Browsing Category: Transportation

An Ode to the Asian Night Bus

An Ode to the Asian Night Bus

There’s nothing like an Asian night bus to make you think of your own mortality,

The stained curtains swing side to side in tune to the curves as we go around again.

I have The xx on repeat, thinking about all of life’s little defeats and how I got here.

The driver is going 80 on a hairpin turn, the wheels hugging the road just slightly so,

Will this be the last thing I see before I go?

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10 hours on a sleeper bus = my living hell

I hate to be one of those travel writers that resorts to rants and complaining, because even though long-term travel can be frustrating at times, when you look at the big picture, my life experiences at the moment are pretty damn good. However, I think it’s always beneficial to document the good, the bad, and the ugly, and my last 15 hours have been pretty hilarious, at least now in retrospect, so I thought I would share a story of my first sleeper bus experience in Asia.

It should come as no surprise that for sleeper buses in Asia, being a petite person is highly desirable. I love my lanky height, yet this was the first time I genuinely wished I was a foot shorter – I’m almost 5’10. I can’t even imagine what a 6’4 guy would go through on one of these buses.

I apologize ahead of time for the lack of pictures, at the time of this story I was miserable, sleep-deprived and in no mood to rummage through my pack for a camera, but the story still deserves to be told.

We bought the luxurious “hotel” bus in Sihanoukville for the 10 hour ride to Siem Reap, a whole 2 extra dollars than the standard night bus. When we were picked up from the store, we were crammed into a little van with more people than there were seats, and all of our luggage was surrounding us, taking up what little oxygen was left inside the vehicle.

When we arrived at the actual “hotel” bus, we knew that we had been slightly duped with what the transportation store had advertised to us. We were supposed to get extra amenities for the slightly higher price, including wi-fi, free water, a bathroom on board. There were none of these. The key selling point for the luxurious bus was that you had an actual bed to sleep on for the ride and not just a reclining seat.

When I stepped into the cramped bus aisle I could tell that I already regretted not just getting the reclining seats, if anything just for the leg room. The “beds” were less than the width of a single bed for two people, and a little over 5 feet long. I also had to carry my duffle with me into this sleeping space because it holds all of my valuables.

I’ve never really had an issue with claustrophobia, but I was so closed in and cramped I actually felt myself becoming more and more claustrophobic by the second. I couldn’t curl up my legs because then they would float over to Laura’s side of the single bed. I kind of just had to have them straight legged and extremely elevated the whole time for them to fit into the space, at times letting them curl when Laura was asleep and she wouldn’t notice me creeping into her space.

I’m not a person who gets homesick easily, I tend to try and make the best of any situation in which I find myself, and I’m a chameleon when it comes to new transitions. Spending 10 hours in this tiny space was the first time I genuinely wished with my whole heart to be home, and no longer on the road. I felt myself let out a shudder and a few tears in the pitch black, the first time I’ve cried in a long time, until I realized how pointless my tears were, I just had to bite the bullet to get to the other side of the bus ride. I took a deep breath and turned up my iPod to tune out the uneasiness I felt through my whole body.

I’m usually fine with dreaded travel times, I actually love tuning out with my music, my writing, my thoughts. But I felt helpless on the bus, unable to even move an inch, my legs spasming often from being in such a position. It was the bumpiest bus ride I’ve had in my life, it felt like the bus was going to tip over during some stretches it was so unstable.

Things took a turn for the worse when I realized, even by staying dehydrated as much as I could from the get-go, that I had to use the bathroom a few hours in, and yet there was the small problem of no toilet on the bus. At about 1am the bus stopped so the drivers could pee on the side of the road, I leapt at the chance. They didn’t speak any English, but I think they could tell from my desperation what it was I needed. It was pouring down rain, lightning in the sky, I had to run over some rough rocks in the pitch black completely bare foot to find a bush (we had to take off our shoes to get on the bus), all the while the three drivers were watching me in the darkness.

I was terrified the whole time that the bus would pull away and I would be stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the night in rural Cambodia. I ran back to the bus, the driver laughing at my situation, I laughed too, understanding how ridiculous I must seem to these Cambodian men, and laughing at the bad luck I seem to get myself into sometimes. I realized when I got back onto the bus that I had cut open my foot during my scramble in the dark Cambodian wilderness, my disinfectant of course was in my backpack at the bottom of the bus.

At about 3am we stopped for our one and only proper bathroom break, and the bus was suddenly stuck in a muddy ditch. It was still pouring down rain, everyone had to evacuate and they called a tow truck to help pull out the bus. Everyone cheered when the bus pulled through, we all groggily stumbled back on around 3:30am and kept traveling to Siem Reap for three more hours.

Needless to say, the only way I got through that bus ride from hell is music. I didn’t sleep a wink, but I had some solid moments by myself and Ben Howard consoling me through the experience.

But let’s be honest, this is all a daily part of backpacker life and sometimes you just have to suck it up, and find the humor in less than desirable situations. At the moment, I’m ecstatic to be in Siem Reap and to be exploring the ancient temple of Angkor Wat at sunrise tomorrow morning. At least now I know what to expect with my next sleeper bus in Asia.

Bring it.

Domestic airlines: the good and the bad

To celebrate making my Australia move official and buying a plane ticket to Melbourne a few days ago, I’ve decided to review some of the airlines I took over my vacation to Santa Cruz, New York and Portland.

Southwest

Pros: My go-to airline while I was in college to fly home cheap for the holidays. The difference with Southwest is that you don’t give up the quality of the airline when you decide to buy a cheaper flight. One of my favorite aspects about this airline is that I almost always see the crew’s sense of humor come out over the intercom. On this particular flight to Santa Cruz, the flight attendant started her review of safety measures by stating that she was happy to welcome a valued patron, Martha Stewart, on board. Everyone turned to the front and some people even stood up to get a look. Having accomplished her goal, the flights attendant continued with, “now that I have your attention, let’s go over what to do in case of an emergency…” Priceless.

Cons: Lack of free snacks, they usually only offer peanuts. Don’t get me wrong, airline peanuts are delicious, but when I’m a budget traveler and live on snacks provided to me from the airline, this is a con. Luckily, the flight back home is only an hour and a half.

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JetBlue

One of my favorite airlines for flying across the country. I think I’ve mostly taken their red eye flights, and that is exactly what I took to get to New York City for cheap the day after Christmas.

Pros: JetBlue is actually the only airline I’ve experienced red eye flights with, so I’m not sure how to compare it to other airlines. However, I love how they provide a sleep mask, earplugs and blanket for red eyes. I still have my sleep mask since coming home to San Diego, and use it from time to time. They are also one of the only airlines to offer TVs on the back of the seat in front of you. This makes a huge difference when you’re bored after a few hours into your flights, and nothing holds your attention anymore. Call it generation Y syndrome, but I’ll admit as an early 20-something that I’m constantly in need of different stimuli when confined to a small space for hours on end.

Cons: There was a moment on my red eye when I had few precious moments of sleep (which is quite the feat for me because I almost never fall asleep on flights); however, the plane was particularly hot and stuffy that evening and I fell asleep with layers of clothing on, a sleep mask, and noise-cancelling headphones. I also had the bad judgement of not giving myself enough time to eat dinner before my flight, and dozing off before they came through with snacks. When I woke up, I was sweating and well on my way to a panic attack with most of my senses cut off, and feeling myself flying but not yet remembering that I was on a plane. On top of this, I was severely dehydrated and had hardly any food in my stomach. I felt myself blacking out and moments away from passing out when I reached up to call the flight attendant. When I explained what was happening he seemed to be more panicked than I was, which was hardly reassuring. Eventually, they gave me a pack of ice and all the snacks that they had in the back, and I didn’t pass out, but the initial reaction by the flight attendant made me question what would happen in a real emergency. Also, I know JetBlue is always trying to be young and cutting edge, but their caramel tortilla chips were probably the most disgusting airline food I have ever tasted. Do not eat them.

Alaska Airlines

Pros: They have extra padding on all the seat head rests, which goes a long way in added comfort. As I’ve said previously, the snacks offered in flight are important. Alaska had the best snacks, the greatest variety and the most delicious. I especially enjoyed their honey mustard nut medley. Another unique aspect about Alaska is they have started playing music while passengers are boarding. This was a nice adage, especially since we were slightly delayed because they had to change a tire; I was able to just sit back, relax and enjoy the music. Overall, I see Alaska as a solid airline that is very efficient and easy to use.

Cons $20 baggage fee for one checked bag.

Delta

Pros: A lot of options for free snacks (I had three altogether), and surprisingly decent coffee to help with my jet lag back to the West Coast.

Cons: After JetBlue, squinting to see the tiny TV four seats ahead of me was disappointing. I ended up giving up on the movie halfway through because it was giving me a headache having to look at something so tiny and far away. Also, the tray tables didn’t extend, this was a bummer for me when I wanted to write. The $25 baggage fee for the first checked bag is always disappointing. The thing I don’t like so much about Delta is that it’s simply a generic airline. There’s nothing that I’ve seen the many times that I’ve flown with them that separates them from other airlines, and they don’t always have the lowest prices to make up for it.

Airports

The friendliest airport was definitely Portland, hands down. The woman at the check-in counter stepped over the luggage scale to help an elderly woman in front of me with her bags, and even offered to walk her over to security to help with her carry ons. I love seeing those little acts of kindness, it put me in a better mood just witnessing it.

The most confusing airport would have to be LaGuardia. Not only because of my difficulties in learning how to correctly say the New York pronunciation of the name LaGuardia (my friend from Brooklyn tried his best to teach me, to no avail, I’m sad to say), but also the fact that there were two different terminals just for Delta airlines. I went through security in the wrong one, so I had to walk a mile through the airport, but at least I got some good exercise before indulging in hours of sloth behavior on a plane.

What is your favorite airline to travel with? What is your worst airline story?