Asia,  Destinations,  Trains, Planes & Rideshares

How to book bus tickets in Southeast Asia

Taking buses in Southeast Asia is easy and fun!

Buses are typically the cheapest way to get around Asia. They’re used by locals and tourists alike, comfortable to ride*, and very easy to use.

*There’s always exceptions, and tbh if you book a $1 bus for a 5 hour ride you shouldn’t be surprised it’s bad. But in GENERAL, buses are perfectly comfortable.

The easiest way to book tickets is to do it through your hostel or hotel. Every hostel I’ve ever stayed in has been able to book bus tickets for their guests.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and buy something, I get a small percentage of that at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.)

The staff work with local travel agencies and often get discounted rates compared to online prices, plus you’ll maybe get some extra stuff like getting picked up at your hotel and/or being dropped off at your next hotel.

If you’re short on time or just a worrywart who likes to plan ahead, then most major bus routes across Southeast Asia (SEA) can be booked online. Some routes run by smaller bus companies can usually only be booked in person (or over the phone).

Types of buses

Local buses – these go between towns within the same province, or sometimes between two provinces. They’re usually the cheapest (and the slowest) and you don’t need to buy tickets ahead of time. Local buses stop within the main part of the city, so they can be good if you need to get in close.

Intercity buses (aka domestic/long distance buses) – these go between cities within the same country, usually at a longer distance than is covered by local buses. You need to buy tickets ahead of time, and they usually leave/arrive at bus stations a bit out of town.

International buses – exactly what it sounds like! These buses go between two countries– though sometimes you have to switch buses at the border. You need to buy tickets ahead of time.

Tourist charter buses – special buses run for tourists; no locals use these because they’re more expensive than local buses and/or only go to specific tourist places. They’re also smaller than other buses– more typically minivans or large passenger vans. Usually they’ll pick you up from your hostel and drop you off at your next hostel as part of your ticket. You need to buy tickets ahead of time.

Planning your route

Rome2Rio – My favorite resource for planning routes, especially between two countries. Put your starting point and your desired destination, and R2R will show (some) of the available routes, plus estimated travel duration and costs! They do buses, trains, ferrys, taxi/driving, and so on. It’s a great way to see what kind of routes are available within a country, so you can see if there’s night buses or day buses or some combo of the two.

Tip: Click into a specific route to see the “agency info” for the buses on that route. You’ll be able to see specific bus companies that way.

Google Maps – Good for searching routes within one country, and for finding some bus routes. Not as easy to use for big distances as Rome2Rio, but good for finding city/intercity/government-run buses rather than dedicated travel buses– the government ones tend to be cheaper, though much slower.

Tip: Search for routes between specific bus stations rather than cities. Sometimes that’ll work better and will pull up more route options.

Online Bus Booking Websites

All of these cover the major countries within SEA. They all have mobile apps which work for iOS and Android, as well as websites that work on desktops. Because they’re online travel agencies, you may occasionally run into issues with booking tickets. If you’re short on time and absolutely MUST have a ticket for a specific time slot, go directly to the bus company to get it, just in case.

12Go.asia

Can book buses across almost all the Southeast Asia countries, plus Australia and some European ones as well! Very popular in Vietnam and Thailand. And you can book other things than buses: you can also book trains, ferrys, and rental cars.

Easybook

Most popular in Malaysia, but can book for most other SEA countries as well. Can also book train tickets, ferrys/fastboats, and look for car rentals. If you book tickets through them, you’ll get loyalty points that you can use on future purchases. They also seem to have the most promo codes for discounted tickets or sale prices, so it’s worth checking out.

redBus

Most popular in India, but can also use for Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Can also book train tickets!

Traveloka

Most popular in Indonesia, but can also use for Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines. The only app where you can buy Indonesian train tickets with a foreign credit card. Also good for booking car rentals, hotels, and activities like tours.

Klook

Not exactly a bus ticket website, but you can sometimes find tickets for tourist charter buses for various SEA countries. Also great for finding tours, airport transit, SIM cards, and so on.

Sign up for Klook using this link and get a $5 credit for your first booking! (This is a referral link. If you sign up using my link, I’ll also get $5 to use on Klook. Win-win!)

Southeast Asia Bus FAQs

How far ahead should I buy a bus ticket?

The nice thing about buses is that you mostly don’t need to book tickets far ahead of time. There’s tons of bus companies and routes available every day, and if you miss out on one bus there’s no doubt another one a few hours later.

The only exception to that is for unusual routes, or for specific long-distance routes that aren’t as popular with tourists OR locals. Be sure to do your research on the routes you want to take so you can be sure to get the bus you want.

Country-specific tips

Malaysia buses mostly need a paper boarding pass, though SOME bus stations can take QR codes. If you need a paper boarding pass, get to the station at least 30 minutes before your bus leaves so you can get it printed out. If they charge for it, it’ll be 1 RM.

Malaysia is also the only country (so far) that’s preferred tourists to use online booking compared to offline. All my hostels told me to book on Easybook, haha!

Buses on Borneo are mostly NOT online, and you’ll have to either go to the station or call them to pick you up somewhere.

Heading to Borneo? Check out my best tips and recommendations for what to do and where to go.

Laos buses are…fine…but the roads outside of the Vientiane-Vang Vieng route are truly terrible. I spent 9 hours in a passenger van with a woman throwing up beside me the whole way, that’s how bad the roads were. However, the road between Vientiane and Vang Vieng is new and well-developed.

Thailand bus tickets are significantly cheaper if you buy them in person yourself. Like, nearly half the price.

Vietnam VIP cabin buses are worth the extra $5 USD or whatever if you’re traveling overnight: they have sleeping pods where you can lay down flat!


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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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