Fact Nr. 1: There's no way around bus trips. Unless you literally want to fly over the country and hop to major sites and cities (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Pakse, Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos) or you book an expensive luxury Mekong cruise, that will let you discover just a handful of remarkable places, buses are the only way to explore Cambodia and/or Laos within a reasonable timeframe.
Fact Nr. 2: It's cheap. Good news if you're on budget, traveling by bus is really cheap. One tip to bring the costs even further down: if your kids are young enough (mine are 4 and 6), they can share one seat and thus pay only one ticket. Babies and toddlers travel on your lap for free.
Fact Nr. 3: It's not as bad as it seems. Why are you so afraid of long bus rides? Many families I know travel to south of France for their vacation. It's an 8-hour car ride, excluding the long queues at toll gates, the waiting time in crowded rest areas, only to receive poor food and access barely clean restrooms. Does that sound more exciting than a long ride through beautiful landscapes in Laos? After all, busses offer more leg space, more opportunities to have a relaxed family chat or to get to know other travelers.
Fact Nr. 4: Be prepared. Your survival kit for a long bus ride with children include:
- an iPad or a tablet. As much as I like my children to play, read or write while traveling, nothing beats tablet applications on a bus ride. Let's face it: roads are rough and bumpy. Cards and game parts fall off trays, writing and coloring is nearly impossible. A tablet, loaded with fun apps and cartoons, keeps the kids busy and happy.
- sufficient food and water supply. Bring large bottles of water and straws. Always ask for straws when buying water, nearly every shop has some. They are very useful to prevent children from splashing water all over the bus (remember, the ride is often a bumpy one). Snacks (candied pineapple, banana crisps or imported cookies) are perfect to keep little hands and mouths quiet. Don't forget to offer some snacks to nearby passengers! Lao and Cambodian people are very generous and will easily share food with your children too!
Note: the bus will also stop for food and drinks along the way, but not necessarily at the usual lunch/dinner hours.
Fact Nr. 5: Don't cover too long distances in one day! A distance of 250 km is covered in approximately 5 hours. Plan your trip accordingly. If you want to ride a longer distance, consider adding a night stop in a small town along the way (it's often a pleasant surprise) or just fly directly to your end destination.
Fact Nr. 6: Road safety is always a concern. There is little you can do about it. Bus drivers are fairly cautious and usually drive slowly, partly due to poor road conditions. By all means, avoid traveling at night. Prefer large busses over minivans. Some companies that operate minivans follow a tight schedule, and drivers will speed to stick to it. The company GiantIbis in Cambodia has a reputation of safe driving.
Fact Nr. 7: Enjoy! It will be sometimes boring, noisy and bumpy, but you and your family will see beautiful landscapes, meet friendly people and experience unique moments.