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How To Book And Survive The Vietnam Sleeper Bus

How To Book And Survive The Vietnam Sleeper Bus

The sleeper bus is one of the best ways to travel around Vietnam because it’s extremely efficient. There are numerous companies with prices ranging from $10-20 for an 8 hour journey. You can book sleeper buses online and the quality will depend on the type of bus you chose.

In this guide, we are going to show you everything you need to know about the Vietnam sleeper bus.

Our Vietnam Sleeper Bus Experience

Man laying down on a bus traveling  from Hanoi to Sapa Vietnam
Mark on a sleeper bus in Vietnam

We spent 27 days traveling through Vietnam in October 2018 as part of our 18 month trip around the world. During our time in Vietnam, we chose to primarily travel by sleeper bus. This saved us both time and money. Read more about us.

To make planning easy for you, we’re going to walk you through the best way to book, what to expect and lessons learned from our own personal experiences.

Why Travel By Sleeper Bus In Vietnam?

A bus station in Vietnam with customers and several buses
A typical bus stop in Vietnam

First let’s talk about traveling from one city to another. Typical modes of transport include plane, bus, train and private transfers. But the most popular mode of transport in Vietnam is the sleeper bus, especially for backpackers.

For those on a budget, a sleeper bus or sleeper train is a feasible option for moving between the major cities in Vietnam. Not just because of the cheap transport fare, but because the bus also saves a night of accommodation.

Some popular cities in Vietnam don’t have airports or train stations. This makes travel by bus the easier and more convenient option.

Look at Phong Nha for example.

If you choose to travel by sleeper bus, you will be dropped somewhere near your destination directly in town. But if you choose to travel by plane or train, you be arrive into Dong Hoi and then have to travel about 40km (about 25mi) to Phong Nha town.

Flights also tend to leave mid-day. When this is coupled with chaotic airport transfers (we’re talking 20 miles on the back of a moped with your backpack while weaving though traffic in Hanoi) and airport waiting times, too much time is lost from the travelers itinerary.

The Vietnam sleeper bus provides a cheap and easy alternative because it travels throughout the night. Taking the bus means no precious day light hours are lost.

But while a sleeper bus sounds like the perfect solution, it can be a hair raising experience with a whole host of cons to traveling this way. Let’s delve into some of those, shall we?

How To Book Overnight Buses In Vietnam

A typical schedule for a sleeper bus in Vietnam
Example of a Vietnam bus schedule

Depending on how you plan to travel through Vietnam, you may want to consider pre-booking your sleeper buses online. But you can also go the other route and wing it by planning your travels on the day.

We did both in Vietnam with mixed results. However, since we were traveling in October during the shoulder season, there was a lot of availability. If you are traveling in peak season from November to April, you might want to book ahead to guarantee your seats.

After booking several sleeper buses in numerous ways, we found the perfect combination to be booking a bus online the night before we needed transportation. But you should book farther out in busy season.

Read our experiences later in this guide to see which booking scenario would work better for you. We even found when booking online there’s no guarantee it will be a comfortable ride.

Booking sleeper buses in Vietnam can be a huge pain, especially if you do not have a lot of extra time to spare. One of the major problems is the exploitation of tourists.

Booking bus tickets is like buying toothpaste, it will be a different price every day. We found it to be unusual, infuriating and amusing all at the same time.

Here is how you can find a Vietnam sleeper bus:

Booking a sleeper bus online in advance is the easiest option. We always book with 12Go Asia because you can see photos of the bus you will travel on.

Sleeper bus options from Hanoi to Sapa with 12Go Asia
Photo courtesy of 12Go Asia

If this is your first time in Vietnam or you’re traveling solo, this is how we recommend finding your sleeper bus. You can also read bus company reviews and download an e-ticket on your phone for boarding.

We like booking online because you can typically select the quality of bus you would like to travel on. You can often find a luxury sleeper with AC, power sockets and a decent on-board toilet for under $15.

Just be sure to look at the photos and read the descriptions carefully because the bus listed first is a regular bus while the second option is a sleeper bus.

Here are pros and cons to booking online:

Pros

  • Peace of mind
  • Ability to choose your seat
  • Can read previous customer reviews
  • One set price point – no negotiation needed
  • Flexibility to choose any route and bus

Cons

  • Usually a more expensive option
  • Sometimes the bus doesn’t match the description
The Long Hotel in Tam Coc
A hotel in Tam Coc Vietnam

2. Book With Your Hostel Or Hotel

Another option for booking a sleeper bus in Vietnam is with your hostel or hotel. When you check in, they will often ask you if they can help book your onward travel.

Of course, they will take a cut for themselves but it does take away the onus on you. We had both good and bad luck with this option because it all boils down to unpredictability.

We found the price to be slightly higher than if you negotiated with a travel agency, but it’s way more convenient. If you think the price is too high, you can also stop at some of the hotels nearby to see if you can beat it.

The best advice we can give you is to expect that anything goes. Here are pros and cons to booking with your hotel:

Pros

  • Convenience

Cons

  • Don’t always know the type of bus
  • Limited bus options
  • Might need to negotiate
  • Prices fluctuate

3. Book With A Travel Agency In Town

The last and most unpredictable way to book a sleeper bus in Vietnam is with the travel agency in town. We found this option to be both cheap and expensive in different scenarios.

It really depends on who you get and on what day. The reality is that the difference in price may not seem like much to you, even though it could be to the tout.

After we purchased our tickets with a travel agency, we heard them sell tickets to the couple behind us for 250,000 VND ($10) more each for the exact same route. If you chose to go this way, you will need to negotiate.

Don’t take the first thing they say because it will be heavily overinflated. You also don’t need to be intimated by negotiating because they want your money just as much as you want the bus. But unfortunately, it’s a game you will have to play.

This is a great option if you have a fluid itinerary and prefer to travel just when you feel like leaving. The only other risk is in high season when there may not be any seats available.

Ideally, book a few days in advance to guarantee a seat and always ask for a legitimate receipt of purchase. Without a receipt, you might not be able to board the bus you paid for.

Here are pros and cons to booking with a travel agency:

Pros

  • Most flexible option
  • Could potentially get a good deal

Cons

  • Negotiation needed
  • You will probably over pay
  • Prices could be anything
  • Not always the best buses

What To Expect At Service Stations

Tourists walking through a service station in Vietnam
A service station in Vietnam with snacks and customers

Depending on the bus you chose, you may or may not have a toilet on board. For most of our trips, we did not have a toilet so the only option was the service station.

This was one of the hardest parts about traveling by sleeper bus in Vietnam. You don’t always know where and when the buses will stop for a break. And many of our drivers did not speak english.

The service stations are typically held inside a huge canteen area serving hot food, snacks and drinks. The toilets are usually found in the back or sometimes in separate outbuildings.

However, on of our not so pleasant journeys, we stopped at a service that had squat toilets with no separators. If you are not used to this, it’s a bit of a shock to the system.

Two squat toilets at a service station in Vietnam
Two squat toilets at a service station in Vietnam

But the Vietnam sleeper bus is an extraordinary place where men and women alike bond over the simplest of things like borrowing toilet roll or sharing hand sanitizer.

However, it’s not all bad because we also experienced a few very clean service stations. The bus should stop a few times so make the most of the toilet when you can because you don’t know when or if the bus will stop again. We experienced one bus that never stopped at all.

Travel Tip: Always bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer on a Vietnam sleeper bus.

The Road Situation

Tourists sleeping on a night bus
The tight quarters of the Vietnam sleeper bus

We can all put up with some horrible toilets when we needed. But safety is a genuine concern for many when considering sleeper buses as a way to travel through Vietnam. Safety is out of our control and being unsafe is not something we can just put up with.

On many of the routes, the distances can be relatively short but the road infrastructure is poor and the traffic will be heavy so it can take a much longer time than originally estimated.

Many of the roads tend to be one lane for each direction with no barriers on the sides or through the middle. Pot holes and missing sections of the road are extremely common which sometimes you will hit head on.

Your driver may be steady Eddy or you could end up with a Mario Andretti wannabe behind the wheel.

Traffic in cities like Hanoi is well documented. Pedestrians often play frogger to get over the road. But out on the highways, it’s a whole different ball game.

In Vietnam, the rules of the road seem to be the bigger, the better, the bruiser. Mopeds are forced to move over for cars to overtake them. Cars are in turn forced to move over to let buses and trucks past them. It’s an organized chaos that needs to be seen to be believed.

Our Terrifying Example

Passengers on a Vietnam sleeper bus
Passengers on a Vietnam night bus

You will typically see large trucks overtake cars that are trying to overtaking mopeds. But then all the mopeds, cars and buses are honking their horns like if they hit the horn enough times they will win the lottery and the buses begin to play a little game called chicken.

One of these loose cannons will swerve in at the last minute and we honestly had a few pretty close calls. Many of us looked at each other with a slightly terrified look on our faces.

This is one journey we still remember quite vividly.

The only major route to Sapa is along vomit inducing windy roads on a cliff edge, usually suffering under poor weather conditions. Wet, misty and windy weather cause rubble and gravel to blow on to the slick roads.

Now add in cars over taking mopeds and the bus overtaking the cars, on bends, with sheer drops to the side, in the mist, possibly at night, with a driver who thinks he’s racing the 24th hour at Le Mans. It’s a gamble.

This all sounds a bit dramatic, but we are happy to say we made it one piece.

Problems On The Sleeper Bus

Reclining seats on a bus in Vietnam
Leather seats with a pillow on a night bus in Vietnam

When you climb aboard a sleeper bus, emphasis on 50% of the title being sleeper, you may think you have a chance of getting a good nights sleep, but you don’t.

Especially if you’re a light sleeper, forget about it. The fortunate among you who can pass out at the click of your fingers, you might be ok and you’ll be the envy of everyone else on board.

Here are the problems you face on a Vietnam sleeper bus:

  • Leg room – Anyone over 5 feet won’t have enough room to stretch out fully so for those of you who are taller, it will be a tight fit.
  • The driving – You can expect sudden sharp movements as the bus swerves at speed with constant horn blowing.
  • Passenger etiquette – Sometimes this is non existent. We ran into a few loud and rude people who didn’t care if anyone else got some sleep.
  • Random stops – The bus can and will stop at almost any given point. Sometimes in the middle of the night the lights come on and everyone flies off for a pit stop. We also had one bus where our driver stopped to deliver a package.
View of a large glass window at the front of a bus
A large front window on a Vietnam sleeper bus

Sleeper Bus Seats

Most sleeper buses in Vietnam are half reclined bed pods and they are set up in 3 columns of bunk beds. You can also find VIP limousine busses which offer more space for each passenger with two rows instead of three.

But on a typical bus, each of the three columns have roughly 6 sets of bunk beds. So we estimate there can be around 36 passengers on board at one time.

The bunk beds are located floor level up to shoulder height. Each bed has a compact storage area nestled at the feet and a small hand rail that can help you get in and out. The hand rail also serves to help keep you in place as you sleep.

The best seat on the bus is down to individual taste. Here is what you can expect on each level of the Vietnam sleeper bus:

  • The central column benefits from center of gravity so there will be less movement with momentum around corners. However, you lose out on the views. There are also bunks on either side of you so it can be very disrupting as people move around.
  • The bottom bunk has a bit more privacy because it’s so low down that it’s hard for people walking down the aisles to see or bother you. In addition, it would be harder for people to steal anything from the bottom sleepers as it’s harder to get down to.
  • The top bunks have the best views of the engrossing Vietnamese countryside and the carnage unfolding which means you will feel the corners more up top. Also, the columns against the windows feel a little less exposed than the central column. The views sold it for us and we tried to grab top bunks against the windows when possible.

Travel Tip: If you are not good with motion sickness, you should avoid the top bunks.

Vietnam Sleeper Bus Do’s

A small brown bag filled with snacks
A small snack bag handed to us on our Sapa bus

Here are a few tips you should think about before boarding your sleeper bus:

  • Make sure to wear comfy clothes when you travel to get the best night sleep.
  • Take a warm hoodie in case the AC is working full force. If the AC is not running, you should be comfortable enough with just the blanket and pillow you are provided.
  • Wear a pair of socks. You have to take your shoes off before you get on the bus and put them in a plastic bag. Nobody wants to smell your feet.
  • Pack a small bag to take on board with you. In this bag include all of your valuable items such as passport, phone, wallet and laptop. The rest of your gear will go in the hold underneath the sleeper bus.
  • Keep your belongings as safe as possible. Unfortunately, robbery is quite prevalent in Vietnam so use common sense and do what you can to prevent it. Wrap your bag around your arm under your blanket or stuff it where your feet are to block it in.
  • Bring earplugs and an eye mask. This will help to drown out some of the noise and light to help you get a better night sleep.
  • Remember your essential items. This includes extra water, snacks, toilet roll, wet wipes and hand sanitizer. You will easily make some friends if you are the hero on board with these goodies.
  • Plan your entertainment before you leave your hotel and WIFI access. If you need to download some Netflix episodes, be proactive. Charge all your devices fully and don’t forget a book. You might not have charging points so plan for the unexpected.

Last but not least, you can expect to share the bus with locals if you haven’t booked online in advance, they are usually very friendly and may even get into bed with you… keep reading for that adventure.

Vietnam Sleeper Bus Don’ts

Exterior view of a sleeper bus in Phong Nha Vietnam
Our sleeper bus on the way to Phong Nha

While you don’t always know what to expect on a sleeper bus, here are a few important things to keep in mind so you can have the best experience possible:

  • Don’t leave your valuables laying around on your bunk. Sounds simple enough but we saw it too often and you are setting yourself up for an incident.
  • Don’t forget to look at your journey length and bring enough snacks and water to sustain the trip. You might not always have access to food at stops.
  • Don’t hang around upon arrival. There will be people trying to sell you overpriced souvenirs, plus taxi’s will exploit tired travelers. Have an idea about where you need to go and how to get there before you arrive to your final destination.
  • If it’s low season, don’t book a hotel in advance. You can score incredibly cheap deals on the day. Clear away from the bus drop off and scout out some good deals in the area.
  • Don’t assume that just because it’s called a sleeper bus, it means they only run through the night. We took a few early morning to mid afternoon sleeper buses because they were cheaper and more convenient, plus we got a nap to sustain us for the day.
  • Don’t forget to check trains and flights to see how they compare. The sleeper bus may not be your best option depending on your destination.
  • Don’t worry about booking buses, there’s always someone who wants to help. If the bus station agency says there aren’t any tickets left, that might just be the tourist bus. Check with your hotel as they could get you onto a local bus going the same way.
  • Don’t forget to write your next destination down on a piece of paper. This way you can hand it to a taxi driver when you arrive.

And most importantly, don’t plan on leaving or arriving when the ticket says you will. Be flexible and ready for anything.

Our Sleeper Bus Route

We chose to travel by bus throughout our whole month stay in Vietnam. The sleeper bus fit our budget strategy and we were looking for authentic adventure.

But here’s something important to remember if you are still on the fence. If you have a backpack or suitcase larger than carry on size, that dirt cheap flight becomes not so cheap anymore. Thank you extra baggage fees.

Let’s check out our route through northern and central Vietnam. We would love to have carried on into the south, but we had used up our days on our visa.

Here are the cities we traveled to and from by sleeper bus in Vietnam:

  • Hanoi to Sapa
  • Sapa and Halong Bay
  • Halong Bay to Tam Coc
  • Tam Coc to Phong Nha
  • Phong Nha to Hue

We hired mopeds and drove over the Hai Van Pass which we highly recommend, but all other travel was by sleeper bus.

Before traveling to Vietnam, we thoroughly researched sleeper buses and concluded that it seemed to be a mixed bag of reviews. We couldn’t help but instantly notice the sleeper buses were incredibly cheap.

Our decision was based purely on financial and convenience factors. We quickly learned there was a difference between the tourist and the local sleeper bus.

1. Hanoi To Sapa

Hectic traffic in Hanoi Vietnam with numerous motorbikes
Hectic traffic in Hanoi

We were excited about embarking upon our first experience on a sleeper bus in Vietnam. Mainly, just because we were looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.

We pre-booked tickets for the 7:00am-1:00pm journey online before arriving in Vietnam from Taiwan.

We knew that we’d pay more by doing it this way but we didn’t know what to expect. It felt like the safe option. But it turns out there are so many places to book a bus in Hanoi.

Further Reading: Best things to do in Hanoi

Our first sleeper bus was huge and immaculately clean. We started to wonder why we just read all those bad reviews.

The sleeping pods were pretty spacious and spread out, there was a clean toilet on board, we received a pillow and blanket upon entry, the driver looked smart and a friendly English speaking guide kept us updated throughout the 6 hour drive.

Exterior view of Sun Plaza the Sapa station
Exterior view of Sapa Station in Vietnam

The only bad part of our journey were the winding roads as we drew closer to Sapa. It’s very similar to traveling from Chiang Mai to Pai in Thailand. But fortunately, the weather held off for us.

This was the first sleeper bus experience we had in Vietnam and it was great. Oh how we lulled ourselves into a false sense of luxury.

Being organized and booking the nice luxury tourist bus in advance is worth it, although it will cost more. In our opinion it’s more than worth the extra few dollars for added comfort and peace of mind.

Further Reading: Best things to do in Sapa, Vietnam

2. Sapa To Halong Bay

Beautiful rolling hills in Sapa littered with waterlogged rice paddies
The stunning hills and rice paddies of Sapa

We arrived into Sapa and sat in a cloud of mist for 2 days. We added in a few extra days so we could do a home stay and trek with the Black Ha Mong tribe when the weather got better.

The most common route is to head back to Hanoi and continue to Ha Long Bay. However, the owner of the hotel we stayed at in Sapa told us she could sort out a sleeper bus to Ha Long Bay for us.

We were booked onto an 8:00pm-6:00am bus and she told us that we had to change in Lao Cao. Although we knew she would pocket some money herself, she still gave us a fair price and it was cheaper than the tourist bus.

Not What We Expected

Two junk boats floating in Ha Long Bay
Two junk boats sailing in Ha Long Bay

We got picked up by some random guy in a bright orange 4×4 pickup truck who spoke no English. He drove us to the bus station in Sapa in absolute silence. We arrived and he just pointed at a bus that said Ha Long. Okay…

So we got on the bus, but there was literally not one other person on the bus. The guy that dropped us off was talking to the bus driver outside and we went to double check this was the right bus.

We also asked about the change in Lao Cao. The driver definitely wasn’t filling us with confidence, but he just kept saying “Ha Long, Ha Long”. Looks like we’re not changing in Lao Cao then?

Back on the bus we decided to choose our seats. And as soon as we spotted it, our eyes lit up. At the back of the bus, there was a solid shelf the full width of the bus with tons of blankets and pillows set up all over it.

Result! We both ran to the back and vaulted up to the king size bed just for us. Or so we thought…

Don’t Have Eyes Bigger Than Your Belly

Man laying in a sleeper bus in Vietnam
Mark getting cozy in the back of a local sleeper bus

We got set up with Netflix and just before the bus departed, a few locals got on. At least we weren’t by ourselves but we realized we must be on a locals bus, not a tourist bus. No wonder it was so cheap.

As soon as the bus hit the windy roads, we knew we’d made an error. The driver thought he was in the Monaco Grand Prix and was not hanging around.

On every corner we would literally slide 2 meters all the way to the left and then back to the right. It was fun at first but the novelty soon wore off as the nausea kicked in. The weather was wet and misty, plus it was pitch black. It’s strange leaving your well being up to someone you don’t know.

The driver also had a soft spot for the horn. He spent more time leaning on the wretched thing than not. After midnight, we tried to get some sleep. The bus had filled up a bit and we were still the only tourists on board.

After maybe an hour of dozing on and off between aggressive horn pumps, the bus stopped on the side of the highway. A local guy got on, decided he doesn’t want to go in one of the empty sleeping pods. Oh no, he wants to join us up in the back.

We tried to tell him there were beds free but he was having none of it. Looks like it’s a cosy, personal-space-invading-stranger bed share for the rest of the ride.

Travel Tip: Don’t go for the bed in the back unless you are comfortable with laying next to complete strangers.

Getting Dropped Off In The Street

Stunning hills and a small pond in Tam Coc
A beautiful valley in Ninh Binh

The whole point of an the overnight sleeper bus is that it replaces your accommodation for the night. You typically arrive early into the next city and chill in a café while you wait for your hotel room to open up for that night, or go ahead and check right in.

We were told we would arrive at 6:00am. We had set our alarm for 5:30am to give us chance to get sorted before arrival. However at 3:00am, we were aggressively shaken awake and told we had arrived.

What do we mean by aggressively? We mean the driver hitting our legs and shaking us. No joke.

The bus at this point was at double its optimum capacity. There were bodies strewn all over the aisles and we were standing on random arms or legs as we got off.

Outside is pitch black. Hang on, where are we? Well, we’re not in a bus station. Instead we’re just parked up on a residential street somewhere in Ha Long city. Our bags are thrown off and the bus leaves. Cool.

We checked the maps app and saw we were about 5 miles away from Ha Long Bay, where the cruise boats leave. Ha Long is a pretty big place.

Just then, a local guy comes out of the building we were dropped at. He owns a hotel including a free room for $10. We bartered this down to $7 since we only needed a place for a few hours sleep.

But first we assessed the situation and confirmed that it was actually a hotel. This is where common sense really prevails. If it looks dodgy, walk away. Everything seemed fine so we took him up on the offer because it was 3:00am after all.

Travel Tip: There is a considerable difference between tourist and local buses. Local buses will stop anywhere to pick people up and they will stop anywhere in a city to drop you off. At any time. And no one speaks English. Clarify details with whoever books your bus, but be prepared for anything and use your common sense.

Further Reading: How to book the best Halong Bay cruise

3. Ha Long Bay To Tam Coc

Man and woman on a Ha Long Bay Cruise in Vietnam
Mark and Kristen on a Ha Long Bay cruie

After our Ha Long Bay cruise we were destined for Tam Coc in the Ninh Binh Province. We planned to go into Ha Long city to the bus station to get a bus to Hanoi and then on to Tam Coc.

However, the operators of the cruise told us there was a bus from the pier that goes direct to Tam Coc and they kindly booked us onto that option. We were glad to avoid going back to Hanoi and then down to Tam Coc.

The bus was 2 hours late setting off. When it did, we knew we were in for a ride because the driver thought he was in a bumper car at the fairground.

How To Strike Fear Into Tourists

Woman sitting on the edge of a railing  in Tam Coc Vietnam
Kristen enjoying the amazing views in Ninh Binh

What we have to remember here is that the bigger the vehicle, the more right of way you have in Vietnam. The bus we were on had it’s gas maxed out and was honking its horn at every car, moped and blade of grass it passed. It was on the overtake of a jeep, in the lane for oncoming traffic.

At the same time a 2 ton 8 wheel industrial truck was flying up the other side towards us. There were people on the bus grabbing the handles on the beds and closing their eyes.

Some were muttering under their breath. Others were laughing nervously and raising eyebrows at each other. Maybe the best thing to do was just not look? The locals are used to driving like this so we’ll be fine, right?

The truck, bus, van and 2 mopeds somehow managed to maneuver within inches of each other, close enough to feel the shudder as the air between the huge entities created a vacuum.

The mopeds had been run off the road and it sounded like every single vehicle involved had duct taped their horns down. Similar incidents occurred on this 4 hour journey, but none as dramatic. Our resting heart rates had surged at times, but we made it unscathed.

The roads in Vietnam are mental. Drivers of buses know they’re the king of those roads. There will be more than a few near misses. However, this is their domain and they know how to drive in their own country.

Further Reading: Best things to do in Ninh Binh

4. Tam Coc To Phong Nha

Main entrance to Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park
Phong Nha-Ke bang national park

To get from Tam Coc to Phong Nha by train you’d have to get off at Dong Hoi and then take a 1 hour taxi or mini bus to Phong Nha. This route goes back on yourself geographically, which we just can’t deal with.

We also wanted the convenience of one mode of transportation and the sleeper bus is the only direct way into cave town.

This was an overnight sleeper bus scheduled to arrive into town at 4:00am. The difference with this service was that the bus company provided a hostel free of charge for you to crash in on arrival.

We booked directly at the bus station in Tam Coc. We asked for the price one day, then went in the next day and were told a much cheaper price. Remember it depends who you get and on what day.

Further Reading: Best things to do in Phong Nha

Overbooking

The problem with our bus this time was that the tour office had overbooked the available seats. The sleeper bus didn’t originate in Tam Coc and it arrived with a lot of beds already taken.

There was a group nearby saying that they’d had enough and kept being told different information. We weren’t sure if we would be able to get on and this was the last bus of the night.

We’re pretty laid back and adaptable people, but we started getting frustrated as the atmosphere became bad tempered.

We channeled our frustration and observed what was going on. We made sure we positioned ourselves next to the ticket guy so as soon as he called that the bus had arrived, we were first to get on board.

There were around 10 beds free with at least 15 people trying to get on. Some people started to get extremely frustrated. The group we overheard talking never made it on the bus. They had no choice but to stay in Tam Coc for another night.

Once on board we asked a group who were already on what was happening. They told us that more people got on than were supposed to at Ninh Binh. Apparently, this chaos was a continuing occurrence.

A Journey Without Incident

Bunk beds from a cheap hostel in Vietnam
The room at our feee hostel

To keep this a non biased recollection, the bus journey itself was absolutely brilliant. The driver didn’t think he was trying out for NASCAR and had much less of an affinity with the horn.

Much to everyone’s relief, we had arrived having had a few hours of decent sleep after a long drive without incident. But all good things come to an end, don’t they?

Everyone on the bus sleepily started to file into the hostel that we parked up outside and it looked nice. We assumed everyone else had the bus and free hostel combo. We walked in, queued for check in and couldn’t wait to get into a bed.

When we got to the desk, the guy asked if we’d made a reservation and we explained that we were told there was a free hostel. The guy laughed at us and pointed to the other side of the street. Sweet.

Some information at any point would have been lovely. We would have appreciated knowing the bus would arrive somewhere else to where we would be staying.

We found the other free hostel after a short walk in the rain. It’s safe to say this wasn’t the nicest place we stayed in Vietnam.

Travel Tip: Just because you have a ticket, doesn’t mean you will be guaranteed to get onboard. Be organized and punctual. Observe and act accordingly. You might also need a crystal ball.

5. Phong Nha To Hue

Stalactites and stalagmites in Paradise Cave in Phong Nha

Our final sleeper bus in Vietnam was a rather horrendous journey. However, this time it was self inflicted as we’d been out partying late in Phong Nha and our bus left at 6:00am. It was a case of get on board, pass out and wake up in Hue.

There was a blanket on an unused pod so Kristen grabbed it as there was no blanket on her seat that she chose for the hangover journey. Half way through the trip, a man aggressively ripped the blanket out from underneath Kristen while she was asleep.

When Kristen obviously shot up awake, Mark did too and the guy just grunted at us both and walked off. This is absolutely typical behavior of the people working on these buses. It can be bang out of order.

The rest of the journey was without incident and we arrived into Hue on time. Just one small action from an idiot that didn’t need to happen made it another sleeper bus in Vietnam with a story to tell.

So don’t take any blankets on other beds. Be warned that sometimes the guys working aren’t the nicest.

Further Reading: How to visit the abandoned water park in Hue

In Conclusion

A Vietnam sleeper bus in Hanoi

Is the Vietnam sleeper bus worth it?

Our stories don’t necessarily mean that you will have any of the same issues. We hope you can take our experiences and make sure they don’t happen to you.

The sleeper bus is an integral aspect of tourism in Vietnam, both for the backpacker and local alike. The problem is the constantly growing number of tourists with an infrastructure that can’t cope.

So yes, the sleeper bus in Vietnam is worth it, but there are things that can definitely be improved. We think you should try at least one sleeper bus when you are visiting Vietnam because who knows, you might end up with your own story to tell.

Here is a recent Reddit feed with comments about taking the Vietnam sleeper bus if you want to read some more stories. Or you can book your own sleeper bus adventure here.

Many sleeper buses claim to have air conditioning, free water, wifi, toilets, privacy curtains and free pillows or blankets. But we found this to not always be the case. If you have a long journey, pack what you need to be comfortable incase it’s not provided.

Interactive Map With Routes

The interactive map below shows the exact routes we took in Vietnam. We hope this helps you envisage what you can expect when you climb aboard for your own adventures.

Popular Vietnam Guides

More Vietnam Guides

Want more Vietnam content? Head over to our Vietnam Travel Guides to see example itineraries, tips about Vietnam and popular city guides.


We hope our guide helps you prepare for your adventure on the sleeper bus in Vietnam!

Please let us know if have any questions about taking the overnight bus in Vietnam or if you need any help planning your sleeper bus route. We would love to hear your stories below!

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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