Time can move slowly when you are on an assignment alone. Recently, at a resort I was reviewing in Vietnam, I found myself at a loose end. I’d polished off the complimentary handmade artisanal chocolates, scoured more than 100 channels in vain for something decent to watch and nearly disabled myself on one of the king-sized bed’s fashionably sharp edges.
With nothing left to do but amble around aimlessly in a monogrammed terry-toweling robe, I began reminiscing about the first time I visited Southeast Asia and how my approach to travel has changed in the intervening 17 years. Back then, in 1999, I went mad – or at least that’s how it seems to me now. It was not as if I’d had a sheltered upbringing. I arrived in Bangkok off the back of a leaving party that dragged on for around three weeks.
Nevertheless, as a good middle-class boy from Edinburgh, I didn’t expect to be occupying matchbox-sized rooms, spending 17 hours in the back of a pickup truck to see temples in Cambodia or donning an American football helmet for a coronary-inducing six-hour speedboat ride down the Mekong River in Laos. The fact that I was also decked out in backpacker-issue fisherman’s pants, garish replica T-shirts and love beads only adds to the retrospective unreality of it all.