When travelling in Southeast Asia, busses are often the best bet when going from city to to city. Plus, they’re especially easy on the wallet. Here’s some of the best (and worst!) countries for bus transport in Southeast Asia.
Since Thailand is such a popular backpacking destination, taking the bus is very tourist friendly, so much so that many buses will almost entirely consist of tourists detailing their trip thus far. Oftentimes I was pleasantly surprised by a complimentary water bottle and snacks during the bus ride. Unfortunately, as this was the first country in Southeast Asia I visited, I had my hopes up expecting snacks on busses once we went to Malaysia, which is not common practice.
The ticketing process for Thai buses was relatively straightforward; the bus station and terminal was always easy to look up and find, and it was pretty safe to simply show up with all your and buy a ticket for the next bus going to your destination. With this method, however, you don’t always get to pick your ideal ticket type. For instance, on one occasion my boyfriend and I ended up buying a VIP ticket to from Chang Mai to Hua Hin since it was the only one left for the overnight bus. We had no idea what to expect, and were totally surprised to find a bus with massaging seats that reclined almost 180 degrees, as well as video players mounted on all seat backs. The luxury was nice, but it definitely cost extra.
Of course, there were also times when we were crammed into a seat on an overnight bus in which a normal sized person could hardly straighten their legs. However, if you’re willing to pay a little more for VIP (which really isn’t too expensive) you can be sure you’ll have quite a comfortable ride.
Although Brunei isn’t exactly the hotspot tourist destination that Thailand is, it has a really lovely public bus system. This small countryis wedged into the middle of Malaysian Borneo is quite wealthy due to its oil wealth and small population. As a result, most people there drive private cars, and the few taxi drivers there are extremely unreasonable. For just one Brunei dollar, however, you can take the public bus to any destination. No matter how long you stay on, (although the busses only run until 6 pm) it’s always just one Brunei dollar. Each bus is numbered, and that specific bus runs a route in a loop. There stops are very well marked and have a city map showing which bus numbers you could to a certain destination. Even better is that they come quite frequently since several numbers typically stop at the same destination, plus there’s more than one bus per route. Even though these little buses are about half the size of a traditional bus, they rarely filled up. All in all, they were a great way to explore the city, and were even air conditioned!
In contrast to the buses in Brunei and Thailand, buses in the Philippines were not pleasant. On top of the the lack of any schedule whatsoever online, the bus station is difficult to find even on a map. Ideally, you pick a company and show up at that company’s address, since there’s not really a centralized terminal. However, whenever we tried that, the map location was never actually lined up with the bus company. After asking several locals, we eventually found a terminal. Once there we searched in vain for ticketing, only to eventually find out you simply get on the bus and pay. Surprisingly, putting your bags underneath the bus is not an option, and many people will try to charge extra for the space the bag takes up. We ended up just sitting with our backpacks on our laps, which wasn’t comfortable for any trip over an hour long. In general, the actual condition on the bus wasn’t too bad; but as far as accessibility and scheduling, Filipino buses proved to be a headache.