One of the best features of traveling in Asia is the broad variety of transport options that exist. From private cars to motorbikes, planes, trains, and of course buses – Asia is one of the easiest continents to get around. Buses play an integral role in most journeys, from getting to and from an airport, sightseeing within a city, or moving between cities and provinces, buses can be one of your fastest and most affordable options. On this episode, we’ll cultivate our many, many years traveling Asia by bus, share some memorable stories and tips, and hopefully help to ensure you use buses to their fullest on your next journey to the region. This is Asian Bus Adventures!

Scott & Trevor Banter about busses in general.

Scott: as I’ve gotten older I find myself taking buses less often, but they still do factor into my travel plans and should always be considered, particularly when the journey is a few hundred kilometers or city journeys in developed Asian countries. I used to take the overnight bus to/from Bangkok/Chiang Rai for many years when we hosted trips – probably 30+ times.

Trevor: In Cambodia, over the past two years, I ride the bus back and forth between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh around once a month. It’s six hours. I get a lot of work done. Otherwise, the bus is generally not my preferred form of transportation. I hate planes because I can’t sit comfortably for long periods and I get annoyed being around so many people. The bus is worse because you can’t walk around as much. At least it makes two stops, but I prefer the train, a car, motorbike, walking, you name it. I’ll suffer the bus from time to time, but they’re more an opportunity for a good travel story than the best way to get from A to B. 

Scott: This is good to reflect on our earlier travels, but also what we’ve done on buses recently, what we’ve heard, and think about when buses are most feasible. Tokyo airport

Trevor: As I’ve said, for long-haul I prefer flights: trains occasionally, the bus only if that’s the only realistic choice. Not my fave way to get around even if I do it often here in Cambodia. Cambodia has some classic bus experiences: Karaoke, and plastic seats in the rows. Now we have Giant Ibis, which has electrical outlets, wifi, seat belts…no toilets which is good and bad. Thailand has toilets but you still don’t want to have to use them. Elbert’s first trip to Thailand. Sleeper buses are an option on some longer routes. Many have beds even.

The bus Trevor rented for $450 for a return trip Phnom Penh – Siem Reap for the beer festival.


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City busses

Bangkok I don’t know how to use but I’ll jump on and off the red busses from time to time.

Scott: Bangkok has a wide variety of buses but figuring out where they go can be real tough. But if you can figure it out and not overly heavy traffic, they could be a good bet, but with boats and trains now, buses are fading for tourists.

Trevor: Probably good City buses in Japan. Probably Singapore. But The metro systems are so good in Asia I hardly seem to take city busses

Scott: I’ve taken airport buses in Osaka and Tokyo a couple of times – cost-effective, fast, and a good option.

T: ah yeah, the COEX bus in Seoul was great

Scott: Singapore’s buses are great – I’ve used a good deal of them in the last few years. They are about $2/ride, clean, cool, on time, and a solid option for getting around. Google maps will tell you exactly to use them, the time, they come and go, etc.

Trevor: Cities like Singapore have such good rail systems that I don’t think I’ve ever taken a bus there. Usually like to walk a lot and explore anyway

Scott: I’ve taken a city bus in Beijing which was interesting – someone told me how to do so – it was in combo with a train to see some city sites – a good option.

Scott: a good idea is to always have exact change and then some extra coins/small bills in case the fare is a bit different than you think it will be. Keep in mind that in developing countries, the buses will continue to get better year-by-year so look at online forums for the latest.

Bangkok city bus: worth a few baht to hop on and hope it doesn’t turn before you want to get off!

Cross–Country Buses

Scott: these can be a great option in most Asian countries.

I’ve used them lots in Thailand from the VIP overnight buses, which are a good option if cash is an issue; to inter-city and provincial ones in Cambodia, Thailand (extensively), Laos, and Malaysia.

–   Getting from KL to Singapore is a very good option on the bus – it’s about 5hr, and considering how far out of KL the airport there is, it’s really quicker in the end I think, and not overly expensive.

PNH – BKK is possible with 999

Trevor: I took a bus from Georgetown to the west coast of Penang: near the entrance to Penang National Park. I didn’t know where I was going and just hopped off when I thought I was close. I guess that’s my style. Ride it to save time and get close enough to walk the rest of the way. 

Scott: I do get a kick out of taking the ‘peoples’’ buses on inter-city/provincial travel in Thailand if you have the time. You see neat regular life, nice scenery, etc. The crux here would be on windy mountain roads, which are a challenge for my gut, so getting a seat at the front where I can see what’s coming is key.

Bus Stories

Trevor: Cambodia features at least two of my most interesting bus trips. But first I have a near-miss bus trip from Thailand to Cambodia: Missing the border run bus gummies.

Scott: It was 2000 and we were a group of 3 traveling from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. It was about a 10-hour journey, the bus was a bit extra long, and had bald tires. It was windy for much of it, the guy was racing and one of the tires would occasionally come off the ground in turn. Wow – that driver was trying to set land speed records. Scary as hell.

Trevor: Battambang bus to Poipet (and then minivan to Bangkok)/ Same day as Pursat Valentine’s Day (Read the story Trevor wrote on the bus!)

Scott: I was going from Mae Sot to Chiang Mai about a decade ago and ended up on the village bus and there were many villages that got on and off. But part way, a bunch of teenage monks got on, sat next to, behind, and in front of me and two of them fell asleep leaning all over me. Wasn’t sure how appropriate it was to move them off so I mostly lived with it.

Trevor tells the Sumatra, sitting on the floor, next to the chicken guy, and then walking down to Lake Toba story.

Trevor tells the near-miss bus trip from Thailand to Cambodia: missing the border run bus gummies story.

Scott: Many years ago – in 1996 I think – we took buses from Hue to HCMC, over the course of a few different rides. It was World Cup at the time and as a result, it seemed every driver was super tired as they had been up watching games into the early am hours, which made things a bit scary. Wish I had avoided a cramped/super fast minivan ride on one leg.

Trevor: Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng – scary and the couple from Bali story.

Trevor: Yunnan bunk beds: otherwise some scary cliffs too story.

Scott: from Surat Thani to Kuala Lumpur; had food poisoning, had to puke, the toilet was chain locked, and ended up barfing all over myself with hours to still go in the ride. That was awful and epic.

Trevor: Beer Fest Beer Bus: Josh and gina party beer bus / Almost head-on crash

The Philippines may have the coolest bus designs


Tips: sleepers save you a hotel night but can be Dangerous at night: drivers falling asleep, drunk, truckers on drugs.

Scott: consider the more expensive buses as they often have safer buses, two drivers on longer routes, etc. Is your life worth an extra $10? Read reviews online about the reputations of these bus companies and such. They can be quite expensive

Trevor: “Totes, and book as far in advance as possible to reserve the best seats. But never buy a return ticket unless you must return on that date and you know THAT bus is the best return option

Scott: If you’re feeling a bit flush, buy two seats next to one another to have more space. Particularly in SE Asia, this can cost $10-20 more, but be well worth if for the extra space. Some VIP buses also have single seats which are great if you’re traveling alone.

Trevor: “Totes.”  

Songthaew in Hua Hin (courtesy of Wikipedia); a common bus alternative in Thailand.

Scott: Bring some snacks and a bottle of water along – assume there will be no good food/drink along the way. Stay hydrated but not so much so that you need to use the bus toilet all the time – and there may not be one.

Elbert toilet story. I just snack slowly throughout the day. Dried mango is my go-to. 

Scott: Bring a sarong or fabric as it can make for a pillow, cover you on those overly cold aircon buses, etc. Bring a plastic ziplock bag to spew in should you find yourself in such an unfortunate situation, along with some wet wipes.

Consider valium: from hairpin turns to annoying passengers: nothing wrong with a little help keeping your cool

Scott: small denominations for cash for quick/easy purchases at those rest stops along the way.

Chat on a few key points that stood out most.

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Theme Music by Jamie Ruben

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