About to take your first sleeper bus across Asia? Well this post is for you - before I went on my first one I had no idea what to expect and although my experience went horribly wrong, there are plenty of ways to ensure that yours runs smoothly. So what are you in for? Well there are a lot of different types of sleeper bus available - from the ones with older reclining seats and less leg room with no extras, to the space ships that offer your own pod complete with TV, leg room, air con, a bed and even wifi. Make sure when you book your ticket you know what you are getting so you can be prepared and will have the smoothest, easiest ride. Sometimes it is worth investing slightly more money if you will be a bit more comfortable over the 24 hour or longer journey. But always treat each booking suspiciously - there have been several times when I've ended up on a very different bus to the one I booked and often promises of wifi, beds, air con etc are just a way of making you spend more money. That said, I have also travelled on some amazing buses since being in Asia - those in Vietnam are usually of particularly high quality.
Regardless of which bus you end up on, there are a few things you can do to make sure your journey is as easy as possible - you'd be surprised what a difference some of these things can make when you're trapped on a bus for 24 hours! Here are my top tips for surviving a sleeper bus:
- Always take snacks and water to see you through the journey, although the buses stop at rest stops for dinner and breakfast, the food on offer is pretty rank at some and there were cockroaches where we stopped. Plus they don't stop very often.
Try to travel with people, even if you are a solo traveller like myself, meet people at your hostel who are going the same way or make friends on the bus, it can be a bit lonely otherwise and it can help you if you need to leave your bags with someone while you pop to the loo or if something bad happens.
NEVER leave any valuables in your big rucksack in the luggage hold - I have heard about far too many travellers whose bags were robbed of huge amounts of money, photography equipment and more. Keep it all in a small bag with you at all times, also keep your passport, visa, paperwork and phone with you.
It is worth getting a local SIM card for your phone, just so you have the safety blanket of being able to access gps so you know where you are, how much further, and you can easily find a place to stay when you arrive.
Make sure all your electricals are fully charged - your iPad, iPod, phone and the rest will be helpful in keeping you entertained, plus you can do like I do and use the time to write blog posts or organise all those photos.
If you have a pathetic bladder, bear in mind the buses often don't have toilets and you only stop every three to four hours unless requested, try to minimise what you drink and prepare for this. Similar, try not to travel when you are severely hungover or ill - both you and your fellow travellers will appreciate this.
Wear comfy clothes - elephant pants are great for this because they are soft like pyjamas - don't go for denim and don't go for skimpy clothes because the AC can be a bit chilly and you might end up standing around at the border getting cold for ages. Keep a hoodie with you but go for flip flops which are easier to remove every time you get back on the bus.
Keep your toothbrush and deodorant in your small bag so you can freshen up at some point - it can make you feel a hell of a lot better when you're all smelly from travelling for 24 hours.
Have somewhere booked or planned for your stay at the other end, sometimes you might arrive at random times and after just waking up you will be groggy and not in the mood to search. Make it easy on yourself and have a name, address and a screenshot of it on the map.
If at any point something doesn't feel right about your journey, don't be afraid to speak up. Nothing could have been done to prevent my experience from our side of it, but if something goes wrong for you it might be easily prevented. Always keep the name and number of the booking agent so you can speak to them directly about any problems.
Happy travels! Have you been on a sleeper bus - what was your first journey like? Got anymore top tips to share - what makes your life a little easier when taking a long journey?