Was it worth it?

April 12, 2011

During one chunk of my recent Cambodia holiday (arranged seamlessly by our wonderful new clients, Cambodia specialist ABOUTAsia Travel), I undertook an 11-hour coach journey.  Why?  Because by road is the only way to get to Ratanakiri, a wild north-eastern province that offers fabulous eco-tourism, a refreshingly rustic feel and all manner of outdoor-activity treats.

The journey from Phnom Penh was not enjoyable in the slightest: uncomfortable, painful, torturous, never-ending.  My three nights in Ratanakiri were, however, constantly enjoyable.  And then the journey back to Phnom Penh (most excursions in Cambodia go through Phnom Penh) was not enjoyable in the slightest: uncomfortable, painf… well, you get the idea.

So was my Ratanakiri excursion worth it?  That’s what someone asked me, post-trip, once I recounted all this.  Was my time in Ratanakiri worth the toil of getting there?  And, uh, well… I’m not sure.  It’s difficult, this idea of reducing travel experiences into some sort of struggle vs reward, pain vs gain, agony vs ecstasy equation.  They don’t quantify into plain old numbers; there’s no science involved here, no categorical answers at hand.

Thinking about my friend’s question, I attempted to make a pro and con list, in the hope of ascertaining whether my Ratanakiri excursion was, according to an imagined scale of emotional economics, worth it…

Pros: I dove into a crater lake (3), met the friendliest Cambodians of them all (5), swam under waterfalls (4), ate in a great restaurant (2), supported lots of worthy NGOs (3), saw somewhere few tourists do (1), trekked in jungle (3), lived relatively cheaply (1) and stayed in a funky lodge (2).

Cons: The bus journey was hot and cramped, with three hours on a seriously rutted, bouncy track, including the odd dangerous wobble and no end of unscheduled stops (5).  The occasional stops were by ugly, litter-ridden shacks (2) and, on the way back, a mother had her baby poop into a plastic bag, stinking out the whole vehicle (5).  The bus played a combination of agonising pop and loud Jackie Chan films on its TV, making sleep impossible (5).  The scenery was gorgeous, but the same gorgeous for 11 hours (1).  Our bags took a bit of a beating in the stow (1).

In brackets, I have accorded points to the wonder or severity of each gush or gripe, on a scale of 1-5.  That gives the Pros a score of 24, and the cons only 19.  Therefore, it was worth it.  Just.  Had we come on a minibus, according to a Belgian acquaintance, we’d have broken down four times (4) and had so little legroom as to end up bruised (4), and thus it wouldn’t have been worth it.  Gosh, this emotional travel economics thing is really simple.

There’s only one problem with it: you only find out the scores once you’ve been, and suffered/exulted, somewhere – not before you go.  Before would be better.  Can someone arrange that?

Richard Mellor.