Buses Journeys Sleep Spots Travel Disasters Vietnam

Bus Trauma- Surviving South-East Asia’s Night Buses!

Although travelling around Asia was a dream come true, the act of getting around on a budget can present quite a challenge. If, like me, you are short of money, planes will be out of your reach, and other modes of transport, such as 12 hour packed bus journeys and grotty, overcrowded minibuses are places you will become very familiar with.

And if, like me, you find it impossible to sleep sitting up on a bus then be warned, you are in for some stressful times.

One of many jam-packed bues journeys in Asia!

One of many jam-packed bus journeys in Asia! That’s a row of people sitting in the aisle by the way!

It was many a night that I uncomfortably ‘reclined’ on a dark bus, feeling the anxiety bubble up in my chest, and, on Vietnamese bus, I am ashamed to admit, tears pricked my eyes and threatened to overflow through my squeezed shut eyelids.

The thing about these buses is that they are, in theory, a great way to get around. The fact that you can travel from one end of a country to the other for less than a tenner is nothing short of miraculous, and for me, the fact that I made it through these journeys without throwing myself out the window was also nothing short of a miracle. It is all worth it in the end, and is all part of the adventure, but sometimes that can be hard to remember!

When you arrive at your designated bus stop, there is often a wait as the bus gets loaded up with tonnes of luggage. Sometimes seats are assigned to you already, other times it is a free for all.

One time, we arrived on a bus in Vietnam. We had gotten there really early and were the first ones on the bus. But then we were told to move from the seats we had grabbed, and were informed that all the seats had been assigned, something we were never told when we purchased the tickets.

We were told to head down to the back of the bus, to the most horrific seats available. They were at the very back of the bus, right beside the toilet, which was guaranteed to smell and more than likely leak urine by the end of the trip. The three of us were squashed into a tiny two foot by two foot space, covered by a claustrophobic ceiling of another few seats, where three others were trapped. Of course, they had the luxury of a lot more oxygen and an open space, whereas we were more like the Chilean miners, only more desperate as we didn’t have supplies and letters of encouragement being sent down to help us through this horrific time.

Sweaty and disturbed, but still seeing the funny side (this was taken before the journey started!)

Sweaty and disturbed, but still seeing the funny side (this was taken before the journey started!)

I had the usual supplies with me; enough snacks to do me for the entire journey, two books, and two Valium, purchased in Bangkok. I didn’t give a damn whether it was legal or not, as halfway through that journey I would have gladly injected heroin to get me through it.

Unfortunately, Valium just isn’t strong enough to cancel out the feeling of panic when they turn out the lights at 9 pm, as minutes later everyone on the bus is asleep, except for me. I lie sweating in my miniature coffin, my knees bent against the next ‘bed’ in front of me, with my big backpack impeding any more space I could have had. It contains my great love, my camera, so therefore it must be guarded with my life, the resulting sacrifice being I always have to fit it in my tiny space when travelling.

The beautiful view on a Vietnam bus

The beautiful view on a Vietnam bus

Knowing that there are 10 hours left of this, with no respite, save for one pitstop where I can use a equally as bad toilet, except with the added luxury of having somewhat fresh, albeit clammy and mosquito filled air, fills me with dread, a dread I try to stifle by stuffing myself with Oreos and inhaling what ever book I have with me. As I am a night owl anyway, I don’t mind the reading and feasting at first, but when I start to get tired, and realise there are still hours to go, the panic begins to rise.

Of course, when you are travelling in Thailand, being a weird insomniac can actually come in handy. On a bus to Chiang Mai, A and I caught the staff trying to rob people in the dark. We kept shining our lights at them to deter them, and spent a crazy few hours acting as security, but more on that next week.



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  • Reply
    August 4, 2014 at 4:51 am

    I never thought I would be able to sleep on a bus, but when I had to go Greyhound from Miami all the way to north Idaho, I somehow made the adjustment. Now I can nod off in the car if just a few minutes. It’s great because trips go so much faster that way. I’m still getting the hang of sleeping on planes, and for that call on Tylenol PM.
    Jeri recently posted…#CoverDesign: 5 Expert Tips on Creating a Winning Book CoverMy Profile

    • Reply
      August 8, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      I’m jealous of your ability to nod off easily Jeri! I find it near impossible! I’m the same when it comes to planes, I can never nod off wirhout the help of a sleeping pill! 🙂

  • Reply
    August 5, 2014 at 2:22 am

    When I was in Cambodia a few months ago I took a night bus called the hotel bus. Whoever came up with the name had either a wicked sense of humor or was simply a sadist. I slept, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that each bed was for two and I was solo. Me and a stranger became close. The other issue was no toilet, stinky or not. By the time our 10 hour journey was up I was about to burst. Bus travel in Asia is always an adventure.
    Tim recently posted…Disappearing LisaMy Profile

    • Reply
      August 8, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      I feel very sorry for you being in that situation Tim! I have been on those buses before but I was lucky to be travelling with someone. I remember thinking how I would have coped if I was travelling solo and had to share with a stranger! I could never go 10 hours without using the toilet, hats off to your bladder! 🙂

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Melanie McKinlay
    April 25, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Hi there

    Just a note to say how much I enjoyed your honesty in this post.

    I’m actually mid India travel post on my blog somethingaboutmel.com and was chatting with my bf about how honest I could be. And then I found you and my writers block has evaporated.

    Really cool, quirky read.


    Mel x

    • Reply
      Christine Maguire
      May 5, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Mel, thanks so much. I’m so glad this helped with your writer’s block. I’ve just read some of your India posts and they have me longing to go back! 🙂
      Christine Maguire recently posted…London Theatre Weekend GuideMy Profile

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