After spending a few days in Hanoi, I took a sleeper bus (IT WAS SO COOL!) to what turned out to be my favourite place in Vietnam – Phong Nha. In case you also plan to go there from Hanoi, I’ll explain about the sleeper bus journey.
There are various companies that do bus journeys to Phong Nha, so after reading a few things about them on Tripadvisor, I decided to go with the one that had a ticket office near my hostel, seeing as they all had bad reviews so it was the only deciding factor.
I went to the Hung Thanh Travel Office (put this in Google Maps and you’ll find it) the day before I wanted to travel. They aren’t helpful at all in there – they basically don’t speak, they just take your money… and they only take cash not cards, but anyway I managed to establish from them that the bus leaves at 6:30pm from outside the Travel Office, and that it would arrive in Phong Nha at 4am the next morning. The one-way ticket was 300k dong (about £10).
The next day, I took a Grab (like Uber) to the Travel Office as I had my kind of heavy bag, and I made sure I was there super early (way too early actually) – at 5:30pm – because I had no idea when other people would arrive for it etc.
It was a bit weird and confusing because no one told me anything, and a few other backpackers arrived and were equally confused. At about 6:25pm, an almost full minibus turned up and a man opened the doors and pointed inside for us to get on. He somehow managed to squash our bags into the back which was already packed with bags, so make sure you don’t have anything that could break in your bag if you’re doing this journey.
After about half an hour, we pulled up at a roadside and the man threw our bags on the ground and pointed at another travel office (basically telling us to wait in there…) so that’s what we did…
Fifteen minutes later, a sleeper bus appeared out of nowhere and we got on and chose a bed each (HOW COOL!). This time our bags went under the bus obviously, but they weren’t squashed really. The bottom bunks were popular with the Vietnamese people, but obviously I chose a top bunk just because of the novelty of it.
As you get on the bus, you have to take off your shoes and they give you a plastic bag to put them in… so for this reason, I’d definitely recommend that you wear socks. Each bed comes with a blanket, and the bus was pretty clean (probably helped by people taking their shoes off). There was also a water bottle on each bed, and the bus even had wifi (it only worked for about 70% of the journey, but still pretty cool). As I expected, it was a bit cold with the air conditioning, so I would suggest bringing a hoodie (or two).
The beds/seats weren’t super luxurious but they had a bit of padding and they were fine for one journey. I don’t really know why people were complaining in the reviews. One thing that would be a challenge would be if you’re tall, because my feet were almost touching the end and I’m only 5 ft 5 and a half. Beyond that, everything about it was fine.
This is me loving life in my top bunk…
I can’t remember how many hours it was before the bus stopped at a service station, but it definitely felt like a long time (it was probably about 3 hours). If you have a small bladder like me, make sure you don’t make the rookie mistake of sipping water every 5 minutes.
If you have a small bladder like me, you will probably have to use the toilets at the service station (the holes in the ground in the service station). For this reason, you should definitely bring quite a lot of toilet paper with you for your sleeper bus journey! Trust me on this one.
Every parking space for buses at the service station has a big pile of flip-flops beside it so that people don’t have to go to the effort of putting their shoes back on and taking them off again to get back on the bus (quite practical, if you ask me). I used some (with my socks on, don’t worry) so I can now say I’ve probably shared a pair of flip-flops with about 100 Vietnamese people.
If you were planning to get food at the service station (like me), you might struggle with that if you can’t read Vietnamese. I didn’t end up getting anything because I was too tired to try and figure out what it all was.
The bus arrived on time to Phong Nha (4am). It stops outside Easy Tiger Hostel, but you can easily get to any hostel in the main part of town, as the main part of town is just one road, so I just had to walk for a few minutes in a straight line to get to where I was staying (a hostel called Nguyen Shack).
The hostels in Phong Nha are used to people arriving at 4am from the sleeper buses, so they often let you check in early if your bed is already empty, which is nice. If it isn’t empty, they’ll at least let you put your bags down and chill in the common area.
Overall, I’ve decided that lying down on a long bus journey is a million times better than sitting up, and going on a sleeper bus is something you can’t do in every country, so if you want to take a semi-long journey in Vietnam, I think this is a good way to do it (unless you’re tall).