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Travel Memory: A 30 Hour Sleeper Bus Journey from China to Laos

If you’ve never traveled by sleeper bus in China, then count yourself among the lucky ones.

Back in 2009, before we settled in Korea, before we had any idea where life would take us, we found ourselves sardined into the back row of a Chinese sleeper bus with Jurgen, the German, and a Chinese woman complete with baby.

With 5 beds stuck together, the 30 hour journey was long, sticky and not entirely comfortable. In such close quarters, we really had no choice but to get acquainted with our bedmates.

It wasn’t too difficult, as us “westerners” bonded over our mutual disgust of one particular Chinese traveler, who kept spitting into the aisle of the bus in front of us. Yes, INSIDE the bus. A shared moment of fear, when our bus was cut off by a wayward auto rickshaw, and nearly ended up in the ditch, were it not for the desperate actions of a driver who’d clearly experienced and survived such chaos before, sealed our connection for the remainder of the journey.

We learned that Jurgen traveled through SE Asian markets, searching for antique weights to sell in Germany. He was on his 4th or 5th trip to Burma and raved about the country as the ultimate travel destination. Looking back now that Burma’s opened her doors to tourism, I wish we’d made the effort to get there while the country was still relatively untouched. We didn’t, and it’s a definite travel regret.

Traveling Overland from Kunming to Luang Prabang

We were traveling from Kunming, China’s Spring City, and capital of Yunnan Province to Luang Prabang in Laos. There’s 1 direct bus, daily that travels this route.

After leaving Kunming, we drove 800 odd kilometres, and found ourselves at Mohan, on the Chinese side of the border, early enough to witness soldiers running unexpectedly from every direction for a daily flag raising ceremony.

From there, it was a quick stroll through the border to Boten in Laos, where we purchased our visas on arrival and settled in for a long wait, while the the border guards and bus driver worked out some kind of bribe, according to Jurgen.

Perhaps the situation has improved since we crossed in 2009, but at the time, the border crossing was pretty corrupt. Shirley, a Chinese traveler we met, purchased her visa at one window, and moved onto the next one, only to have the border guard, just cross it out, and ask for more money. A veteran of such crossings, she simply refused to move, until they re-issued her visa. Jurgen, himself, suggested we slip a few American dollars into our passport, when we handed it over for processing. We didn’t, but thankfully didn’t have any issues, but best to be aware of potential issues.

Our 30 hour journey was over 5 years ago, so I must admit that my memory of times, details and costs are a bit fuzzy, but there is some good information on THIS BLOG.

Have you ever taken a sleeper bus or an extremely long overland journey? What was your experience like? Would you do it again?

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21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow, just the thought of 30 hours on a bus is enough for me to say, ‘thanks, but no thanks!’I take my hat off to you for doing it ๐Ÿ™‚

    June 3, 2015
    • There’s no way I’d do it again now, but at the time, I didn’t know what I was getting into! At least in China. The 24 hour bus ride, we took in Peru was totally comfortable with just 6 people in the cabin. The Chinese bus had 40!!! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      June 4, 2015
  2. I hate such long bus trips. Back in High School we had our “graduation trip” to Spain. The tour to spain was roughly 18h from East Germany. The trip bak however was 40h due to some weird reasons! And no, no sleeper bus or similar, just the seats to sleep in…

    June 3, 2015
    • There’s no way I’d survive 40 hours, sitting up in a bus! Some “graduation trip!” I guess it’s much easier to get between European countries now, with all the discount airlines…

      June 4, 2015
      • The bus was still cheaper than the discount flights. I think we paid per person around 40 Euros or so back then…

        June 4, 2015
  3. The longest sleeper bus journey I ever took was from Berlin to Amsterdam, which compared to your story was a treat. ๐Ÿ™‚

    June 3, 2015
    • Berlin to Amsterdam sounds like it would be quite a pleasant journey. ๐Ÿ™‚ Which my journey most definitely was not!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      June 4, 2015
  4. Sounds like quite an adventure! Fun one time and one time only, right? Of course, the detail that caught my eye was the spitter. I spent an entire Air China flight watching and listening to a man hawk up most of the contents of his lungs and spitting on the aisle floor of the plane! I huddled next to the window and tried to shut him out with my iPod, but this went on for a good six hours! Ahh, the joys of travel!

    June 3, 2015
    • Lol, well honestly, I didn’t know what we were getting into at the time. It was only affordable way to get from Kunming to Luang Prabang, so we took it. It was definitely an adventure, but not one I’d ever do again. Gahhhh, I just cannot understand how anyone could think that it was okay to hawk in the inside of a bus or plane. Outside is bad enough!!

      June 4, 2015
  5. I loved the night buses in South America, but I don’t think there is any way I’d be able to sit on a bus for 30 hours. I get antsy after 12 hours, even if I’ve spent most of them sleeping.

    June 4, 2015
    • The night buses in South America are amazing, aren’t they? We especially loved the ones in Peru…did not even feel a 24 hour trip between Cusco and Lima, it was so comfortable and relaxing. This 30 hour journey in China, on the other hand… :p

      June 4, 2015
      • I thought they were quite luxurious! I’ve heard that night buses in India are pretty good, but I’m too nervous to try them. Have you done other bus trips in China since?

        June 5, 2015
        • We took an overnight bus trip from Mumbai to Udaipur, and it was great for us. We had a double compartment (almost like a queen bed), with a tv playing Bollywood movies and a curtain for privacy. But I think, we got lucky, because I think it really depends on which bus company you go with. Definitely worth paying the highest price for transit in India, because it still just ends up being a few extra dollars for us. ๐Ÿ™‚

          We’ve only been to China that 1 time and spent 6 weeks traveling through the country from Beijing down to Laos. I’m sure it’s a very different place now! I’d love to return one day to see all the changes…

          June 5, 2015
  6. I can’t say I’ve had such a long journey yet, though I know I’ll have one sometime down the road with all the traveling I hope to do.

    June 4, 2015
    • I’d say a long bus journey is definitely in the cards for you, sometime in the future. I’d definitely recommend one in South America (Peru was the best for us), over one in China though, that’s for sure. ๐Ÿ™‚

      June 4, 2015
      • Ooh one in Peru does sound appealing. I’m trying to get together a trip around either Central or South America over my school’s winter break with some friends, so I’ll keep that in mind.

        June 6, 2015
        • Peru was the most affordable country we visited, as well as the one with the best food. Ceviche. Drool. Definitely worth a trip! ๐Ÿ™‚

          June 7, 2015
  7. Didn’t know that sleeper buses were a way to travel. Can’t remember ever hearing about them in the US but I might have missed it. Hope there was a good bathroom on board. ๐Ÿ™‚

    June 4, 2015
    • I didn’t know either, until we ended up on this one in China. They seem to be quite common in South America and other parts of Asia, but we don’t have them, here in Korea. Probably cuz the country is so small, so no bus trip is too long. And NO, there was no bathroom on board! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

      June 4, 2015
  8. I think the longest sleeper bus journey I’ve done was 11 hours (it was supposed to be 8- southeast Asian time is not the same!) ๐Ÿ˜€ it wasn’t too terrible- I took some Valium and mostly slept. Though I do remember being cold yet sweaty- perhaps a combination of excessive A/C and humidity. Yuck!

    June 5, 2015
    • Lol, yes, SE Asian time is a thing all it’s own. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But um yeah, cold, yet sweaty sounds terrible. I don’t know why they insist on blasting the AC so much in certain countries. Surely, that can’t be healthy?

      June 7, 2015

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