If there’s one thing we’ve learnt in the last six months, it’s this: we hate travelling by bus. However, backpacking on a budget in SE Asia rarely leaves us with a wide variety of transport options, and three weeks of travelling through Cambodia and Vietnam saw us on four ‘sleeper’ buses, and a total of 41 very, very uncomfortable hours.
Nothing is more nerve wracking than the wait for the bus (usually a couple of hours on the edge of a road by some bins), and the same questions circle our minds every time: will we be sitting near each other? Will the air con work? Will my neighbour be a vomiter? What time will we arrive – 4am? 1pm? (Both equally possible.) Why do they demand punctuality from us when it’s so hard to achieve themselves? Will they have toilets on board, or should I go to the toilet just one more time? And lastly, why do I still have some hope that it won’t be that bad? It will be.
Cambodia’s beds were arranged in pairs, Vietnam’s in three rows of singles, both with upper and lower tiers. Our most bearable trip was probably when we scored the upper seats at the back of the bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, the only trip where we could lie fully elongated with straight legs – oh the luxury! We even had a small space to put our backpacks (rather than cuddling them or shoving them under our bent legs in Cambodia) and working air con (unlike the lower tiers, where tissue had been shoved in the holes where the air con once used to be). It was only slightly hampered by being a triple; Sarah made a very cuddly friend in a young Vietnamese man with tickly hair.
Vietnam’s buses were generally roomier and cleaner than the Cambodian counterparts, but they did have a small habit of picking up extra passengers on route, who lay unashamedly on straw mats in the aisles.
We once tried to escape the buses, and wow, did it backfire on us. At almost twice the price, we expected the train from Hoi An to Hanoi to be a slight upgrade, even though we could only afford ‘soft, reclining seats’. Nineteen hours of distinctly non-soft non-reclining seats were made worse by the wafting meat smells from the food vendors and some very speedy cockroaches near our feet. We might just have been unlucky with our designated seats however, as the couple in front managed to recline fully, so that when we looked down at our laps, we saw their sleepy, satisfied faces beaming back up at us. Even Charlotte’s idea of bribing the guards and cries of ‘just pay the man Sarah, pay him anything, just take my purse’ were unsuccessful in bagging us a bed (although he did offer us his own bed at an inflated rate, which when viewed was a mat on the floor between the other, very friendly, train guards. We politely declined.)
Whilst this may come across as quite dramatic, give it 41 hours and you might not be so breezy about buses….
Charlotte & Sarah x
I was on a sleeper bus once, 12 hours in Laos, never again….Well done on suffering 4 buses!!
Thanks, absolutely loving your post on the bus, absolutely the same as Vietnam!
this is funny, I really liked my bus from Hue to Hoi An though, so clean and roomy, slippers/shoes are not allowed on board. we were asked to put them in plastic bags. the bus from Vientiane, laos to Luang Prabang however is a different matter. We opted for VIP sleeper since we wanna sleep comfortably but man, it was a small bed to be shared by two people! good thing I was travelling by a friend and not have to share it with a stranger.
Yes the South East Asia buses sure can be cosy! We shared with strangers a couple of times… Always interesting! Thanks for visiting, C&S x