Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chinatown bus?

Okay, I need your sage advice again. Has anyone ever taken the Chinatown bus before, or know anybody who has? What is it like? Is it dirty? Does it smell bad? Is it a miserable experience?

The background to this is that my French host brother is coming to visit in October, and we want to take him to New York for the weekend, since he has never been to the US before. We found a cheap(ish) hotel, so now all we have to figure out is how to get to and from the city. We don't have a car, but we could probably borrow one. But with gas and tolls, it would still be reasonably expensive, and we would probably end up shelling out at least $50 for parking alone, possibly more like $75, plus we would have to deal with the general hassle of having a car in the city.

So, if we don't want to drive ourselves, the options are plane, train, and bus. The plane would be about $500 for the three of us, without even considering that getting from a New York airport to the hotel would cost us an additional chunk of money. The train would be $400 round trip for the three of us. And then there's the Chinatown bus, at a beautiful $35 round trip per person for a grand total of $105.

If we were to drive, my estimate based on mileage, gas prices, my knowledge of tolls, and understanding of parking costs, we would probably end up paying about $150 in travel expenses. So not that much more than if we were to take the bus. There's just the extra inconvenience factor and the need to borrow a car from one of our poor friends or family members (or pay for a rental car, which would definitely drive the price up). But it would definitely be a more enjoyable and flexible experience if we were in our own car.

My point is, however, that you can't beat the Chinatown bus for affordability and practicality. But if it's gross and nasty, it's not worth it. I have never taken a Chinatown bus before, so I am relying on all of you to give me any and all information, personal anecdotes, nasty rumours, etc., that you may have about the Chinatown bus situation. Please keep in mind that buses make Torsten vaguely carsick as well.


  1. Have you checked out normal Greyhound? I know they've gotten competitive with Chinatown for the Boston-NYC run.

    Fung Wah has had a few too many rollovers and accidents for my tastes. But that's just me.

  2. My friends who once lived in DC and now live in NYC take the Chinatown bus all the time. They don't anticipate the trips with much delight, but they don't mind. Does that help?

    Just don't talk to anyone or make eye contact. That would be my advice.

  3. Greyhound is about the same price and if the bus fills up they'll put another one in service. On the Chinatown bus you're out of luck once the first bus is at capacity.

    Here are some other things to consider:
    1) the Chinatown buses have a horrible safety record,
    2) they discriminate against handicapped people (no wheelchair access, some lawsuits),
    3) not unusual for the drivers to ignore the rules about taking a break -- meaning that you find stories on blogs about drivers nodding off while they're driving!

  4. I did check out Greyhound, and it looked like round trip tickets would be $59 apiece instead of $35. But these Chinatown bus stories are a bit scary, so maybe we'll just suck it up and drive ourselves. Thanks for the advice.

  5. dude, i'm practically an expert on the chinatown bus! things to take into consideration:

    -there are like 2837523 companies that also do that same bus trip for $35, and are WAY WAY WAY better than the actual chinatown bus. comfy seats, movies, etc. check out or, i've taken both and had good experiences.
    -if you can get a greyhound r/t ticket for $60, sweet! i've never seen it for under $100 r/t dc-nyc, so that's a good price. i've never actually taken greyhound, so i can't speak to whether their busses are actually better than vamoose etc.
    -if you do take one of the cheapo busses, DO NOT BELIEVE the travel times of like 4 hrs or whatever they say. count on at least 5 hours each way.
    -SO NOT WORTH having a car in nyc. ever. although i don't get carsick in busses, so that probably colors my opinion.... :-)

  6. Damn it, Alice. Here I had just decided to go by car instead of bus, and along you come offering a whole different, experienced perspective. Plus, those other two commenters were anonymous, which means how can I know if I can trust them? Right?

    Anyway, I still don't know what we're going to do, but your advice is definitely appreciated.

  7. Hmmm, some thoughts.

    Before I sold my car, I took one last road trip up to see one of my best friends in NYC. It was a beautiful fall weekend and I enjoy driving, so I figured it was a great opportunity to enjoy the freedom of a car.

    Cons: The tolls were a pain in the ass, felt like a hidden cost that added up, and it was not any quicker to drive.

    Pros: Since you have the three of you, it could be fun, and it might be worth these cons to have the privacy of enjoying each other's company in private, rather than with a bus full of other people.

    A note on the chinatown bus...
    When you make your reservation, you're not reserving an actual seat. So while you may get a seat, when people get on the bus, it's sort of like you have to fight for one. Not the greatest experience.

    But, I second what other people have said about other companies providing similar transportation for a similar cost that's much nicer. Erik recently took a bus that was the same cost and he really enjoyed whatever it was, so I'll ask him!