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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Featured image: credit to Matthew Wiebe
Do you like long bus rides? What’s your most memorable bus ride?