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.
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.
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.