As Tim Warrington finds, not all travellers treat their destinations with respect.
Landscapes of stunning natural beauty often leave people speechless, but not on a recent tramping holiday in the South Island.
As the rest of the hiking group remained mute, soaking in the awesome mountain scenery, the lady to my right announced that "while beautiful, it's not as spectacular as [her] designer vagina", ushering a noncommittal, half-nod and squeak from me.
It is not the first time the impropriety of travel commentary has silenced me. Not too long ago I was walking the perimeter of a mass grave at the Killing Fields in Cambodia, when a man in a grubby Juventus jersey said: "My dogs back 'ome would have a field day in 'ere — digging up all these bones." As we passed the Chankiri Tree, against which Khmer Rouge soldiers battered infants and babies, Juventus Jersey's friend, in a crumpled Singha Beer singlet, replied that at least it was better than the "boring pile of rocks" ... the temples of Angkor Wat. This and other disappointments of the lads' holiday I endured, as I followed a dozen or so paces behind, bewildered at each snigger and jeer.
And, I began to wonder, what exactly are we looking for when we travel? Sometimes we need a gentle prod to self-evaluate. Occasionally we collide spectacularly with epiphanies, like when I went to Phnom Penh. What was I doing there? What did I expect in return for the expensive plane ticket, months of planning, jetlag and the occasional dodgy cab driver or upset tummy?
Juventus Jersey and Singha Singlet clearly didn't feel they had their money's worth but what exactly is the currency of travel satisfaction? What makes a holiday worth it? What exactly do we expect from the places we visit? And how do we deal with disappointment if we feel short-changed in our travels?
Juventus Jersey skulked and scuffed his feet and flicked a cigarette butt into the undergrowth. The Killing Fields memorial is among the most-visited tourist attractions in Cambodia and the rains had come early. In the shallow graves, bone fragments and scraps of clothing washed clean of the red earth were clearly visible — tiny reminders of the genocide that wiped out almost an entire generation. When it's wet, many people stop and collect what they can, placing teeth, jaw bones and clothing into little piles dotted about the track, so they can be interred later — respectfully.
But Juventus Jersey didn't stop to pick up anything, he scuffed a tiny piece of fabric under his shoe and belched loudly. More laughter.
It was not something I'd considered before, but as I trailed behind these two giggling tourists, around the site of Asia's greatest genocide, I considered myself well and truly prodded. What are my travel expectations?
They vary. Sometimes I am surprised; occasionally I am a little disappointed. I've cried, laughed and screamed in equal measure.
Later outside my hotel, perched on a beer keg chasing a coriander leaf around my pho with a chopstick I got to thinking about all the places I had been. What I had taken from the experience? What had I learned?
Before embarking on a trip to Auschwitz, I came across a review site where among the many harrowing accounts there were several negative reviews. As my mouse hovered in disbelief, I read accounts describing it as "boring and a waste of time" ... "the bus trip was hot".
My mind suddenly became a riot of all the famous sites I had visited and all the reactions I had experienced. The Grand Canyon was wider, the Mona Lisa smaller, the Leaning Tower of Pisa less ... "leany", but despite all these challenges to my expectations, while abroad I had not once felt the need to lean to the person next to me and applaud my own genitals.