How to survive sleeper buses in Vietnam
When travelling on a budget sleeper buses are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get from place to place in Vietnam. Ranging from 10- 18 hours they are a popular choice with locals and backpackers alike.
Firstly, get any idea out of your head that you get a ‘bed’; this is far from a rock star tour bus or even a sleeper train. You get a PU bus seat that just reclines all the way down. The seats are arranged into bunks of two and then there are three rows of them in total. You are provided with a pillow (if you are lucky) a blanket, and a bottle of water. If you recline the chair there is a small compartment to store valuables and your shoes. The space is very cramped and I cannot imagine the struggle it must be for taller people.
Since we can’t all make ourselves 5ft tall, (being small does have its perks) here are some tips on how to make the experience as comfy and as relaxing as possible …and maybe even get a good night’s sleep!:
1. Select your seat when you book
Your position on the bus can often make a big difference. When booking try and state that you would like a bottom bunk as they will try and put tourists on the top. The top bunks are fine but you just feel like you might topple off at times and you get thrown around a lot more. Also avoid being near the engine because it gets really hot. The middle strip of beds are also not as favoured because they have no air-con. And if you do get the privilege of having a toilet on the bus you don’t want to be next to that either as it stinks! Be tactful!
2. Bring a sleeping mask
Although they dim the lights very early I would still advise taking an eye mask because the lights outside get quite bright and they turn the main lights on when the bus makes stops during the night, which can wake you up.
3. Make a “nap appropriate” playlist
I say 'nap appropriate' because often when you just shuffle your songs you can be falling peacefully asleep to the soft sounds of Ben Howard and the next minute abruptly woken by a Bring Me The Horizon track. Making a playlist definitely helps to avoid this and drowns out any Asian's spitting, engines roaring and squeaky breaks.
4. Avoid having a massive meal just before you get on the bus
Pretty self-explanatory, sometimes the bus has a toilet but more often than not it doesn't and yeah you just don't want to be in that situation. Eat something light.
5. Bring a hoodie or cardigan
It actually gets quite cold with the air-con blasting and you can also use the hoodie as a blanket if the blanket they supply looks a bit 'suspect', they probably don’t wash them that's be honest. On the way to Nha Trang the air-con over me was broken and I couldn't turn it off and so I was so thankful for my hoodie that night!
6. Bring some form of entertainment
When the bus leaves at 6pm they often just switch the lights off and expect you to sleep straight away. I would try and stay awake for a few hours so you feel tired when you eventually try and sleep. Play some games with your travelling friends. Eye spy gets tedious but the alphabet game is always a good one. If you want to read or write in your journal then bring a small torch because it is very dark when they turn the lights off. If you can then download a film to your tablet or phone as that would be ideal.
7. If the bus stops then make yourself get off
The bus will have a couple of stops on the journey, especially if you don’t have a toilet on board. My advice would be to try and make yourself go to the toilet when they stop as you cannot guarantee when they will stop again. For example, on our way to Hoi An, we stopped at 11 for half an hour but then that was it until 6 in the morning. Oh and remember tissues and anti-bac because the squat toilets are far from luxury. Some have no running water and no electricity. Grim.
8. Have a busy day the day before the bus
Seems obvious but if you do loads in the day you are more likely to just crash and sleep anywhere so plan lots of touristy stuff and walking prior to boarding. Don’t be hungover…trust me you might think it will make you sleep but it is really not fun!
9. Just don’t stress
If you can’t sleep then don’t beat yourself up about it, just relax and enjoy the journey. I weirdly quite like long journeys and just having time to listen to my music and think and reflect. Most accommodation in Asia will let you in the room when you arrive at 6am so you can always just sleep for a few hours then. Problem solved.
10. And my last tip, set your alarm for half an hour before the bus is due to arrive
Not only does this help you come around for the rat race of finding a guesthouse, you also get to witness some of the most beautiful sunrises as you enter into your destination. You are welcome.
By Fiona Watson