A week in Cambodia – Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

We arrived in Phnom Penh on Saturday. We supposed to see the city life on weekend and enjoyed it. But it ended up nobody was in Phnom Penh and all restaurants and shops closed since that was the 3rd day of Khmer New Year.

Money:

US dollar is accepted everywhere. However, do keep some small dollar (1, 2 or 5) for more convenient, such as tuk tuk to the hotel, snacks, drinks, toilet, etc.

1 USD = 4000 riels. The exchange rate is the same everywhere.

Transportation:

We took a bus from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh, then Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. 6-7usd per person. That’s cheap in comaprison with flight ticket. Besides, for flight, you have to go to the airport at least an hour or 2 hours for international flight, plus waiting time for luggage. Ho Chi Minh – Phnom Penh took us 7 hours. Phnom Penh – Siem Reap took us 5 hours.

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Happy Khmer New Year! Nobody in Phnom Penh!

We used this company http://catmekongexpress.com/. We bought tickets and paid online, just needed to present at their office 15 mins before departure time. They do not provide pick-up service.

The bus from Ho Chi Minh was pretty hot (the weather outside was very hot too). Both were clean and had air con. They provided snacks, 1 small bottle of water and 1 wet tissue. The guide can speak English well.

In Phnom Penh, they have 2 stations – one in the Japanese area, one next to the river. Our bus going to Siem Reap was at the station next to the river. Do check with them or you can ask the hotel to call them to check for you.

The bus station in Siem Reap is a bit far from the city center. You should get a tuk tuk right there to get into the city. We paid $5 since we didn’t know how far it is to go to our hostel. But we supposed it should be cheaper since it was not really far, just 10 mins.

In both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, we went around by tuk tuk. It costs 1-2usd for the distance about 1-2km for 2 people. We always had to pay at least $2 and it’s kinda expensive for just 1km but no tuk tuk drivers accepts $1 or $1.5 just because we had 2 people.

In Siem Reap, since we stayed longer, at night we rent a bicycle to explore the city night life. $2 per day for 1 bicycle. If your hotel does not have bicycles for rent, it’s easy to find many stores along the streets offering bicycles.

Stay:

In Phnom Penh, we stayed near the Russian market (not really near, it was around 1km and took us $2 to get there by tuk tuk).

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3pm outside the Russian market in Phnom Penh

In Siem Reap, we stayed along the river, around 1km away from the night market. Not bad.

1km is not bad for walking, but during daytime, the temperature was over 40 C, we prefered tuk tuk! Anyway both places are quiet. There are always many choices for you on Agoda, Booking.com, Airbnb, etc. Room rate is approximately $20-25 per night for 2 in a hostel. Be careful with very low room rate, they are often fan room, no air con. But air con is a MUST, at least for us.

In both places, there were no 7eleven nearby, but no worries, those touristy towns have many convenient stores for us to buy anything we want just in walking distance.

Food:

For me, Cambodian cuisine is good, but not really special. $5-7 per meal per person in both cities. $2 a beer. Angkor beer is better than Cambodia beer. I like their salad, curry and fried rice with pineapple. $1 a smoothie in Siem Reap, very delish.

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crispy pancake with cream and coconut flakes in Russian market (Phnom Penh), 4 for $1

Bubble tea (or milk tea with pearl, boba tea) is popular in Phnom Penh, but no bubble tea in Siem Reap. In case you want to try it, try KOI cafe in Phnom Penh since you cannot find it in Siem Reap. KOI is pretty good. I like their konjac milk tea and pearl milk tea.

In case you want a Western taste, here are some recommendations:

Phnom Penh, Brooklyn Pizza & Bistro (near Russian market) – they have super delicious pizza. A large size is perfect for 2. The link on Tripadvisor will give you a better look about Brooklyn Pizza. I wish I had time to try more. The restaurant is pretty busy at dinner time. You may want to book a table before you come.

Phnom Penh, myBurgerLab Norodom (next to KOI cafe) – very good black burger. $2 for a mini. $3-5 for a normal size. Buy a bubble tea and bring it to the burger. Perfect!

Siem Reap, Viva  (in night market) – easy to find it since it’s big and red. Awesome Mexican food. The plate is big for ladies. $4-8 per dish. Great nachos, burrito, enchilada, and good magarita too.

Clothing:

It’s crazy hot for sure. But if you plan to go to any temple, pagoda, royal palace, make sure to wear clothes that cover shoulders and knees at least or do bring a scarf (as I did at Royal Palace but going to the top of Angkor Wat scarf is unacceptable). An umbrella helps a lot too. Do wear your most comfort walking shoes/sandals since you’re going to walk a lot.

What-to-see:

Phnom Penh

1 day – Killing field, Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, lunch, Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda. Those historical places are worth to visit.

Half day – National Stadium, Central Market. Even though I was not in the shopping mood, but I wanted to see the Central Market, the real daily city life. Central Market is a real shopping place for local people I suppose. Since Phnom Penh has many branded stores but I didn’t see anyone there.

Siem Reap

We bought a 3 day Angkor ticket but we spent 2 days and rest the last day. Since after the 2nd day, we felt small temples are just similar and not special.

To get to the temple area which is 10km from the city center, you need to book a tuk tuk for whole day (from $15 for the small red round and $18 for the big green round, including the price for sunrise or sunset). Since tuk tuk is not allowed to go inside the temple area unless tuk tuk has guests. As my tuk tuk told me (not sure if it was correct), it is a one way street from left to right.

1st day – sunrise at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom.

To catch the sunrise, we had to leave at 4:30am to the museum to buy the ticket then go to Angkor Wat. It was a pain to wake up at 4am, but it was totally worth it.

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Angkor Wat is not big on the map comparing with Angkor Thom, but it’s still pretty big walk just straightly from the front to the back. Walking way to the back gate, you will go through the long path that has big trees alongside, then there is a ruined gate and wall, pass it, there is a lake on the left.

If you don’t want to wake up early, you can enjoy the sunset at Angkor Wat. I did it 4 years ago, it was really nice but it was much more crowded. Since it’s easier to go for sunset than sunrise.

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Bayon, Angkor Thom
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View from the (almost) top of Bayon

Angkor Thom is really huge and Bayon is the biggest one inside Angkor Thom. If there are some people who follow you and explain/introduce about the temples (they are not the guides) then 100% they ask for money at the end.

We finished both at almost 1pm and were exhausted by the heat.

2nd day – Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider) and some small temples

Ta Prohm is so amazing. For me, Angkor Wat, Bayon (Angkor Thom) and Ta Prohm are all you need to see if you don’t have much time and can be done in one day.

Since Ta Prohm is such an awesome place for tourists, if possible, you should wake up a bit early and get here early to avoid tourist groups (always has some groups that ruin your photo).

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just simply amazing

Ta Prohm is famous with many big trees, and is well known as a location to film the Hollywood movie Tomb Raider.

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getting lost inside Ta Prohm
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Can you spot the smiling face of an apsara between the tree roots?

3rd day – (suggestion) sunset at Phnom Bakheng (30mins climbing to the hill top) and others

We were suggested to go to Phnom Bakheng on 3rd day for the sunset. The temple is in French style, different from others we saw. You may want to consider if you have time.

Night life

Night market and the Pub Street – There are many many bars, pubs, restaurants, desserts, 7eleven and convenient stores, pharmacies, etc. Everything you want and need there. And you can wear whatever you want!

Packing list for 3 weeks in Cambodia and Thailand

This summer my friend and I decided to spend 24 days in Cambodia and Thailand. We had 7 days in Cambodia and the rest in Thailand including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Krabi. The biggest question before every trip is “What should I pack?”. I know we all have the same feeling that we want to bring our closet with us. However, if you want to travel light, maybe you can have an idea with my packing list as follows:

Main backpack

Clothing: I suggest all clothes should be dry-fast

  • shirts (all short sleeves): 5 normal, 1 sport (but it should better be 4 normal, 2 sport)
  • tank tops: 2 sport
  • pants: 1 sport knee length (for temples and pagodas or you cannot get in)
  • shorts: 1 running shorts, 2 denims
  • underwear: 7 (can sink wash, since guys can just flip inside out haha, ladies’ underwears are small and dont take much space, I ended up bring 7)
  • bra: 3 normal, 1 sport bra
  • socks: 4 pairs (or less if you don’t plan to use shoes much)
  • sleepwear: 1 (because sometimes I may use my tank top and shorts as sleepwear too)
  • swimsuit: 1
  • hat
  • towel: 1 travel towel, 1 face towel
  • shoes: 1 slippers, 1 walking/running shoes, 1 trekking shoes (because we planned to have some hiking and trekking, mine is actually a city trail running shoes). If you don’t plan to hike/trek, you may want a good walking sandals instead.

Medications:

  • bandages
  • medical oil
  • pills for cold, headage, pain, diarrhea, carsickness
  • multivitamins and electrolytes (April is super hot, multivitamins and electrolytes do help us A LOT)

Toilettries:

  • shampoo, body wash, hair conditioner in travel size
  • hair comb
  • deodorant
  • nail clippers
  • razors
  • perfume in travel size
  • toothbrush and toothpaste, floss, mouthwash in travel size
  • feminine hygiene product
  • cotton swabs
  • detergent in small bottle for sink wash or you can just use shampoo/body wash

Carry-on backpack

  • all important documentations: passport and copies, travel insurance, cash, etc
  • all electronic stuff: laptop, camera, kindle, and chargers, external harddrive, etc
  • some more stuff: suncreen, anti-mosquito lotion, hand sanitizer, tissues and wet tissues, sunglasses, scarf (in case it’s cold on plane), mini flashlight

Fins bag (for carry-on & for diving): fins, mask, snorkel

April is the hottest month in a year in both Cambodia and Thailand. In Cambodia, the temp was around 37-39 C. In Thailand, the temp in Bangkok and Chiang Mai was around 41 C daytime. The temp in Krabi was as in Cambodia. Even though we were prepared ourselves mentally for the heat but we were very tired after half day staying outside. Do keep yourself hydrated by drinking alot of water and electrolytes.

If you dont want to check in your bag, dont bring the Swiss knife. I brought my mini Swiss knife which has a mini knife, so I had to check in my big backpack.

I didn’t use the cover for my backpack. After the Siem Reap – Bangkok flight, there was a really heavy rain (but it was quick) right before the flight took off, and when I got my checkin backpack in Bangkok, it was totally wet. My clothes inside were wet too. Lesson learnt.

I ended up with 3 bags: 1 checkin and 2 carry-on including my fins bag.

I always washed my underwears and bras myself. Most of the time if I could, I also washed my shirts, especially sport clothings myself because they are fast-dry. Laundry in Cambodia and Thailand is cheap, 1kg 1usd. Sometimes there are washing machines nearby to use by coins. Very convenient.

7eleven is everywhere and has everything I need. 7eleven and Family mart are always in walking distance.

If you plan to travel around South East Asia, you may want to consider the Airasia Asean Pass. 10 credit for 30 days. 20 credits for 60 days. 1 credit is equal to 1 flight less than 2 hours. 30/60 days will start from the first redeemed flight. So it’s a must to redeem your first flight first. More information as the Asean Pass as follows:

Airasia Asean Pass

Pros: cheaper than buying individual flight tickets (remember to buy in MYR, it’s cheaper than buying in USD). The fare and fee is very cheap (4-5USD for domestic flight and about 30USD for international flight).

Cons: have to redeem the flight at least 14 days prior the flight, seats for AAP are limited on each flight. It was a bit annoying that I could not redeem my flight from Chiang Mai to Krabi. But I could redeem the flights Chiang Mai – Bangkok and Bangkok – Krabi. It took more time and effort due to all the checkout and checkin processes.

However, if you want to travel without plan, the Asean Pass may not be for you. Since it requests you basically plan your trip and book the flight at least 2 weeks before departure date. It’s kind of annoying when we all want to stay in one place as long as we want then decide where we should head to later. But I guess C’est la vie, we cannot have everything.

It’s already too long now. I will continue about my trip in another post.

Anyway that’s how I prepared for my trip and it worked for me. I hope it helps for your preparation somehow.

Cheers,

Boo

101 things to love about Vietnam

Don’t know why phở and bun bo Hue are not in the list. It’s a signature! It’s a must to be in the list!

Link to Word Vietnam, one of my favourite magazine.

Therefore I’ll give phở as no. Zero which is higher than no. 1 😛

I’ll quickly list here few things that are my favourites

#0. Phở and Bun bo Hue

#31. Rice wine

Ruou de, ruou chuoi, ruou can, ruou nep, ruou thuoc, ruou mo qua, ruou go den… The list of ruou, or rice wine, peculiar to Vietnam goes on. And if you want to drink your ruou with style, the Son Tinh range out of Hanoi is the way to go — apricot, red plum, white ginseng, Minh Mang and passion fruit. They’ve even got their own selection of cocktail recipes. Devil’s fart, anyone?

I don’t like alcohol drinks honestly. I only want to drink with my best friends or people I’m close with. But I have to admit that some home-brewed wines from fruits are really impressive, including cocoa wine in Mekong Delta and red plum wine in North West Vietnam. They’re not too strong, not too sweet. OMG, try one shot then I dare you to resist the second one!

#33. Floating markets in Mekong Delta

Shiny purple eggplants, squat squash and furry zucchini bob on spindly poles far above the jumble of boats and people vying for river space in the Mekong Delta’s floating markets. In the cool dawn light, sellers and patrons jump skilfully from boat to boat — buying, selling and haggling over the day’s fresh produce.

#2. Coconuts

They drop on your head. Fortunately their contents can also drop in your mouth, although you need to open them first. In Vietnam coconuts are cheap, nutritious and very, very tasty.

from Word Vietnam

If you go to Mekong Delta, you should try coconut that has pandan flavor.

#3. Cafe

Yes, yes, yes and yes. I’m addicted to coffee. 1-2 cups everyday for over 11 years. I bring Vietnamese coffee whenever I go abroad.

Coffee shop in Sai Gon is fantastic in styles.

#40. Bia hoi

Street beer in Ha Noi.

#48. Ca phe phin

It’s a must for me every morning with daddy.

#52. Banh mi

My breakfast, quite often.

#72. The tones

Dau sac, dau huyen, dau nang, dau hoi, dau nga, khong dau… Master the tones, and you’re speaking what some linguists call one of the most difficult languages in the world. Fail to get your tones right and you’ll get smiles, laughter and just won’t be understood. Vietnamese is a melody, a set of melodies, and the tones are the notes. Understand that and you’ll be singing in no time.

Haha yes, Vietnamese language is crazy! But no worries, many of my good friends who are Canadian, American, French can master it.

#84. Phu Quoc

#91. Free wifi

Yeah! Everywhere!

#92. Very cheap 3G

And pretty bad signal!

Hope you enjoy the article.

Cheers,

Boo

Once upon the time

… I threw myself out of my comfort zone. For the first time in my life, I traveled alone – trekking to the jungle – completely escaped from the world. Then I soon realized that was the best choice ever I’ve made for myself.

I planned to make this trip nearly a year before departure date, and I planned to go with my almost-marry boyfriend who finally broke up with me for another girl.

With a broken heart, I decided to go alone because this is the thing I need to do for myself – the destination, the journey, the experience. If I keep looking for and waiting for the right companions, I can never make it at all. So that’s it, if you want to do something, move your butt!

Pick up my backpack, book the hostel, make friends, step out of the comfort zone, and enjoy the life!

My 3-day trip is trekking to the jungle, exploring the cave system which one of them is the second largest cave all over the world, climbing through the hills, swimming through the caves, staying away from the world with no phone signal for 3 days… And yet have you found that is the most exciting thing you want to do?

Let me show you

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Are you ready? Let’s rock the jungle!

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First camp site. This is my bath tub! This first night we slept in the cave, on the hammocks!

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Second camp site. This is my bath tub again! This time is way better, I even had a little-natural-water-fall spa. It seems small because it’s pretty far from the place I took this picture. The small water fall is approximately 7m height I guess. There is a huge cave on the left side on the water fall, I will show you below

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This is the view when I stood on the rock at the entrance of the cave. The little blue and orange area on the right of the picture is our camp site.

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Dinner in the jungle! Yum yum 🙂 We had prok ribs, fried eggs, stir fried vegetables and rice. We also had watermelon and mango as desserts, and home-brewed rice wine!!L1030528

Second night in the jungle – we slept under trees. No need electricity. You got the full moon and millions of fireflies like stars. Until now sometimes I am nostalgic about those nights.. Yes I miss them 🙂 no shampoo for 3 days, my hair was dry like straw. It was super hot all the way in and out. My skin was tanned so much more (love it). But despite all the tiredness, sweatness, mosquitoes and insects, etc, whenever swimming through the cave and enjoying the marvelous beauty of nature, I know it’s worth at all!L1030638

Entrance to the second largest cave in the world – En cave!

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This is the exit way of En cave!

Then the next day I treated myself well by spending the whole morning at the 4-star resort with their $2 coffee with milk while waiting for my flight back home! Super cheap!!L1030829

That’s how I started traveling alone in order to make sure this world still has good people and to see the amazing world around me.

I’m sure I am the luckiest girl in the world. In the whole trip, I met the most kind-hearted people you ever wish for when traveling alone, from the tour guide to the porters and others. The day I spent in the city after the tour, I met the couple owners of the pub, and they showed me around the city, invited me their home-made lunch and even brought me to the airport!

You see, when this door closes, definitely another one will open and show you how beautiful this world is!

Cheers,

Boo

My mind is still somewhere on the beach

Back to work and pretty busy because Tet is right at the corner. Everything needs to be done before long holidays. But my mind is still floating somewhere on the beach,

somewhere at the busy harbor at the end of the day

somewhere underwater between corals, fishes, huge jellyfishes, and even scary urchins >.<

I miss the smell of fresh air at early morning

when I was on the boat going to diving spot and the sun was behind

I have been so lucky that I met super kind-hearted people when traveling alone, not just this trip, such as my very nice instructor Melodie, very cute Spanish dive-master Tino (who didn’t have to care about me but he did), very kind apartment owner Viet, very friendly strangers on my journey, all of them made my trip much much more remarkable…

I miss all and each of them, the awesome people, not just the journey. I do hope I could meet them again someday somewhere 🙂

P.S: I’m thinking of buying a Canon D30 or a GoPro 4 Silver. I want to have underwater pictures!!

First trip of the year – Phu Quoc island

I just had 4 peaceful days on a very nice island – Phu Quoc, Vietnam.

2/3 of daytime I joined the Open Water Course of scuba diving. And finally certified! Yay! Unfortunately I didn’t have any waterproof camera so no picture of diving 😦

The rest of the day I was just lazy :”)

Since I stayed on the West of the island, so just sunset pictures…

At the harbor, Ham Ninh market

Sunset at the habor
Sunset at the habor

The beach is simply amazing.

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Dogs are everywhere, and so cute

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Besides few accidents such as got bitten by jelly fishes and sea urchins while scuba diving (and also had seasick and threw up everything on first day of ocean dives, OMG so embarrassed >.<) , the whole trip was completely wonderful 🙂 new friends, new experiences..

Now back to work. Work hard, play hard.

Cheers,

Boo