t There are plenty of ways to travel abroad: trains, planes and buses are some of my favorite. In Nepal there are typically two viable options: a loooong bus ride or an often delayed flight. Today we’re going to look at the positives and negatives of both options that way when you come visit you’ll know exactly how you want to travel. As I write this post, I’m thinking mainly of the trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara.
Time – Planes win this match. When talking travel time, planes are always quicker than buses, but if we’re counting the hours you spend at the airport, it could be an even match. If your timeline is tight, take a flight! If you have days to gaze out the bus window, it won’t be time wasted. There’s always the possibility of a flat tire, which has happened to me a couple times, but surprisingly it’s always been an enjoyable little side stop along the way.
Comfort – This really depends on the individual. Do you get car sick? Do you hate flying? It’s all about personal preference here. I can make myself pretty comfy anywhere. The seats are smaller on flights, but you’ll definitely have access to a bathroom, which is always nice. If you’re hung up on the bathroom situation, ask around for tourist buses with toilets (pretty rare) or confirm with the bus company how many stops the bus will make during the trip that way you’ll know how many opportunities to pee you’ll have.
Cost – In Nepal, flying is definitely more expensive than any bus, but in some other Asian countries (like Thailand) flights are sometimes cheaper than overnight buses. For me, time and cost are equal commodities while traveling so I always weigh them heavily against each other. Depending on how much time you have, cost will become more or less important. For instance, visas are often issued in fifteen, thirty or ninety day increments, if you have twenty-eight days worth of adventures planned, you should probably fly about instead of wasting your two spare days on a bus somewhere. View – While the view from the sky is always enchanting, I have to insist that the view from a bus window wins time and time again. While traveling by bus, you’ll get an up close view of many towns and cities at street level. I saw so many terrifyingly awesome extension bridges while traveling through Nepal. You’ll also see countless little snippets of every day life and get a feel for the authentic side of any country, not just the tourist areas. Some of my favorite photographs were snapped through a bus window and while I love a bird’s eye view, faraway photos from above tend to look repetitive. I also love connecting with people from a moving bus. I made eye contact and exchanged smiles with dozens of people, young and old, on my way from Kathmandu to Pokhara and I can’t wait to do it again on the way back.
Safety – I’m not a statistician so I really can’t say which is actually safer, but I think you know where you feel more comfortable. On the road or in the air – both have their advantages and downfalls so think about which mode of transportation you’re more comfortable with since it’s bound to be a bit bumpy at some point. I often waiver on bus and plane safety depending on which country I’m in. Nepal is awfully windy and known to have short runways and frequent power outages, those factors combined make me think buses are a bit safer in this country. Luggage – What to say here? Unfortunately your luggage is never completely safe. My best advice is to keep your essential and expensive items on you at all times. If you’re flying, there’s a slight possibility your luggage will be lost or damaged. If you’re taking a bus, there’s a chance your luggage could be stolen or thrown from the vehicle while you’re speeding down the highway. Yep. Both are plausible, but also unlikely. In Thailand I once saw bags flying off the top of a bus and they all landed in a nearby ditch that was filled with stagnant water. My friend was on a bus in Rome when the undercarriage compartment door opened as they were speeding around a turn. They had to stop in the middle of the road to pick up all their bags! Every so often, people are hiding in the undercarriages waiting to rifle through travelers bags so if you do put all your stuff underneath, keep all your valuables, identification and currency in different places hiding within your bag. Also, when you hop off the bus to pee or grab a snack, DO NOT leave your purse on the bus. This is the best time for sneaky thieves to snatch passports and cash. I’ve seen this happen. It’s shitty, but that’s life.
Vibe – I don’t know what it is about airports, but it seems like everyone forgets their manners upon entering. I like the vibe of buses because of their generally relaxed nature, but there’s also a possibility of blaring music and blasting air condition, so you really never know. Both modes are great for meeting other travelers and locals if you’re up for that too.
The winner? Impossible to say since there are so many factors that change with each specific trip, but if you’re traveling from Kathmandu to Pokhara – take the bus!