If you’re traveling Southeast Asia on a budget, you are going to be spending a lot of time on buses. Some people think buses are evil, but the bus industry has evolved in Southeast Asia and is now a reliable, safe and cheap mode of transportation. Think of it this way: you get to see more of the country (the best way to experience a new place!) and your wallet is happy. No worries, by the end of your trip you will be a bus pro! Here are a few tips on surviving bus travel in Southeast Asia.
Traveling by bus in Nepal back in 2008 was a bit different. I remember being on the roof of the bus more often than to be inside. I don't know if theses rules are changed or remain the same but it was a lot of fun...
Traveling by Bus in Asia
From rattling 'chicken buses' to luxurious coaches with Wi-Fi, taking buses in Asia is always an adventure. Even with an abundance of low-cost airlines, riding a long-haul bus is usually the best way to cover a lot of ground in Asian countries.
Every serious traveler in Asia has more than a few tales of nightmarish, 14-hour bus journeys. Staying safe and sane on those long buses in Asia requires a little experience and a whole lot of patience.
The method of booking bus tickets varies from place to place. The safest bet is always to book long-haul buses at least a day in advance. Keep your ticket and receipt; lost tickets are rarely reimbursed. You can usually book transportation in travel offices and at reception desks for an added commission. Otherwise, make your own way to the station to book your own passage.
On many buses in Asia, you will simply pay once the bus is already underway. An assistant will come around and collect money based on how far you are riding. When paying your fare on the bus, don't expect the driver to have change for large banknotes. Always try to keep some small change handy for transportation in Asia.
Buses in Asia are rarely—if ever—considered 'full.' You can actually hail passing buses on roads by lifting your hand and then pointing to the ground in front of you with palm turn down. You'll only be charged for the distance traveled, regardless of whether you get a real seat or not. Don't linger or try to speak to the driver beyond just asking the final destination; holding up transportation is considered extremely bad form!
For certain cities in Asia, we recommend you to book your bus ticket with 12Go, really easy to use and you will be sure to not getting scam.
Traveling by Train in Asia
No turbulence, no traffic jams and none of the weird smells that come with bus rides: Boarding a train can actually be a joyful way to travel. Of course, no mode of transportation is perfect. Some people adore riding trains; others avoid them. Whether or not a train proves the best way for you to get to your next destination depends entirely on the itinerary, the needs of each passenger and personal preferences.
It will also depend of the country that you are traveling to, back in 2008 I was backpacking in India for the first time and I did not know that I needed to reserve my ticket at least 3 days before in the order to get a proper seat in the train. I spent 14 hours sitting on the floor... If you ever travel to India do not expect your train to arrive on time, mine always got delay.
Suggested t train journeys across Asia:
Jungle Train, Malaysia
Eastern & Oriental Express
Dhaka to Sreemangal, Bangladesh
Air Travel in Asia
My least favorite way to get around Asia (you don’t see nearly as much from a plane window as you do on the train but sometimes you can get incredible deals), air travel is still often necessary in Asia, and sometimes a better option. For example if you intend to visit India from Malaysia, is better to book a cheap flight with Jetradar from one of their connecting cities in Europe than to get stuck paying for a premium airline on the same route.