At the end of 2012 I spent three weeks travelling through Vietnam from Hanoi right down to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. Just like many other backpackers my primary mode of transport was by overnight bus.
Overnight buses are a win-win because they are so cheap yet also double as accommodation for the night so the price of a bus ticket covers it all!
However, they have a reputation - and for very valid reason - of being uncomfortable, noisy and not particularly conducive for sleeping. I'm not going to make any promises that you will get a solid 8-hours sleep, but these tips might just make the trip a little bit more bearable - you will certainly come out feeling fresher on the other side!
9 Tips for Sleeping on an Overnight Bus in Vietnam
1. Eat a good meal before you board - best to avoid the beers before the overnight bus though! Take a couple of snacks and a big bottle of water.
2. But don't drink too much water! Some overnight busses don't have toilets so you just have to hold on and wait until then next stop. You never know how many (or how few) stops there are going to be. Sometimes they are a couple of hours apart, other times they are very few and far between. Don't take any chances - there is nothing worse than waking up and needing to go! Try to get off at every stop even if just to stretch your legs.
3. Take a sleep sack/sleeping bag liner, and an extra warm layer (like a sweater). It may get cold in the wee hours of the night and there is nothing worse than trying to sleep when you are an icicle! Snuggle up in your little cocoon, it will help you to sleep so much better.
4. Don't take unidentified sleeping pills! My friend and I took our chances buying sleeping pills from a pharmacy and they came out rather secretively in an unidentified black bag - not entirely sure they were sleeping pills as I was wired all night and got no sleep whatsoever! If you think you are going to need sleeping pills, bring them from home or buy them from somewhere legit (i.e. not a Vietnamese roadside pharmacy!).
5. Make sure your iPod is fully charged and has some relaxing/chilled out music that you can listen to all night. I've never felt more relaxed than I have taking in the Vietnamese view out the window in the early evening with my favourite music in my ears.
6. Don't expect to get a good nights sleep. Let's face it, you're unlikely to get a good nights sleep - you'll spend hours looking at the Vietnamese travellers lying in the aisle peacefully snoring away, oblivious to the hooting, dangerous swerving of the bus and all of the potholes you seem to bounce over in the road. Unfortunately, sleeping in conditions like this just does not seem to be part of our genetic makeup! If you board with the expectation that you probably won't get an amazing sleep, any sleep you do get will be a bonus!
7. Take a scarf - for three reasons! 1. To put over the pillow provided to protect your head from potential bedbugs/other nasties! 2. To wrap around your head to try and dull out the honking that carries on all night! And 3. To wrap around yourself as another layer if you get cold!
8. If you can, get a bed on the side. An overnight bus in Vietnam is three rows wide, so the row of bunks in the middle has an aisle on either side. The sides are a preference, as not only do you get your own window, but you can sort of huddle up against the wall to feel secure. In the aisle row you have to hold on a bit more to save rolling from side to side (or falling off the bunk altogether!). That said, I had a bed in the middle row once and came out unscathed - just had a bit less sleep is all.
Yep, the horn will be hooting all night and at times it will be like being on a roller coaster. Its all part of the journey! We paid a measly NZ$45 for a 5-stop bus ticket from Hanoi to Saigon. Three overnight buses and a four hour bus to travel down the entire country of Vietnam - cheap as chips!
Dare I say it but with the beauty of hindsight, overnight bus journeys are actually quite fun - and I will certainly do it again!
Do you have any more tips for overnight bus journeys?