It’s 5 pm. I’m buried several metres underground, beads of sweat rolling down my forehead as I am crushed by millions of other miserable sods. Somewhere nearby, a mother hushes her wailing child, drowning out the tinny overhead announcements. A bearded man whispers sweet nothings into his 5th can of K cider this afternoon. I finish flicking aimlessly through the mottled pages of yesterday’s Evening Standard, just in time for the carriage doors to open and vomit me out into the stuffy tunnel air, into the angry mob of morning commuters navigating the platforms. Ahh, London Underground – how I’ve missed it. No matter how hectic the tube gets during rush hour, there is something comforting about its regularity: the familiar feeling of bodies pressed up against you, the sprint to a carriage before the doors close, trying to remain upright as the train lurches along the tracks. Brits (Londoners in particular) are known for their complaints, the brunt of which are aimed at transport and the weather, but after 2 months spent travelling in Southeast Asia, I have come to truly appreciate the value of reliable transport. I feel invincible as I tap my Oyster card boarding the bus home, and shudder at the memories of the buses, motorbikes, boats and trains I used to get around Asia – all of which I have reviewed below.
SINGAPORE’s well developed metro system was the closest thing to the northern line that SE Asia had to offer. Being both extremely clean and easy to navigate (thanks to the availability of Citymapper in this region), I was seriously impressed, and perhaps a little disappointed that I was only staying just over 24 hours here … 9/10.
My VIETNAMESE sleeper bus experience is admittedly tainted – unfortunately, I was suffering from the first of many bouts of food poisoning and didn’t sleep a wink. Although the buses here tend to be more organised, the seats are a hybrid between a coach seat and a sun lounger, the end result being a rigid structure that isn’t all that comfortable… To add to my traumatic journey, upon arriving in the middle of Phong Na national park at 5am, our homestay host had forgotten to set his alarm, forcing us to walk in the pitch dark. For the first time that day, I was metaphorically shitting myself from fear, rather than due to some dodgy fresh spring rolls. Needless to say, my memories of Vietnam’s transport systems aren’t the fondest… 5/10
The one overnight bus I took in CAMBODIA was relatively unremarkable, although the driver did forget to wake us up and dropped us several kilometres away from our intended destination. Nothing major. The ferries, however, are significantly less modern than those I experienced elsewhere, closer in style to Viking longboats than the speedboats normally used to transport tourists. There is no formal and nowhere to store your luggage, but I can vouch that they will get you safely to your next island, even if you do spend the entire boat trip fearing for your life… 6/10
LAOS’ sleeper buses were surprisingly comfortable, perhaps rivaling some of the hostel beds we slept in. Not much more than rows of mattresses, the buses offered far more suitable sleeping option than Vietnam’s rigid chair-beds and one bus even offered delivered ‘room service’: a polystyrene container of one of my favourite dishes, fried rice. Snuggled up with an adorable smurf-themed duvet and pillow (picture attached), I had one of my best night’s sleeps yet, although I can attribute a large part of this to the fact that I was travelling with an abnormally small friend of mine, meaning the bed we had to share felt reasonably spacious. If you are travelling alone, you will almost certainly find yourself up close and personal with a complete stranger, though the narrow ‘doubles’ are barely more than a fat-man’s single mattress, so prepare to get friendly. It’s safe to say, these buses are not made for people 6 ft or above… 7/10
Being the most touristy of all of the places I visited, I had high hopes for THAILAND’s transport systems. Our overnight bus from Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand was little more than a coach, the seats reclining only slightly further than normal. There was very little communication from the travel company, who dropped us off at a random roadside restaurant at 3am, without any indication of when our next bus would arrive. This was a common theme throughout my travels, with long journeys being divided into several smaller trips, which you are shepherded between with very little information; the important thing to remember, as disorganised as the system may seem, is that you will get from A to B… eventually! It was in Thailand that I experienced my first overnight boat; I hope that it was my last. The setup was promising: a large wooden ferry lined with double mattresses and bunk beds, it felt like a huge communal sleepover and perhaps might’ve been quite enjoyable had it not been for the storm that had been brewing all day. By the time we boarded, there was a lightning storm on the horizon, but the boat set out into the choppy waters regardless. It is difficult not to panic when your boat feels as though it may topple over at any point, and the sensation of being gently rocked to sleep by the open waters quickly subsided; I should apologise to the stranger next to me, wherever he may be, for repeatedly whacking into him as a particularly powerful wave thrusted the boat sideways… 4/10.
The overnight buses in MYANMAR run on their own schedule, especially during rainy seasons when the roads are subject to severe flooding and your ride may be more than 2 hours late. The bus itself is not unbearable, especially as the sun begins to rise and you get the most insane views of the Burmese countryside. If you can bear 7 hours of rickety railroad and hard seating, the train between Hsipaw and Pyin Oo Lwin also offers stunning scenery, highlighted by the Gokteik Viaduct. For just 1200 MMK (less than $1US), you can have all the thrill and excitement of your favourite theme park ride at just a fraction of the price! The open windows combined with the speed of the train provide natural air conditioning. Of course, if you are averse to the authentic experience of being whipped in the face by the occasional branch, I suggest you take an aisle seat, or perhaps the more luxurious taxi option… 6/10.
Despite my complaining, I’d happily take all of those sleeper buses again if it meant I could still be travelling. It’s nice to be back but I’m already bored and planning my next great adventure. To top it all off, my car broke down this weekend, meaning I now have to get public transport everywhere. Where I live is quite well connected, so this isn’t too much hassle; I trust that TFL will get me from A to B relatively unscathed, though I hope train delays don’t make me late during my first week in a full-time job. My only grievance is that the Oyster card travel cap for a single day has risen to £10.10, at least double the price of any transport I took in Asia… sort it out Boris.