Flying is the least enjoyable part of travelling these days.
Sitting on an old train creaking down the tracks at 3 kilometres an hour in Cambodia, however, can be the consummate way to experience a country's sights and sounds.
You see - for seasoned traveller Kris LeBoutillier - trains are a microcosm of the places they run through.
From the local administrations which operate them, to the colourful characters encountered, and the conversations and activities which transpire in the carriages, Kris says you can discern the life and culture of a place as much as being outside a train.
In his own words, the best way to experience Asia is basically to "pick a place, jump on a train and see where that takes you, and not to plan things too much."
The renowned writer and photographer from New York, who is now based in Asia, has amassed a vast body of work in the region - from shooting for National Geographic in Vietnam, Singapore, India, and Tasmania, Australia to assignments in Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh for the "Journey through" series by Marshall Cavendish.
The rest of his credentials span a list of who's who in the publishing industry - Discovery Channel, the Smithsonian Magazine, Men's Journal, Spa Magazine, Forbes, Destinasian and the Washington Post.
Kris' love for the inimitable rail experience is laboriously captured in his latest book, which was released in March this year.
He gave a talk entitled "Travel Photography and Writing: What Do You Do First?" last month at the inaugural Sun Festival held in Singapore. AsiaOne took the opportunity to catch up with the intrepid traveller to share his experiences and tips about photography.
Like his pictures which always aim to tell a story or illustrate a narrative, Kris' memories of his journeys are captured in a multitude of vignettes and stories, which he reminiscences with much candour and fondness.
What do you like so much about Asia?
The diversity - none of it really is the same. Everybody thinks it's all the same, but it's all so different. Even in a single country like Vietnam, the north and the south can be so different.
A Thai girl sleeps soundly in the train, despite the noise and the heat.
If there's anything, what do you not like about Asia?
A lot of it is still undeveloped and hard to get around. But that's part of the excitement as well. Everything is new in this part of the world, and yet there's a lot of the old. Not just old, but ancient - which makes it very interesting.
And a place in Asia which is hard to get around?
India. Everything is hard. It's hard getting into India, it's hard getting through the airport, and it's hard getting to where you want to be.
I remember when I was working for a National Geographic piece in Rajasthan - I had to get to the airport by 1am - and the hotel staff kept saying "it's 9pm you should leave now". And I asked, "where's the airport?" They said "it's very close, but you should leave now."
So I heeded their advice, thinking they must know something I didn't. And sure enough, when I got to the airport, there was probably half-a-kilometre of India in front of me.
Buses with chickens, people, children and boxes - masses of humanity all the way up the road. So I grabbed my bags and the driver helped me walk through the 'sea of India' to get to the front to check my stuff in.
Then you land here in Changi, and it's a whole different place, even though it's all still in the same part of the world. Changi Airport is probably the easiest thing to get in and out of anywhere in the world.
What do you enjoy about travelling?
I meet a lot of different people - many of whom have become friends over the years.
There's a motorbike rider in Da Nang, Vietnam, named Tham, who I use when I am on assignment. He's a great guy, took me to his home to meet his family. I'd be there for weeks and they'd cook for me.
I met him on the streets - he spoke some English - so I hired him.
Like anyplace else in the world, when you run into people you have to be careful. But when you run into a nice person in Vietnam - and there are a lot of them - they are like the salt of the earth. They will go out of their way to help you.
For many Cambodians, the flatbed is an affordable way to get home.
How did the idea for "On the Iron Rails of the Orient" come about?
It was a totally off-the-cuff thing. I was working in Cambodia on something else actually. Decided to stuff 20 rolls of film in my pocket, grab my camera, and my assistant and I went for a ride.
We did the train rides a couple of times, but what is captured in the book is essentially over the course of one journey. And the Cambodians are really nice people - as soon as I got on, two people got off - I don't know where they went - and offered me their seats.
It's fun. It's a great way to see Cambodia, especially when the train moves at three kilometres an hour. You just meet people along the way, you talk to them.
Trains are a sort of microcosm of the place they run through.
For example, the train in Cambodia will be totally different from the train in Vietnam, just because they are set up in different ways, they go to different places, and they are run by different administrations.
So you know where you are once you get on the train, whether in Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia.
Would you recommend other travellers to try a train journey?
Absolutely. If you have the time - pick a place, jump on a train and see where that takes you - don't be too planned about it. The train is a great way to see Vietnam, because it sort of runs up the coast and goes through all the major cities.
Is there anything to be careful of?
Well there are people who want to steal stuff from you, maybe. But you just have to exercise a certain level of caution. Don't look like a tourist with tons and tons of stuff. Travel light, and that gives you more of an opportunity to enjoy the experience.
Nam-tso Lake, located high up on the Tibetan Plateau.
Any particular incidents you encountered along the way?
It didn't happen when I was there, but there were incidents of people getting dragged off the train in Cambodia and getting shot.
When we were on the train in Vietnam it ran into a woman, and hit her so hard it decapitated her. Our train ran into a truck once too.
So everything is actually happening outside the train - the train is the safest part.
Have you done anything dangerous while trying to shoot a photo?
Not dangerous, but when you are taking pictures, you always have to judge the situation. You might run into people who don't like having their photograph taken.
Like in China you have to be careful. It's not so much the public, but the military, police and officials- they can get really upset.
In the book, there's a picture of two Chinese military guys standing in front of the Red Square. Not two seconds after taking their picture, an officer comes over and tries to grab my camera. I just grabbed it back. You can't let officials intimidate you.
I was shooting motorbikes in central Vietnam for Men's Journal. We were somewhere near a military reservation, I had the guys on motorbikes riding past me, and when I turned around once - there was someone with an AK-47 rifle standing over me.
I was like "Where did you come from?" (laughs) I hardly speak any Vietnamese - I can order soup, water and beer, but I was being plummeted with questions in Vietnamese. I looked behind me and there were more motorbikes and military trucks.
One of the guys who I was photographing pulls up real fast and tells me to just get on the bike - don't answer any questions. So I did and we took off ' we figured they'd be too lazy to chase after us. And they were.
In India, you don't want to photograph women who are unaccompanied. In other words, if there are no men around to give you their approval.
I ran into a situation when I was chased down the street by a couple of very angry Indian men because I had been photographing a bunch of women.
Did you find out the reason why?
It's just a thing. It may have been my face, or they were having a bad day; on another day it might have been fine. Who knows? It's an adventure.
Photos and captions by Kris LeBoutillier, from his book "On the Iron Rails of the Orient - Train Journeys in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Tibet".
Want to take nice pictures? Kris gives some pointers in the following two videos: