In a decade of living in the Land of Smiles, I’ve taken a night bus in Thailand a number of times. They’re convenient as you can sleep while traveling, traffic is far less so travel times are often shorter and, if you need to be in a particular Thai city early in the morning, they can save on the cost of a night in a hotel.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists and backpackers take night buses all over Thailand every year. Most find them to be very safe, while others do have some problems. That’s why, if you are planning on taking a night bus in Thailand during your next trip, make sure you follow these quick tips and you’re much less likely to suffer any ill effects..
Don’t put your valuables in the bus hold – While some tourists and backpackers will just throw their bag in the under-the-bus hold and not worry about what’s in it, you’re much more likely to have your valuables stolen if you do.
Instead, make sure any electronics, jewelry (even costume jewelry), money, travelers checks, credit cards and any other valuable-to-you item is in the bag you plan on having with you on the bus. That way, if someone rifles through your bag at one of the stops along the way, or walks off with your bag by accident (or otherwise), you won’t be as stressed if all your valuables are in your carry-on.
Don’t put your bag in the overhead rack – When I travel on any bus in Thailand, whether it’s a night bus or just a regular day coach, I never put my bag in the overhead rack. That’s because it’s far easier for someone to steal from you if your bag is meters away. After all, nobody else on the bus knows whose bag is whose, so they’re not likely to challenge someone going through yours while you’re sleeping.
I always make sure I take a small enough carry-on bag that it can easily be kept on the seat beside me. That way, if I plan on sleeping, I just cover up my bag with a sweater or a pillow, if I bring one, and use it as a body or head rest. Doing that makes it almost impossible for anyone to steal from me while I’m asleep.
Bring earplugs or headphones – One of the perils of traveling in a night bus or any bus in Thailand are the movies they play during any journey over two hours and, yes, they play them loudly.
If you’re not interested in watching a movie while you travel, (they are usually American or British movies), bring earplugs if you plan on sleeping or reading, or headphones if you want to listen to your own music or watch a movie on your tablet.
Bring a sweatshirt or blanket – On many bus journeys around Thailand, the air conditioning will be cranked high from the minute you walk on till the minute you get off. In the dead of night, even in Thailand, that can mean you spend hours freezing to death. Always travel with a sweatshirt, a sweater or a fleece mini blanket (you can buy them for less than $4 at most Thai supermarkets). Some VIP buses do provide clean, laundered blankets. Others do not. That’s why you need to plan ahead.
Make sure you know which bus is yours – Night buses in Thailand stop every two to three hours for bathroom breaks or to get drinks or snacks at convenience stores and gas stations. When you get off yours, make sure you know exactly what it looks like, or take notice of any signs or numbers on the front of the bus, as you don’t want to end up getting back on the wrong bus.
Many night buses do have flamboyant designs on the sides, so they can be easy to distinguish from others. If yours doesn’t, think of another way, as you cannot count on the bus staying in the same parking spot they stopped at when you get off. In fact, they often move.
Find out how many minutes each stop is – If you travel on a private VIP bus, they will often do a head count before they leave any convenience store or gas station to make sure everyone is on the bus. The public buses don’t always do that. They just drive off.
That’s why, if you don’t speak Thai and it’s not announced in English, you should first ask someone on your bus who does speak English how many minutes the bus will stop for. It’s usually 10-15 minutes, but you need to be sure. After all, finding yourself stuck at a gas station in the middle of jungle in Isaan isn’t going to do much towards you having a nice vacation.
Don’t drink alcohol – Athough you’re not supposed to drink alcohol on Thai buses, I have seen some western tourists do so. To that I can only say, “Don’t”. After all, how safe do you think you and your belongings are likely to stay if you’re too drunk to know what’s going on around you.
Don’t drink too much liquid – While on the subject of not drinking, that goes for being careful about how much of any liquid you drink. That’s because Thai night buses stop sporadically and, while there is usually a toilet on many Thai buses, they’re rarely clean enough to be anything you’d want to use. Drink enough to keep you hydrated, but not enough that you’re desperate to use the bathroom 10 minutes after your bus leaves the convenience store. You can always catch up on your liquid quota once you reach your destination.
Don’t lose your ticket – While things in Thailand can be quite lax, it’s always recommended you keep your bus ticket safe. That’s because, more and more nowadays, Thai bus drivers are asking you to present your bus ticket before they’ll relinquish your luggage as it’s a way to help ensure passengers’ belongings stay safe. You don’t want the hassle of arguing with a Thai bus driver when he doesn’t speak English and you barely speak Thai. If you don’t lose your ticket, you won’t have that problem.
Night buses do crash in Thailand
Finally, while the actual sitting on night buses in Thailand is usually a safe experience, even for women, night buses do crash in Thailand relatively often.
That’s why you need to make sure you know where each emergency exit is in relation to your seat just in case an accident does happen. Particularly at night, you’re much more likely to be able to get out of an overturned bus if you know which direction you should be heading in.