So you want to take a night bus across Southeast Asia? Of course you do. You’re backpacking. You want to save valuable time that you could be spending on the beach or getting massages and travel during your useless sleeping time. Sleep. Who even wants that. And you’ll even save money by not having to pay for your guesthouse for another night. Grand. Great idea.
1. Ask your travel agent about the bus layout. Be aware that some night buses have two levels of seats. No, not like two decks. One deck with seats stacked on top of each other. The bottom row doesn’t have a window and has about 2 feet of vertical space. Feel a new empathy for the pigs you saw getting off a ferry in tiny crates that didn’t let them stand up and a renewed commitment to vegetarianism.
2. Carry small bills. If you are prone to claustrophobia or motion sickness and it didn’t occur to you that you might be trapped in a dark windowless cage for five hours, you may be able to bribe your way into someone else’s upper level seat. Probably the best $10 I spent in Cambodia.
3. Travel with someone you are comfortable being physically intimate with. Two people sit in a seat that’s about four feet wide in total, maybe less. Definitely less if you decide you don’t trust your backpack down below the bus and decide to spoon it while you sleep. Willingness to cuddle will allow you to maybe wrangle yourself into a position that vaguely approaches comfortable. Nothing brings your friendship to a new level of trust like sleeping with your knees in each other’s groins.
4. Have you considered a train? Can you do this by train? Boat, maybe? Are you sure?
5. Try to cover as much of your head as possible. Hoodie? Great, you can avoid making face contact with the weird leather seat pillow. Eye mask? Even better, because they’ll probably leave the bus lights on for at least half your journey. Ear plugs? Absolutely.
You will never know how many disgusting noises the human body can cough up until you are on a night bus. They come from everyone, from the driver who appears to be in the late stages of pneumonia and may bring up a lung onto the steering wheel, to the overweight man behind you who appears to have been smoking and drinking heavily for the past 50 years and loudly wheezing in his sleep, to the girl who is hopefully either carsick or food poisoned rather than contagiously ill and starts violently retching into a plastic bag 15 minutes into your 10-hour journey. A nose plug is also helpful at this point if you can manage it. Maybe a bandana to just cover any remaining facial area.
Really just try to cover your entire body with a fabric barrier if you can.
6. Snacks. All the snacks. You need at least one whole roll of Oreos to eat your feelings of distress.
7. Maybe there’s a halfway point where you wanted to spend a few days? No? Really?
8. Buy the disgusting hippie pants you see everyone else wearing. They’re light, comfortable, and allow you to splay your legs in weird positions not permitted by your maxi dress or workout shorts. The fact you may never go back to wearing real pants again is a small price to pay for the ability to put one leg above your head.
9. Prescription drugs are really cheap and available over the counter in most of SE Asia. I am just going to leave that information here for you to do with what you will.
10. When you are woken up in Phnom Penh to change buses, make sure you are first in line to reconfirm your ticket at the station. Most people won’t even know to do this, and they’ll get stuck in the now-lengthy line as you smugly stroll aboard the bus. Some of them will not even fit on your new, single-level, cageless bus and will have to wait for a second one.
11. Just don’t.
We are quite happily at our second destination in Vietnam now, and took a sleeper train from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang for six hours. Could we have taken a bus? Probably. But no.