"Having done BTT in the past and having had the time of life there I honestly didn’t think BTV would be able to live up to my expectations. But it did in every way possible."
5 Ways To Win At The Overnight Bus
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.
The Backpacking Through Vietnam tour has two overnight buses and we want that experience to be as comfortable as possible. After travelling up and down this country more times than we can count, here’s how we’d say it works best. Before we jump in, just 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
Vietnam tends to be warm year-round. Okay, really warm in most parts of the country. You will welcome the AC when you step onto the sleeper bus for your overnight journey but after a couple hours you might find yourself getting a bit colder than you’d like. The buses do provide blankets for your journey 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 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 - whatever you call them, use them
Driving in Vietnam is essentially a free-for-all. This system of driving boils down to one key component: the horn. Drivers inform other drivers of their presence and intention to enter flowing 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 power bank is fully charged for some extra juice (and tunes) 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 many ways, a sleeper bus in Vietnam 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 as you make your way through Vietnam.