27 Hours… Hanoi to Luang Prabang: The Worst Bus Journey in SE Asia?

The Sleeper Bus That Runs The Hanoi to Luang Prabang Route

Ok, guys, I’m live blogging from the Hanoi to Luang Prabang Night Bus; a mere 871km if you’re asking.

To set the scene, we are one hour into our 20-hour* ‘bus-athon’ from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. There is a toilet at the back. However, the rear half of the bus is packed to the rafters with unknown boxed goods. So that’s the loo out of order then, for the entire trip. Grace and I are at the front, on bottom bunk “beds”, neither of which has a working back half, meaning we can’t sit supported for the entire trip.

*I wish. The total trip duration ended up at almost 27 hours to the minute.Β 

In front of me,Β is the driver and three of his mates sitting on the floor around him, having a whale of a time. One of them is currently resting his arm on my foot. Does he even know and/or care? The Vietnamese woman in the neighbouring “bed” has her feet elevated above her head, resting on what I believe to be the driver’s suitcase. Five minutes ago, the bus stopped abruptly and began to reverse. It’s late evening, it’s pitch black and this is an unlit motorway; terrifying.

The door opened, there was a flurry of shouting and then a solitary Vietnamese girl in her early 20s hops aboard, joining the cockpit party. She’s now sitting on the floor leaning against my knees.Β  I’m beginning to feel like part of the furniture, literally. It’s 30 minutes later…

Hanoi to Luang Prabang Bus.

We have just pulled off the road and some boxed goods are being unloaded into a shipping container. Driver and co. are sliding them down both aisles either side of me with the help of some more spirited passengers. Ridiculous. I’ve just paused to record a video on my phone as this is too bizarre a situation to miss. Ok, one of the more agile co-pilots has just scaled the side of the coach and is now on the roof. Where I come from coaches don’t have roof racks.

What is going on up there, auxiliary danger seating? It’s now over an hour since we switched from international civilian bus service to wholesale haulage firm and finally, we’re back on the road. Strangely, the glossy agency website didn’t mention this stop on the itinerary. Hmm.

Ok, I’ve stopped live blogging. It’s days later and I’m now ready to talk about what happened next.

Hanoi to Luang Prabang Bus.

Popped a sleeping pill at 22:30. About 40 minutes later, just as I was nodding off, several people boarded and were shoe-horned into the last remaining vestiges of my personal space. I was trod on and clambered over without any acknowledgement, let alone an apology; my protests receiving a grin from the guys running this slumber party from hell.

For the first time on our trip, I was actually (I don’t want to say it) angry. I was just so exhausted, cursing my bad luck for bagging probably the worst bunk on the coach. All the while the backpackers on the top bunks slept peacefully, knowing nothing of my plight.

For the remainder of the night I was essentially sleeping in a bed, cheek to jowl with my tormentors (slash probably lovely people), who despite lying in the only slightly cushioned isles, had miraculously nodded off almost immediately. To add potential injury to insult, my adopted husband was happy to cough and splutter on me periodically. Yay. Sleeping pill thoroughly ruined, I caught one or two winks max. Even my favourite comedy podcast struggled to cheer me up.

I did, however, take some pleasure from Grace’s situation. A part-time insomniac, my girlfriend had struggled with previous nocturnal bus journeys. However, by literally turning her back on me and my unlikely threesome she and her new boyfriend – Mr Window – did receive their requisite 40 winks, with the aid of some top shelf Asian tranquillizers.

After a while, I managed to calm myself down. At least I had a “bed”. For my Vietnamese and Lao companions, these uncomfortable, not to mention incredibly dangerous transport conditions are just a part of everyday life. I looked at my neighbours and felt immediately guilty, suspended just above them in relative luxury, on my five-inch mattress.

‘Cheer up’ I told myself, you’ll probably make light of this in a blog one day.

Check out your (other) transport options from Hanoi to Luang Prabang here!

Oliver Brown - Author
Oliver Brown | International Rescue

After several years working the London nine to five rat race, Oliver Brown and his girlfriend, Grace, quit their jobs and headed off to SE Asia to begin an open-ended backpacking adventure.

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