So, you’ve had the most awesome time on Ultimate Thailand and are ready for your next Asian adventure!
Whether you are off around Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam or somewhere else, chances are you will encounter a night bus somewhere along the road and it is better to be prepared than to go in blind.
You may hear horror stories, you may think they are going to be the most painful nine hours of your young life but fear not! If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll survive your night bus – hey, you might even enjoy it!
What Type of Bus?
Night buses in Asia are an awesome adventure. It could be a rickety old school bus or it could be a bus filled with mini beds, two or three bunks high – it really varies. It is best to at least try and check before you leave what type of bus you will be subjected too.
Ask fellow travellers, staff in hostels or check online. Companies may not have reviews but the journey might have. If you Google ‘Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang’ for example, someone will have written something about the journey.
A sleeper bus (the one with the beds) is more common in Asia so more than likely, you’ll be on one of these which is an adventure in itself!
Pay For More
Treat yourself and go for the more expensive option. If you’re going to spend the next nine hours on a bus, you’re going to want the most comfortable one you can get.
You’re on a budget, you don’t want to throw more money at an already expensive travel expense. Have one night off the beers, don’t buy that rubbish t-shirt that you think everyone is going to love because it has Ho Chi Minh’s face on it, eat more street food – there are other ways to save money and remember you’ve already saved a nights accommodation.
If you know what you are getting in to – make your own choice. Ask around in hostels, people will have travelled this route before so see what they think. How much did they pay, would they do it again? Scout out the bus company, just walk past it when the bus usually leaves in the afternoon or evening and check it out!
Know what you are paying for but given the option, go for the more expensive and you will not regret it.
On the other hand, you’ll get some awesome stories when you’re in cattle class!
Spread The Valuables
Firstly, don’t panic. A night bus isn’t a hub of criminal activity but you might meet an unsavory character so it is better to plan ahead.
Keep your valuables on you at all times. You’re going to put your big backpack under the bus but you can keep hold of a smaller one on-board if you have that many valuables. Remember, when it comes down to it, your valuables are three things:
You can buy another iPad (you won’t want to, but you can), but if your passport gets lifted you will be in a world of pain! You can get another one, but it’ll take time and you’ll be stuck wherever you are.
Keep them in your pockets, your shoe, or wherever you want. Spread your money around if you are carrying a lot of it. Hide a few notes in a few different places.
Keep the backpack you are taking on the bus with you at all times. Use it as a pillow or a foot rest, tie it to your seat or use one of those little locks if you are super paranoid (or carrying something super valuable).
Most importantly though, don’t worry! Everyone is not out to get you and your stuff – just be cautious.
You are going to get bored and you are going to get lonely. Your seat buddy is a big call on a traditional night bus but if you are looking at a bunk option, then hopefully you’ll get a bunk to yourself.
Try and befriend a fellow traveller. It’s fun! It is a great way to meet someone, with a similar mindset – you are both on the same bus for a reason – ask where they are going and where they’ve been!
This is really simple advice but try and use it, you never know who you might meet!
Choose Your Seat Wisely
You know whether you prefer an aisle seat or a window seat. If the bus is a sleeper bus, your seat doesn’t matter too much.
If you are on the top bunk though, every corner you zip around might feel like you are going to fall out of bed. It gives you a couple of nervous moments during the journey but nothing too bad.
If you are travelling with friends, don’t go for top and bottom on the same bunk or you’ll never see each other. Both take a top or a bottom and then at least you can chat through the journey or pass the snacks easily!
It might be your worst nightmare or you may never have experienced it before but beware travel sickness.
If you know this is something that will be a thorn in your side, plan accordingly. Find yourself some travel sickness pills and take them before you get going. It is really important to have them before you start moving, so don’t wait until you get on the bus.
If you don’t normally get travel sick, there is no reason to believe you will on this journey but it might be an idea to find some sleeping tablets if you want to rest while on the journey and struggle sleeping when on a journey.
Prepare For Cold
It might be balmy outside but the overnight bus is often like a frigid cargo hold. Plan for the cold as you can always take layers off, if you haven’t got layers to throw over yourself, you might regret it.
Even if you do have a couple of layers and want to take them off, they work great as a pillow for the rest of the journey.
Ear Plugs and A Sleep Mask
I cannot stress how vital these are. You will probably be given them on your flight over by your generous airline so keep hold of them and they will soon become your best friends for long distance travel.
When you are on the bus, look around and you’ll see the prepared and the struggling. People will have t-shirts wrapped around their heads, hoods pulled low, hats on – all to try and keep out the light. The light is fine, but what about the noise?
Those three Germans at the back of the bus just will not shut up. Or that Canadian up front has the most annoying laugh you’ve ever heard…good luck for the next nine hours.
Seriously, this is a two dollar fix for an hundred dollar problem. Buy some ear-plugs, find a sleep mask – you will not regret it.
Everyone with a neck pillow looks like an idiot. The sooner you come to this realisation, the better. I was never convinced of the values of the neck pillow. You really look like an idiot and they are a bit of a pain to carry around on each stop.
Once you go neck pillow, you never go back. Whether you wear it front, back or on the side a long journey can be saved with this ingenious pillow!
If you are on a sleeper bus they might not be as awesome. You are lying down after all, but they are still better than nothing. The sleeper bus technique of rolling a sweater up and using it as a pillow always goes down well but the neck pillow just adds to the comfort.
Bite the bullet and buy one!
Snacks and Drinks
This is a must. Big time. If you are going to be on a coach for a long time, you are going to need sustenance.
Whether you choose sweets, chips, or other sugary goodness or go for something a little more wholesome you are going to need to eat something.
A good little tip is to eat something just before you get on. For me, it was always a bowl of cereal before we left the hostel. Buying a little box of Frosties and a little carton of milk costs nothing and you can eat it out of the package to save on the washing up!
You don’t want a massive meal that you have to struggle with through the journey and I’d also hold off on trying something new on the day you leave – you want to be safe in the knowledge that the food is going to stay where it is. You’ll stop off at some dodgy looking restaurants on the journey – scout the food and see what you think before jumping in head first.
Drink is another issue altogether. The coach may have a toilet on but it almost certainly won’t be a pretty sight after a couple of hours.
You will have to drink something but don’t go chugging a couple of beers before you get on-board or your bladder won’t last.
Use The Bathroom Breaks
This one goes without saying.
Plan For Your Arrival
Eventually, this journey will come to an end! It may not feel like it when you are four hours in with five to go, but trust us, you’ll get there eventually!
When you do get there, what’s next? Have you got accommodation sorted or are you just going to wing it? When you get off the bus, there will probably be people waiting to take you to some hostel or hotel that happens to be having a special just for the arrival of the bus!
If you haven’t got accommodation sorted yet, ask around. These guys might be from a great hostel, ask them the name, where it is and how much. I’ve found great, cheap accommodation right off the bus in South East Asia but this strategy might not be for everyone.
Just bear in mind that when you get off the bus, you’ll have to take your bags somewhere…
There is is! Your survival guide to a night bus. Oh, one more thing….don’t miss the bus!
If you are looking to start your Asian adventure with a bang, check out Ultimate Thailand here. Got any other tips? Had an absolutely nightmare on a night bus or always find them plain sailing? Let us know on Facebook and in the comments section below!