Enthralled by El Nido

I found my paradise in the Philippines.

Spellbounding Siquijor

A brave girl's first ever solo trip was to this mystical island.

The Quiet Charm of Cagbalete Island

Outdoor serenity at its best.

The Rugged Beauty of Islas de Gigantes

The off-the-beaten rockin beauty of Northern Iloilo.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Batu Caves: Of Olden Caves and Primates


Malaysia Day 2

I woke up a bit late the next day. Probably because I was exhausted from the MNL-KUL flight , plus the stress brought about by the unexpected turn of events. I also went "home" a little late that night from KLCC. I had no fixed plans that day so I figured I'll just make a short visit to the Batu Caves.

I left the hostel at around 10:00 AM that morning and look at the photo below. The streets were still empty! They really start their day late that's why they are still up and the city is still so alive at late night hehe.


Bukit Bintang at 10AM


Going to Batu Caves is as easy as 1-2-3. As I've mentioned on my previous post, as long as there is a train station near you, going around KL is a breeze. You just have to go to KL Sentral and ride the KTM train to Batu Caves and that's it. However, note the arrival time of the train. Maybe because it was something new to me and I was excited, I didn't take time to notice this. I ended up waiting for the train underground for 20 minutes. I should have walked around and checked out the shops in KL Sentral had I noticed it.



waiting for the train

Travel time from KL Sentral to Batu Caves takes 30 minutes. KTM Commuter train is kind of slow and it stops a bit longer than usual than the other KL trains.


This is the first thing you'll see when you arrive in Batu Caves. Hanuman is an ape-like humanoid Hindu deity, who is an important character in the Hindu epic Ramayana


Hanuman

Yes, Batu Caves is a Hindu shrine. It is one of the most famous outside of India. They celebrate here the Hindu Thaipusam festival in Malaysia. I think we all know that there are many Indian communities in Malaysia.



great view from the pond

You will also pass by this very zen looking view. I'm not sure though if this is a man-made pond or if it's connected to the Batu River where the cave was named after. A lot of tourists take photos with this backdrop too.


Batu plight of stairs


Then, you'll finally get a glimpse of the stairs all the way up to the caves. It seemed like being guarded by Murugan (a Hindu deity). It is his tallest statue in the world measuring 140 ft. This shrine is dedicated to him.


free monkeys everywhere

You will see a lot of monkeys in the area. They also became part of the attraction in some way. People, especially children are delighted to see them so free and yet not so wild. It felt a bit like India where they just let the animals roam around freely anywhere.


The stairs


Make sure you're ready for this when you get there. It takes 272 steep steps to get to the caves. A friendly reminder, don't forget to bring a bottle of water with you. :)


Temple Cave

Batu Caves has three main caves and other smaller ones. The first main cave is called the Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave. It has a high ceiling and Hindu shrines.



let there be light

Batu Caves is said to be already 400 million years old. It became famous for its limestone hills. In the late 1800s, an Indian trader promoted it to be a place of worship. There used to be a wooden stairs before it was replaced with a concrete one.


a lollipop eating monkey

I told you, people love these monkeys. They feed them with whatever they have. :)


entrance to Art Gallery and Museum Caves

There are two more smaller cave temples at the base of the hill. I passed by them before I descended the stairs. It is the Art Gallery Cave and the Museum Cave which exhibits Hindu statues and paintings. They also offer there a mini-cave tour which I was interested in. I would have wanted to check them out if I still have a lot of time. Ticket prices are also expensive, by the way.

As expected, descending the hill was much easier and faster. I was also happy to see that there were a lot of solo travelers like me.


final Batu Caves shot

One of the few disadvantages of traveling alone is the difficulty to take photos of yourself haha! You know, bringing and setting up a tripod is not applicable sometimes.


onboard KTM going back to KL Sentral

I had fun exploring Batu Caves on my own. I didn't get tired, unlike the Korean guy behind me who fell asleep at the train immediately haha. This was just one of the two instances I've been alone during my 12 days in Malaysia. It was just a quick visit. After this, I still had to meet my friend in Chinatown after lunch. I never expected I'd be meeting more. Coming up next in these series. :)





This is Part 2 of my Peninsular Malaysia travel series.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Where to Stay in KL: Sunshine Bedz Bed and Breakfast


I initially had no plan of surfing a couch in KL so I was a bit prepared when it comes to accommodation. Sunshine Bedz became my first choice due to its good reviews in Trip Advisor.

One thing I liked the most about it, is its location. It is just literally a few steps away from the Bukit Bintang Monorail Station. Look at the photo below, you can see it from there. Just as long as you have a train to ride, it's very easy to go around the city of Kuala Lumpur.

It is also easy to find places to eat, not to mention McDonalds is just their neighbor. It is just walking distance to the "food street" Jalan Alor. Your gastronomical cravings will surely be satisfied when you check it out.


photo credit to their website

The location is also in the middle of a shopping paradise. From high-end shops to budget shops, you can find everything there. My favorite shopping place in the area was Sungei Wang Plaza. I bought a lot of fashionable stuff for cheap cheap prices. :)


hostel's location

The hostel is exactly located in this corner so you won't miss it. Central and awesome at the same time. :)

I had no reservations. I was lucky to get that one last bed space when I arrived. I got a space from their Mixed Dorm good for 6 people. It was my first time to be in one. My last experience was in an all-female dorm. All of my roommates were European, most of them French. A couple and a group of three friends. I actually found my mixed dorm experience better than the all-female one. There are less "bitchy" roommates. Oopps! Haha. ;)

my space

Their beddings were comfy and spotless. The blankets and towels crisp and fresh. The room is very clean.


my roommates' bunks


They also have lockers where you can leave your valuables. Just don't forget to bring your own super-secured padlock. Oh and your power adapters too. In case you forgot one, you may also borrow one from the reception like I did.


my locker

Another thing I loved was their super clean toilet and bath. They keep it clean all the time which is great. There are also plenty of them so you won't have to wait for your turn to use them. Just bring your own toiletries. Sorry, I don't have photos of that.


They only have a small receiving area, but I don't think you're going to stay there all the time as you will be out exploring the city. Their dining area is pretty cramped too, designed for on-the-go travelers. Anyway, I loved their free breakfast. It's just free coffee and toasts but that's enough to last you until lunch time. The amenities are great. Very fast wifi connection in all rooms. They also have a spare computer if you don't have a gadget with you.

I had a wonderful time in Sunshine Bedz. I had everything I needed. The staff are nice too. There are Filipinas working there so communication was a lot easier. They also allowed me to leave some of my stuff there while I'm up traveling north of Malaysia for more than a week. The room rates are very affordable too considering their outstanding location.

The only thing I wished they have there was Laundry Services. And another not so good thing was the bunch of women (who looked like hookers) standing by the stairway every night. A Canadian guy CS friend of mine cracked up when he saw them one time when they brought me home late. It made the hostel looked like a brothel or something. He can't stop laughing. ;)

Overall, it was a pleasant stay and I'm seeing myself staying there again when I come back to KL.


Accomodation Information:

Sunshine Bedz Bed and Breakfast
Address: 65B 2nd Flr Jalan Sultan Ismail, Bukit Bintang 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Contact Nos: +603-2143 5050
Website: www.sunshinebedz.com.my/ 
Room Rates: RM 30 for Dorm Rooms; RM 45-55 for Double Rooms


Accommodation Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Backpacking Solo in Malaysia


Prologue

I was bored and just browsing the internet when I stumbled upon Air Asia's website back in September of 2011. Lo and behold, they were having a zero fare promo! Of course I was tempted to book. Who in their normal minds would pass up a chance to travel outside the country for only PHP 1330 with in-flight meal and 15 kilos baggage? Great deal, right? It also included a one-way Sky Bus transfer from Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) to KL Sentral by the way. Sweet. :)

Now, why Malaysia (MY)? Blame it to the Passage to Malaysia series of TLC (Travel and Living Channel). They had this month-long feature about MY which every single episode I watched and I was hooked. I found their country very diverse, rich in culture and just like the Philippines, blessed with natural wonders.

I booked my ticket 10 months ahead the actual trip without thinking if it'll be possible for me to take a break from work on those dates or whatever. And I just booked one for myself. Well, it's not easy to invite friends for an international trip. I realized I'm getting braver.

Months before the trip, I'd been asking around for travel tips and ideas from fellow Couchsurfers. If you're not familiar with it, it's an awesome awesome network connecting travelers and locals worldwide where you can seek for advise and often times accommodation. Yes, it is that wonderful. Planning this trip had been great. I got a lot of help from the local Malaysians which I very much appreciated. They were so helpful and nice. I immediately got a good feel about this trip because of them. :)


10 months had passed, 11th August of 2012 has come - my time to fly. :) It was my first time to fly thru AirAsia (AA), let alone in Clark (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport). I took the Philtranco Bus from Pasay that takes passengers directly to DMIA. I was afraid of missing my flight because Clark is 2 hours away from Manila and yeah it was my first time there. So even though I know it is way too expensive than just commuting to Dau, I chose that option. We arrived there just in time.


my 1st ever AirAsia flight

DMIA is just small, it actually didn't look like an international airport. There's just one waiting area both for local and international passengers. By the way, the Immigration officers there are more strict than the ones we have in Manila. I'm quite an impatient person, so I got a little irritated dealing with them. Geez. AirAsia flight was never delayed so I was a happy traveler again. :)

AA's plane is pretty similar to CebuPacific's. The FAs were just dressed casually, you know just polo and denim jeans. If I'm not mistaken, they were all Malaysians (based on their looks). They were more formal when it comes to dealing with passengers. About an hour and a half after we took off, they already served our pre-ordered meals. I tried out Malaysia's national dish, the Nasi Lemak. It was okay but a little too salty for my taste. And the water, it was just one gulp. Haha. I was seated beside a fellow Filipina from Baguio. She works in Kuala Lumpur (KL). She's delighted that she no longer have to go to Manila to fly.


Pak Nasser's Nasi Lemak


Malaysia Day 1

We touched down in KL at around 3:00 PM. Immigration process was stress-free. The first thing I did was change my money and bought a sim card. I was in contact with several people there and I was about to meet them so I definitely would need a local mobile number. I was actually supposed to be hosted by someone in KL but unfortunately, things happened so I went with Plan #2 which is to look for a hostel myself when I arrived. I also texted my friend/travel buddy that I'll be late for our meeting because I've got to deal with this mess. She worried for me a bit and told me if ever I'll need help, she'll refer me to a friend who's also hosting surfers. But I wanted to try my luck first.

I looked for the Sky Bus station because I pre-purchased a one-way ticket with AirAsia along with my airfare. It's easy to find. It's just at the far right side from the airport exit. While on the bus, I read my researched stuff and decided on where to search for a place to stay. I went with Bukit Bintang. The place is so central and anything is easily accessible from there.


Airport Buses Station

KL Sentral is about an hour away from LCCT. It was already 4:30 PM when we reached Stessen Sentral (another name for KL Sentral). Just by following the crowd and the instructions given by a hostel's website, I made it to the Monorail station. But heck. It was so crowded and the queues for the tickets were insane. Just like our rush hour here in the Philippines. Just imagine yourself alone in a foreign country for the first time, you're not sure where you can find a place to sleep, it takes forever for you to get that one train ride while you carry your heavy backpack, plus you're in the middle of a totally strange group of people under a hot weather condition.

I asked myself that time "What have I gotten myself into?" and "What the hell was I thinking?". I should've been home in Manila, sitting lazily in a couch watching my favorite tv shows or malling with my family or friends and having a good time. "Why am I doing this?". I looked around and saw several foreign travelers who just like me were making their way through the unfamiliar crowd carrying their "bigger" backpacks. I felt relieved. I am not crazy. I am not the only one. The validation I needed at that moment. I then whispered to myself, "I can do this!".


In Bukit Bintang, I went straight to Sunshine Bedz Bed and Breakfast and asked if there's an available space for me. Fortunately, there was! I felt lucky because there's just 1 space left, so I booked it right away. I got a bed in their Mixed Dorm good for 6 people. I just took a shower and hurriedly went to Suria KLCC just by following the transit map I downloaded from the web. The receptionists are not knowledgeable enough when it comes to directions and city transportation so I just found the best way myself.


my 1st Malaysian dinner

It was already 7:00 PM when I made it to KLCC. Emerging from the LRT station beneath the ground, I saw the foot of the glorious Petronas Towers for the first time. I got very excited thinking, so I'm really in Malaysia now. Hehe. KLCC was huge. I actually couldn't find my friend at first. Their floor numbers were confusing. It's not the same as here hehe. When we finally met, we headed to the food court for dinner. She's a Vegan, so we have to buy our own food by ourselves. Guess what I had? A squid nasi lemak. Haha.


Kuih Gulung

Because of my friend's recommendation, I also got the Kuih Gulung. It's a green spring roll filled with sweet grated coconut. The squid lemak was yummy. Way better than the one I had on the plane. The serving was big too. I had a hard time finishing it. I ended up taking home my green roll because I was already full.

We rented a computer in an internet shop inside KLCC and researched about our possible itinerary. We also looked for trusted travel agencies where we can book our tours. When we were done, we went out to KLCC Park to get some fresh air and for me, to see sights since it was my first time there.


Hello Twin Towers! :)

Petronas Towers is really a gorgeous sight to see, especially at night. It is beautiful! No wonder it became the famous landmark of the city of Kuala Lumpur along with the KL Menara Tower. I don't know, it is just too pretty. :)


Lake Symphony

There was an ongoing fountain show when we went out to the park. I was mesmerized by its wonder. :)


the magical fountain show

They call this the Lake Symphony which is a 10,000 sqm man-made lake with water fountains.


the main fountain

The main fountain can shoot water up to a height of 42 meters. Lake Symphony provides a hundred and fifty magical dramatic animations.


i don't mind watching this again and again :)

I enjoyed watching it. It was truly splendid. I noticed that the park is crowded at night. Not only tourists flock to see the fountain show. There were many locals hanging out in the park as well. Well, if I live in KL too I might be one of the locals frequenting this park. Hehe. Before we knew it, it was already 10:00 PM. We bid each other goodbye. I'll talk about my friend on my upcoming entries. :)

Another observation I had was, they stay later at night than us here in the Philippines. At around 11:00 PM the city is still crowded. You'll still feel safe going home "late" at night. When I went down to the LRT station the queues were incredibly long. I decided to just hail a cab. Yes, it was past 10:00 PM and I was alone. I was taken home safely. :) With the same scenario here in Manila, I would never do that. Surprisingly, traffic in Bukit Bintang never ceases even late at night so my fare went up to RM 10.00. It must be the high-end shops.


My day one in Malaysia had been unfavorable at first but I did not waver. Traveling is something that I really wanted to do and I'm not going to give up just because of some petty problems. I know a lot of fellow travelers who have worse experiences than mine. This is my first time to travel alone in a foreign country but I felt really blessed during the entire trip to the last minute of it. You'll find out why as you read along this series. :)




This is Part 1 of my Peninsular Malaysia travel series.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Backpacking SEA Travel Guide


We actually call it "flashpacking" (backpacking in a flash). We traveled in 3 countries in just 9 days. A lot of people we met on the road, said we were crazy for doing this. But I love doing crazy things, so what haha.

our route

Our trip started from BKK in Thailand and ended in HCMC in Vietnam. We traveled overland so 3 days just merely went to transiting from country to country. Yeah, I know it was absurd but it was fun! I travel not only to see beautiful sights but also for unique experiences. And we don't get to experience border crossings in our archipelagic country, so why not give it a try? Shallow me. ;)



Below is a sample itinerary based on our trip.


Backpacking South East Asia Sample Itinerary:


Day 0: Off to BKK

0600pm - Check-in at NAIA Terminal 3
0935pm - ETD MNL
1150pm - ETA at BKK

*Sleeping at the airport on the 1st night is an option if you are traveling solo. My flight was delayed so I arrived in BKK at around 2:00 AM already. Why pay for a room when you'll only spend a few hours on it?

My account of Day 0 to Day 1 can be found here:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/08/traipsing-thailand-all-by-myself.html


Day 1: Bangkok Siam Tour

0500am - Transport to your accommodation location
0700am - Check-in at the hotel
0800am - Rest
0930am - Go to a Money Changer
1000am - Start City Tour
  • Siam Paragon 
  • Siam Ocean World 
  • Siam Discovery
  • Mah Boon Krong (MBK)
  • Bangkok Art and Culture Center 
  • Jim Thompson’s House
  • Central World Plaza
  • Amarin Plaza
0700pm - Dinner
0900pm - Rest and Sleep

Read about the hotel where I first stayed in BKK from this link:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-holiday-in-bkk.html


Day 2: Grand Palace and Rattanakosin Walking Tour

0600am - Go to KSR
0700am - Check-in at the guesthouse
0730am - Breakfast
0800am - Start of Tour
  • Grand Palace (Open 830am to 330pm)
  • Wat Pho or House of Reclining Buddha
  • Wat Arun or The Temple of Dawn
1200nn - Lunch somewhere

Ratchadamnoen or Royal Ave Walking Tour:
  • Democracy Monument 
  • Queens Gallery 
  • Wat Ratchanatdaram 
  • Loha Prasat
  • Wat Theprithidaram
  • Phrakan Fortress
  • Phukhao Thong or Golden Mount
  • Giant Swing 
  • War Suthat

0500pm - Go home and freshen up.
0700pm - Dinner
0800pm - onwards -Khao San Road Night Life

My Day 2 journals can be found here:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/09/bangkok-historical-walking-tour.html
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/09/thai-food-trip-and-khao-san-by-night.html



Day 3: Thailand to Cambodia Overland Border Crossing

0430am - Go to Hua Lamphong Train Station
0555am - ETD Bangkok
1135am - ETA Aranyaprathet
1200nn - Cross the border to Poipet, Cambodia
* Ride the free shuttle service to the bus terminal
0100pm - ETD Poipet
0400pm - ETA Siem Reap
0430pm - Check-in at the guesthouse/hotel
0600pm - onwards -Dinner, Explore the city

If you want to find out how we crossed this notorious border, click here:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/09/aranyaprathet-thailands-border-to.html
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/10/entering-kingdom-of-cambodia.html



Day 4: Angkor Wat Tour Part 1

0400am - Catch sunrise in Angkor Wat
0700am - Breakfast
0800am - Start of tour
  • South Gate of the Angkor Thom
  • Bayon
  • Baphoun 
  • Elephant Terrace 
  • Terrace of Leper king 
  • Ta Keo 
  • Ta Prohm
1200nn - Break for Lunch
  • Banteay Kdei 
  • Sras Srang
  • Angkor Wat
0500pm - Back to guesthouse
0600pm - Buffet Dinner with Apsara Show
0900pm - Siem Reap Night Market

Angkor What? Click and find out:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-majestic-temples-of-angkor.html



Day 5: Angkor Wat Tour Part 2

0700am - Breakfast
0800am - Start tour
  • Pre Rup 
  • Bantay Srei 
  • Bantay Samre 
1200nn Break for Lunch
  • Tasom 
  • Preah Khan 
  • Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

0600pm - Back to guesthouse
0700pm - Dinner
0800pm - onwards -Nightlife in Pub St

Read more about Siem Reap's enigmatic beauty from this link:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/11/getting-lost-in-time-and-temples-in.html


Day 6: Phnom Pehn

0600am - Go to the Bus Terminal
0700am - ETD Siem Reap
0100pm - ETA Phnom Pehn
0130pm - Check-in at the guesthouse
0200pm - Start your own City Tour
  • The Royal Palace
  • The National Museum 
  • The Silver Pagoda 
  • Wat Phnom 
  • Wat Ounalom 
  • Independence Monument 
  • Central Market
  • Tou Sleng
  • Choueng Ek 
0700pm - Dinner
0800pm - Hang out in Sisowath Quay

*You will not have enough time to see all those listed attractions in half day. If you want to visit all of them, spend a day or two in Phnom Penh. :)

If you're interested to see Phnom Penh, have a glimpse of it here:


Day 7: Cambodia to Vietnam Overland Border Crossing

0630am - Shuttle service pick up to the terminal 
0645am - ETD Phnom Pehn
0100pm - ETA Ho Chi Minh City
0130pm - Check-in at the hotel
0200pm - Start your own City Tour
  • City Hall 
  • Opera house 
  • Notre Dame Cathedral 
  • Reunification Palace
  • Ho Chi Minh City Museum
0600pm - Dinner
0700pm - onwards -Water Puppet Show or Go Night Market Shopping in Ben Thanh

French colonial structures? Visit Saigon:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/12/lost-in-saigon.html



Day 8: Cu Chi Tunnel Tour and Shopping

0700am - Breakfast
0800am - Cu Chi Tour pick up
0900am - Start of Tour
0130pm - End of Tour
0200pm - Late Lunch
0300pm - onwards -Souvenir shopping
0600pm - check-out from the hotel
0700pm - Dinner and Socials
0900pm - Airport Transfer
1000pm - Check-in at Tan son Nhat Airport


Day 9: Fly back to Manila

0100am - ETD HCMC
0430am - ETA MNL



Accommodation Information:

Bangkok (Siam Area):
Holiday Inn Bangkok
I have all info in this entry:
http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-holiday-in-bkk.html

Bangkok (Khao San Road):
New Joe Guesthouse
Address: 81 Trokmayom Chakrapongse Rd. Taladyod, Bangkok 10200
Contact No: +66 2 281 2948
Website: http://www.newjoeguesthouse.com/index.html
Room Rates: THB 400-550 for Double Occupancy; THB 500-750 for Triple Occupancy

Siem Reap
Victory Guest House
Address: Road 6 Taphoul Village Svaydungkom Commune Siem Reap, Cambodia
Contact No: (855) 012 516 566; (855) 012 451 286
Website: http://www.victoryguesthouse.com/index.php
Room Rates: USD 7-12 for Single Rooms; USD 11-15 for Double and Twin Rooms; USD 15-20 for Triple

Siem Reap
Bou Savy Guest House
My complete review is written here:


Phnom Penh
Royal Guesthouse and Cafe Bar
***I am not putting up their info. Definitely not recommended.***


Ho Chi Minh City
Red Sun Hotel
Address: 283/17 Pham Ngu Lao Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam District 1
Contact No:
Website: They don't have one but you can find them in Agoda, Hostelbookers and Hostelworld
Room Rates: USD 9 for Standard Double


Summary of Expenses:

Pre-Departure:

PHP  150.00 - Taxi to NAIA T3
         750.00 - Terminal fee
        1620.00- Travel Tax
         ----------
PHP 2520.00 - Total Pre-Departure Expenses


Thailand:

Miscellaneous:
THB  199.00 - Happy Simcard
            60.00 - Prepaid Load
            15.00 - Internet Cafe
          550.00 - Souvenirs

Transportation:
THB   40.00 - Van to Victory Monument
           76.00 - BTS and MRT (3 rides)
           19.50 - Bus (3 rides)
           30.00 - Taxi to Hua Lamphong
           48.00 - Train to Aranyaprathet
           25.00 - Tuktuk to the Border
         300.00 - Poipet to Siem Reap Bus

Accommodation:
THB 175.00 - 1N New Joe Guesthouse (per pax)

Food:
THB 575.00 - 3 Days

Admission Fees:
THB 400.00 - Grand Palace
           50.00 - Wat Pho

Thailand Expenses:
THB  824.00 - Misc
          538.50 - Transpo
          175.00 - Accommodation
          575.00 - Food
          450.00 - Attraction Fees
---------------
THB 2562.50 - Total Expenses in Baht or
USD     84.00
 

Cambodia:

Miscellaneous:
USD  42.00 - Souvenirs, Laundry, Foot Massage


Transportation:
USD    2.00 - Tuktuk rides
            5.00 - Motorbike Rental (USD7/2pax) and Gas
            6.00 - Bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh



Accommodation and Tour Package:
USD 33.00 - BouSavy All-In Package in Siem Reap (USD 66 for 2pax)
           6.50 - Royal Guesthouse in Phnom Penh (USD 13 for 2)

Food:
USD  18.50 - 4 Days
          10.00 - Buffet Dinner + Apsara Show

Tour:
USD  33.00 - Angkor 3-Day Pass
            1.00 - Sunrise Tour (not included in the package)
            1.00 - Tour Guide
            2.00 - Toul Sleng Museum Entrance Fee

Cambodia Expenses:

USD   42.00 - Misc
           13.00 - Transpo
           39.50 - Accommodation
           28.50 - Food
           37.00 - Attraction Fees
--------------
USD 160.00 - Total Expenses in Cambo



Vietnam:

Miscellaneous:
USD   21.00 - Souvenirs

Transportation:
USD   10.00 - Bus from Phnom Penh to HCMC
             3.50 - Motorbike Rental
             4.00 - Taxi Tan Son Nhat Airport


Accommodation:
USD     7.00 - Red Sun Hotel (1.5 days per pax)

Food:
USD   10.00 - 2 Days


Tour:
USD     1.00 - HCMC Museum Entrance Fee
             6.00 - Cu Chi Tunnel Tour


Vietnam Expenses:

USD   21.00 - Misc
           17.50 - Transpo
             7.00 - Accommodation
           10.00 - Food
           10.75 - Attraction Fees
--------------
USD   66.25 - Total Expenses in Vietnam


Total Trip Expenses:
USD   84.00 - Thailand
         160.00 - Cambodia
           66.25 - Vietnam
--------------
USD 310.25 or
PHP 15,000+++ (based on the international exchange rate that time)
          2,520 - Pre-Departure Fees
--------------
PHP 17,520+++


*That amount does not include my airfare and my 1 night stay at the hotel in BKK where I used my employee rate. It only refers to the cash I spent during the actual trip. My airline tickets are prepaid since I booked it months before the trip and my hotel stay was post paid because I used my credit card. Traveling in South East Asia is relatively cheap! What are you waiting for? :)





Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cu Chi Tunnel Tour and Our Last Night in Saigon


We booked a Cu Chi Tunnel Tour with our hotel for USD 5. We just paid them the fee and we were told that somebody will pick us up the next day at 8:00 AM.

We woke up a little early that day and waited for the pick-up. We bought bottles of water that we can take to the tour. Mr Bihn showed up at the hotel reception area looking for us and off we went. Then we went to 3 or 4 more hostels and picked up more tourists.We figured that the hotels are booking this tour with certain agencies and then the agency pools people altogether for a trip. We ended up filling 1 tour bus.


Our first stop was a Handicapped Crafts and Souvenir Shop. They sell all these amazing items in the photos below.

hand painted decors

The handicaps artworks were all beautiful. I would really want to bring some home but they were  expensive.

vases and jars

We enjoyed our short visit here. We actually saw how they do all these lovely works of art with their bare hands. If I only had a lot of money, I would've splurged on them.


colorful ornaments 


The Cu Chi Tunnel

We finally arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnel. It was about an hour and a half from the city. We paid the admission fee of VND 80,000 (USD 3.75 or PHP 150). As we all know, Vietnam has gone through several wars in past. The Cu Chi Tunnel was part of a colossal underground tunnel network underlying most part of the country.

First thing we did was watch a film. The short film shows the Vietnamese point of view of the war. Some Americans would probably feel awkward if not offended. The message it conveys is that Vietnam was once peaceful but then callously destroyed by the Americans. Yaiiks. Good thing there were no Americans in our group.


cu chi film viewing


We started to tour around the area after the film showing. We stopped at one of the famous camouflage tunnel doors. When it is closed and covered by dried leaves, you won't notice it all! Great job, Viet Cong! :)

she fits inside!

We were all given the chance to try it ourselves. Most of our "slim" tour mates rocked it. I, however did not dare try. I was afraid getting stuck and not being able to go up anymore haha.


do you think i would fit in? ;)

Mr Bihn (our tour guide), explained why the tunnel entrances were so small. He said these were only made for Vietnamese people. Their normal built is slim or skinny. He said they made it in purpose so Americans can't get into them hehe.

So you ask, what made these tunnels significant? It used to be the base of operation of the Viet Cong for their military campaign during the Vietnam War. It was of great importance to them in their resistance to the American forces and it helped them achieve ultimate military success later on.


another tunnel entrance

The tunnels became their refuge during the war. They were able to continue their lives underneath the soil despite all the bombings. They used the tunnels from 1960s up to the early 70s - that was when the Americans eventually withdrew their forces. Imagine living underground for that long!


tunnel time! :)

We were also given the opportunity to try going down to one of them tunnels. Almost everyone in our group gave it a shot. By the way, there are exits in very 20 meters, so if you feel like you can't go on anymore, just go out.


this is how it looks like

We were being scolded upon by the Brit group behind us while we were stopping to take photos. They were like "Oh my Gawd. Don't stop! Just go on!" *in British accent*. They were freaking out on every single minute they were in the tunnel. Geez. Why don't you guys just go up on the next exit? ;)


Mr Bihn

Our tour guide, Mr Bihn is actually half Viet, half Filipino. His father is a Vietnamese and mother a Filipina. He has a brother who lives here in the Philippines, who is a successful lawyer residing in Quezon City. He showed us his brother's business card. According to him, he's the only one in his family who resides in Vietnam.


the Viet Cong guerillas

Aside from the tunnels, the place also exhibits other things. There were depictions of the guerillas, the things they used back then, arms, ammos and examples of the booby traps they used. You'll see how all of these things made them successful over the American forces.


ammunition

At the end of the tour, there's an area where you can do some shooting using high caliber military guns. You just have to pay for the bullets you're going to use.


oh shoot!

The Cu Chi Tunnel Tour was worth it. No doubt, it was a substantial part of their history. I first saw it when Samantha Brown of Travel and Living Channel featured Vietnam and it piqued my interest. There's nothing better than going to a place you saw on TV and experience it yourself. :)



Monday, December 3, 2012

Lost in Saigon


We were picked up from the guesthouse at around 6:30 AM by the bus company shuttle service (still in Phnom Pehn). Yup, they have one which is impressive. We don't have to be in a hurry to go to the bus terminal by ourselves. We bought our tickets from the same bus company we used from Siem Reap which is the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport. The bus to Ho Chi Minh City leaves at 6:45 AM.

Again, we didn't have time for a proper breakfast so we just bought bahn mi to go. :) The sandwich was pretty similar to what we had in Siem Reap, this one only had onion leeks.


breakfast onboard again

We bought some other snack and bottles of water. It's going to be another 6 hours on the road. Most passengers were travelers like us, only they were Caucasians.


want some? :)


Cambodia-Vietnam Border Crossing

After 3 hours or so, we were all instructed to get off the bus and bring all our belongings. We figured we were already at the Bavet (Cambodia)-Moc Bai (Vietnam) Border. The system was very organized. First, the conductor asked everyone to hand him the passports. Then he explained everything we have to do (over the microphone) before we got off. He took care of the departure stamps from the Cambodian Immigration and handed them over to the Viet Immigration. We walked to the other side of the border and went straight to the Immigration queue. We waited for our names to be called one by one and got our passports stamped for entry. No more questioning or whatsoever just like in the Cambodian border.We and our luggage went through the x-ray scanners before we were allowed to exit the Immigration and that was it. When we were all finished with the immigration process, we boarded the same bus and continue our journey to Ho Chi Minh City. The whole process only took us more or less 20 minutes. Easy breezy. :)



Another 3 hours of eating, sleeping and watching Cambodian music videos (which I found highly entertaining hehe) had passed when we finally saw a sign of Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived at around 1:30 PM. Another nice thing about this bus is that they do not just drop passengers at a terminal. They go straight into the city center and will ask passengers about their area of choice. In our case, we were headed to the backpackers's district of Pham Ngu Lao so we were dropped off in the area. Perfect!

We didn't book any accommodation there in advance. The first thing we did when we got off was to ask around the hostels area. In Pham Ngu Lao, there's this compound full of hostels and guesthouses. We entered this one alley and inquired about their room rates. Red Sun Hotel gave us the best rate so we stayed with them. Maybe it was off season then. We haggled with them to get a lower rate.





Red Sun Hotel

I am also not giving a recommendation entry for them. The room was just fine but I did not like it that much. The rooms were small. If you are claustrophobic I don't think you would enjoy staying there. I'm not sure what machine was attached to our room's wall but it really made our room so freaking hot and noisy! It took some time before the A/C cooled it up. Also, it rained on our last day in Saigon. I'm not sure how the rain water got in but the staircases were flooded which is very dangerous for the guests. Who knows what can happen if you accidentally slip on them. Yes, there's no lift. We had to use the stairs all the way up to the 4th floor with our heavy packs. Oh well, that's what we got for a discounted rate. We only got it for USD 9 (not giving us much right to complain). By the way, the receptionists and their customer service was downright. They assisted us in every way they can. I'm giving them good points for that. I assume our experience would have been nicer if we were given a better room.



Friday, November 30, 2012

Phnom Penh Layover


Phnom Penh (PP) was initially out of the plan. But we learned that traveling from Siem Reap all the way to Saigon will take a staggering 12 hours. We came to a conclusion to stop over in Cambodia's capital city and spent a night there. Travel time from Siem Reap to Phnom Pehn takes about 6 hours, so we'll be halfway to Vietnam by then.

We woke up early to catch the first bus to PP which departs 7:00 AM. We chose the 168 Sorya Transport bus as recommended by most travelers. Fare to PP was KHR 16,000 (Cambodian Riels) or USD 4. Since it was too early and we haven't got the chance to eat breakfast, Beau bought something to eat while we were waiting for the bus to get full.


banh mi

He found this baguette sandwich with tofu, veggies and a special dressing. It turned out to be delectable. Apparently, Indochina countries have this kind of sandwich. We also found one in Vietnam and they say they also have these in Laos. French influence, so to speak.


exotic snack, anyone? :)


We stopped over once in between SR and PP. We saw street vendors selling these spicy crispy fried insects. I thought about trying one but I just couldn't make my mind to do it. I think we stood there for a good 10 minutes only to back out in the end. But I swear, I really want to try it! Maybe next time. I still have to muster enough courage to do that. :)


We arrived in Phnom Penh at around 1:00 PM. When we got off the bus, we already purchased a ticket to Ho Chi Minh City for the following day. We want to make sure we'll have seats on the earliest bus going to Vietnam.



Royal Guesthouse and Cafe Bar

We took a tuktuk going to the guesthouse which is just nearby and easy to find. We checked-in at the Royal Guesthouse and Cafe Bar (USD 13 per night)- which I am not writing a recommendation entry because it was a mistake! So friends, do not stay there at all cost. Why? The rooms were worn down and not very clean. Another thing is you can't control the A/C. They won't give you the remote control and you have to ask them to turn it on for you every time. It was installed near the ceiling so there'e no way you can reach it manually! Good thing we were just spending a night there. Geez! We only had a short time in PP so we did not look for another place anymore.


With our limited time in Phnom Pehn, we just wanted to look around a bit and visit a few important tourist spots.We just rented a motorbike (for USD 7) from the guesthouse and decided to go on our own instead of getting ripped off by tuktuk drivers. We couldn't maximize their service anymore if ever we're getting one because it's already 2:00 PM. So we just asked for a map and a few instructions from the receptionist, then went off on our motorbike.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Where to Stay in Siem Reap: Bou Savy Guest House


I thought finding a good guest house in Siem Reap would be hard because there are just so many of them. But I was wrong. It just takes a little researching hehe. I read its reviews in Trip Advisor and was impressed by what I've read. Everyone had no other word for it but "excellent".

I booked our reservation with them 1 month before our arrival date to make sure we'll secure a room when we get there. OC that I am, I planned everything ahead. Reservation with them was easy. You just have to go to their website and fill out the reservation form or shoot them an email. They respond promptly too. They confirmed our reservation the next day, no deposit payment required. Isn't it great?

When we were dropped off by the bus somewhere, we just contacted them and we were fetched. Free pick-up was included. :)


guest house exterior

It was starting to get dark when we arrived. We were immediately entertained by Mr. Bovuth (the brother of Bovurn whom we were corresponding with). You got it, this is a family-ran guesthouse. We were given a refreshing ice cold towel and a welcome drink. Oh yes we liked it. It was a nice gesture because we'd been on the road all day and it was hot and dusty.

Due to the Thailand flooding, we adjusted our dates of stay with them and added one more night. Even though they were fully booked on the date we requested, they still made a way to accommodate us. They got us a room in their Uncle's - Victory Guesthouse. They made it hassle free for us. We were being serviced by their tuktuk to and fro the two guesthouses. Outstanding customer service.


garden dining area


After spending one night at Victory Guesthouse, we were collected and brought back to Bou Savy. This time, for good. We were surprised to see that the Travel Factor group was also staying at the same guest house haha.


my stir fried noodles for breakfast


We had our complimentary breakfast and it was yum! Plus, the amount of servings were generous. Enough to give you energy and great start for your temple hopping activity. By the way, breakfast meals always comes with fresh fruits and a beverage of your choice. What's not to love? :)


photo courtesy of their website

We were given a twin room at the second floor. Unfortunately, I was not able to take a lot of photos in the guesthouse. We were always out and every time we came back, we were tired that I don't remember to do so. Please don't mind my watermark! I mistakenly included it in my set of photos while watermarking.

The room is spacious and clean. The bed is a little small. It was fine with me or with other Asians maybe but it could be tiny for Westerners. The toilet and bath room is also cramped. But as long as it does the job, no problem too.

They also have a common living area at the ground floor where you can borrow and read books. They also have free tourist booklets and guides there, which are very helpful to the guests. Oh, they also have free WIFI.

They don't just serve breakfast, you can also choose to eat your lunch or dinner at their restaurant. They offer bountiful servings for an affordable price.


dinner is served

On the right side of the garden dining area is a computer station where guests can use internet for free. WIFI connection in the rooms may sometime be spotty or if you didn't bring any gadget for internet, you can just go there and check your social networking accounts or emails. 


our chartered tuktuk, char!

Our package already included the tour with tuktuk. So we had our own driver/guide during our entire stay in Siem Reap.



come and stay in Bou Savy :)



We had a hassle-free stay at Bou Savy. All the commendations they have in Trip Advisor are very much well-deserved. They know how to take good care of their customer's very well. The place is so simple but homey. They got everything that you may need. They even have a token for the guests before they leave. I just took a photo of it in my phone camera so the resolution is not suitable to be posted here in the web. So sweet. :)


Here are the details of our 2D3N Package for 2 Pax:
  • Accommodation with Twin Fan Room
  • Daily Breakfast
  • Free 1N Dinner
  • Sightseeing tour with Tuk Tuk
  • Complimentary drinking water for the trip
  • Pick up and transfer services
  • Free WIFI
*Our package costs USD 66. So it's USD 33 per pax.


Accomodation Information:

Bou Savy Guest House
Address: Road No. 6, Taphul Village | Khum Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap 063, Cambodia
Contact Nos: +855 12 898 627
Website: http://www.bousavyguesthouse.com/
Room Rates: USD 8-12 for Single Rooms; USD 11-16 for Twin Rooms; USD 15-21  for Triple Rooms.

Rates vary depending on your preference. You can choose between Fan and A/C rooms.


Accommodation Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥




This is Part 5 of my Cambodia travel series.