Chang Tu Qi Che - long distance bus
Wo Pu - bunk
The first time I took the sleeper bus was way back in 2004, a couple of mates and I were traveling from Kunming, Yunnan province to the border of Laos. There was no other method of transportation, the journey was over night and traveled through mountainous winding roads. If you're going to travel long distance by bus, a sleeper bus is far more comfortable and enjoyable than trying to sleep sitting upright in a conventional bus.
What to expect
A conventional bus has a single aisle, whereas the sleeper bus has two aisles with three rows of two tier bunks and the back bunks forms large beds. The three of us laid in the back and as our journey was through the mountainous winding roads we were rolling onto each other. The road was bumpy as well and tossing us up and almost banging our heads on the ceiling.
The bunks will come with sheets, blankets and pillows, but obviously we slept in our sleeping bags. We didn't know whether those sheets had been changed before we got on. You would want to keep your valuables in a bag and sleep with them like a pillow. Yet, if you're tall you might find the beds too short, my friend was too tall which is why we ran to the back to get them quickly. If traveling alone, then I probably wouldn't share an open bed with a stranger.
You will have to put clean room shoe coverings over your shoes and the bus is a lot cleaner than we thought it was going to be. All though, people's experiences will vary, the concept of clean depends on how long you have been in China.
There is a toilet which happens to be a squatter, and you will try your hardest to not use it but eventually you'll give in and hold your breath.
Buses tend to stop at road houses, which are usually large complexes along highways that serve meals. You might get coupons for meals from the bus driver, but this depends as some people said that they never received any when they traveled. I'm not a fan of bus depot meals, so pack some snacks and bread for breakfast.
You might find some people smoke, but you can always ask politely for them to put it out. I've never seen a smoker get mad or refuse when asked.
It will be a novelty for the Chinese to see a foreigner traveling, some will talk to you, but during the trip people keep to themselves. During trips most Chinese fall asleep easily so conversations usually last at the beginning of the journey.
Why travel this way
This type of traveling is when the train is all booked out, it's a last resort when nothing else is available or when your budget is getting thin. When I traveled in America on Greyhound buses, doing over night trips I was pining for a sleeper bus, because I couldn't sleep sitting up. If you're going to have to take a bus over long distances, bunks do make sense. If you're a bit adventurous and tolerant, then it could be fun, however some people didn't enjoy their experience and didn't find it as comfortable.
This will depend on the bus service, do they keep the bus clean or not, the other passengers what's their hygiene like and if they're smokers. It also depends on you, some found the bunks uncomfortable and prefer to spend more on trains.
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