The Throwing of the Up

Posted by - September 28, 2011 | Category: Asia, Escapes, Vietnam

Sapa to Hanoi, Vietnam

I don’t think bus rides agree very much with older Vietnamese women. There are two of them on my bus right now, both vomiting like sailors on a bender.  And If there’s one thing that makes me vomit, it’s the smell of vomit.  Thankfully I keep my breakfast just where I like it – down.

Old tribe woman in Sapa Vietnam

I’m taking the bus from Sapa to Lao Cai to catch the day train back to Hanoi, and as the driver circles through town, the tout yells out the window, trying his damndest to get bums in seats.  When the older ladies board, pyjama-clad (because you’re never certain when the opportunity for a nap may present itself) they shimmy up to the window, open it full wide, and put on their best woman-in-agony faces. 

They know what’s coming.

Rice paddy fields in Sapa Vietnam

Shortly into the ride they gag like furball-choked Tabbies.  A Duelling Banjos in retch.  My friend Dave likes to call it “the throwing of the up.”  Gratefully, there are plastic sandwich-sized sickness bags in each seat pocket, and they are on the receiving end for the better part of the journey.  After use, like most things the Vietnamese have no further need for, they get fired out the window. 

One chap is travelling with his grandmother.  Or perhaps it’s a May-December romance, I’m not sure.  I don’t think i could have held a bag while my nan threw up into it, but God love him, he did just that.  Then, when her strength failed her, he fired it out the window.  Now that’s devotion.

Day train soft seat car Lao Cai to Hanoi Vietnam

When we get to the train station, we go our separate ways, I search for my car, and then settle into my seat.  It’s 9:30 am and we’re off to a rousing start.  The gentleman seated across from me plays “I Don’t Want No Short Dick Man” from his phone. 

It’s going to be a long ride.

Travel Tips

  • Buy your ticket from Lao Cai to Hanoi at the train station in Lao Cai instead of in Sapa.  Hotels in Sapa will charge almost double the price if you are taking a soft seat train, and then staple a “Please arrive at the train station at least 30 minutes prior to departure” notice to it in an attempt to cover the actual train fare.
  • Minivans leave regularly from Sapa to the train station in Lao Cai.  Most hotels charge 40,000 Dong (around $2 US), or you can just walk to the main square outside the tourist information office and flag one down from there.

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80 comments - add one
  1. Even if my beloved grandma was still with us I probably wouldn’t hold her sick bag for her. that’s just the way I roll.

    Funny post about what sounds like a trying day of travel.

    1. The worse part was that they were both in front of me. I feared spindrift with every gust of wind.

      You’re taking your life in your hands renting a motorcycle in Vietnam — especially in the cities.

  2. LOL! What a ride. I can’t really comment on the vomiters, though. I’ve had the pleasure of getting sick in front of a plane full of people. It’s so embarassing!

  3. I think there are more people in the third world countries who vomit on rides because they simply aren’t used to being in large moving vehicles. They’re more used to bikes, scooters and other similar smaller rides (for short distances). Luckily there are bags for it. But you won’t catch me holding one for someone else either. I can’t even look at vomit without wanting to gag, much less hear someone vomiting and feeling the hot grossness on the bag.

  4. But they take such crazy speeding journeys on motorbikes and such – can’t believe their stomachs aren’t stronger, haha. I was recently touched by the, er, up of a little boy on a flight. Not fun!

  5. I didn’t have my passport (stolen) in Vietnam so I took the train from Hanoi to Saigon, fortunately for me there was no throw up – although it took me a while to find the foreigners bathroom and the other ones almost made me throw up.

  6. Firstly, thanks for the (very timely) tips (as I’ll likewise be on just such a bus in Sapa in a few weeks – hmmm, I’m thinkin’ blindfold and iPod earbuds…). Still, those Sapa pics look most enticing.

    That said, LOL – you should be proud. It is surely but a rare few wordsmiths that can tweak the telling of an upchuck story, into a delightful and charming read! 😉

    P.S. Just curious – why not the overnight train to/fro Hanoi? Saves $ and maximizes your explore time, no?

    1. Thanks for the wordsmithing compliment Dyanne — much obliged!

      I took the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and it was actually pretty good. I wanted to take the day train on the reverse so I could see the sights, plus it was a lot cheaper ($8.50 for a soft seat as opposed to $30 for a soft sleeper). The mini-van from Lao Cai to Sapa is inevitable I’m afraid… 🙁

      1. Excellent point Raymond (about the scenery – so was it good?) And cheaper is even better. I plan on o/n train Hanoi-Lao Cai, then 2 nts. homestay (arranged on my own when I arrive – possible? est. dong?); then it’s back (now, via day train, thanks) to Hanoi and hop on the 30 hr. nt. train to Saigon. Any tips? Problems w/ my plan? Thnx much.

        1. I quite liked the scenery even if it did rain for most of the trip. It was good because I got to chat with a few folks along the way — something I wouldn’t have done if I was sleeping (at least I hope not). It does take a bit longer than the overnight train. I left at 9:15 AM and got in around 8:00 PM.

          The homestay should be no problem to arrange, but sometimes they cancel due to rain (like the day I was supposed to go). I’ll check around for prices for you and send you an email — I didn’t really ask because I knew I only wanted the trek.

          The only caveat I had about the homestay was that the places I saw along the trail were not quite what I was expecting. Most had large signs outside that said ‘Traditional Homestay’ with signs for Coke and Tiger Beer and fridges with coolers. The one I did in Northern Thailand was basically a hut. They cooked dinner on a fire in the middle of the room. The toilet was a hole in the ground. We stopped for lunch at one homestay place in Sapa, and the bathroom was nicer than the one at my hotel. I would strongly recommend reading a tonn of reviews if you get the chance. Otherwise, you may be getting a very watered down version of a homestay.

          Also (sorry to ramble), if you are pressed for time, you can always fly from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh city. Flights are super-cheap within Vietnam. I use, and you should be able to find flights for about 60 bucks one way, which may actually even be cheaper than the train.

          Hope this helps! 🙂

          1. Enormously. Esp. the $60 o.w. air – I had checked and thought it was around $150 o.w. (but yes, skyscanner is now showing around $60 – clearly a no-brainer.)

            And the homestay. Yes, I was afraid of that. But I’ve been scouring the options and hope to find some (albeit likely more distant – read: arduous, trek) that are more authentic.

            So very helpful to get such fresh, first hand tips – thanks!

  7. OMG I haven’t heard that song in AGES.

    I think I would have been puking as well. The domino effect gets me every time. Reminds me of that scene from the Sandlot…

  8. OMG! Sorry to say, but your stomach is stronger then ours, we would have been using the baggies to, not from the motion, but from hearing the wrenching.

    Needless to say, you have some interesting stories…

    Love it!

    Nancy & Shawn

    p.s. you should have been a comedian, or maybe you are, not sure.

    1. Thanks Powers. May I call you Powers? Or Powerses? No…that reminds me too much of Homer saying Flanderses. 🙂

      In any case, thanks Nancy and Shawn, I am not a comedian, but I do like to have (and make) fun!

  9. You are one strong man. I would have lost breakfast if I had to experience that near me. I was cracking up reading this. What was up with that cell phone tune?? I really don’t need to know. 🙂

    1. Yeah didn’t seem to care where it went after it left their hands. “Vietnamese road rockets” I like to call ’em.

      And I loved that movie — and the book it came from. 🙂

  10. I think I have a serious future as a senior citizen Vietnamese woman.

    I get motion-sick quite easily, love the look of plaid, and given the opportunity, would probably enjoy a May-December romance…

  11. I have the same response to vomit, which is why I’ve decided I should probably never have kids. Either that or they’re going to have to clean up their own damn throw-up when it invariably happens.

    Also, when I vomit it always comes out my nose, which makes it way worse.

    Too much information?

  12. Haha, nice to see nothing has changed. We were in Vietnam/Laos etc in 2004 and had the same experience. It was on a bus ride in Burma where it got really bad. Everyone was hacking and throwing up and to top it off they were all eating Beetlenut and spitting out the red juice all over the floor. The stench was unbearable. We were originally going to go on to China but that bus ride was enough to turn us off. We had heard so much about the spitting and hacking there that we just couldn’t face things getting worse! We went to Bali instead and it took us 6 more years before we finally made it to China:-)

    1. Thankfully they weren’t spitting betelnut juice all over the place. That’s too bad you waited so long for China. I still need to make it there one day…

  13. Hey, I threw up a couple of times myself. But reading this post was worse then the bus ride itself. Feel like puking right now.

    1. I remember one bus ride in Egypt where the toilet overflowed. The stench was unbearable. Thankfully I was at the front.

      And kids. Sheesh. That’s why I carry children’s Nyquil when I travel — slip it in their sippy cup, and boom, it’s lights out… 😉

      (That’s a joke — parents, don’t be hatin’) 🙂

  14. Oh, wow. I would have done the same thing if I was on that bus!! Side note: that song. Whatever happened to Gilette?? We had a dance routine to that in my teens. Don’t judge. 😉

  15. Visited the high reaches of Himalayas last year and it was fantastic. Thankfully I dont suffer from altitude sickness.
    Have a wonderful weekend:)


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