Adventures in Bus Travel

roadtosongpan2In addition to my train travel adventures, I’ve taken a few long-distance bus trips. Some were tolerable, but others were absolutely miserable–so miserable that I no longer wish to take a bus unless it’s part of a tour.

My first real bus trip was during my semester in London. The university arranged a trip to Amsterdam–it was 12 hours overnight, and wasn’t comfortable enough for sleeping. After my semester, I took a bus to Edinburgh because train service at the time suffered from a few problems, causing significantly longer travel times–the bus wasn’t much slower and cost a lot less than the train. Again, overnight buses weren’t comfortable enough for me to get much sleep.

I didn’t take another long bus trip until I moved to China five years later.

A rest stop in Sichuan Province
A rest stop in Sichuan Province

During my first May holiday, I set out on a long journey from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou National Park. I would’ve liked to take the short flight to Huanglong airport, but it was a bit out of my budget for that trip. I was told the bus to Songpan, a brief stopover along the way, was a second-class bus. I maintain that to be second-class, it would require the bus to have some class. It was hot and humid in Chengdu, but the bus had no air conditioning. There was still snow on the ground when we reached mountains, and the windows wouldn’t close. Along that 12-hour bus ride, at least 10 men chain smoked (never stopping for a breath)–and this included the bus driver sitting beneath the “No Smoking” sign.

Terraced fields of Sichuan Province
Terraced fields of Sichuan Province

Along the route to Songpan, our full bus stopped a few times to pick up more passengers–not that the bus company would approve, but the driver and ticket taker needed to make some extra cash. These passengers sat on the floor and were told to hide when we reached checkpoints because it was illegal to have an overloaded bus. I don’t know what the authorities would’ve done had they discovered the illegal passengers.

View from the bus in Sichuan Province
View from the bus in Sichuan Province

The only worthwhile part of the smoke-filled bus through the winding mountain roads of Sichuan was the scenery. There were beautiful views of terraced fields, roadside villages, and rivers. The bus also stopped a couple times for bathroom breaks. At each of those stops, there were also some local vendors selling tasty treats like dried yak meat. On the way back, I even got to sit on a yak.

Stopping for yak on the way back to Chengdu
Stopping for yak on the way back to Chengdu

I only used the rest stop for a bathroom break once on that trip. I paid 5 jiao (about 7 cents) for the privilege of walking into a wood shack converted into a public toilet. I knew public toilets in China were generally dirty, but this one was on a different level. I walked on the creaking floor to find the hole in the floor in which to urinate. As I looked down, I discovered that I had just paid to pee off a cliff. There was no plumbing, just a hole that gave a great view down the side of the mountain. I paid to do what I could’ve done outside.

We drove on to Songpan, the driver and passengers continuing their chain smoking, and arrived a couple hours before sunset to enjoy a little of what the town offered.

The bus station in Songpan
The bus station in Songpan

Fortunately, the bus back from Jiuzhaigou a few days later was more modern–it even had air conditioning. Of course, it still had a few passengers who insisted on smoking during the journey, which was exacerbated by the fact that this bus didn’t have windows that opened.

It certainly turned me off from ever taking a long bus ride again. But, I’ve been known to make the same mistakes, and a bus ride through a foreign country is probably one of those repeatable mistakes.

What are some of your bus trip horror stories (or maybe comedic stories)?

6 thoughts on “Adventures in Bus Travel

  • April 30, 2013 at 4:54 pm
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    Come on! – If no one pukes on you, it wasn’t really that bad of a ride!

    Reply
    • April 30, 2013 at 7:30 pm
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      You’re right. I was the only one who felt like puking on that ride. Did have a few people puke next to me on city buses in Shenzhen though.

      Reply
  • May 1, 2013 at 2:40 am
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    I haven’t tried bus trips in China, since it’s usually faster and more convenient to take trains, but when I traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia on last vacations, my friends and me took buses since they were cheaper, and well, in Cambodia there is no way to skip them since there is no train, anyway, we tried to save up some money in allowance buying these “sleeper buses” by far one of the most horrible traveling experiences, there is no way for a person to sleep in that kind buses, there’s no way for one person to fit in that “seats”, they drive so fast you can feel you will die anytime soon, moreover they can sell to you one 12 hours trip and turn out to be a 15-18 hours trips… My advice, try to avoid taking sleeper buses at least in these two countries.

    Reply
  • May 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm
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    Buses are the one form of transportation that I have yet to get accustomed to!

    Reply
  • May 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm
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    I thought my 9 hour greyhound trip on a bus with an overflowing toilet was bad enough. But, um, that still sounds better then the cliff thing.

    Reply
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