I’m half-sitting, half-lying in the back of a ‘sleeper bus’. I hadn’t heard of them until a few days ago, and hadn’t seen the inside of one until about twenty minutes ago. This one in particular is travelling from the megalopolis of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to Nha Trang, a large beachside town 10 hours drive north.
What can I tell you about sleeper buses based on my limited experience? They’re regular buses that have been fitted out with ‘beds’ that are actually more like seats with excessive leg room, and that can recline to almost horizontal (depending on the leg length of the person sitting behind). Their major appeal to tourists seems to be that, if you’re taking a long enough trip, you can sleep through the entire night and hence save on accommodation. Plus you don’t waste a day of your holiday jiggling around on a bus only to rock up at guesthouse late at night and have to immediately flop into bed anyway.
The whole premise relies on the fact that you actually will be able to get sleep, obviously. This is very much a matter of luck; different seats have slightly more room than others, and that makes a hell of a lot of difference to comfort. I’m quite confident that my girlfriend and I were given the worst two seats on the bus. Since they’ve managed to cram about forty beds in here by laying them out in two tiers, there’s only half a foot between the top of my head and the underside of the bed above me. So it’s a little claustrophobic.
Our seats are especially uncomfortable because we’re at the very back of the bus, meaning there are five tiny beds aligned parallel to one another. There is a gap of about 3mm between the edge of my shoulders and the seats on either side. And for some unknown reason, there are reading lights above every one of the beds except those at the very back. Same goes for air con. In an attempt to provide some sort of air flow, makeshift fans have been drilled into the ceiling above. They don’t actually work, of course. Despite all of this, I’m still sort of comfortable. If I stop writing this I may actually manage to get some sleep.
(And for anyone wondering the cost of a ten hour night bus ride from Saigon to Nha Trang – the chances of that are astronomical, I know – it was 180,000 Vietnamese dong each. That’s about US $9, thanks to the delicious current exchange rate.)