After a six hour train journey, a 15 hour bus ride and a seven hour journey by car, we finally arrived at Luang Prabang in Laos from Hanoi in Vietnam.
Admittedly, we had stops along the way – an overnight stay in Vinh after the train journey, and half a day in Phonsavan after the bus ride – but the goal was always Luang Prabang.
It wasn’t a comfortable journey.
The train journey was fine enough, but the bus ride was butt-numbing, and my friend was severely car sick in the journey by car.
Does travel have to be so tough?
Afterall, we can fly in to Luang Prabang via Bangkok.
But it’s all about the experience, I say (comfortably on hindsight I might add).
Who wants to hear about the fabulous vacation you just had, when they’ve been slogging away in the office?
Also, tales of misadventures tend to raise more than a few laughs at that pub after work.
But that’s besides the point.
To me, travel is not just about the destination, but also about the journey.
If all I wanted to do is to see magnificent sights, I can watch TLC on TV.
Or I can join a tour group that handles everything for me and ferries me from attraction to attraction in a simple, fuss-free manner.
But that also blocks you off from all the fabulous, and maybe painful, experiences you could be having.
Like the time I took a hard seat train journey between two towns in China’s remote Gansu province.
Just as I was thinking that I should take a nap, I got to know a bunch of undergraduates who were travelling together for the final time before they started work in different parts of China.
And for the next few hours, they taught me card games and even shared their snacks (one of which I grew to love – chicken feet with pickled peppers).
I also remember my attempts at speaking Russian in Siberia so I can buy a train ticket to Mongolia.
And dashing across train platforms in India as we realised, in horror, that we were waiting at the wrong platform and our train was due to leave.
All these wouldn’t have happened if I had gone on a packaged tour.
So it may be tougher, but potentially more rewarding to handle everything yourself.
Even if you encounter some speed bumps, like losing your way or even missing your flights.
But hey, that’s possibly a great story to tell your friends.
So do you prefer packaged tours, or a DIY vacation?