Last night, I encountered a strange, semi-awesome, semi-nightmarish public transport system dubbed the “VIP Sleeper Bus.” It looked just like a standard bus, but inside I found myself staring at two double rows of bed-recliner hybrids in place of regular, straight-backed chairs. The brown, pleather seats were leaned back at a 145 degree angle and each one had a maroon blanket on it folded neatly into a square. I noticed there were seat numbers and I checked my ticket for one. An “A1” was scribbled on a dotted line near the bottom. I scanned the rows and saw a girl laying above it. I double checked the number written in permanent marker on the pleather. Weird, it had B1, B2 written over A1, A2. I leaned in closer, trying to figure out if I was reading it wrong and realized that what I thought was a space to store your bag underneath the chair-bed was actually a second row of seating. A line began forming behind me.
“Cass, hurry up.” Cody muttered.
I took a deep breath and ducked down, crawling on all fours and curling into the seat, my back brushing the row above me as I did. Cody’s hulking body came lunging in after me. He mashed himself into the seat beside me, his 6’3” frame so large his feet stuck out and hit the bus driver’s arm.
That was the first time I’d ever felt claustrophobic. Cody’s body blocked my only fire exit; I couldn’t even crawl out over him. I stared up at the wood above me. A tiny, round, powerful air conditioning vent blasted cold air down onto my face. I remembered a rumor someone in Koh Rong told me - that people contracted tuberculosis from old, dirty vents on buses. I shook the thought away and stared into the dark. There were no lights down here. I practiced controlled breaths, knowing that I couldn’t switch with Cody- he’d never fit in this space. I barely fit. About six inches above my head was the bottom edge of a window. I lifted myself up and peered out of the glass. Those couple inches felt like my only connection to the world outside of my crevice.
I fidgeted around until I found a comfortable position, and after I’d gotten used to the idea that I was stuck down there, I was able to relax a little. It was actually sort of cozy when I wrapped myself up in the blanket. The bus driver blasted Cambodian ballads over the speakers but when I plugged my headphones in, I was able to drift deeper into my head and got lost in my thoughts. It was nearly 11PM and I could already feel myself beginning to get drowsy. After an hour I fell asleep (with the help of a sleeping pill) and ten hours later I woke up in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was 9AM when we arrived and I felt well-rested and ready to go. Overall, I recommend this form of travel over regular buses, where you’re forced to sit up straight in a hot, sweaty, uncomfortable seat. That’s if you can get over the tight squeeze.
- $14 Sleeper Bus Ticket
- $0.75 Snacks (off brand Oreo’s, to be more specific)
- When booking a sleeper bus, ask for the top row. If you have any discomfort in enclosed spaces, it’s going to be a real bad trip if you’re stuck in that bottom bunk, squished between metal wall and the possibly smelly traveler to your respective left or right.
- There are no televisions on these buses! Bring your own entertainment. And if you’re a light sleeper, definitely bring headphones or ear plugs. Cambodian bus drivers love blasting music and they don’t care if it’s 1PM or 4AM.
- Always bring snacks on long bus rides and make sure to pee before you get on! The buses usually stop, but it’s irregular and you don’t want to face that uncertainty for hours.