Weak stomachs on Cambodian roadways

My eyes gazed out the car window at bullocks pulling hay carts, slate blue houses perched on stilts and school children riding bicycles.

My body lurched from side to side as the driver dodged and weaved around motorcycles, trucks and buses on the busy, narrow road heading away from Phnom Penh and toward the seaside town of Kep.

My nose smelt smoke, dust, exhaust and the sharp scent of children’s vomit.

My mind suddenly recalled something I heard Jim Carrey say as The Grinch while careening down Mt. Crumpit on a runaway sleigh to Whoville:

“I’m gonna to throw up, and then I’m gonna to die!”

A short while earlier, in the backseat of the car, I had taken a break from studying the interesting mix of languages on the roadside advertisements (Cambodian, English, Chinese and occasionally French) and looked over at my daughter. Her ashen hue and grim expression told me that I urgently needed to dig a liquid-proof, plastic container out from my backpack to hold under her mouth.

Noticing the heaving sound from the backseat, the driver stopped so we could clean up a bit and give everyone some fresh air. Driving on, the road become no less busy and because the driver’s swerving style of driving continued, so did my daughter’s heavy car sickness. We stopped every ten kilometers or so to clean up, and eventually moved her to the front seat in hopes that a better vantage point would calm her stomach.

She seemed to settle and my husband and I relaxed a bit.


Kep, Cambodia

Carrying on through the dry paddy fields, I marveled at the colorful kites being flown and wondered how many hundreds of bright red advertisements for Angkor Beer and Cambodia Beer we had passed.

And then I heard a faint retching sound emerge from my son. He was not old enough to seek out a bag and his front and my left hand side were immediately saturated with sick.

Pulling over again, I sensed only the barest hint of annoyance from behind the gold-rimmed, aviator sunglasses that the Cambodian driver wore. He smiled and assured us it was all fine as I used tissues in an attempt to clean the cloth seats of his car.

From this point on, we left all of the car windows open to clear the air. We no longer stopped the car for sick children, but offered sick-bags and wiped chins while in motion. Our most urgent wish was to complete this car journey, shower and burn all of the sodden clothes we were wearing.


Sunset in Kep, Cambodia

The setting sun was a perfect orange ball silhouetting palm trees and the wind blew through our hair as we came closer to the coast and passed salt production flats, Kampot pepper plantations and abandoned French colonial villas.

As the sea finally came into view, my children’s stomachs were completely empty and their weary blank stares revealed their utter exhaustion.

Arriving in the town of Kep, we four, pungent creatures emerged from the car, generously tipped the driver and took in our surroundings:

The sky was golden.

We had the sparkling Gulf of Thailand before us and the jungly Kep National Forest behind us.

It was beautiful.

We were happy.

And suddenly very hungry.


12 responses to “Weak stomachs on Cambodian roadways

  1. This reminds me of the time we were in Laos in a van with a family and the children were in the backseat throwing up constantly. It was horrible. But we managed. I was extremely grateful it wasn’t me in the backseat as I have motion sickness.

    So, my advice is, at least this is what I did when I was a kid (and I still use this) is to have hard candy or gum on hand. Lots of it. I went through a box of NIPS coffee candy on the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai once. Candy is better than gum, in my opinion.

    Good luck on the next trip and let us know how Kep is. I’d like to go!

    • We spent a long driving holiday in Yunnan in a van, but that time I had the foresight to bring along anti-motion sickness medicine. Not only were the kids never sick, they also slept most of the long car rides. Double win really.

      If I forget the anti-sickness meds again, I’ll try candy next time.

      Kep was a great stop. More next week!

  2. Oh my! What a trip! How long was the drive, it seems like it must have been an eternity. The drivers in SE Asia have made me car sick so many times. It is not a pleasant feeling. Poor kiddos.
    On the positive side, you must have had the car to yourselves so it wasn’t like a tour company bus that won’t stop for ANYTHING!
    In my younger backpacker days, I was stuck on one of those vans on a trip from the Cambodian border to Bangkok. Then I was hit with travelers gut to the max… I actually begged and cried asking the driver to let me out as I was expecting a very messy and smelly accident if I didn’t get to a bathroom immediately. He refused. Finally, we made it to BKK and I ran for the first bathroom. I have never been so relieved to see a squat toilet… no pun intended? haha TMI? Sorry haha

    • Hahahaha! Oh no, I can’t imagine desperately, desperately needing a toilet and not being let off the bus! Maybe I’ve only every had Asian bus drivers who were also chain smokers and thus stopped the bus all the time.

      You’re right: we had the car to ourselves. Luxury with kids! The idea of a bus in SE Asia with them gives me the shivers.

  3. Pingback: The fun of the mildly dangerous | Expat Lingo·

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