The dreaded sleeper bus

We bundled along the bumpy road in our tired transport. The tired, purple curtains swaying and our stomaches lurching  at every bend. The ‘on board’ meal sat before us, was a far cry from what was advertised and actually turned out to be a slice of packaged cake, a wafer and a bottle of water. Looking down at the disappointing meal in front of us, we began to realise this was going to be a long 20 hour trip.

The dreaded sleeper bus - travelling from Chiang Mai to Laos with young children
Image courtesy of Dreamstime/Nitinut380


A twenty hour sleeper bus was never a part of our travel plans. In fact it was something I actively avoided when piecing together the itinerary for our four month trip around South East Asia. But the only budget air flight from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang had to be paid by credit card and we lost ours while in Bangkok. The alternatives were spending over £1000 on flights (something we couldn’t afford) or travelling to Laos by road. So reluctantly we booked our bus ticket… I mean how bad could it really be?


In the days leading up to our departure from Chiang Mai we had seen a number of travelling families talking about how easy long journeys by sleeper bus were on their blogs and Instastories. They made it seem so effortless. The children entertained themselves with sticker books and movies on their iPads, before settling down to sleep for a majority of the trip. We had an abundance of sticker books, puzzles and movies on the iPad… this would be a piece of cake.


In reality, the sticker books only kept the boys occupied for the first couple of hours and just as their restlessness was bordering on tantrum, we stopped for our first toilet break. Perfect timing for preventing a complete meltdown and scowls from our fellow passengers!


This is also the point my monthly visitor made it’s appearance, which would have been quite nifty timing had it not been for the toilet I was met with. This ladies and gentleman, was the moment I first encountered a squat toilet. Not great timing to be honest with you. At any other point in my life, I would have found this a novelty, a life experience… in this situation I began to wonder about my life choices.


Following on from the interesting toilet stop, things only went from bad to worse. We bundled back into the sleeper bus and set off again. As we veered up the mountain side, I looked out of the window to be faced with a sheer drop. I instinctively grabbed Bear who was sat next me, just in case the window disappeared and him with it.


I then heard a sharp intake of breath from the Japanese man to my right and turned to see an upturned truck out of his window. Behind me I could hear Monkey battling for his freedom and seconds later saw a little face peer out from behind the seat, ecstatic from winning his battle and celebrating his new found freedom in the forbidden bus isle. This was not the easy cruising sleeper bus experience sold to me by fellow family travel bloggers.


With the mountain side drop and upturned truck still fresh in my mind, I began to question if we would make it out of the journey alive and began to envision our demise. Just before my imagination ran too wild and free, the bus came to a stop, everyone bundled back out and our weary group of travellers found ourselves surrounded by feral dogs fighting, a long table and fading light.


As it turned out this stop was our dinner time food stop, which consisted of fried rice. As we were the last people to order, there was only enough left for one portion, which we had to share between four of us before being charged the equivalent of £6. Fortunately this was the last big stop aside from a few pick ups before our final stop in Luang Prabang.


Unfortunately, Bear’s meals of cake, wafer and some odd tasting fried rice didn’t quite agree with him and into the final stretch of our journey, he threw up everywhere… because the journey wasn’t proving difficult enough already. I just want to take a moment to thank the very wonderful American man who helped us by holding a torch up for me so I could clean up Bear and get him changed, while Mr. C scrubbed the seat.


From that point both children decided they weren’t happy unless sat on my lap and so for the last 3 hours of our journey I had both boys sat on me in uncomfortable positions. Meanwhile Mr. C got some shut eye and a bit of a rest… that last stretch of the journey was a tough one for him!


We eventually reached our destination of Luang Prabang, the bus emptied of weary travellers and backpacks were collected. Just as we adjusted to our new surroundings, we were greeted by two tuk tuk drivers, who through broken English and hand gestures informed us that to get to the centre, we had to get in their tuk tuks. Disorientated, tired and all in need of a bit of sleep, we all clambered in and then endured 15 minutes of debating the cost of the journey we were about to embark on.


Eventually we made it to the centre of Luang Prabang and were all ejected from the tuk tuk. It was at this point our group realised none of us knew where on earth we were and were now even more disorientated that when we first left the sleeper bus. Thankfully a lovely Belgian couple let us borrow their phone to use google maps and work out where we had to set off to. After a bit of wandering, a couple of wrong turns and another inevitable tuk tuk ride we ended up at our hotel… 22 hours after first setting off from Chiang Mai.


Luang Prabang is quite the destination (even if it is a bit of a pain to get to) and we absolutely loved our time there, but when it comes to sleeper buses… never again when travelling with children.

The dreaded sleeper bus - Getting to Luang Prabang, Laos with young children - Mekong river


Have you ever travelled long distance by sleeper bus with young children? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also follow me on Pinterest.

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