Malaysia Misadventures Myanmar Philippines Travel

Long Bus Rides: Love – Hate Affair and Asian Misadventures

Long Bus Rides

The coldness of the AC crept under my skin as goosebumps spread on my arms. Teeth gently chattering, shivers wracking my body as the Victory Liner bus I’m currently on, headed its way to Baguio. I tried my best to lull myself to sleep despite the twists and turns of the bus along the mountainside.

Suddenly, the guy behind our seat decided to sing along with the music. Belting out all the lyrics to “All Out of Love” with much gusto. Out of nowhere, an unmistakable smell wafted in the air. Someone had farted. “Oh yes”, I thought to myself. “It’s going to be another of those long bus rides.

Love – Hate Affair with long bus rides

My earliest memory of long bus rides would be me puking in a plastic bag. This would be triggered by those air fresheners shaped like pine trees hanging inside local buses. That and I used to easily get dizzy from bus rides. This would then involve my mother giving me candies or urging me to go to sleep. But, these strategies would still often fail, resulting to me vomiting my guts out.

Fast forward to my traveling days, I’ve now had my fair share of long bus rides here and abroad. And even if I’ve taken countless of them, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.

They’re definitely cheaper than flights. But the number of hours of the ride can be pleasing or unbearable depending on different factors.

First, up would be the seatmate. The ideal seatmate for me would be someone who I can sleep on, has food and provides great conversation when needed.

I still consider myself lucky, though. So far I haven’t had a seatmate from hell. I’ve talked to fellow travelers who’ve had the misfortune of seating beside creeps, those who puke, or super chatty people.

double decker bus from penang to melaka

Bus from Penang to Melaka Sentral

Burmese Days

I definitely liked, though, my long bus ride experiences via JJ Bus in Myanmar. I was on a comfortable solo seat, with good leg room and leg support. With LCD monitor, charging outlet, free bottled water, free snack, free use of a blanket and there’s even a bus attendant! It surely is the best long bus ride experience I’ve ever had. Though my sleep is still not comparable to sleeping in bed, the comfort made the long bus ride pleasant enough.

inside JJ Bus Myanmar

luxe life – Myanmar JJ bus

From blaring music, incessant chattering, and sounds of people vomiting, what you hear on a long bus ride can affect your experience too.

On the way to Mandalay, we took a local air-conditioned bus in Bagan. The ride was going smoothly until I awoke to the sound of blaring Burmese music and the lovely sounds of retching. See, I have this reflex. I tend to want to vomit too when I see or hear people vomiting. So I hurriedly dug out my earphones, turned the volume up on my playlist, and shut my eyes closed.

After a few hours, I woke up drenched in sweat. Looking out the window, the sun is already high and all you could see was the vast countryside. The land was reddish and there weren’t much vegetation around. Clearly, this ride was the total opposite of my experience with deluxe buses in Myanmar.

The temperature inside the bus is also a make or break factor. I once boarded a local bus in Myanmar, bound for Mandalay from Hsipaw that claimed it was an air-conditioned bus. A few minutes along the ride, we already plotting to break the glass window just to get some air.

To make matters worse, there was a really bad smell inside the bus that we cannot describe. It creeps up your nostrils and makes your head and nose hurt. It was one of those moments where I literally wanted to pull my hair and scream my lungs out just to wake up from the horrible dream. But sad to say, it was the reality.

To the North (Philippines)

Ohayami bus lines bound to Banaue is notorious for their freezing temperatures. So I packed warm as best as I could. Turns out, my fleece jacket, scarf, thick pants and socks were still no matches for the Queen Elsa-levels coldness during the bus ride. I still couldn’t believe how I managed to doze off throughout the 10-hour bus ride, even with my teeth chattering and all that shivering.

Lizardo Trans to Sagada

Bound for Sagada and the amazing view

Crappy roads also lead to rough rides. Twists and turns make me dizzy. The first time I’ve been to Sagada aboard a GL Trans bus, I was on the window seat and despite the countless mountains that we’ve driven through, I didn’t get dizzy or feel sick. I was entertained with all the amazing views outside the window.

The opposite happened when I came back to Sagada last December aboard a CODA lines bus. I was on the verge of getting sick and the erratic AC didn’t help one bit. Maybe it was the fault of the driver since it was still the same roads that were used. Or maybe it was the whole experience. My companion didn’t fare better and ended up getting sick in front of the tourism office. What a way to start our Sagada trip!

Crossing borders and misadventures

The views outside can also make a long bus ride memorable or not. More often than not, long bus rides feel endless, especially with the bad traffic. So the scenery definitely helps to pass the time. Taking the direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap showed us the views of the countryside of Thailand. My first glimpse of Siem Reap was also through that bus.

Unfortunately, that bus ride didn’t end well. Minutes before we got off the bus, a company representative announced that we will be given free tuk-tuk rides to our accommodation. Who doesn’t like free, right? Of course, we were ecstatic and thankful. But we should also have remembered that nothing is really free. Turns out, it was only free if we were to avail the tuk-tuk’s services for the following day. Arguing with the tuk-tuk driver almost ruined our first night in Siem Reap.

direct bus bangkok to siem reap

Direct bus waiting at Poipet border

I love double decker buses. My 8 – 9 hours bus ride from Penang to Melaka was uneventful, with me sleeping the whole way through in my comfortable solo seat. So when I got to ride again in a double decker bus in Melaka going to Singapore, I expected the same.

Turns out, I should’ve researched more on what happens when the bus arrives at the border in Johor Bahru. I almost left my bag in the bus thinking we’ll be back on it like in Aranyaphratet-Poipet. Good thing the bus conductor noticed and told me to take with me all my things.

When I got to the immigration, I got another surprise. Despite all the stamps in my passport, they were asking me to go to the office upstairs for a few “questions”. The whole ordeal is another story. But it took more than 30 minutes, causing me to miss my bus.

I thought they would wait for me, but that was just silly thinking. I had no Singaporean dollars with me at that moment and no mobile signal. I had just gone through another terrible ordeal before leaving Melaka and now this. I was truly on the verge of tears when I tried to talk to a bus driver asking if I can hitch a ride all the way to Bugis. He couldn’t understand much English but after a few pleading and tears, he referred me to another bus.

After finally settling in that new bus, did I breathed a sigh of relief. And as if on cue, it rained hard while on the road to Singapore. Perfectly mirroring what I was feeling at that moment.

melaka to singapore bus

Bus from Melaka to Singapore

Night buses and body aches

The majority of my long bus rides are night trips. So the views are not exactly a big factor for that. They are usually boring with nothing to do but eat and sleep. Overnight bus trips though are good for saving up on time and accommodation.

What makes long bus rides unbearable for me are usually the seats. They make my back hurt especially along the lumbar. And I don’t know about you, but they make my butt numb too.

I may get to sleep during the long bus ride, but I find that I feel more tired after the ride. It doesn’t matter if the seat can incline or not. The result is always the same: stiff muscles. I toss and turn as much as I can in the limited space and try to contort my body into different positions. Just so I could sleep.

I was lucky that when I took the night bus from Mo Chit Terminal in Bangkok to Chiang Mai, I had no seatmate. I used my bag as the pillow and folded my body in the 2 seats to sleep. I also got a free water and snack!

bangkok to chiang mai night bus

Night bus to Chiang Mai! Free use of a blanket, snacks, and water


Long bus rides can be boring. But that downtime is also important. To gaze out the window and reflect on life. To see how we could all be different and yet still the same. As the popular saying goes, it’s not just about the destination, but it’s also all about the journey.

And so, I leave you with one of my newfound favorite travel quotes:

Life is similar to a bus ride. The journey begins when we board the bus. We meet people along our way of which some are strangers, some friends, and some strangers yet to be friends. There are stops at intervals and people board in. At times some of these people make their presence felt, leave an impact through their grace and beauty on us fellow passengers while on other occasions they remain indifferent.

But then it is important for some people to make an exit, to get down and walk the paths they were destined to because if people always made an entrance and never left either for the better or worse, then we would feel suffocated and confused like those people on the bus, the purpose of the journey would lose its essence and the journey altogether would neither be worthwhile nor smooth.

Chirag Tulsiani

Featured image: credit to Matthew Wiebe


Do you like long bus rides? What’s your most memorable bus ride?


PIN IT!

You Might Also Like

24 Comments

  • Reply
    Why You Should Try Slow Travel At Least Once In Your Life
    April 23, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    […] of taking the taxi, why not take the local transportation like buses or trains. Or if you want to take it further, walk a lot. Or even wander aimlessly. This allows you […]

  • Reply
    Potpot Pinili
    July 2, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I think JJ Bus in Myanmar is awesome. Sana meron din tayo sa Pilipinas.

    • Reply
      Darlene
      July 2, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Sana nga! The closest that we have is the Joy Bus of Genesis and the Deluxe of Victory Liner.

  • Reply
    marge
    June 25, 2016 at 4:16 am

    Wow that JJ bus is sosyal ha! I’ve never taken that kind of bus before and I definitely want to experience it.

    I can endure long bus rides without vomiting but as much as possible, I have to be on the window seat because I get dizzy if not. But I can definitely sleep on the bus, it’s a talent really. Even when the seat is not comfortable, I can still sleep. My back hurts too when riding a bus especially when the seats are not “back-friendly.” I liked the Mekong Bus despite it being old because the lower side of the seat is protruding, thereby giving lower back support. It did wonders to make that travel a little less excruciating for me.

    You sure have taken several sleeper bus already, it’s interesting to know how they differ from one another.

  • Reply
    Jon Espina
    June 24, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Nice read Da. For me, I like long bus rides. I can sleep during the ride and yes, I get some back aches but its bearable.

    I enjoy the experience, being alone and looking from afar and have some thoughts running through my mind. I usually practice the introvert in me during long bus rides. 🙂

  • Reply
    Ferna
    June 24, 2016 at 10:56 am

    my longest bus ride was in Myanmar from Hpa-an to Inle Lake, and it wasn’t even a VIP bus because they don’t have for that route.. it was 16 hours. hahahaha.. but I felt like I wasn’t in a bus, I slept the most of the time, except when the bus stops for toilet time or for eating time. the night bus in that route has many stops. I like that you tried JJ, i tried the Elite bus. Nice one Dada! love reading this.

  • Reply
    cathy
    June 24, 2016 at 9:48 am

    I’ve also experienced a long bus ride, so far I had like 24 hours long bus ride from Georgetown, Penang to Bangkok with slight uncomfiness. Though, it was fun. To sit on a bus whole day night long! haha I like that bus in Myanmar, love the design and it sure is comfortable and well, looks luxurious! ! Xx

  • Reply
    Kate Barbosa
    June 23, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Before, during long bus rides – my back was pained too, I can’t sleep hearing the chatting seatmates, vomitting passengers and crying babies. But now, I don’t mind it at all. Everything was covered by excitement to my next destination. By the way, I want to try that luxurious bus line too! I think if we have that in the Philippines, I will always miss my destination. Haha!

  • Reply
    Cai Dominguez-Travelosyo
    June 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I wouldnt mind long bus ride if Ill ride with the bus you had in Myanmar, so far thats the coolest bus I ever know. I agree with Ohayami bus. As mentioned with my blog on my way to north. It feels like your inside a fridge inside this bus. Its fcking cold. Hahahaha! Love your bus adventures dada. Cheers To more long land travels to come 🙂

  • Reply
    Johna
    June 23, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Wahaha I too also have a love-hate relationship with long bus rides. But as long as the seats are clean and confortable and theres a toilet on board, I’m good hehe.

  • Reply
    Christina
    June 23, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Good tips for different bus rides in Asia. It has been a while since I have ridden in a bus for a long ride and this post certainly reminded of the good and bad times that I have had.

  • Reply
    Sam C
    June 22, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    Brilliant!! Really made me feel like I was there on that bus and the part where the guy farted made me laugh out loud!

  • Reply
    anto
    June 21, 2016 at 2:26 am

    Because I’m always somewhat in a hurry I try to avoid long bus rides where possible. My best experience was definitely one in Iceland, the landscape is so stunning, it’s impossible to fall asleep!

  • Reply
    LeAnna Brown
    June 20, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Aaaah long bus rides. Some are great…other not so much. We often meet fascinating people along the journey, but yeeeah, sometimes you just get that one trip that you wonder if it will ever end!

  • Reply
    Mar Pages
    June 20, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Wow you’ve really been through quite a bit, I would have assumed they would wait while you got questioned. I think I would pay a bit more to save some time, or at least to get a comfortable seat with cooler air!

  • Reply
    Rob
    June 20, 2016 at 12:36 am

    After reading this I am reminded of why we don’t travel by bus very often, and certainly we try not to do any buses that take longer than 4 hours. I shudder to remember a terrible bus ride from the Colombian border to Otavalo, Ecuador.

  • Reply
    Monika
    June 19, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    When did you go to Myanmar? I was in 2007 and there was no chance of getting such a comfortable bus 🙂

  • Reply
    Carly Moore
    June 19, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    I thought I’d had a few crap bus journeys but after reading this, I don’t think they were quite so bad haha. I haven’t yet had a bus experience that made me wish I’d spent the extra money for a train/plane ticket, but I’m sure it’ll happen. And that Burmese bus… I wonder if there’s a bus company out there that has lay down beds, like business class on some airlines.

  • Reply
    Julie
    June 19, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    This is fantastic. You definitely have a unique (and varied!) perspective on the bus ride. I really enjoyed reading about the good, the bad and the ugly! I have generally really enjoyed my various international bus rides, though I tend to splurge for the nicest buses, to avoid those few nightmare stories that happen! I love to watch the passing scenery, for sure 🙂

  • Reply
    Nisha
    June 19, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I live in India and you can imagine what kind of bus rides I am exposed to ! These all buses look very luxurious to me. 😉
    When started reading the article, I hoped there would be mention of cross country bus ride of BKK to Siem Reap. And there it was! Have heard a lot about it. 🙂

    You took bus from Penang to Melaka???? I would have never done that.. It’s an hour’s drive or so from KL and to reach KL there are several ways. 🙂

    • Reply
      Darlene
      June 19, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      Hi Nisha! will you be taking the bus from BKK to Siem Reap soon? 🙂
      Hehe yup the bus ride from Penang to Melaka took 8 hours. and there was no night bus so I literally spent the day on the bus just sleeping. Good thing it was a really comfortable ride.
      Sad to hear about India’s buses though!

  • Reply
    Anna Faustino
    June 19, 2016 at 9:55 am

    So surprised about the bus in Burma! Wow. Our buses in the Ph definitely need upgrading. My worst experience was a 30 hour bus from Vietnam to Laos…oh and a 20 hour one where we were stuck somewhere due to landslides in Ecuador. Haha!

  • Reply
    Alice Teacake
    June 18, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Your writing is fantastic! Just have to say that off the bat 🙂 and secondly, I can’t believe the photo of your bus in Burma. Who would have thought it would be that luxurious?! I’ve had some crazy bus experiences but you’re right, this time is also good to stop, think, look out the window and reflect on life. Safe travels 🙂

    • Reply
      Darlene
      June 19, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      Thank you sooo much Alice! 🙂 and yes I was so surprised with the JJ bus in Myanmar. I cant stop gushing about it to anyone who’s planning to go there. hehe. safe and happy travels always dear! 🙂

    Leave a Reply