Travel in China can range from low-cost to luxury. You can find yourself on a high-speed rail, enjoying the views from your soft-sleeper cabin with hot food and a cup of tea, or eating crisps for dinner and crammed onto a long-distance bus journey desperately in need of the toilet. For those travelling on a budget or buying last-minute tickets, the overnight sleeper bus is often the best option.
However, just the thought of spending the night lay down on an unstable Chinese bus may be the stuff of nightmares even for the best travel veterans. So, how can you get through the 8hrs+ and arrive fit and healthy on the other side?
Why should I take the sleeper bus?
Buses range in price depending on distance, but it will almost always cut the train ticket price at least in half. This means it’s perfect for late minute trips for a skimpy traveller. The sound of being on a night bus for around 10 hours in any country does not sound perfect, let alone China. However, the sleeper bus may surprisingly be one of the more pleasant bus experiences you’ll have. It’s something different, and certainly allows for an interesting story afterwards!
What to expect
The sleeper bus is no wider or longer than a normal bus, yet it’s Mary Poppins-style design somehow allows for three columns of beds to be placed alongside each other. There is around 5/6 rows of bunk beds as well as pathways down the side allowing for movement. This means there can be around 40 people per bus. The key aspect in this is that there are indeed beds..! No slumming it by sitting for those 10 hours. Not only do you get an area to lie down in, you also get a mattress, pillow, and duvet cover. There is even room for your personal belongings at the end of the bed. If you’re lucky and the bus isn’t full, you can even pile your luggage onto the bed next to you. The beds may, admittedly, be made for smaller Chinese people, but things could be a lot worse.
They will usually be fitted with air conditioning in the summer and are kitted out with curtains helping you get a good sleep. Expect to be the only westerner on the bus, since this is definitely more of a local way to travel. Passengers will generally be respectful that everyone wants to sleep so the bus stays fairly quiet. Make sure not to make too much noise yourself!
The buses are surprisingly clean, partially due to the no-shoe policy. Take off your shoes before entering the bus and put them in a plastic bag (provided). Don’t forget this everytime you leave and enter the bus again, or risk an angry Chinese man shouting at you!
How to survive
In order to prepare for the sleeper bus, the first thing to remember is that there is no toilet on board. The bus will stop at various points along the journey to allow for toilet breaks, but you shouldn’t rely on that. It’s important to make sure you have enough water for your journey, but it’s a good idea to stay away from caffeine and fizzy drinks for your journey.
Remember to bring yourself some snacks for food in the evening, and also breakfast when you wake up. If you’re lucky, the bus will make a stop off at a supermarket or convenience shop.
If you suffer from travel sickness bring the necessary medication you need. Generally, travel sickness shouldn’t affect you as much as it usually does, especially if you can make sure you shut the blinds, get comfortable, and get to sleep early on. You don’t want to be stuck on a Chinese bus without a toilet all night throwing up, so take any precautions you usually do before traveling. Maybe some sleeping pills too..!
In case you don’t plan to sleep so much, bringing some form of entertainment is also a good idea. This can include books, laptops, music etc.
Other things you should include are anything you usually need for plane travel, such as wet wipes to freshen up, an eye mask for sleeping, and earplugs to block out any traffic or snorers!
Arriving at your destination
You are able to get off the bus at any point along the journey. Carry the address of your destination with you and show the bus driver at the start so he knows. It is also a good idea to pay him a visit in the morning to check he’s remembered.
Gather your stuff together, do a triple check, and wait for the driver to call your stop! They’re usually pretty good with letting you know where you should be getting off.
Most people will have been on or at least heard of a sleeper train, but sleeper buses are a bit more unique. It’s definitely one to try if you want to do something a bit different!