My First Sleeper Bus – Kunming to Jinghong

Boarding the sleeper bus, I was surprised to find the seats don’t recline into bunks; rather, there are no seats. There are simply two levels of bunks, upper and lower. The bunks are arranged in three rows—two going down either side of the bus, and one down the center, with two very, very narrow aisles between.

The second thing I noticed was the unusual odor—familiar and unpleasant at the same time, I couldn’t put my finger on it…

Even though I was the first passenger on the bus, I was relatively sure, or at least hopeful, that the aroma wasn’t emanating from me.

At that moment the bus driver began yelling at the woman boarding behind me, the only other Westerner. “I think he wants me to remove my shoes,” she said. Somehow I had snuck aboard with my shoes on, a big no-no in sleeper bus etiquette, and immediately three things became apparent. (1) What the smell was (2) Why those guy in the bathroom were washing their feet (they were doing us all a favor) and (3) As more people boarded the bus, the smell was going to get much, much worse.

Further observations:

  • The bus ride was from four pm to midnight, so I don’t know if a sleeper bus was really necessary. Regardless, if you want to sit up in a sleeper bus, you are out of luck. At least in the top bunk, where there is not enough room to sit up without decapitating yourself.
  • If you would like to lie down in your bunk, you are also out of luck. I am considered short by Western standards, but if you were any taller than me, you simply could not fit in the tiny coffin of a bunk they provide on a sleeper bus, especially if you’re sharing it with your valuables like a laptop and camera.
  • The bus stops every hour or two, unless you decide not to get off at a stop to use the restroom, in which case it won’t stop for the next four hours. ie., alway use the restroom, even if you’re asleep.
  • Sleeping on a sleeper bus is a guaranteed impossibility.
  • The bus stops for dinner. Eat as little as possible the day of a sleeper bus journey because there is no bathroom on the bus and the Chinese public restrooms consist of a trench over which one squats. The stalls are separated by short walls, so defecaters don’t have to watch the squatter next door, but everyone else who enters the restroom is treated to the sight of a row of squatting Chinese guys with their pants down doing their business.
  • China is strictly a B.Y.O.T.P. party. In some parts of China toilet paper is traded as a commodity on par with gold, diamonds, platinum, and cheese.
  • Perspective is everything. After the ride, I befriended the other Westerner, a spin-instructor from Oakland, who immediately said, “That wasn’t bad at all!”

The above video seeks to illustrate:

  • For no apparent reason, sleeper bus comforter covers always contain cutesy cartoon characters.
  • In order to lie down on a Chinese sleeper bus, one must bend one’s knees.
  • In that position, my knees almost touch the ceiling.
  • The time is 5:55. There is no reason to lie down at this hour except that sitting is impossible.
  • Yunnan Province has beautiful sunsets.
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About sinestor

Originally from Los Angeles/Long Beach, California, I'm currently spending a year exploring the amazing world known as China. My main website is Every Day's a Holiday.

One comment

  1. Whew! You had me worried for a minute. I thought of Karen Blitzen in “Out of Africa.” Dennis Finchhatten started a story, and Karen went on for hours finishing it. “There was a smell on the bus. I couldn’t identify it at first, but I noticed everyone on the bus was washing their feet. There was a beutiful young maid on the bus giving every man a towel. The handsome buck was drying the women’s feet with a piece of courdoroy shaped like a map of Asia. The north wind just started to freshen. As the sun sank in the west, the bus driver said in a sinister way, ‘I advise everyone to put on their seat belts. This is a ride you will never forget.’ And he was right. … to be continued by the Sinester one.

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