Vietnam: sleeper buses for dummies

As I write these words my body is still reeling from a 12 hour bus journey that took me overnight from Nha Trang to Hoi An, a distance of more than 400km along Vietnam’s coast. Vietnamese buses over shorter distances aren’t great at the best of times but this was a whole new level of terrible.

As the bus made its way across the country, winding through mountains and speeding over pot holes with its horn blaring every two minutes, the long and arduous journey was made worse by my complete lack of preparation.

So, like the Good Samaritan I am, I’ve compiled this idiot’s guide to catching a sleeper bus in Vietnam with a handful of handy travel tips to make your journey slightly less painful than it needs to be.

Me and Nicola on a Vietnamese sleeper bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An.

What to expect

I’m not a tall man, nor am I short one. In Asia, though, I’m huge. Suffice it to say, the famous Vietnamese sleeper bus was never designed with my frame in mind.

Needless to say, shorter people win this round. Anyone around 6ft or taller will have three options to get some semblance of sleep: fetal position, have your feet crushed by the bed in front or sleep with your knees in the air.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese roads are noisier than teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert, what with all the honking and the bus driver deciding to pump up the stereo at 4am (this really did happen). Earplugs are a must.

Warm clothing is essential

This being Vietnam, it’s probably nice and hot outdoors. On the bus, however, it’s likely to be colder than an Eskimo’s bosom (or something more politically correct).

The top bunk, while less claustrophobic than the bottom, is likely to be the coldest – especially when a broken fan continues to blow cold air on you no matter how hard you try to turn it off.

Meanwhile, smelly feet have free reign on Vietnamese sleeper buses due to a surprisingly strict no-shoes-allowed policy. Make sure to bring a pair of socks on board if you’re wearing jandals, sandals, flip-flops or thongs.

Nicola on a sleeper bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An, Vietnam.Plan to not stop for a while

The bus will, of course, make a few stops along the way, but plan for the journey as if you won’t be stopping for a while. A long while.

Do not bank on getting something to eat along the road or there even being a toilet on the bus, as there wasn’t on the one I was on. I boarded the bus at approximately 7pm and we made our first stop some time after midnight.

You have never seen a sorrier bunch of people sprint off a bus to find sustenance and relief.

Me prestending to sleep on a Vietnamese sleeper bus.If only I knew then what I know now.

 

About Simon Petersen 309 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

7 Comments

  1. Oh dear, you’ve made me nervous now! In 4 hours I’ll be on a bus doing the same route you described, but with seats right at the back 🙁 Thanks for your tips, my only hope is that the buses have improved since 2012 (somehow!!).

  2. As you found out Simon – the only thing that the back of the bus has going for it is the leg room, apart from that, it’s the worst place on the bus!! The bumps are horrendous aren’t they! We took about 5 sleeper buses in Vietnam in the end and every time we got off, we said ‘never again’ but of course, they are cheap and convenient so we always jumped back on!!

    The best thing we did was bring some food on board as the places the buses stop are not the nicest!

    These buses are so uncomforable that it is pretty much impossible to sleep but I’m actually so glad we went on them as they really are part of the adventure!!

    • To be honest, I’ve got to agree with you that they are an essential part of the adventure! I caught two other sleeper buses after that one – and it never got any easier to sleep!

  3. Great Article. I avoided these buses in Vietnam, taking trains instead. I had heard they were not good, but I liked reading first hand about the problems.

    • Thanks, Jan. Stupidly, I went to book the train twice on the eve of my journey. As you can see, both times it was sold out and I had to bus. We live and we learn… slowly in my case!

  4. I’m surprised your bladder didn’t explode.

    And I get what you mean about the fans – people seem to go to extremes. I was in [freezing cold] central Europe a couple of weeks ago and I swear that the bus driver was trying to roast us all alive with the heat.

    Although I will say, after wanting to go to Vietnam and then reading this, I’m glad I’m a shorty! (well, ish. 5’8”). Thanks for posting the tips – and I can’t believe your driver turned the stereo on at 4am?!?

    • Thanks for the comment, Tom. I’m surprised I didn’t explode! I tell ya it was a true test of mind over body.

      I’ve since caught my second sleeper bus, this time going from Hue to Hanoi. And despite having the best possible seat on the bus – right down the back where I could stretch out my legs – it was still horrendous.

      It seems I’m just a sucker for punishment and a good deal (the train would have cost twice as much!).

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