This bus won't get you out of Hong Kong, but it might get you to sleep

HONG KONG – Nearly two years after the coronavirus pandemic, Charles and Jenny Chung are longing for a short break from their Hong Kong home. But with travel abroad hampered by strict quarantine regulations on Chinese territory, the couple found another way to relax and recharge: five hours on a public bus.

The “Bus Sleeping Tour” organized by the local company Ulu Travel is the longest bus route in Hong Kong at 83 kilometers. Narrated by a tour guide in Cantonese, it stops at a number of Instagram-friendly locations away from the downtown skyscrapers. But passengers can also use it to shut the eye, which can be so elusive in Hong Kong.

Nearly 70 percent of Hong Kong residents have insomnia, according to a phone survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong last year. Wing Yun-kwok, professor and director of the university’s Sleep Assessment Unit, said Hong Kong’s people are among the most sleepless in the world.

“Hong Kong people tend to sleep very late, usually after noon or 1 am, but wake up very early in the morning,” he said. “This is why Hong Kongers have a relatively short sleep time compared to people from other parts of Asia.”

A passenger who sleeps on the 51 mile bus tour.BERTHA WANG / AFP via Getty Images

The city’s achievement-oriented culture downplays the importance of sleep, Wing said, adding that light pollution and late eating can also contribute to local sleep deprivation. As in other cities, Hong Kong’s public transport system is often filled with dozing commuters.

“Everyone in Hong Kong has done it at least once,” said Charles Chung. “I nap on the bus for 15 minutes and feel refreshed, and I probably sleep better on the bus than at home.” You were first served a “food coma” lunch. When they boarded the double-decker bus – everyone wore masks in accordance with local pandemic rules – each was provided with earplugs and a sleeping mask. The bus then drove over a freeway that meanders along the coast overlooking the South China Sea.

Charles and Jenny Chung before boarding the “Bus Sleeping Tour”. Natsuki Arita

This particular highway is known for its drowsy properties, said Charles Chung: “When I drive this street in my car, all my friends fall asleep.”

But the couple did not get as much sleep as expected, because the bus stopped about once an hour: first at the container port in Hong Kong, one of the busiest in the world; then at a popular vantage point near the airport, where wistful travelers can still see flights getting on and off, albeit much less often than before the pandemic.

The bus also stopped at Butterfly Beach, Hong Kong’s closest beach to mainland China, before making a final stop at the man-made Inspiration Lake next to Hong Kong Disneyland.

The bus tour stops at attractions across the city. Natsuki Arita

“Every time the bus stops, I have to wake up to get off,” said Charles.

Carol Mak, 39, was unsure about the bus tour before buying tickets, which start at $ 129 Hong Kong ($ 16.50), compared to a more typical bus fare that rarely exceeds more than a few US dollars.

“If I wanted to take a nap on a bus, I can just find a relatively long bus lane and sleep,” she said.

But their 6-year-old son Dickson is a budding transportation enthusiast who loves taking long bus trips just for fun.

At the end of the tour, Mak said she could see why it would appeal to people like her son.

Compared to a more traditional tour bus, she says, “The time we spend in a scenic location is shorter, but the time we spend on the bus is much longer so I think it’s great for people who like to take the bus yourself. ”

An Ulu Travel employee said he got the idea when a Facebook friend said he slept well on the bus after work.Bertha Wang / AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong residents love to travel, according to the UN world tourism organization, In 2019, the area was ranked 12th in the world in overseas tourism spending, and places like Japan, Taiwan and Thailand are just a short flight away.

But they had to get creative during the pandemic, which led Hong Kong officials to close the border and impose strict quarantine requirements on residents arriving from overseas. Confined to one place, they explore the offshore islands of Hong Kong and populate the hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails; the sleeper bus tour is sold out.

Download the. down NBC news app for breaking news and politics

These local adventures are made possible in part because the border closure and mandatory quarantine – up to 21 days, one of the longest periods in the world – have kept Hong Kong virtually Covid-free. The city of 7 million has recorded fewer than 13,000 cases and 213 deaths.

But with the rest of the world accepting coronavirus as endemic and easing restrictions, Hong Kong is following mainland China by sticking to its “zero covid” approach and drawing criticism from multinationals with local offices who say that it stifles the economy. The important tourism sector has been hit particularly hard, with visitor arrivals declining more than 98 percent from January through September compared to the same period last year, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Frankie Chow, the founder of Ulu Travel, poses in front of one of his buses in Hong Kong on November 14, 2021. Bertha Wang / AFP via Getty Images

Companies like Ulu Travel therefore needed to innovate and focus on domestic tourism in an area less than the size of Los Angeles. Founder Frankie Chow said its local offerings include an LGBT-focused tour, a meet other divorcees tour, and a dog-friendly bus tour.

“We didn’t want to do what everyone else is doing,” he said. “I wanted to do something special, so we started talking.”

Kenneth Kong, an employee at Ulu Travel, got the idea when a friend on Facebook said he had insomnia at home but slept well on the bus after work.

“We only had to try once,” said Kong. “We can watch people’s reactions to see if it’s really worth it, and it was.”

Leave a Comment