Apr 18, 2014

CROSSING BORDERS : Cambodia to Thailand

Overland travel from Cambodia to Thailand took us a total of 8 hours by car including the processing of our documents while crossing borders. We initially planned to get to Thailand via Nattakan bus for 28USD per person but we failed to advise our hotel to reserve us seats earlier and because the bus line going that route was fully booked, we have no choice but try other options.


Our hotel (Motherhome Guesthouse) assisted us to look for other options going to Thailand. They sent us to Easy Travel agency to check our options. The choices include riding a van, another less known bus line or by car. Considering the differences in price, length of travel, comfort and customer service, we all agreed to hire a car. We paid a total of 128 USD or 32 USD per person. The advantages include, faster travel time, more comfortable trip and the best part is someone will assist us once we get to Cambodia's Poipet border and will walk us through the immigration until we crossed and reached the border of Aranyaprathet, Thailand. 

If you haven't heard of it yet crossing these two borders in South East Asia is really challenging and if you are not well-informed you'll most likely be one of the many preys falling for those scam artists that ply this area while crossing that 50 meter distance apart. Just remember, once you arrived at the Cambodian immigration at the Poipet border and secured an exit stamp, just walk straight, you can already see the Thailand border from afar and then cross the street because the Thailand immigration is on your left and then walk straight until you see the sign that will guide you to the Thailand immigration.

Also read - Crossing Borders : Vietnam to Cambodia

Travel from Siem Reap, Cambodia to the Poipet Border took us 2 hrs. I'm not sure if there's a speed limit but our driver is really very conscious to keep our speed at 40kph while traversing the highway. The traffic scene in that part of Cambodia is boring compared here but I'm not complaining because it's not stressful and polluted.
TOYOTA CAMRY, our service going to Poipet Border
Our service picking us up at our hotel at around 9am then proceeded to POIPET border.



We stopped at this spot of POIPET and someone from the travel agency welcomed us and walked us through the Cambodia immigration which is just 10 meters away on our right. The smell of this place is so unpleasantly strong that reminds me of a fish port back home, you wouldn't miss it for sure.

This is it!
Well, that one level establishment with several windows is the place to have your passports stamped. 

Be sure to have filled out that embarkation card you get when you entered Cambodia before lining up on that window to have your biometrics taken and your passport stamped.

Afterwards, just walk straight, our guide was in front leading us.
You'll passed through this Cambodia Arch and then cross the street to the left to get to the side of Thailand's immigration building.

Once you cross the street, you'll enter that grilled entrance and just walk straight then follow the signs.

That's it the Kingdom of Thailand! Turn left to enter the building and then access the stairs. An embarkation card will be given right there before going up.

You can fill up the embarkation card while lining up. 

 The lines can get long as was our case.

But once done, just head straight to the exit. It took us a total of one hour to complete the process and cross the border.

Our guide was just waiting for us at the exit to accompany us to our new vehicle going to Thailand. We left the border at 1 PM.

We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand around 5:30pm. Photo above is our nice driver with his ride who drives like crazy but glad he got us to our destination safely in Pratunam. Traffic situation in Thailand is very similar to Manila and you know what that means and they are right-handed which made it more difficult for me to relax and doze off while our driver was speeding away.

To complete our Indochina experience, watch out for my Thailand posts soon.

Apr 12, 2014

CAMBODIA : Charmed by the Temples of ANGKOR (Part 2)

If you haven't read the first part of my Cambodia series, you can check it out here


My trance like state went further when we visited the iconic Ta Phrom, the temple made more famous by the Hollywood movie Tomb Raider. A jungle merging with architecture, huge trees growing from the ruins, its gigantic roots delving into stone walls, the intertwined branches forming a roof over the structures leaving you with a feeling that is eerily beautiful. 
Ta Phrom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Approximately 1km east of Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom was a Buddhist monastery and university built by King Jayavarman VII during the 12th until the 15th century. He dedicated this place to his family especially her mother. Records showed that it was home to some 12,500 people who included priests and dancers. This temple was neglected for centuries until the 21st century when efforts to restore and conserve the place started and because the temple in its ruined state is so picturesque they decided to keep them the way they found it and just stabilize the structures to prevent them from further damage.
Ta Phrom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Phrom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

If you wanted to have your photo taken like the first two pics from above, prepare to line up and wait because most visitors converged at this spot to get that picture moment :). As you can see, there are ongoing restoration efforts when we visited this heritage site.

It's easy to get lost when navigating the enclosed walls of the temple, some are impassable, so prepare yourself for some maze like tour of the area. You can pretend to be Lara Croft for the time being and have fun like we did :).

Ta Phrom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Unlike the usual pyramid structures of temples, Ta Phrom is a flat Khmer temple, with the inner levels higher than the outer.

Ta Phrom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
There are bridges, pathways and walkways to access the rest of the area.

Ta Phrom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

If you're curious what those huge trees are, sources said the larger ones are silk cotton trees and the smaller are either strangler fig or gold apple.

After our tour of Ta Phrom, we went back to Angkor Wat hoping to catch the majestic sunset while accessing the other route and entering the back side entrance. This wouldn't be possible without our very comfy tuktuk ride.
Tuktuk Ride, Siem Reap, Cambodia

And while walking going to the site, we saw a lot of these cute monkeys who are quite checking us out.
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is the view of the back entrance of Angkor Wat. 
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

We waited until 5:30pm but the spectacular golden hues of sunset failed to show up due to cloudy skies and according to our tuktuk driver, it has been like that for a week. 

But then again, we're really thankful even with or without those nice extras we're sort of expecting, the whole Cambodia experience undoubtedly gave us all a bout of sensory overload in a positive way :).

Interested to read more? Click here below for my other IndoChina series:


Mar 2, 2014

CAMBODIA : Charmed by the Temples of ANGKOR (Part 1)

Witnessing up-close the temples of ANGKOR felt surreal, am I really here? It seemed like I time traveled while watching a NAT GEO documentary :). It's an awesome sight knowing that Khmers built this UNESCO World Heritage archaeological wonder when the term technology was still unheard of. The ANGKOR is a true testament that an exceptional civilization existed during the 9th to the 15th century of the Khmer Empire

Our first day in Siem Reap, started before the break of dawn, hoping to catch the burst of colors as the sun rises at the ANGKOR WAT Temples. Our booked tuktuk ride was outside the hotel by 4:30am waiting to fetch us and brought to these massive ANGKOR Complex stretching over some 400 sqkm and consists of some hundreds of temples and monuments, hydraulic structures and ancient urban plans. Among the famous temples that we planned to visit are the Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm.

Sunrise at ANGKOR WAT
It was still dark when we got there but a lot of people with their cameras and flashlights have already positioned themselves infront of the lake, some with their tripods. I just looked for a spot at the back and tiptoed to get a clear shot without all the heads popping out on my frame. But the thick clouds hovering around the area hindered the sun to show its majesty as it rises, nonetheless as the Angkor temple slowly appeared into sight at the break of dawn,  the splendor of the ancient monument awed us into silence.

Getting there, we have to secure an entry pass. A one day entry around the ANGKOR Complex costs 20USD. Get your smiles ready as the camera flashes, your ID will be ready in a few seconds.
little Khmers trying to make a living
After exhausting our camera's shutter, we headed to the eating area and indulged on the packed breakfast that our hotel prepared for us that morning. Some kids tagged along us selling persistently their postcards which initially costs 1USD a piece and eventually became 10 pcs for 1USD. We're surprised how the kids can speak good English coupled with a very sweet accent. Eventually we all bought from them, how can you resist that :)

On board the tuktuk we headed to the BAYON Temple after our breakfast at the Angkor Wat. We will return there before the sun sets to explore the place and hopefully get the chance to see its beauty when the hues of sunset enveloped the Angkor Wat.


Angkor Thom is the last capital city of the Angkorian Empire. King Jayavarman VII upon recapturing this area from the Cham invaders started building massive structures inside this 3 sqkm walled royal city including his state temple, the Bayon. 

The BAYON Temple

The Bayon, Angkor Thom
The Bayon
The Bayon temple at the Angkor Thom Complex was the last temple built at the Angkor, a shrine dedicated to Buddhism. This temple appealed to me the most among the temples we visited that day because of the impressive clusters of towers of serene looking stone faces which according to my research has strong resemblance to the features of King Jayavarman VII.

monks at the Bayon
visiting monks

smiling faces at the Bayon
that smiling face!

The Bayon Temple
view from the road

The Bayon, Angkor Thom
elephant ride at the east area of the Bayon temple
The Bayon, Angkor Thom
there'll be lots of walks and some steep climbs while checking out the huge Angkor Thom Complex
The Bayon, Angkor Thom

Terrace of the Elephant, Angkor Thom
The Terrace of the Elephant is usually where the King would view his returning victorious army. It's also the platform used by him for grand ceremonies 
Terrace of the Elephant, Angkor Thom
This is the king's view standing at the base of Terrace of the Elephants. 

Terrace of the Leper King, Angkor Thom
This is called Terrace of the Leper King because it's reminiscent of  a Cambodian legend who had leprosy. It's also believed that the U-shapedhttp://www.shykulasa.info/2014/04/cambodia-charmed-by-temples-of-angkor.html  structure was a royal cremation site.

Now famish and dehydrated but still feeling excited, we left the Angkor Thom complex after checking the Terrace of the Leper King. Lunch is next on the agenda before heading to TA PROHM, the temple made more famous by the movie Tomb Raider. Please stay tuned for my Part 2 of CAMBODIA : Charmed by the Temples of ANGKOR very soon. 

You can now read Part 2 : CAMBODIA : Charmed by the Temples of ANGKOR

Feb 11, 2014

CROSSING BORDERS : Vietnam to Cambodia

I once crossed the borders of Singapore and Malaysia and that episode was a breeze and organized but crossing Vietnam and Cambodia borders were a bit challenging. A prior knowledge of what to expect and what to do can put every traveler at ease.

Here's a guide of what transpired and how we successfully traveled overland and crossed the borders of Vietnam and Cambodia.

We booked through our hotel our transportation from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia via Mekong Express Limousine Bus. They seemed like the most reputable bus company and the one most preferred by travelers coming from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The 28 USD bus ride including the several stops and eating breaks and one bus transfer took a total of approximately 13 hours to reach Siem Reap. It was long but it was a comfortable ride. I'm glad I brought my neck pillow which allowed me to get some good sleep while on the road.

At 7:30 AM, a van picked us up at our hotel and brought to our Mekong Limousine Bus ride. We showed our tickets and checked in our baggage, in turn they gave us our seat numbers and a numbered stub for claiming our baggage later.


Mekong Limousine Bus
A Cambodia embarkation card was provided including a pack of biscuits and a bottle of water.

We left Ho Chi Minh around 8:15am and arrived Moc Bai, Vietnam border in a couple of hours after. Our passports were collected beforehand (don't include the Cambodia embarkation card yet) by the bus guide and instructed us to follow him once he entered the building to have our passports stamped. I don't know the reason why other passengers were asked to carry their baggage while ours were left in the bus compartment. Me and my companions were all just scratching our head for not getting a  clear explanation and just mere hand gestures although we're thankful  we didn't need to carry that extra weight while waiting.

Moc Bai, Vietnam Border
inside MocBai Vietnam Border
We waited for our names to be called by the bus guide who was the one transacting with the immigration officer. I sneaked in one discreet shot to give you a glimpse inside.The whole process which was a bit chaotic and unsystematic took around 15 to 20 minutes to finish and once called took our passport with us and exited the building and went straight to our bus waiting outside.


Not far ahead, 3 minutes after at approximately 200meters from Mocbai, Vietnam border is the Bavet, Cambodia border which we have to pass through to enter Cambodia. 
Inside Bavet, Cambodia Border
On the Cambodian side, the system is more orderly. Filipinos don't need a visa to enter Cambodia but we were warned beforehand by the bus guide that some officer will try to ask for some visa payment, just politely mention that you are from Mekong Bus Express. It worked as a charm since my friend who was ahead of me in the immigration line was asked for some amount and the mention of  Mekong Bus stopped the further inquiry and proceeded to the biometric scanning instead. During my turn, I just slipped in my Mekong Bus ticket on my passport next to my filled out Cambodia embarkation card and everything went smoothly, no more questions asked.
Bavet, Cambodia Border
In 10 minutes or so after entering Cambodian border and getting stamped, you'll now be on the Cambodian side taking this shot :D. Time stamped was 11:15 am when we've successfully entered Cambodia, a total of 3 hours after leaving Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

We reached the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Pehn after 3 1/2 hours more and that includes our lunch break stop and the 5 minute bus ride crossing a river on board a RORO vessel.
going to Phnom Pehn on board a RORO
We alighted at the  Phnom Pehn bus station of Mekong Express and transferred to a new bus going to Siem Reap. Another set of biscuit and water were provided. We left at around 3:30pm and what seemed to be a never-ending road trip finally took a halt. Thank God for the experience and now we're in Siem Reap safe and sound at exactly 11:00PM with a driver and a car from our accommodation waiting to fetch us.
Welcome Siem Reap
Stay tuned for another crossing borders post for Cambodia to Thailand in my succeeding posts. In the meantime you can read more of my Indochina series here :


Jan 9, 2014

Ho Chi Minh Accommodation: HONG HAN HOTEL

Among the many accommodation choices lining up the streets of District 1 or the more popularly known as Backpacker's District, Hong Han Hotel/Hostel stood out as Tripadvisor's Traveller's Choice Winner for 2013 which is the reason why it became our choice of accommodation while staying for 3 nights at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam .

It's a 7 storey building with 2 rooms on each floor. Our room on the 3rd floor was very neat, smells really good, spacious, with windows, with good air-conditioning, a bathroom with hot and cold water and a mini ref. The place has no lift so prepare to walk some flights of stairs, it's good for the heart though;). You can try to book for a room on the 1st floor, that's the ideal floor you'd love to be in. 1st floor is actually the 2nd floor, the floor with the balcony where we usually lounge around, chatting and checking out people while having our breakfast.That's also where you can use their computer and printer for free. Strong and free wifi connection is also available on each room at every floor.

The room rates given to us  for a triple room that accommodated 4 pax with breakfast included are:

1st Night - 23 USD (for 2 pax)
2nd Night - 32 USD (for 4 pax)
3rd Night - 32 USD (for 4 pax)

Hong Han hotel is at the heart of backpacker's area where all the actions take place. You can find a place to eat anytime of the day, sit on one of the many stools provided by vendors lining along the streets, order pho, coffee or beer or some street food or appetizer or you could choose to hit the bars and have more fun.

breakfast at Hong Han hotel
our nice breakfast
Also, Nhung and Anh, the sibling tandem managing the guesthouse, who not only speak good English but are also very cheerful, helpful and warm added more to the charm of this hostel.
That's Nhung in Cheongsam dress
This is the lovely Nhung
 Also read:

How much I Spent in Vietnam
How I Survived 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City
INDOCHINA TOUR : The Itinerary

If you want to book a room with them, you can choose to visit their website at www.honghanhotelhcm.com or better yet send them an email at HotelHongHan@yahoo.com, which is what I did and get a fast response and a booking confirmation without paying a cent. You'll also have a better chance of snagging a good deal when you communicate with them thru email. Nhung even gave me some more discount during our check out.

238 Bui Vien Street | Pham Ngu Lao Ward, 1st District, Ho Chi Minh City 84, Vietnam

Dec 29, 2013

How I Survived 3 Nights in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

After all the hustle and bustle and endless warnings to be careful, spending 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City's Backpacker's District was a breeze, just like any walk in the park but with little twists. I survived Vietnam without a scratch and had fun. My friend though had a different opinion and said would not return to Vietnam. Well, I'll go back any chance I get :-).
Ho Chi Minh Musuem, Vietnam

To sum up, here are my reasons why:

  • Food is healthy, delicious and cheap. Anybody who wants to explore the sensory organs of their taste buds will have a great time in Vietnam. Worthy of mention is their rice, I can actually eat it alone. :)
Kim Cafe, Vietnam

Seafood galore at the streets of District 1

  • Vietnamese Coffee!!! Need I say more? ;-)
Vietnam Coffee at Ben Thanh Market

  • Shopping!!! You'll see authentic Kiplings, Fitflops and North Face sold at almost factory prices.You can check these out at Saigon Square while at Ben Thanh Market for souvenir items. There are lots of imitations too but anyone with a good eye for authentic stuffs can spot the difference. Also souvenir items are a  lot cheaper here than in Cambodia or Thailand, which are basically similar in make and design. Some if not most of the vendors at Ben Thanh market can be very persistent and at times irritating grabbing you by the hand. Don't haggle for prices if you have no intention of buying.
Vietnam's Kipling, Northface, Fitflops

  • Street crossing is already one kind of an adventure you can have for free. Motorcycles are the kings of the road and they are quite an attraction seeing them occupy the road in full force. Just be cautious always and signal your hands to alert the drivers of your intention to cross and remember they can appear from any direction. But then, after a while, you'll get the hang of it and become confident enough to cross streets like any local.
hordes of motorcycles in Vietnam

  • Cuchi Tunnels and the horrors of war and the resilient Vietnamese on how they manage to survive despite all the odds.

CuChi Tunnel Tour

  • CULTURE! It's always interesting to experience the cultural differences and similarities we have with our neighboring ASEAN brothers. One particular souvenir shirt in Vietnam, saw it in Cambodia and Thailand as well, suggests this, "same same, but different"! The almost similar built and features but distinct difference, similar food but with unique twists and cultural traditions of similar origin but with subtle nuances. Our tour guide for CuChi Trip mentioned the Vietnamese' penchant to drink, eat and be merry, doing it in-front of their homes on small tables and chairs as cultural tradition which explains their need to feel like a king but they act like a peasant ( well, I can relate this as our version for "tambays"). Photo below explains how tourists adopted to this tradition and enjoyed this form of entertainment.

  • It felt home staying at Hong Han Guesthouse and I sure miss the warmth and cheerfulness of the sibling tandem, Nhung and Ahn who are managing the place and of course the nice breakfast served at the 2nd floor terrace of the guesthouse. That's the pretty Nhung in cheongsam dress.
Hong Han Hotel, Vietnam

  • CYCLO CITY TOUR! I had the best view touring Ho Chi Minh/Saigon City on board a cyclo, checking out famous landmarks and crossing major intersections at slow speed while feeling excited and anxious at the close encounters with buses and motorbikes running at high speeds. Although we had a not so nice experience with our cyclo drivers trying to extort a big sum from us , in the end our fierceness ruled over. My cyclo driver is actually nice so I went easy on him and gave him his day's worth, the other guy who drove my friend is someone you'd like to punch in the face. A word of advice, ask your hotel's assistance for booking any tour you wish to experience. Our cyclo tour was not planned since we only wanted to do a city tour on foot. We were actually devising a plan on how to cross this major roundabout road when these guys appeared and sweet talked us to avail their cheap offer. Lesson learned: when an offer is to good to be true, there's definitely a catch at the end.
Cyclo City Tour, Vietnam

Also read :

I survived Vietnam without a scratch and had a worthy experience and so should you! ;-)

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