China travel

Published on October 11th, 2011 | by Paz


Sleeper buses in China – Should you do it?

As we put our traveling into the hands of our nanny to get to her house off in rural China we never imagined what we saw as we were asked to take off our shoes before getting on the bus.

You might ask why we put our travel arrangements in her hands? We were headed to her “home-town” which was suppose to be a 5 hour bus ride from our first stop of Yangshuo. She knew exactly where we had to go and where to get off at…there isn’t a stop. We were just dropped off on the side of a road. So, I don’t think I could have described that to the driver myself.

We get to the bus station in Guilin. One of the worst looking bus stations we have ever been to, I might add. Although bus stations are normally not the high light of your trip this one was pretty bad. We walk to where the VIP bus section is…thank goodness! There is a VIP section. She goes up to buy the tickets and comes back 20 minutes later to tell us that it is sold out until 8 pm tonight, it was 11:40 am.

Then it starts to rain…a lot!

So what are we suppose to do for 8 hours in a dirty, dingy bus station and now it is raining. Ugh!!! When traveling with two small children things like this can be difficult.

But wait!! She has a plan. We don’t know what it is, but she is going to figure it out. “Just wait here”, she says. Okay we wait and wait and wait. For some reason we had chosen the spot outside the foulest smelling bathroom we have encountered in China. Note to self next time we pick a meeting point…stay away from the stinky bathroom.

Finally she comes back, she found tickets for us but the bus leaves soon. We have to go! I want to stop and buy some snacks for the trip because as you know with small kids you need snacks at all times. She says we don’t have time. Okay so we start running through the dirty bus station in the dirty rain. I have to admit I am happy we don’t have to stay here for another 8 hours.

We get to the bus and put our one piece of luggage & stroller under the bus and hop on.

Here is where it gets weird and weirder.

The bus drive won’t let Lupita get on with out taking her shoes off. She keeps asking me why do I have to take my shoes off, I am equally confused. We comply and take our shoes off and put them in these little plastic bags that he gives us to walk up a couple steps to see a sleeper bus. I have never seen one before or even heard of one until we set foot in it.

What is it?

This bus had three rows of beds, one on the left, one on the right, and one down the middle with a top bunk (about 2 ft from the roof of the bus) and the bottom bunk was flush with the floor. There were rubber mats in between the beds.

You had to take your shoes off because you would be walking (with your stinky shoes) on someone’s bed possibly as you get to yours. Oh okay! Now I get it…a little. As we try to navigate to the back of the bus where are “beds” were, we barely fit. There is probably 12 inches in between the beds and we are pushing through like stuffed sausages. Everyone else on the bus is the average 80 lbs Chinese man or woman.

Even with our recent weight loss we felt like we didn’t fit.

We found our three beds (one for Zeek, one for me, and one for the nanny) in the back of the bus. Of course we were next to the wonderful bathroom. The kids didn’t get beds because they are just suppose to lay with us. I look around our new home for the next “6” hours and take a deep breath. At least we are getting someplace.

Then our nanny says she is going to buy food for us. She will be right back. She gets off the bus and about 10 minutes later the bus starts to back up!!! We have no nanny, she is gone, and we don’t know where we are suppose to get off!! Okay I go up and in my oh so bad Chinese tell them we need to wait for our nanny. They laugh at me and say they know!!

They were loading cargo onto the bus. Luckily it wasn’t live cargo. These buses take on extra jobs of moving random cargo back and forth. Our nanny comes back with some bean soup!! Bean soup!!! I think she might have been sniffing too much bus exhaust. So then we have Zeek go back out and buy some snacks. I have to admit, I was a bit scared because I was fearful that the bus would start to pull out again and I would have to get into a full on wrestling match with the bus driver to make sure we didn’t leave Zeek behind. He got back in time and no wrestling was required.

We ended up sitting on the bus for almost 1.5 hours before we even left the depot. SERIOUSLY!!! I couldn’t believe it. We went from running onto the bus to sitting there for ever. We would have gotten off and gone for a walk if I wasn’t so worried about it leaving any minute and if I fit in between the beds easier.

We finally take off!!

Here we are in our bed…notice the plastic bag I put behind us to keep the rain water from coming in. Abe squirming as usual.

We have our yummy snacks, and we are on the road. The old man behinds us now lights up his second cigarette. Really, another one I think. The windows don’t open, except I now have discovered that ours leaks as rain water is running in. No one of the bus says anything. They are a non-confrontational society and I am sure everyone else on the bus smokes and probably is happy to have this wonderful aroma. We on the other hand are not so happy. Luckily our nanny speaks up and tells him to put it out. He does and we don’t smell another one for at least 7 hours.

Diapers….did you pack enough? As we are in the middle of potty training we aren’t traveling with tons of diapers any longer. So we have two on the bus with us. That should be enough right?? Wrong!! Abe decides it is time for him to take a couple of his largest stinkiest dumps of his life. Not sure if it was the atmosphere that brought it out of him, but they came! One right after another. Thank goodness we had wipes. On our beds Abe was changed once and twice in front of everyone. Maybe he was trying to get back at cigarette man. Who could smell worse? I think Abe won.

We have NO diapers!!! We still have a projected 5 hours to go. Of course he then pees! Zeek ended up getting pee’d on about four or five times on our little adventure. So I remember I packed a scarf to cover the kids or to sleep on if necessary in my bag. I get it out and we wrap him up in it. Here is where my Aztec roots come out. Yup, we are now on a stinky bus with two kids, no room to move, no diapers, and a scarf wrapped around our son’s private areas just waiting for another explosion.

Notice my maroon scarf over little man’s bum area. He is finally asleep.

Bus overheats! Yes, the bus starts making this smell and we stop. Zeek knows it is the bus overheating. This gives our nanny the opportunity to run outside and get some more clothes from our suitcase for Abe to pee or poop through until we get to our destination. See there is a bright side to our adventure!! We ended up stopping at least three more times because the bus was overheating. We didn’t break down, but we did waste a another good 2-3 hours sitting on the side of roads.

As crazy and so not fun as this bus ride was we were all able to keep a smile on our face….most of the time. Lupita made a friend named Toby who was sitting behind us. He was a nice young man on his way home to visit his family. Everyone was trying to get home for the upcoming holiday.

Toby saying hello to everyone!!

No one argued or yelled. Lupita didn’t complain once about when were we going to get there or the poor conditions. Abe whined a bit, but mostly because we wouldn’t let him run around or suck on things. Not the place or the time.

I will admit we were both tired. The bus trip ended up taking 9 hours in total. By the end both our monkeys were sleeping and Zeek was tired of being pee’d on and I was well just tired.

Lupita giggling on the floor of our beds.

Everyone on the bus was getting antsy as it was taking way longer than expected. Everyone just wants to get out and stretch their legs and move a bit. Zeek’s knee started to stiffen up on him and hurt. His legs are much longer than the beds are so it had to stick out on to someone else’s bed a few times. They didn’t complain.

Here is our nanny with Abe…I think she was tired too!

Getting off… She tells us we are near our stop and to gather our stuff. So we get all of our pee’d on clothes, food, ect. together and she yells at the bus driver. They are speaking Cantonese so I can’t understand a lot of it.

The bus then pulls over on the side of the road and we are the only ones that get off, get our bag and stroller. Okay now we are on the side of a road at about 11 pm at night with no bus. Hmmm!!!

A couple of minutes later her brother shows up in a van to get us. He is very nice and the van is very very spacious. We drive about 5 minutes to a BBQ place and get some grub! He treats us to a wonderful dinner. We are all very very happy to be off the bus and on to our next adventure.

I have to add, we took another sleeper bus from Yuilin to Guangzhou, but it was much nicer and not so bad. We arrived on time and without too much craziness.

We grew as a family on our bus rides and as a couple. You might think we are crazy but we believe these are the moments that define us.

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About the Author

Paz is an avid adventurer in life and food. Traveling across the globe with her family they enjoy cultural immersion and checking out the local eateries.

13 Responses to Sleeper buses in China – Should you do it?

  1. Joanna says:

    Love that article, Paz! Just love it!! When I read through the diaper stuff though, part of me sighed that I’m oh so glad my kids aren’t in diapers anymore…then I remembered they are teenagers, lol!!
    Thanks for sharing such a great story.

    • Paz says:

      Joanna! Thank you! So funny because we always talk about how much easier our traveling will be once the kids can sit still for more than 10 minutes and they stop climbing on me. For some reason Zeek is never the jungle gym on the bus or plane rides, but I turn into the best thing to climb on. Zeek always whispers…I am sorry…I love you…lol, I think he is really thinking better you than me! Then again I am sure teenagers come with their own set of issues. Thanks for reading!

  2. Roy says:

    Ok, I want to party with you, cowboy.

  3. zeek says:

    Ok ya’ll, Paz left out some details. This bus was stanky! We are pretty tough cookies and don’t complain about alot of things, but there were roaches. I didn’t say anything to paz or kids until after we got off the bus, but I saw em. I couldn’t relax after that, not that I was that relaxed anyways.

    You had to put shoes on to go to the bathroom. the funny thing was everyone walked up to the bathroom without them, but then went back and got thier shoes. So much for no shoes.
    There were holes in the floor and water leaking into the back of the bus. okay, so this wans’t a window leak, it was more like a friggin hole in the roof of the bus. And I’m sure if there was more light in the bus we’d see a whole lot more things you dont want to see.

    also, we got starred at the whole time. But it wasn’t cause abe took a shit! Its cause we were the loudest damn foreigners these folks ever saw!

  4. zeek says:

    one more thing, there are hippie backpackers that would say hell no to this bus. but it was better than the bus station.

    I’m actually surprized there was no old lady with chickens next to us………there might have been, but she was nice enough to put the chickens in her bag under the bus next to the roach hotel!

  5. Angela White says:

    oh my gosh, i laughed so much reading this post. seriously, could it get any worse is what I kept thinking. you will look back and totally laugh when sharing the story with abe in a couple years…. glad you took it in stride.
    cheers to potty training!

    • Paz says:

      You are right….we were both probably thinking about how could it get worse. There was a hole in the back ceiling of the bus and one guy had to move onto another person’s bed because of the water that was coming in. So I was happy there was no hole over our heads. lol

  6. Heather says:

    I’ll admit, I laughed too! Only because I can definitely assume the trip would’ve been just as bad, if not worse, with our 3 kids! & I was definitely thinking “better you than me” 😉
    Honestly, I love that you’re willing to take these adventures. You are having amazing experiences and making lasting memories.

  7. Matt says:

    Why only 2 diapers?

    • Paz says:

      Matt- very very good question. We had already been traveling and gone through the rest of our diapers. Since we were in the countryside of China there are very few shops that sell diapers because most families use split pants. So we hand’t seen a shop yet and thought we could get some at our next stop…not great planning. But we made it work.

  8. Genevieve Garzon says:

    Holy Crap…. Really??!!! Did this really happen??…. I can’t imagine Zeek, the one who won’t even eat something out of a freezer that is more than 15 days old, sit on a bus like that..sorry excuse me, sleep on a bus! Geez!! Well glad to hear that you guys are all okay, There are too many other things to comment on. I don’t even want to say anything about the diapers! I will end this with; Your lucky mom wasn’t with you! See you soon!
    p.s. Make sure that you didn’t bring home any roaches!

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