Call it what you will, a sleeper bus, an entertainer coach or a nightliner, having the luxury of a place to rest your head, while someone drives you to you next location is quite delightful and really quite cost effective in that you’re paying for a place to sleep, keep your gear and transport all in one.
These are the kind of buses that roadies travel in when they’re touring with the rich and famous. They’re kitted out with single or double beds the length of the bus. Each berth has a window with a curtain, and a curtain to enclose the space, ensuring that you get some privacy while you snooze.
Andrew and I scored a double berth (room for two!) that even fit our big backpacks! There was enough room to sit upright and read, or curl up for a nap during our 12 hour journey.
We arrived at the designated bus stop in Mumbai – one of about 12 available stops that were on offer when we booked the trip, to find a shack on the side of the road.
Outside the shack (in fact, there were maybe 10 shacks all next to each other, each for a different bus company) was a food vendor and a collection of about 10 men, who were trying to undercut the bus system by offering a ride-share option to people wanting to go to Pune. They were pretty aggressively trying to get us involved until we told them that one, we didn’t want to go to Pune, and two, we had a booking on the bus. Once they realised that they left us right alone.
So, the shack on the side of the road tells us to go wait until we see our bus – a nice big Volvo with Neeta on the windows. While we wait we get talking to a dude from New Mexico who is outraged to find the bus doesn’t come with wifi, but who has some cracking stories to tell us anyway.
Where the heck is this bus?
Finally, about 30 minutes after the supposed pick up time, and just as I’m about to sit down in the middle of the ‘footpath’ with my 15kg backpack to shade me from the sun, the bus arrives. We’re discovering that Indian time is a little less rigid than Kiwi time, but hey, we’re in no rush and even if we were, there was nothing we could do about it.
So finally, we board the bus. It was clean enough, tidy and such a comfortable temperature after being in the hot sun. Air conditioning was a top priority when we booked and was worth the extra rupees.
On the road
The ride was exactly what we expected. Bumpy, noisy (the honking felt like it didn’t stop until the wee hours of the night and there was someone on the bus with a snore worse than mine…) but ultimately safe and secure.
We had heard tales of buses that wont stop of food or toilet breaks, so we were instantly relieved to hear there would be two planned stops, and while the facilities were not the prettiest, they were functional and I had my first experience squatting. I’m sure you’ll be delighted to hear it went well.
How did we get here so early?!
So after a restful-ish night (it was never going to be the world’s best sleep) we were awoken by the sound of more vehicles, and the breaking of dawn. Sunlight snuck in through the curtains and we roused in time to watch the bus pull in at a small Goan town, Mapusa.
It wasn’t until the bus driver came and told us to get off, that we realised this was our stop and we bundled ourselves off the bus in record time, along with our mate, New Mexico. To our surprise, we had arrived about 90 minutes earlier than the bus ticket said we would and we were at a bit of a loose end, with our destination, Anjuna, another 12kms down the road.
New Mexico had the best reaction to his arrival in Mapusa. “Hey, hey brother” he said to the next Indian man he saw. “Tell me, where is the chai? Where is the washroom?”
We stuck with him, as he was good value, watching him slurp down some oysters for breakfast and negotiate between two scooter rental vendors on a good price – we stuck to a samosa each. He dropped his bags down, went for a walk, even handed over his passport as a bond, to the scooter guy of choice without thinking twice. Andrew and I could barely keep our mouths shut for the shock.
In Mapusa we also came across our first instance of ‘tourist price’ at the pay to use toilets. 3 rupees if you’re a local man (or New Mexico, who managed to haggle). 10 rupees if you’re Sarah. I was so mad, but also so desperate to use the facilities that I gave in. Haggling for the right to urinate seems unfair in 2017.
So, you want to book a sleeper bus too? Here’s 7 tips on us:
Book with enough time to fix something if it goes wrong – we found the perfect bus route and provider but couldn’t book online with our foreign credit card. Don’t add extra stress trying to do it on the same day you leave.
Do your research – not all sleeper buses are created equal. Get on google and search the model number to make sure there are no surprises on the day. A more cost effective bus might not provide you as much sleep as the next cost bracket up.
Bring layers – the air con goes fast and hard which is great but can get cold in the middle of the night. A cardigan, sleep sack or blanket can help keep you comfortable.
Ask questions – Where do I need to get off? When do we expect to get there? Are we making toilet stops?
Bring a light – the buses are fitted with lights but not many seemed to work. This will be handy if you need to find your toilet paper in the dark….
Pack some food – A couple muesli bars or something to keep you going. The stops our bus made had toilets and food stalls, but it always pays to have some food on you just in case.
Sus out some earplugs, a travel pillow and an eye mask – if you’re the kind of person who needs these, they’re probably already in your bag. Make sure you can access them if you want to sleep.
If you’re keen to fly, check out our list of queues at the airport to prepare you for your flight, and come back soon to hear about our overnight train journey.