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.
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.
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.
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.