The Sleeping Bus

Sleeping bus
Passengers in a double-decker sleeping bus at the Shanghai Central Long Distance Bus Station

courtesy of

It’s not so much a bus that sleeps as a bus you can sleep in. Just wanted to clear that up.

It’s built like a greyhound bus, or in the UK, a National Express coach. The type of transport you’d hop onto for long distance travel by road. It’s cheaper than rail and air so great if you’re on a budget, but it’s oh, so much slower. However if you want to actually see the country you’re passing through at a normal pace instead of from a remote bird’s eye, or whizzing past through a train window, then the Sleeping Bus will do it for you everytime.

It’s double decker height with bunk beds sized for average people. If you’re petite, great, you’ll have loads of extra room, but if you’re blessed with long legs, long arms or a big head, maybe not so much.

The beds are three abreast, two by the windows and one in the central aisle. They take up the length of the bus and room to walk inbetween. Shoes aren’t allowed though. As you enter the driver will either shout at you to take them off, or, if you’ve followed the example of your fellow passengers and are holding your shoes in your hand, he’ll just hand you two brightly coloured plastic bags to wear over your feet.

Passengers in a double-decker sleeping bus at the Shanghai Central Long Distance Bus Station

Unlike long-distance trains where seats are often at a premium, or the plane, tickets for buses, including sleepers, don’t need to be booked in advance. You can just arrive at the office and pay for a seat on the next available one. Youu shouldn’t have to wait more than an hour or two.

How long you’re on the bus depends, of course, on both where you’re going and where you’re coming from.

Not long after arriving in China I made the journey from Shenzhen, on the South Coast, up to Xu Zhou in Jiangsu Province, a distance of 1168KM or 758 miles in old money, which took 22 hours. Two hours short of the flying time from England to Australia.

I had no idea what to expect or even what a Sleeping Bus was until I saw it. My advice, if you’re ever in this position is to bring some food and lots of tissue paper.  The driver makes several stops at roadside restaurants and open air cafe/eating venues where you can buy food or ask for hot water to pour over your own noodles or add to soup etcetera, which is obviously a lot cheaper.  These eating places will have washrooms, but rarely supply tissues.

Also, expect everyone on the bus to take a picture with you. Try to get these in before you go to sleep and wake-up dishevelled. Having said that the beds are comfortable and clean blankets and pillows are supplied.

Although the view is constantly changing being on the road for so long can get a little monotonous so bring something to break up the boredom. You should also bring some baby wipes to freshen up with. Even though you’re doing an overnighter, there’s nowhere to shower during your journey.

Brand new sleeper bus. Yes, some of them are this lovely. Reminds me of a hospital.

I made many temporary friends whilst on my sleeping bus.

One family in particular seeing that I obviously didn’t have a clue about what I was in for took me under their wing. They fed me and made sure I was comfortable with many ‘okay-la?’s being asked and thumbs up being traded. They also taught me a few words for the food they gave me, such as chicken eggs- ji dan, spicy – la and noodle-miantiao. They made sure I got back on the bus on time after visiting a resting place and were generally exceptionally kind and I’m forever grateful to them.

After that I made the journey between Xu Zhou and Shenzhen several times before settling in Shenzhen, but it was always by plane taking a little over two hours, not including delays which is the subject of a whole other blog.

I’m glad I had the experience of riding the sleeping bus, but as it’s so time consuming, once was enough.









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