How to survive sleeper buses in Asia

How to survive on sleeper buses

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? If you suffer from poor sleep, you’re not alone. As many as 25% of Americans have acute insomnia. But about 75% of those people recover, discover other types of sleep aids aromatherapy is an ancient practice still used today test it.

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 top quality pillow, if you like your home comforts. I’ve seen a lot of travellers with those U-shaped neck pillows from The Comfy Traveler.

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.

5 thoughts on “How to survive sleeper buses in Asia

  • Reply Manda July 2, 2013 at 08:45

    I took a 20 hour sleeper bus from Phonsavan, Laos to Hanoi. We got to the border crossing at some ungodly hour in the morning, and then we sat by the border for hours until it opened for the day! Ah well, made some friends on our bus during the time that we waited. Still, it seemed rather silly to me that they didn’t sync up the bus route/schedule with when immigration was working.

  • Reply Linda July 2, 2013 at 14:59

    Well, I’ve taken long bus trips in Mexico where you reclined to sleep but not a “sleeper bus.” Wow. When I’m trying to sleep on flights I always use my inflatable neck pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, and a large shawl as a blanket. It seems to work most of the time, especially if I book a window seat and can lean against the fuselage. *zzzzzz*

  • Reply Pauline @ Make Money Your Way July 2, 2013 at 17:42

    What I remember most from the bus rides was the AC, they froze us all night, I often had to get my sleeping bag out to get some sleep and not get sick. And the loud music too…But it was quite the experience!

  • Reply Budget and the Beach July 3, 2013 at 02:59

    I’ve never heard of a sleeper bus. I would have the hardest time sleeping on one as I have a hard time sleeping anywhere that isn’t my own bed anymore. When did this happen?? I could sleep on the floor in my 20’s with no problem! lol! Well, I guess it’s better than sleeping in cramped quarters on a regular bus?

  • Reply Michelle July 4, 2013 at 14:44

    I travelled on a sleeper bus in Argentina. They served us fresh steak and rice for dinner (a waiter served it!!). In the morning we had a nice breakfast of fresh coffee and some type of pastry. It was awesome and I was going to Iguazu Falls.

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