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

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HONG KONG – Almost two years after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Charles and Jenny Chung yearn for a getaway from their home in Hong Kong. But with overseas travel hampered by strict quarantine requirements on Chinese territory, the couple found a different way to relax and rejuvenate – five hours on a public bus.

The “Bus Sleeping Tour”, organized by local company Ulu Travel, is touted as Hong Kong’s longest bus line at 83 kilometers (51 miles). Narrated by a guide in Cantonese, it includes stops at a number of Instagram-friendly locations away from the downtown skyscrapers. But passengers can also use it to get the sleep which in Hong Kong can be so elusive.

Almost 70 percent of Hong Kong residents have trouble sleeping, according to a telephone 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 sleep deprived in the world.

“Hong Kong people tend to sleep very late, mainly after midnight or 1 a.m., but wake up very early in the morning,” he said. “This is why Hong Kong people have a relatively short sleep duration compared to people in other parts of Asia. ”

One passenger sleeping on the 51 mile bus route.BERTHA WANG / AFP via Getty Images

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

“Everyone in Hong Kong has done it at least once,” Charles Chung said. “I take a nap on the bus for 15 minutes and feel rested, and I probably sleep better on the bus than at home.” One Sunday in November, the Chungs and about 40 other passengers gathered at a restaurant in the New Territories of Hong Kong, where they were first served a “food coma” lunch. When they boarded the double-decker bus – all wearing masks that conform to local pandemic rules – each received earplugs and a sleep mask. The bus then enters a highway that winds along the coast, facing the South China Sea.

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

This highway in particular is well known for its sleepy effects, said Charles Chung, “When I drive the car on this road, all of my friends fall asleep. “

However, the couple didn’t get as much sleep as they thought they would, as the bus stopped about once an hour: first at the Hong Kong container port, one of the busiest in the world; then to a popular vantage point near the airport, where nostalgic travelers can still see flights in and out, although much less frequently 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 Inspiration man-made lake next to Hong Kong Disneyland.

The bus tour stops at sights in the city. Natsuki Arita

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

Carol Mak, 39, was unsure about the bus tour before purchasing tickets, which start at HK $ 129 ($ 16.50), compared to more typical bus fares that rarely exceed a few. 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 her 6-year-old son, Dickson, is an aspiring transport enthusiast who loves to take long bus trips just for the fun of it.

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

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

A 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 United Nations World Tourism Organization, in 2019 the territory was ranked 12th in the world for outbound tourism spending, with places like Japan, Taiwan and Thailand within a short flight away.

But they had to get creative during the pandemic, which prompted Hong Kong authorities to close the border and impose strict quarantine requirements on residents arriving from overseas. Confined to one place, they explore the outer islands of Hong Kong and encumber its hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails; the sleeper bus tour is fully booked.

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

But as the rest of the world accepts the coronavirus as endemic and relaxes restrictions, Hong Kong is following mainland China in sticking to its ‘zero-Covid’ approach, drawing criticism from multinational companies with local offices that say ‘it stifles the economy. The crucial tourism sector has been particularly hard hit, with visitor arrivals from January to September down more than 98% from the same period last year, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

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

Companies like Ulu Travel have therefore had to innovate by focusing on domestic tourism in an area smaller than the size of Los Angeles. Founder Frankie Chow said his local offerings include an LGBT-focused tour, a visit to meet other divorcees and a dog-friendly bus tour.

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

Kenneth Kong, one of Ulu Travel’s employees, got the idea when he saw a friend say on Facebook that he suffered from insomnia at home but had slept well on the bus after the job.

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

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