It seems like an awesome idea. Travel while you’re sleeping – covering precious ground AND saving on a night in a hostel. Depending on the journey, a bus ticket might cost next to nothing – perhaps as much as a bed would. What’s not to like?
What are sleeper buses?
Sleeper buses may not be as comfortable or convenient as sleeper trains, but they’re a hell of a lot cheaper. Expect anything from upright seats that hardly recline to bunk berths with either fixed or adjustable angled seat/headrest and juuust enough flat legroom for a small to average-sized person.
Behold, a fairly nice sleeper bus in Vietnam:
What to bring on a sleeper bus
There’s only one thing that is an absolute must in my books: Something to cover the velcro on the headrests. As you can imagine, it’s rather painful when that stuff sticks to your hair. A scarf or spare shirt will do the trick. (This doesn’t seem to apply to Vietnam buses, but on budget sleeper buses in Thailand and Cambodia, watch out…)
Orrrrr, if you wanna get all fancy about it…
A sleep mask, if light bothers you. You probably won’t have control over the aisle lights, and other passengers in nearby seats might keep their personal ceiling lights on or inexplicably decide to start snapping photos of each other, sending camera flashes richocheting around inside.
Earplugs, if you’re sensitive to noise. Sometimes your fellow passengers will have zero interest in sleeping (though hopefully they’ll turn their headphones way down). Some will snore or sleeptalk. Once in a while your driver might think it’s a good idea to blast dance music at top volume. You just never know.
Are sleeper buses worth it?
Well, you save on a night’s accommodation, but sometimes it evens out. You’ll never get as good a night’s rest as you would in a real bed. Worst case scenario, you spend the rest of the day crashed out in your next room, recovering from the journey.
If, like me, you can sleep anywhere and are on a tight budget (or timeframe), then sleeper buses might be the way to go. It’s really a matter of priorities. Since I’m travelling with T, who’s about three times my size, we’ve learned to go for more comfortable options if possible.
In Thailand, I would go for the train; the price difference is negligible. In Cambodia there are no trains, but you could opt for a daytime bus journey instead. In Vietnam, the train is so much more expensive that I’d say buses are probably worth the savings (or, if you’re pressed for time, flights are not much more than train tickets).
Google, Google, Google
The best way to ease the journey? Use a reputable bus line!
Research the best bus companies for your chosen route and go direct to their office. Booking a seat through your hotel or a random travel agent can be risky; who knows what random, scruffy bus line you might end up on.
The good ones tend to provide blankets and water and communicate clearly when there’s a rest stop or when the final stop is imminent; others nothing at all.
Believe me, budget sleeper buses are THE PITS.