Sleeper Bus to China

[ 1 ] September 22, 2012 |

Our first of several “Chinese Sleeper Bus” experiences broke us of any trepidation we had about managing travel in China. During the 27-hour bus ride from Laos to Kunming, China, the language changed, the government changed, the people changed. It was on.

Luang Prabang, Laos to Kunming, China Sleeper Bus

A sleeper bus isn’t something I’d recommend for persnickety travelers. There is a great lack of personal space and an abundance of shocking social norms repeatedly smacking you in the face.

A Little Cramped

Technically it’s a regular sized coach bus with two aisles lengthwise, 3 short bunks across (window, middle, window) and two bunks vertically. They typically seat around 40 people. Sleeper buses are very common for long distance travel in China, especially when train routes are unavailable in the more rural areas. Buses run very frequently and very fast sometimes shortening the long trips compared to trains. Bus tickets are almost always available, especially since they don’t always assign seats and often over sale tickets- you just share the space there is.

Sleeper Bus to China

On this bus there was absolutely no one else that spoke any English, so we just followed the pack as best as we could and hoped we would know when to get off. Throughout the 27-hour journey the bus stopped along the road to pick up and drop off passengers who flagged the bus down wherever they may be- they would pay for their ticket on board and when the bus was full- they just piled on top of people in the already filled seats. I fell victim to this once- a woman and her husband got on the bus and the lady felt the need to sit on me while I was lying down in my bunk already occupying the entire space. Annoying claustrophobic violation- welcome to China.

Alison’s Neighbors on the Bus

Pat’s Neighbors on the Bus

A grown woman squatted down and peed a full bladder in the aisle next to Pat. Everyone, men and women, constantly hacked up and spit the loudest and nastiest loogies you can imagine. Children with slits in the back of their pants pooped anywhere they pleased. Men snored at uncomfortable decibels and random arms and legs were accidently flung across our faces in the middle of the night. It was western China, and to the local Chinese none of this was unusual.

27 Hour Bus Ride

While most of China’s infrastructure is extensively developed, we were traveling on the part that is not. The roads were so bumpy that after drinking a bottle of water, lying in my bunk I mentally constructed an entirely new marketing strategy for Spanks. The mud roads caused trouble for our past-its-prime-bus. We stalled out over 50 times and broke down completely in several other instances. At the border we got off the bus with all of our belongings, crossed on foot, passed through immigration and found some working girls to exchange our currency with before loading back up and continuing on. The bus was sprayed with a giant herbicide sprayer as we entered China.

Laos Jungle into China

Stuck in the Mud

Broken Down

Village Homes

When we stopped around dinnertime, directions were apparently given in Chinese- but of course we didn’t have a clue. We decided I would go find food and Pat would stay on the bus with our bags in case it was actually just a quick stop. So in the rain I walked to town and found a convenience store selling ramen noodles in paper bowls. Using many gestures I convinced the storekeeper to boil some water for me and I prepared the noodles on the sidewalk- so with boiling noodles in hand I walked back to the bus station to find that the bus was locked- with Pat on it. I was locked off. We ate dinner through the window that night- me standing in the rain and Pat sticking his head out of the window for some semi-fresh air. About an hour later, the driver reappeared and unlocked the bus. At that stop new people joined us and loaded the bus with boxes and boxes of chickens. The journey continued.

Alison Locked off the Bus

While the sleeper bus experience caused us to swallow deep and blink hard many times the intense introduction to this part of the world certainly aided and accelerated our acceptance of these realities. We didn’t even hesitate to book several more sleeper bus tickets in China. Shock sensors numbed, we were ready to focus on the incredible natural beauty of the Yunnan Province.

We Made It


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Category: Alison's Blog, Blog, China, Destinations, Featured Posts

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