The Vomit Express

Two dry retches launch me into action. By the time the wet retch is in progress I have a plastic bag open under Miss M’s mouth.

The bag is small and the baby isn’t focused on her aim. One hour into our three-hour bus ride and I’m splattered in sick. And it stinks. Thank God I noticed the little bags tied to the seat handle as we set off for Pai, a popular getaway from Chiang Mai. Without the bag, things would have been a whole lot worse.

The bus lurches around another bend and Miss M is off again, her head swinging and spraying as I desperately try to keep the bag under her mouth.

This I was not expecting. Just as I didn’t expect a 15-seat minivan to speed UP a mountain. A twisty, turny mountain road.

Hot and cramped, unable to escape the wafting smell of sick or the sticky ickness of my shirt, I don’t feel so great myself.

The German guy in the row in front hands back some more plastic bags, and a packet of wet wipes. The Thai girl next to me holds out a packet of tissues.

I don’t actually have a free hand to accept anything. And I don’t have a free hand to open a sick bag for myself, which I feel I may need to do soon.

I wait, hardly breathing. Partly because of the smell, partly because I’m afraid of what my body will do when I exhale. Miss M groans, which is an improvement on vomiting. I take some of the tissues and start wiping myself off. There’s vomit on my hands, on my arm, on my pants, down the front of my shirt. The smell pulls at my insides, trying to pull them up and out.

The bus windows don’t open. I wonder how far the vomit smell is reaching and I feel so so sorry for the other passengers.

Taking my attention away from the baby was a mistake. She barfs again, all over bits of me that I’ve just cleaned. I have never liked being dirty and when she was very young I thanked my lucky stars time and time again that she wasn’t a spew-y baby.

Today, she’s making up for lost time. The bag of vomit is heavy and full. I try to tie it off as quick as I can and get another bag ready. This is too gross a task to request help with, and I can’t work out whether to tie the full barf bag to the handle of the seat in front of me, or put it on the floor where it could roll up and down the bus until someone steps on it.

There’s vomit on the outside of the bag. It’s everywhere. I balance the bag between my feet — I don’t know what else to do with it.

The bus lurches and leans, tackling steep switchbacks and hairpin bends at crazy speeds. Miss M starts to cry. Beside me, Darling Man croaks “I can’t breathe” and scrabbles at the latchless window.

I tell him to look at the horizon and I train the airconditioner vents on him. But the vents are hardly blowing out any air, and we are trapped in the third row, with almost no view. The windows are small and low and the seats in front of us are high. Stupid blue curtains further obscure the view. They keep flicking across my line of sight, making my headache worse.

I am hanging onto the handle of the seat in front of me to keep the baby on my lap. I notice a gob of sick on my knuckle and I have to take some extra deep breaths to keep my stomach where it should be.

The baby, sweaty and wimpering, lays her head on my chest, her cheek sliding a bit on the warm vomit she’s left there. It’s awful, so awful. I have no free hand to check the time. I had no idea the trip would be so dreadful.

I sit as tall as I can and concentrate on the small scrap of windscreen I can see… and just endure.

The bus continues to lurch and sway, turning and turning. It seems like I will be trapped here forever, in the dim bus smelling the smell of vomit, with Darling Man pulling about-to-be-sick faces next to me.

And then, finally, we pull into our rest stop. I dump the sleeping baby on Darling Man and sprint to the bathroom, where I wash my hands over and over again, and my shirt. And then wash my hands again. And my face.

I take a deep breath of clean non-vomit-tainted mountain air and then I go back to retrieve the baby. I take off her smelly dress and stuffed it in a sick bag. I wash as much of her as I can in the handbasin in the ladies, then dress her in her emergency change of clothes.

Finally feeling human again, I emerge from the toilet area to find Darling Man clutching a bag of barbecued corn and a pair of bananas. Like a starving street dog, he wolfs down the bananas and two ears of corn.

When the bus driver motions us to board the bus again, I delay the next stage of hell as long as I can. Miss M cries “no, no”, weakly.

But we pack ourselves in again, and the bus reverses slowly onto the mountain road, then lurches forward quickly, swinging wildly around the curves as if we are on the run from the law.

Miss M claps her hand over her mouth and I hold her tight, staring at my small sliver of windscreen. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Darling Man grab a plastic bag and lean forward, spasming quietly. I look at the ceiling. My head buzzes and I feel like passing out. I try to angle my arm so Miss M can’t see her father. But it’s no use. She retches and I fumble for yet-another sick bag. I am not quick enough, and the first round splatters half on my pants, half on Darling Man’s jeans. He lurches forward again, this time with an audible “yerch”.

Packets of tissues and wet wipes are offered from every direction. I say a general “sorry” to the other passengers and try again to create an inner calm. And just when I think Miss M and my stomach have settled, Darling Man burps, setting off a new skirmish between my guts and my head.

A pause … waiting for the next round of sticky stinky sickening awfulness. Waiting … and suddenly I get the giggles. I can’t move, wedged in between Darling Man, who is green and limp, and Miss M, who is hot and limp and needs both my arms to keep her steady as the bus keeps lurching and lurching.

“This is just so horrible,” I yell over my shoulder to our travel buddies. “Thank goodness we didn’t try the five-hour bus trip.” My friend leans forward and pats my shoulder, unsure if I’m laughing or crying.

And just when I think I cannot bear anymore, the bends end and I start catching glimpses of pretty coffee shops and t-shirt stalls.

We have arrived in Pai, and all I can think of is – how the hell are we ever going to get back down the mountain?

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11 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Dalene says:

    Oh my. That is so awful. So, so awful. It reminds me of bus trips in South America, but so much worse.

    Poor M. And DM. AND YOU!

    I WAS hungry before reading this….
    Dalene recently posted..Tears for Ljubljana

    • Barbara says:

      Perhaps I should offer a new weight loss service — read stories about toddler vomit and lose the urge to eat! A free set of stories about dirty nappies for the first 50 customers (usual price $50). Call now!

  2. Violeta says:

    I have tears rolling down my cheeks … of course from laughing harder than I did in awhile. Sorry, I know the experience wasn’t funny at all, but your writing is sensational and you made me laugh (and I wasn’t in a good mood to start with, that’s why I chose to read your blog post hoping to get a pick me up). I am glad you made it down the mountain safely … since you lived to write about your ride up the mountain. I look forward to reading about the adventure coming down. Oh my, the joy of traveling with a toddler! I was also lucky to have a girl who did not vomit as a baby until very recently when I truly understood what “projectile vomiting” really means. And while it was happening, 3 times in an hour, I kept thinking: “Thanks God, we are not stuck on an 10-hour flight with only one set of emergency cloths”. Even among my tears, I have lots of sympathy for you. And admiration of course.

    • Barbara says:

      We made it back safely, thank Violeta.
      And thank you for your lovely compliment. I think being stuck on a flight would not be so bad because you can walk around a bit and there’s a toilet on board. On the bus, you’re just stuck-stuck-stuck.

      P.S. I’m glad I could cheer you up. Knowing that I did that has cheered me up too! 🙂

  3. that is so beyond awful. i am so very, very sorry. i’d have walked back, even if it took 3 weeks.
    wandering educators recently posted..Free Expat Coaching Cafe for Expat Women December 13, 2011

  4. Amy says:

    What a terrible day! Poor little Miss M!
    Amy recently posted..Has The House Sold Yet?…Um No.

    • Barbara says:

      I felt so sorry for Miss M. I had no idea she’d get car sick. Or bus sick, in this case. And I couldn’t even explain to her how she could make herself feel better. Poor thing.

  5. Jody says:

    That was us from Nha Trang to Dalat. Except we had no changes of clothes. I was see through there was that much liquid on me from kiddo and everyone could see my bra and spotty knickers. When we turned up at the five star resort they still wanted us to sit in the main area having welcome drinks!!! I got the giggles too. Not much else to do when it gets so dire.

    • Barbara says:

      Blerg. Nha Trang to Dalat would be a bit longer than three hours. I had forgotten about your experience. It never crossed my mind that a toddler could get car sick!

  6. robin says:

    Nothing like a puke story. I once vomited on myself and felt so bad that I sat there for a further fifteen minutes before the room stopped spinning and I could do something about it. There, I’ve said it. It’s out there now.
    robin recently posted..Los Invitados

  7. Michelle says:

    What a terrible experience. Just when I thought things were getting better, the vomit rampage continues. I never thought I would stay this long reading a vomit story. I can imagine the discomfort. I could read the story on your trip down the mountain.

  8. This is just so, so awful. As I was reading this I kept thinking “it can’t get worse than that”…. and then it did! Oh lordy, I don’t know how you made it through.

    I get very carsick, so now I’m wondering if I’ll survive the trip to Pai when we decide to head over there…. =/
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Sunny Views and a Shady Owner: Apartment Hunting in Chiang Mai

  9. Laura says:

    I always get so sleepy on the bus. Well, truth be told, I always fall asleep on the bus. Great article. Thanks.
    Laura recently posted..Unique Things To Do On Florida Holidays 2012

  10. Sophie says:

    Travelling with children certainly has its ups and downs, doesn’t it? Poor little girl. And you two. What an awful journey. But you’ll probably laugh about it later. Much later!
    Sophie recently posted..Travel photo – Huatulco

  11. James Cook says:

    That sounds like such a horrible bus ride!

  12. Oh dear. That did not sound like fun at all. I actually wish I had some of those plastic baggies here with me right now…
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..Travel from Point A to Point Z

  13. Oh dear. What a bad ride! I totally understand though, I have transportation sickness myself and would never board a bus like this. Which sucks because there are so many remote places I will never see because of that! But you have all my admiration for dealing with this!
    Eurotrip Tips recently posted..The Wonders of Chambord Castle

    • Barbara says:

      We didn’t KNOW it was a bus like this! I’d do it again though, because I love exploring. It’s such a shame you are missing out on remote places. Can you take motion sickness medication?

  14. Laurel says:

    Oh no, poor Miss M. and poor you. There are few things worse than being car sick. I love reading about your adventures of traveling with children, especially the less glamorous ones like this one.
    Laurel recently posted..The Unsual Christmas Tree at Hellbrunn Castle, Salzburg

  15. […] may have been partly due to our journey there, aboard the vomit express. It may also have been partly due to our complete lack of research and subsequent inept floundering […]

  16. Oh I feel your pain. Cool blog, we are also traveling long term with our toddler. Check out the post I wrote about my own puking princess:
    Chaya Shepard recently posted..Motion Sickness in Children When Traveling on Buses

  17. Amy says:

    I am laughing so much from this! It sounds so terrible, but at the same time you’ve written about it in such an entertaining manner that I am laughing so much!

    I was traumatised after having an eight year old vomit all over her brother, her bed and his bed in a caravan. This sounds about a hundred times worse!
    Amy recently posted..Swimming with the Sea Lions

  18. Rosalind Mathieson says:

    Oh so horrible, but you wrote about it in a way that in the end made me both shudder and laugh. And what doesn’t kill us….

  19. Reminds me of a drive we did as a kid after Easter chocolate morning! Feel sorry for you!

  20. […] too!  If you are signed up for my newsletter (you are aren’t you?) you will have read her Vomit Express post that I sent out back in March.  If you didn’t and you’ve ever had small children […]

  21. I’ve been sharing this around again today. This is my favourite post EVER!!!!!!!!
    Tracey – Life Changing Year recently posted..There Are Big Differences Between Travelling And Living Local!

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