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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

HCMC, Cambodia and Hoi An in 10 Days (Part 2)

Day 2
We had an early start and were pretty much peeved that the hotel didn't prepare our breakfast since we asked them if we could have our free breakfast to go the night before and they said it was OK. They seemed to have overcharged us as well -- The exchange rate they used was higher than normal.

On the way to the bus station, we got some snacks for the road and started our long bus journey to Cambodia. After a few hours, the bus stopped at the border where we got our passports stamps. Again, I was lucky to be from Southeast Asia. I didn't have to wait for them to give me a visa. I had to wait for the rest of the tourists to get through though. 

At The Cambodian Border
After going through the border, we stopped by a stall where we got some lunch. Opposite that stall is a bank and we were able to withdraw some dollars from the ATM. We also got some money changed to Cambodian Riel. We realized later on that dollars were also accepted in Cambodia. It was good to have some of the local money though -- They tend to charge you a dollar for everything unless you haggle and show them that you have some local currency in hand.

We finally reached the Sapaco Office in Pnom Penh at around two in the afternoon and waited for the mini van that would transfer us to the bus station. When we got to the bus station, we were a bit disappointed. The man from Sapaco gave us open tickets that meant that we didn't have seat in the 2:30 PM bus. We ended up having to wait in the bus station for another hour. And, I was a bit peeved that I forgot about the golden rule of purchasing anything in Vietnam -- Ask the seller about everything at least three times to know what you're getting. Otherwise, you might end up with an "I'm sorry! Big misunderstanding!" and no compensation for the time lost and the holiday ruined.

Fortunately, we just had to deal with an hour's delay. We opened our books and munched on some snacks as we waited for the next bus to arrive. I was quite entertained by the tiny Cambodian boy who sat beside us and managed to share my Pringles with me. I'm quite immune to begging kids but I do have a weakness for kids who give me that "Feed me!" look.

It was around nine o'clock when we finally reached Siem Reap. We got a tuktuk to our guest house and were happy to find out that the room that we reserved in the Khmer Inn was still available. Unfortunately, their kitchen was closed for the night and we had to find some food elsewhere. We were really lucky to find a nice restaurant near the inn. They served some yummy curry and the prices ranged from $2 to $4.

Day 3
In the morning, we were served a huge breakfast and got to meet the family that owned the guest house. It's so nice to stay in family-owned places where you get loads of warmth and you never feel alone. The kids were very sweet. Their youngest girl wouldn't stop flashing her plastic jewelry as she walked around the dining room like a model. 

I was greeted by this beautiful sunrise when I got up that morning.

While we ate our breakfast, we managed to arrange for a tuktuk to take us around Angkor Wat. Our Tuk Tuk driver and tour guide was Phally Louem, the little girl's father. I thought he was a very sweet man who took us to the ticketing office so that we can make sure that we would be able to make sure that we would be able to leave for Pnom Penh without anymore problems the next day. We then headed to the Angkor Wat and purchased a one-day pass for $20 each.

As I walked around Angkor Wat, I realized that it wasn't just the age of the structure or the intricacy of the carvings on the wall that made it special. Yes, it was very beautiful. But, what attracted me to it was the serene energy that I felt as I walked through the halls. It just made me feel this quietness inside despite the fact that it was filled with tourists when we visited. But, somehow, there was something about the place that can make you tune them out and be at peace. At the same time, I loved the way the structures just blended with the location. The contrast of colors was so amazing I couldn't help but take loads of pictures.

After getting "stoned" (a term that jokingly used for having seen enough rocks in one day), we asked Phally to take us back to the guest house. We told him that we would rather chill in the hotel room while waiting for the sunset. He agreed to drive us home and take us back at around 5 PM. When we were heading up to our rooms, he noticed that the strap of my bag was broken and got it from me, promising to have it fixed before we leave. That's what I call service!

Later on, Phally brought us back to the site and we hiked up a steep hill to get to Phnom Bakheng. We climbed up the steps of the temple and waited for the sunset.

On Top Of Phnom Bakheng

I took this at a view point that we passed on the way down the hill.
Day 4 
The next day, we woke up to the sound of drums next door. It was Chinese New Year and it was customary to have group perform a Dragon Dance for good luck. Luckily, the top floor of our guest house gave us a good view of the event.

After breakfast, we got some snacks before the mini van came to pick us up and take us to the bus station. This time, we didn't go through any problems. We immediately got on a bus that took us to Pnom Penh at full speed.

Well, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing. Because the driver was driving too fast, we ended up with some mechanical problems along the way. It took them a few hours to fix the problem and we ended up not being able to do any sightseeing in Pnom Penh. The one good thing about it was that I got some pictures of the sunset while waiting.

Poor guy was wearing a clean, white shirt...

It was already eight in the evening when we arrived in Pnom Penh. In order to study the map for a place to stay that's near the bus station, we went inside a shawarma and kebab restaurant to eat and talk about our itinerary. The food there, by the way, was disgusting. I ordered lamb and I got cold beef. So, I suggest you skip this joint when the bus drops you off.

We were lucky we stopped by the dodgy joint and were able to talk to the two Korean ladies who were on the same bus. We found out that they were staying in a really cheap place near the bus station and decided to take a tuk tuk with them there. And, fortunately, none of the cheap fan rooms were taken so we managed to get a good deal and saved some money.

Day 5 to 6
The trip back to Saigon went a bit more smoothly. We got there around two in the afternoon and we immediately booked a room at the Hotel Anh Phuong. After that, we headed to the tourist offices to book a bus to Mui Ne the next day. Unfortunately, we didn't have any luck booking a bus since it was Tet (the Vietnamese Lunar New Year). So, we ended up staying in Saigon until the day we were scheduled to fly to Dannang. It was a bummer but it was also a welcome rest after going through the long bus rides that we went through in the past few days.

We had our meals in a nice restaurant at the corner of Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. It's got both an indoor and outdoor area. The items in their menu were good value and tasted really nice. I loved the fruit shakes they served for 20,000 dong. Also, if you're alone and you're looking for fellow travellers to hang out with, this is a good place to go. 

The next day was fairly chilled. It started with a lie in and a nice walk around the city. That night, I visited the Seventeen Saloon with an acquaintance that I met at the corner restaurant where we usually have our meals to check out the live band. The live music was pretty good. I wasn't that keen on the dance number that followed since the music and glittering costumes somehow clashed with the ambiance of the place. The beer was relatively expensive -- 70,000 dong ($3.50) for a small bottle.

Quick Travel Tips

Mr. Phally Louem. Tuk Tuk Driver. (855) 012516103. 142 Korkragn Village, Songath, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Khmer Inn Angkor. No. 232 Taphul village, Svay Dangkum Commune, Siem Reap.

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