year.
These come with three rows of two-tiered leather chair-beds, some of which have working seatbelts and some of which actually have room for both your body and a small bag of valuables you don’t want to leave in the hold.
Alex, who is somewhat taller than myself, didn’t really fit in any of the seats. If you are vaguely tall, perhaps a train might be a more comfortable (and safer) option.
Some buses have allocated seating, some are a free-for-all as far as getting a decent seat is concerned. The back rows are likely to be one big space with five undivided sleep-spaces next to each other; fine if you’re travelling with friends, but potentially awkward if you’re a solo traveller stuck in the middle of some sweating strangers.
We worked out that being on the top row is the best bet, and ideally near a window so you’ve got something to lean on. Bus drivers often make extra money by picking up people without tickets for a lower price and allowing them to sleep on the floor between the lower seats, so picking a lower bunk (whilst it saves you the risk of being thrown out of “bed” and breaking a leg on the way) may mean you end up with a random man snoring and dribbling only inches away from you.
If you’re lucky, your driver will make regular toilet stops. If you’re unlucky, your driver may stop once an hour into your journey and never stop again. Bear this in mind when you’re guzzling drinks before you get on.
The bus drivers are presumably as sleep deprived as the people they’re transporting, so you can fully expect to wake to the sound of someone shouting in your ear, or to be physically shoved back to your seat if you make the mistake of asking for a loo stop that the driver doesn’t fancy. Sometimes I suspected that the lights were being turned on out of spite, because the driver was full of hatred knowing that we could all try and sleep when he couldn’t.
Don’t try and save money by getting a bus without air-con; every time our bus stopped and the air-con turned off, it was immediately hotter than an oven and almost unbearable. I can’t imagine what travelling for 20 hours in that heat would be like, but I doubt it’s much fun.
Do be aware that any advertised wifi probably won’t work, so have some music downloaded or something to read because it’s unlikely you’re going to be connected to anything else until you arrive at your destination!
Other than that, just brace yourself and maybe pretend you’re on a rollercoaster so that all the bumping around and violent bashing into things seems like a fun game?
That tactic also works when you’re on flights with a lot of turbulence.
Thank me later.