If you’re traveling Southeast Asia on a budget, you are going to be spending a lot of time on buses. Some people think buses are evil, but the bus industry has evolved in Southeast Asia and is now a reliable, safe and cheap mode of transportation. Think of it this way: you get to see more of the country (the best way to experience a new place!) and your wallet is happy. No worries, by the end of your trip you will be a bus pro! Here are a few tips on surviving bus travel in Southeast Asia.
Relax and don’t try to be TOO organized
The region is still undergoing a lot of development and change, so don’t expect to get first class service for everything like you would at home. You just have to go with the flow, be patient and try and remember that it’s not the end of the world if not every plan works out exactly how you had imagined. Take a deep breath and enjoy the views of the countryside you’re traveling in. Don’t organize everything to the second, or you’ll find yourself disappointed quite early on in your trip. Just take one day at a time and plan your activities and visits loosely.
Bring Snacks & Drinks
Although some long routes will offer some snacks and water, it’s always better to be prepared with snacks you actually want and like. Similar to an airplane, the food is decent but it may not always be to your liking, so best bring your own food and drinks to avoid not eating for a long period of time. The bus will make some stops and you will be able to purchase more snacks and drinks but it is always better to be prepared before departing.
Keep Your Valuables With You
Have all of your valuables in your daypack and keep it under your feet or on your lap the entire time. If you want to be extra cautious, keep your money and passport in a money belt and sleep with it on your person. Most people aren’t out to rob you, but it never hurts to be smart and take preventative measures. Invest in a good lock for your backpack or luggage, as it could certainly convince an opportunistic thief to skip over your luggage.
Pack Some Toilet Paper
This is a rule that applies to way more than bus travel! Seriously, carry toilet paper with you, you’ll be thankful! Some of the buses don’t have bathrooms, so they will make stops at rest areas but these facilities don’t always provide toilet paper or charge a ridiculous price for it, so grab a pack and keep it in your daypack.
Layers are Everything
The buses in Southeast Asia are either super hot or an icebox. If you are taking an air-con bus, then pack multiple layers and a blanket. The drivers of these buses tend to get a bit overenthusiastic with the AC. It’s always better to be over prepared and peel a few layers off than shiver your way through a 5-hour bus ride.
Motion Sickness Medicine is Your Best Friend
Pack some Gravel because you might need it! The road to Pai, Thailand for example, has 762 curves. The ride up to this beautiful town can be brutal for some, so make sure you’re prepared. Since the region is such a mountainous region, many rides can be bumpy and curvy. Packing a motion sickness medication can make an unbearable ride much more enjoyable. Another perk of having this medication with you is that it can help you nap through some of the journey and if you are faint of heart, some views are better left unseen!
Long-Haul Bus Ride Essentials
Bus travel is definitely budget-friendly but it can get pretty long, so if you’re unprepared it can easily become an overall bad experience for you. We recommend bringing some of these along to help make your bus trip the best it can be.
This organizer is an amazing thing to have with you in your carry-on. It fits everything you need and fits in the seat front pocket in most buses or can stay in your day pack. Here you can organize your passport, visas and any other documents you want to keep close and handy.
Eye-Mask and Ear Plugs
Perfect for getting some shut eye on those long-haul buses especially with the lights going on at every stop and people around you watching tv. Just make sure you set an alarm on your phone or talk to the staff to make sure you get off at the right stop.
Battery Phone Case or Power Bank
A lifesaver when your bus trip is long or if you have a few more hours until your next destination. Also gives you something to do if you can’t fall asleep on the bus.
Alternative to ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones will drown out all the noise, so maybe you won’t notice the karaoke party happening in the row next to you.