Those that know me already know I am something of an insomniac. I have enough trouble sleeping in a comfortable bed, let alone on various forms of transportation, so needless to say I didn’t have high hopes of getting much sleep on the so called sleeper buses in Vietnam.
But first some background. For those who haven’t been to Vietnam, the basic tourist trail is to travel north to south (or south to north) visiting Ha Noi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Da Lat and Saigon, and one of the cheapest and most convenient ways for a backpacker to do this is with an open bus ticket. For the long legs of this journey you get a sleeper bus, which sounds pleasant in theory. It’s essentially coach with three rows of bunk beds in it. The problem is that the average Western male is about a foot too tall to fit into these beds and the roads are quite bumpy. Talk to any traveller and they also tell you to avoid the back beds like the plague.
So as for my experience… In one word: bad. In two words: hilariously bad.
Me and the two other backpackers I was travelling with had our first encounter with the 12 hour ride from Ninh Binh to Hue. Because we got on in Ninh Binh instead of Ha Noi where the bus started it was pretty much full, and lucky us we scored the three top bunks at the very back. This photo pretty much sums it up:
After laughing deliriously at the absurdity of it all for several minutes, because if we weren’t laughing we’d be crying, we attempted to settle in for the ride. My bed was missing the side rail so I only had a mental patient style strap separating me from bouncing out of my narrow bed down to the floor… And bounce I did, hanging into that strap for dear life as I was lifted clean off the bed at some points of the ride. My bunk neighbour Doug later told me he was listening to iPod on shuffle at the start of the trip and of all his music it chose to play AC/DC’s Highway to Hell and You shook me all night long… They pretty much summed it up.
Also at some point in the middle of the night I needed to go to the toilet. The problem was the toilet was tucked away on the other side of the bus with the middle row of bunks and a floor full of bags in the way, so off course I had to climb over the middle bunk. I tried poking Doug in the arm a couple of times but he didn’t budge. The guy had managed to fall asleep in the most spine twistingly uncomfortable looking position. I figured I could slide over ninja like and he would never notice. Unfortunately the hours spent curled up in a foetal position with cramping muscles had an adverse effect on my ninja abilities and I kind of collapsed and Doug got the surprise of waking up to find me half straddling him. Good thing he wasn’t a total stranger I guess.
Hours later as we rumbled into Hue bleary eyed and sleep deprived with Doug’s back and neck all messed up and my hip and shoulders aching like an arthritis suffering senior citizen, our other travel buddy Sophie sat up bright eyed on her bunk and informed us in the bubbly voice of the well rested “I slept quite well actually”.