Night bus, night train, long haul flights… they all have trials and tribulations that can seriously suck but once you’ve done it once, you develop ways to endure it so allow me to share all that I have learnt…
Far-flung transport travelling all have many factors in common: Delightful cramped space posing the challenge of numerous sleeping positions. You will be stuck next to someone whom you have to endure for the foreseeable future. No fresh air. Questionable hygiene of both the fabric you’re pressed against/the person beside you/the interesting insect life that may meander by your ankles… it can be an ugly job but it must be done, especially since it’s usually the cheapest and most eye-opening way to backpack.
Follow these steps and hopefully you won’t suffer from past mistakes I have witnessed or experienced:
1. You gotta have faith
Lets face it, you don’t really have any other choice then to trust that the scrap of paper with shady scribbles scratched on it will be your gateway to wherever you’re heading. Forget that it may have been from some shifty back street ‘tourist agency’. As long as you’re with a couple of other tourists/non-locals then you can at least bunch together and comfort each other every time you’re ferried off one mini-bus onto a horse drawn carriage, then onto a dingy across a river before finally getting on a bus that looks like it could survive at least 100 miles despite the driver looking puzzled when you enquire upon the destination.
I have adapted many interesting sleeping arrangements which would make a yoga instructor give me a standing ovation, but sometimes its just not going to work. I’m definitely not the kind of person who can doze anywhere as horizontal is usually No 1 on my list of a good nights sleep. So you need a little bit of help and its best to find your own sleeping pills/aids, however I had to make an exception and rebel against the age old rule of ‘don’t accept drugs from strangers’ during a particularly sleep deprived journey to Bangkok. A kind Irish nurse gave me some Valium which I chose over the interesting pills from the Swede next to me. He proceeded to chow them down before freaking out that he had taken too much: Cue calls to his father, banana consuming and then attempting to puke in the bus toilet which had already over-flowed despite the journey only a quarter of the way through… at least he got to see ‘Terminator 3’ play, which he was particularly chuffed with.
3. Remember, those pesky insects get everywhere
Mosquitoes don’t discriminate transport. Where there is blood, there they will buzz so bring insect repellent and try to cover your legs if you’re in shorts. Bear in mind that some cockroaches may lurk beneath your feet, which I discovered on one night bus. They were also in the curtains. Not much you can do apart from give your hair a good shake at every stop and hope you haven’t carried some new friends on your jumper.
4. Be prepared
Have a little peruse in a 7/11 or convenience store/food stalls prior to your journey as food on night-trains can be a little pricey. Same goes for the random stops that southeast Asian night buses as you may have to sell your Havianna flip-flops for a slice of pineapple. Also, they like to keep you on your toes and keep you guessing when the next stop will be. Be prepared for it to be at some obscene time in the morning and knowing my luck its usually when I’ve just got to sleep.
A beer or three always goes down well, especially when shared with surrounding passengers. Remember, if you’re ever on the night train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, head to the ‘bar’… or as I like to call it: the party carriage. A mix tape, whiskey and some flashing lights shakes the night up a treat.
5. The aftermath: to plan or not to plan?
Too many times did I rock up to Khao San Road in Bangkok without any further plans. Conveniently forget that its usually the crack of dawn by the time the bus crawls up to the bus stop and I wander the streets, dodging drunken westerners looking for a bed. But the three times that happened, luckily I had bonded with my fellow surrounding passengers (who usually feel the need to take a lone female traveller under their wing) and had company to hostel hunt with.
I met the friendliest London couple who shared a room with me…. And the Swede who nearly ODed found a bargain of a room with me. However, I comically noticed how we both slept with our cash and passports under our pillows.
Get on the bus, make sure your iPod and water bottle is full, and get ready for anything. I can’t really warn you what might happen but if you want an adventure, sometimes the journey can provide it better than the destination.
Happy travelling! xxTweet