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, 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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Getting Lost in Time and Temples in Siem Reap


We decided to take a 2-day temple tour in Siem Reap in lieu of our canceled trip to Ayutthaya in Thailand. Ayutthaya was closed to tourists that time because they were heavily flooded and damaged, so we replaced it with another day of temple tour in Cambodia.

On our second day, we didn't have to wake up early for the sunset. Our phasing for that day was more chilled and relaxed. Of course, we started the day with an awesome complimentary breakfast from our guesthouse Bou Savy. I had my omelette with bread and jam while Beau got a huge banana pancake. Yum!


our yummy breakfast :)


Off we went to another temple journey. Our first destination that day was East Baray. We visited the temple-mountain Pre-Rup. It used to be the state capital before Angkor. The temple's name has a strange meaning which is "turning the body", pertaining to a corpse's cremation rite in its cistern foreground.


Pre-Rup

This temple features imposing brick towers and the views from the upper terrace is just stunning.


with the lion guardian

The temple exudes a beautiful reddish tone during sunrise and sunset. The harmony of colors between sandstone, brick and laterite makes it look magnificent.


just beautiful (the temple or me? hahaha!)

We happened to meet a fellow Filipino family while visiting here. It is very true that Filipinos are just everywhere hehe. During this entire backpacking trip, we always run into one literally just everywhere. :)


The next temple we visited became one of my favorites, the Banteay Srei. The literal translation of its modern name is "Citadel of Women"  or "Citadel of Beauty". This might be related to the many devatas you can find in its wall carvings.


Bantay Srei

It is majorly built with red sandstone which made it look more alluring. In my opinion, it has the most elaborate wall carvings among the temples I saw. What a beauty!


lovely carvings!

The building dimension is tiny compared to the normal temples. Everything around here seemed to miniscule. It is also different among the other Angkor temples because it was not built by a monarch.


me and the mini-temple towers

I wish I had a longer time to marvel on its beauty and to appreciate the bas-reliefs more but we had to go. Time for lunch!


Khmer Torta :)

As usual, I didn't recall where we ate lunch that day. I may not be able to recall what we ate as well if I hadn't took photos of it. ;)


morning glory salad? eheh


Lunch was over and time to move on. We went to Banteay Samre next, still in East Baray. The temple is named after the ancient Indochina people, the Samres.


Banteay Samre

This is the most distant among them. It is relatively isolated therefore has fewer visitors compared to the other temples. Because of this isolation, it is the most restored one as well.


loved taking window frame photos :)


For me, the structure of this temple is very much similar to Angkor Wat. But others say it looks more like the temples of Phimai in Northeast Thailand. I don't know because I haven't been there yet. But when I Googled it, I said to myself "yeah right!".


does it look like a mini Angkor Wat?


We traveled back to Northeast Angkor and visited a small temple called Ta Som. It was built on the Bayon period during the reign of Jayavarman VII, along with Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom.


entrance to Ta Som

 Unlike the other temples, this is largely unrestored. Trees and other vegetation are growing among the ruins.


among the few remaining ruined structure

We then proceeded to northeast of Angkor Thom and visited Preah Khan. They say it was more than just a temple for it had also been a Buddhist university.


Preah Khan

Its modern name means, "Holy Sword". History connotes that this was built on the site of a major battle where Angkor was reclaimed from the Chams, and that the Cham king died here. So this temple was built in commemoration of their victory. FYI, according to what I've read, Chams are Vietnamese.


one of the temple's galleries

The temple structure is merely flat and rectangular. It is not as flamboyant as the other temples.


one of them entries

Similar to Ta Prohm and Ta Som, this temple is majorly unrestored. Ravenous vegetation ultimately damaged the temple. I believe the restoration efforts has stopped which is very obvious on the scenario below.


define ruins

We skipped seeing the sunset at Phnom Bakheng. It was cloudy anyway. We just rested early because we had plans of hanging out at Pub Street that night.


It was a two-day temple overload for us. I didn't mind at all because I'm very much interested with anything historical and magnificent as this. I'm just not sure with my Beau though haha. But I'm glad he understands my passion about these kinds of things. Thinking out loud. :)


That same day, we took advantage of our free dinner at the guesthouse which is part of the package promo that we availed.


Beef Loklak Bou Savy style

We decided to try local Cambodian dishes. Beau ordered Beef Loklak because I was raving about it the other day. I tasted it to compare if it came close to the one I ate. Unfortunately, it did not. How I wish I remember or took note of that restaurant's name so I can come back for it or recommend it in Trip Advisor.


Amok

I got their specialty dish called Amok. It is a steamed spiced chicken in coconut milk. They say it is a classic Khmer dish. It deserves to be it! It was delish! :)


We headed to Pub Street for some nightlife and beer drinking after supper. Beers are cheap! One funny sign that we saw in one of the bars says "Happy Hour All Day". Then they should have written, Happy Day. How can an hour be all day (a day has 24 hours)? Confusing eh? Haha.



having Angkor Beer in Pub St

We ended our day in a spa. We had an hour and a half foot spa at a bargain price. Hehe. We haggled to lower the rate and they took it. We really enjoyed it. I wish I took photos but heck, I was too relaxed to do so. Their massage technique was different and it really soothed our tired legs and feet. It was amazing.


I felt a little sad we had to leave the next day already. I've learned to love Siem Reap in 3 days. That's the sad thing about traveling. You have to be constantly on the move. You can't settle with just one destination.


"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson




This is Part 4 of my Cambodia travel series.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Night of Apsara Dance and Khmer Buffet


We told Mr Tihm (our guide/driver) that we want to watch the Apsara dance. He then referred us to Sophea Angkor. A restaurant that offers buffet dinner and cultural dance performance. He made the reservations for us and brought us there on our second night in Siem Reap. Yay! He was so nice.


Sophea Angkor Restaurant

He left us at the restaurant and promised to pick us up after the dinner and the show. The restaurant was huge. It was bursting with tourists. We were promptly entertained. We just show them our stubs and we were seated right on. We did not waste our time and raided the buffet spread right away. ;)


my first plate

Mine obviously, I love veggies! :) I had Cendol for dessert. It has that green worm-like jellies, coconut milk, beans, sugar and shaved ice.


my dessert and drink

They have a wide spread of food! Everything is included in the rate (even drinks). Almost all cuisines were present. The food stations were also organized, so you won't have a hard time looking for a particular dish.


Beau's plate

Like this one below, we got this from the all meat station. We loved the chicken satay and the kebab! Yum!


meat galore

Beau got a dessert similar to our halo-halo hehe.


his dessert

Of course, seafood. They also have that, although very limited kinds.


some clams

We also tried some of their bread and pastries. But wait, what was that dragon fruit doing there? For the first time, I tried tasting one and I regreted it! Haha! Yaiiks, I didn't like how it tastes and feels in my mouth. Well, at least I had the courage to try. ;)


more desserts

We were halfway through our dinner when the Apsara show started. It is a Khmer classical dance. This dance narrates classical myths or religious stories.


the star Apsara dancer :)

Their costumes were based on the devatas you can see in the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat.


Apsara Dance

The dance steps were usually consisted of slow dance movements, full of finesse and grace.


isn't she pretty? :)

Look at that very intricate costume. Very nice eh?


apsara routine

It was more or less a 2 -hour performance. When the dance was over, guests were given a chance to take photos with the dancers.


photo time with a fellow tourist :)

We asked Mr. Tihm to take us to the night market after the show. I want to check out more of the city.


shopping!

I ended up shopping that night haha. I liked haggling with them. They were the most pleasant merchants I've met in SEA (to date). They were courteous and friendly. :)


roaming around the night market


It was a wonderful day! We explored the temples, had a sumptuous buffet dinner, witnessed their cultural dance and I was able to do another thing that I like, which was shopping! I started to fall in love with Siem Reap that day. I loved everything about it. ♥♥♥




This is Part 3 of my Cambodia travel series.

The Majestic Temples of Angkor


We woke up very early on our second day to see the sunrise in Angkor Wat. We woke up at 4:00 AM and I literally jumped out of bed because of too much excitement. It was a chilly morning and I would love to sleep some more if only we're not catching the sunrise. When we went outside, our driver/tour guide Mr. Tihm was already there waiting for us. I guess, Cambodians are very much on time hehe.

We secured our admission passes on the entrance gate first and then immediately proceeded to the sunrise viewing spot. Hoards of tourists were already there when we arrived. Everyone was excited to watch the sun come out.


the glorious Angkor sunrise

After a few minutes, the colors of the skies started to change. Blue and orange hues began to spread. The pine cone spires of the temple stood out magnificently against these hues. It - was - simply - breathtaking! It was one of the best things I've seen in my whole life. :)


bathed in sunlight

It didn't last for long. No matter how much we want to, we can't stop the sun from shining. The orange color started to disappear, slowly exposing the temple in bright light. Now its beauty was reflected through the pond, still gorgeous.


what a wonderful morning :)

Too bad, that's the best shot I had. There were so many people that time that it was so hard to get a nice angle with the temple in the background. And, I still have my old camera back then so the photo quality is not that great too. I'm actually thinking about going back to Siem Reap just to get awesome photos with my new camera haha. I'm crazy like that.


We went back to the guesthouse after seeing the sunrise. Well, to grab some breakfast and to prepare ourselves for the whole day temple hopping activity. We weren't expecting a "free" breakfast would be this fulfilling. I ordered my fried noodles and Beau got his beef noodle, both of ample servings and with some fruits. Simply awesome! :)


loved our breakfast :)

As I've mentioned earlier, we purchased our passes before we were allowed entry to the temple complex. We bought the 3-day pass for USD 40 (we decided to temple hop for 2 days). That means we can explore as many temples as we want in Angkor Archaeological Park in a span of 3 days. Mind you, this should be used on consecutive days. Other passes available are 1-day (USD 20) and 7-day (USD 60). You should always bring your Angkor Pass with you or you might be denied of entry.


my 3-day pass :)

We were ready to seize the day after having our first meal. Mr. Tihm was our guide during our entire stay in Siem Reap. We got this package in Bou Savy that includes everything, so we had a very convenient experience. Guess what else was included? Ice cold water during the tours! Isn't it fantastic? :)


Our first stop was the Angkor Thom. It literally translates to "Great City". It was one of the largest city the Khmers had ever built.


Angkor Thom South Gate entrance

The naga-carrying figures in the entrance were very noticeable. I read the book Ancient Angkor, to fully understand the symbolism used in every temple structures. Oh well, I'm a history geek. ;)


The south gate entrance leads to its city center which is Bayon. There are many face towers when you look around and all of them have that one signature look.


Bayon

There are different interpretations to this face structures and one of them is that these represent King Jayavarman VII himself. Yup, the king who built this city.


Faces of Prasat Bayon

When I travel, I don't just travel. I pay respect to the local's culture and religion. I am a free spirit and very much open-minded. A famous saying goes "When in Rome, do as Romans do." :)


praying to a Hindu God

We went to Baphuon next. It is a temple mountain dedicated to a Hindu God like any other structures in Angkor. They said it used to be an astonishing temple. Unfortunately with Chinese influences, it was converted in to a Buddhist temple. They started building a giant reclining Buddha statue which required the demolition of a tower that caused the collapse of its huge portion. Honestly, I felt sad about it.


Baphuon

The Elephant Terrace came next. Back then, it served as the King's platform for his audiences. It used to be his giant viewing stand for public ceremonies and this was also where he sees his army.



Terrace of the Elephants

Another terrace is that of the Leper King. Originally built for another Hindu God Yama, the God of Death. It was later called as the Terrace of the Leper King due to the discoloration on it which looks similar to a person with leprosy. It fits to an Angkorian King Yasovarman who had leprosy.


Leper King Terrace



We were starving and it was also very hot that time which made us exhausted faster than usual. We decided it was time for lunch. I suck at remembering restaurant names, oh well my memory in general is sucky. But this one restaurant served the best Beef Loklak I've ever tasted. It was kind of pricey but boy, it was so worth it! And serving is good for two so it's not bad at all. By the way, I love how Cambodian dishes always have veggies on it.


my Beef Loklak


From Central Angkor, we moved to the East. Our first stop after lunch is Ta Keo. Pretty similar to Baphuon, this is a huge temple-mountain. This one stands out because this is the first to be built entirely of sandstone. The inscriptions say that its name literally translates to "Mountain of Golden Peaks".



Ta Keo Ruins



We went next to the famous one, Ta Prohm. It became more popular than the other temples because it was where Angelina Jolie shot some of her scenes for her Tomb Raider film.


the ruins + the trees = eerie :)

This one was built to be a temple-monastery. The French restorers decided for Ta Prohm to be left in it's "natural state" to give people a preview of how the temples looked like when it was rediscovered in the 19th century.


trees claiming the temples

Seeing the trees intertwined to the ruins gave me goosebumps. I was thinking how the hell was this possible? It made the temple looked mysterious and lovely in a destructive kind of way. See? Even my description became twisted. ;)

Awe-struck from Ta Prohm, we went ahead to Banteay Kdei which is a smaller version of the former. Its name means "Citadel of Chambers". Architectural style is also Bayon, so it also has face towers. They say this place used to be occupied by monks.


lost inside Banteay Kdei


On the east side of Banteay Kdei is Sra Srang. It used to be the royal bathing pool for the King and his wives. We did not check it out anymore. They say it is spectacular during sunrise and we were there in the afternoon.



and we were back to Angkor Wat...


We returned to the world's largest religious temple, The Angkor Wat. Its name means "City of Temples". It is the grandest among all the temples, an architectural masterpiece in great proportions with very elaborate details. It is not in my bucket list for nothing. Definitely a temple-freak's paradise. Did I say I am one? Go figure. ;)


narrative bas-reliefs

The bas-reliefs cover the exterior walls of Angkor. Its subject are the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.


super amazing

The carved area was so immense. If you have enough time (and money), it is best to hire a guide who can explain or tell you the story behind these reliefs. It could be pretty interesting. As for me, I just read the guide book hehe.


temple afternoon delight :)

After going around the temple complex, we decided to ascend to the steep stairs. There's just one staircase that you can use now. All the other stairs are now prohibited to the public. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to do so because I am wearing shorts. What was I thinking? It is a temple of course!


view from the top

The view from up there is not that great, so I didn't feel bad missing it. Weh? Just making myself feel better haha.


I was so happy at the end of that day. I enjoyed exploring the temples very much. I finally set foot in Angkor Wat! Wee! I used to day dream about it back in high school and it certainly became a reality.


"If you can dream it, you can do it." ~Walt Disney




This is Part 2 of my Cambodia travel series.