Travelling anywhere in Southeast Asia is all part of the backpacking experience. You didn’t come all this way with that rucksack to sit in the lap of luxury. That’s part of the agreement: You give up a touch of comfort here and there in exchange for a ridiculously cheap adventure through some of the most surreal places on the planet. But that’s not to say there isn’t a way to best equip yourself for these journeys.
With Backpacking Through Vietnam, there are two overnight buses and we want that experience to be as comfortable and smooth(-ish) as possible. After riding more times than we can count, here’s how we’d say it works best.
But before we jump in, please know, there will be restroom breaks (usually a restroom on the bus), food stops and a lot of honking along the way. But getting a good night’s rest is possible with a little sleeper bus preparation.
Layer up, strip down
As Vietnam tends to be warm year-round, you will welcome the AC when you step onto the sleeper bus. But you might find yourself getting a bit chilly. The buses do provide blankets but we’ve found the best tactic is to layer up with a jumper, yoga pants, or a pair of sweatpants and take them off if you get too warm.
At worst, you can strip down until you’re comfortable. At best, you will enjoy the ride in climate-controlled comfort. More questions about what to expect from the weather? Click here.
Be ready with banh-mi
The sleeper bus rides are long and, as mentioned, there are stops for food and snacks along the way. The snacks at these stops will be overpriced and the food might not be exactly what you’re looking for - even the banh-mi will be sub-standard and far too expensive.
If you've never had one of these French-inspired Vietnamese sandwiches, you are in for a treat. But we suggest steering clear of the ones at the bus rest stop! Luckily, you don’t have to look far for a banh-mi anywhere in this country. Pack one or two for the ride, plenty of water, and a couple of snacks.
Put away your money
Keep your money (and passport and valuables) in your daybag and leave it there. We say this for two reasons (and suggest it on any backpacking trip to any destination): you will know exactly where your money and valuables are along the entire journey and you won’t be spending unnecessary amounts of money on overpriced snacks at every stop along the way (see #2 above).
Remember, while Southeast Asia is an incredibly safe place to travel for solo travellers it is also a region riddled with poverty. A bus full of travellers represents a boot full of cash, cameras, computers, and whatever other valuable items we bring with us on our adventures. It doesn’t happen often but bags in the bottom of a bus have been known to get rummaged through from time to time.
Headphones & earbuds are key
Driving in Vietnam boils down to one component: the horn. Drivers tell other drivers of their presence and intention to enter traffic by a honk of the horn. There is a hierarchy of the road that begins with lorries and buses, followed by cars, and then motorbikes.
As the bus has the right away in almost any situation, the frequent use of the horn does sometimes continue through the night. Headphones or earbuds are the best way to keep this honking from waking you. If music is your go-to, make sure that powerbank is fully charged for some extra juice along the way.
Flip-flops, thongs - whatever you call them, use them too
Like with any home and many businesses in Vietnam, you are expected to remove your shoes before entering. It is both a show of respect to remove your shoes and a way to keep things clean. When you board the night bus, you will also be expected to remove your shoes. You will be handed a plastic bag and told to remove your shoes and place them in the bag before going to your seat.
When the bus stops for toilet breaks or food, you’ll be glad that you don’t have to tie and then untie a pair of trainers each time you decide to get off the bus.
In some ways, a sleeper bus is more comfortable than air travel. Your seat reclines almost horizontally, you can stand up for a stretch any time you wish and there is no hour’s long check in process to board the bus. This is not to say that you will have the best night of sleep, but with these five tips you are on the way to getting the best night’s sleep possible.