Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hostel Review: Sunflower Place, Bangkok

Choosing our accommodation for the Bangkok leg of our Indochina adventure was confusing. There are a lot of budget options, and a lot of possible locations to choose from. The cheapest ones were in Khao San Road, the backpacker’s area, but it was not accessible via BTS/MRT. For our itinerary, it would be best to stay near a metro station. In the end, I just went ahead with a suggestion from an online forum. Yun na! Good reviews in Tripadvisor. Booked!       

BTS Station: Sala Daeng
MRT Station: Silom

We had a bit of trouble locating the place. But well, we weren’t completely ourselves after that long journey from Siem Reap. Half of my wits were already being digested by my hungry intestines. The direction of the hostel is actually quite simple, if only I was patient and alert. Eventually, we found our “diamond in the rough” place for four nights.

It is the only bright place in the vicinity
I got the twin room for BHT 890 per night, no breakfast. That’s BHT 445 per person. Pricey when compared to the previous two countries. There's a key deposit of BHT 200 upon check-in. 

Aircon was good. It was actually quite cool.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Bangkok Shopping Saga: Me vs. The Bangkok Markets

Bangkok is shopping heaven.

I’ve heard and read about this 10 million times when I was doing my Indochina research.
I bought 20kg baggage allowance in anticipation of this shopping escapade.  

When I was trying to save, I started an expense journal. I listed all the expenses each day and analyzed where my money went. I stopped listing when my daily expense was manageable, and even lower than what I was spending during college.

Earlier this year, I put my Starbucks Planner into use and listed all my outfit. I purged my closet.I was inspired by fashion blogs to monitor my daily outfits. It allowed me to realize that I can survive for three months without repeating an outfit. I had THAT much clothes *sheepish grin* . It was excessive. I skipped buying dresses and lessened my abubot-buying escapades. I didn’t decrease nor did I spend my shopping budget during those months. So I had some shopping budget for BKK.

But I was in Bangkok. So those finance and shopping limits need to me relaxed a bit.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

We navigated our way to BTS Mo Chit station. The pack of people is more accurate than the exit map. You can just follow where everyone else is going. The locals are armed with an empty wheeled luggage – ah, a sign that they are experts on these weekend shopping escapades.

Crazy hot weather again.

Be sure to snap a picture of that map. Know how to read it.

I wanted to buy dresses, and Sarah wanted to buy some malong pants. We found ourselves swimming in a sea of stalls. Where everything is kinda "same same, but different". If you plan to look around (and mind you, there's a lot to look at), take note of the stall number of the merchant. Chatuchak is a crazy version of our local 168 mall. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bangkok Streets: Where the Food Is Good

Bangkok food is known to be spicy. I wasn't exactly jumping with excitement to try out Thai cuisine. I am someone who dies with spice. If my mom cooks something spicy, I cook something else - fried egg will do. Occasionally, I can tolerate Century Tuna's Hot and Spicy, in hot rice. Generally, I stay away from anything with a tinge of spice. Pass the salt please. 

I budgeted BHT 400 a day for our Bangkok leg. Bet you are screaming now that it is too high. I KNOW NOW!!! I was planning on scrimping breakfast and lunch and splurging on dinner. But turns out that we enjoyed exploring the BKK's streetfoods, we didn't need to eat in a posh-ness-y place every night.  

"Inihaw na saging"

These food carts put up their goods late in the afternoon, in the streets around Patpong.

The camera pokes its way in the food:

Take a picture before you take a bite. This filling dinner just costs 45 BHT.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DIY Ayutthaya Historical Park

We have four full days in Bangkok. I wanted to have two full days for sightseeing and two days for shopping. Bangkok can be a perfect base for lots of side trips around the city. Most of the side trips are one or two hours away from the city proper. My choice: Ayutthaya. Being a world UNESCO World Heritage site, the choice was easy.

How to go to Ayutthaya:
I wanted to do this DIY rather than join a group.
According to Tripadvisor, the best way to DIY Ayutthaya is by riding a minivan. Alternative options are taking the bus and train. We went with the minivan – read: parang FX. I found this blog as a guide in DIY-ing our Ayutthaya day.

We navigated our way from Sala Daeng to Victory Monument station. By reading the exit maps, we located Fashion Mall Shopping Center. In front of the mall are  these minivans that will take us to Ayutthaya.

Someone collected BHT 60 when we got in. A couple of minutes later, some locals and some fellow tourists arrived. The presence of the tourists calmed me, we were riding the correct minivan.

When we arrived, there was this energetic small lady selling her Ayutthaya Temple Tour services. She whips out a laminated board with a map of the place and the temples that we are visiting. 

Ayutthaya map
She was amusing, so we said yes. We got the tour for BHT 700 for 4 hours – we haggled it down from BHT 800, saying it was the lean season anyway. We will just add for each additional hour.

Our pink tuktuk

Monday, September 24, 2012

Grand Palace Grandeur

My research lauds Bangkok as THE shopping heaven. My friend is a non-shopper and I am... let’s say a moderate buyer and an excessive window shopper. So shopping is not really THE Bangkok plan. Bangkok offers some more temples. So here we go: The Grand Palace Tour.
Map of the Grand Palace and surrounding temples.

From Sala Daeng station near our home base, we rode the train going to Saphan Taksin Station, where the Central Pier is. We followed the signs to get to the boat station. Destination: N9 Tha Chang, the jump-off point of the grand palace. A boat conductor collected fare for BHT 15.

View from the boat

I’ve read about some Grand Palace Tour scams and our hostel warned us of such. Some tuktuk drivers will tell you that the palace is closed, and he will take you to a special tour. True enough, when we got to the grand palace grounds, there were a bunch of touts shouting that the temple was closed. The speakers of the Palace boomed and warned us about the scammers: The Grand palace is open from Mondays to blah blah blah.  

Open everyday!

The entrance fee of the Grand Palace is BHT 400. Line was just short when we bought the tickets. The long lines were because of the clothing rental if you don’t have suitable clothes. Since the grand palace houses temples, a dress code was implemented. My fit leggings did not pass the guard’s inspection so I wrapped my ever reliable 6-year old sarong around my hips. Chaka sa pictures pero keri lang.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Long and Dreary Journey from Siem Reap To Bangkok

I chose Bangkok as the final stop in this Indochina trip because BKK is notorious for a shopping adventure. I don’t want to carry around a heavy goodies-filled baggage during the trip, so it makes sense that BKK should be the last leg. I got a 20kg baggage allowance in my return trip ticket.

Research says it takes 9 hours via bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok. I couldn’t research about a particular bus company (something like Mekong Express) or where do we buy tickets, so I asked my fellow Pinoy travellers also staying at Bou Savy Guesthouse. They bought theirs at Bou Savy guesthouse for $11. It looks like it is a discounted trip ticket because the ticket’s printed price is $16. I thought they raised their prices because my initial research says the bus ride just costs $8. Apparently, the $8 fare is the bus from SR up to Aranyprathet-Poipet border only. The $11 is the fare all the way to BKK. Where exactly in BKK? I have no idea. We need to be dropped off near a train station.

At 8:00 am, we were picked up by a van from Bou Savy. The van already had other guests, and we stopped by another guest house to pick up other passengers.

Morning. Still fresh.

We transferred to another bigger bus, with a weak airconditioning. At 8:30, the bus cruised along the highway. It was hot (I’ve said this a lot of time in this Indochina series) and the airconditioning brought the air, not cooling. I kept myself sane by listening to my playlists. 

The freshness if whiffed away by the hot bus ride

At 9:30, barely one hour in the journey, the bus stopped over. Toilet break for a couple of minutes.We didn’t do the toilets nor get some snacks. It was too hot to hang out outside.

Ambilis naman mag-stopover.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cambodia Budget and Takeaway Thoughts and Tips

Before this Indochina adventure, I was convinced that it was dirt cheap to backpack around the Philippines for foreigners. Cambodia proved that it can be more affordable. The accommodation, tuktuk rental and meals were relatively cheap. The expensive ones were the Angkor Wat Entrance fee and the guide.

Siem Reap thrives on foreigners. I guess that explains why people are hospitable. They also speak good English. I was impressed that some of the local Angkor Wat guides can speak in Spanish and French.

And here's the expenses of our Cambodia leg of the Indochina trip. Some costs are divided by two because I have a travel buddy this time. This covers Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Khmer Kronicles: Eating and Shopping

We walked going to the market because we were stingy to pay $1/way to ride a tuktuk. Girls will penny pinchfor some shopping adventure, yeh? It was a 15-20 minute walk going to the market. We found the Pub Street first and checked out our possible cheap dinner options. Dinner first! Shopping with an empty tummy is a miserable experience; you’ll end up buying anything at any price because you’re hungry. Do not shop hungry.

Very touristy restaurants here

We wanted something like how we ate in Phnom Pehn. Unfortunately, there were no cheapo food finds in that area. Ended up choosing a resto in the market, just across the Pub Street. Our budget was $5 max for this dinner. A lady handed us this really thick menu. Errrr....videoke time? I thought this was a restaurant.

Song number?
Sige, basa.
Coz they patiently cooked and took pictures of all the food. Took us some time to order because we  were busy reading and laughing at the menu.

The meal was superb. Or we were just mighty hungry after all those temples that day.


With some food, we can now conquer the market of Siem Reap.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Guesthouse Review: Bou Savy Guest House

This was an easy choice. There are lots of budget accommodations in Siem Reap, but Bou Savy Guesthouse is so popular among tourists. It has excellent reviews in Tripadvisor and all the bloggers are very satisfied with their stay here. 

The deciding factorssss?
  • They also have a comprehensive website
  • The owner, Bovorn, answers my emails promptly. 
  • They offer free pick up from the bus station. 
  • Hot water, aircon, free wifi, free drinking water, free breakfast 
  • Swak sa budget.
The decision was easy.

The streets of Siem Reap

Our smiling tuktuk driver, Ny, picked us up at the bus station. It was a hot ride going to the guesthouse. When we arrived, we were served with our yummy welcome drinks and cold towel. We underestimated the power of the cold towel. It wiped away all the stress and heat from our travel from Pnohm Pehn. Wasn’t able to take any pics.

We trekked up to our room in the third floor while Ny carried our luggage. I booked their $16 twin room. It is HUGE! Two normal-sized people can actually fit one bed, basta hindi malikot. Compare this to our $17 room in HoChi Minh and $15 room in Pnohm Pehn, this deal is a steal!

Notice the details in the bed sash thingie

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Around the Angkor WOW - Part 2

Another sunblock-filled day in Siem Reap. Time to utilize our three day pass in the Angkor Wat Complex.

So here's our camwhoring adventure continued.

There are some really steep steps.

Although it was "off-season" when we were there, the tourists are still everywhere! If you want a super solo shot, you have to patiently wait for everyone to go away.

Around the Angkor WOW - Part 1

This is gonna be a long post. Not a long read. Just long because of the pictures.
It took me considerable time to choose the pictures for this post. Is there a limit on the number of pictures in a blog post? Harhar.
Enjoy looking at our happy camwhoring adventure! 

Despite the twister-like weather the previous day, Siem Reap greeted us with lots of sunshine. We slathered ourselves with a healthy layer of sunblock. For touring the Angkor Wat complex, I decided to get a personal guide. The guide is different from the tuktuk driver. Angkor Wat guides are licensed, and their standard rate starts at $25. Quite steep right? It is actually one of the most pricey expenses in our whole Indochina trip. But I read that getting a guide can really help you appreciate the Angkor Wat complex more; plus you get the chance to help a local. The most important advantage: somebody will take our pictures. Bousavy guesthouse provided our English-speaking tour guide: Mr. Em Khemra.

First stop:get our passes. We got a 3-day pass for $40 even though we plan to just tour the place for two days. A day pass costs $20/day. Pricey too. Lucky locals, they can enter the Angkor Wat complex for free.
Your pic will be taken here.

The first stop: The Angkor Wat.

Notice how cloudy the skies are, but the people still have their umbrellas out. It was humid too.
I'm not a history buff, but I appreciate the significant stories. In school, history is about memorizing the names, the dates or the sequence of events. We tend to forget those once the exam is over. When you are actually in that place in the book, I find it more important to learn How and Why? How were these temples made? Why were they made? Khemra kept us entertained with stories about the history of the Angkor Wat.
Set that camera in "Vivid Colors"

 This is supposed to be the sunrise spot. Kinda cloudy.
Trying out that Apsara hands

Monkeys roam freely.

No food!

You like the purple camera case, eh?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Twisting Around Siem Reap

Time to head to the main destination in Cambodia : The Angkor Wat in the province of Siem Reap.

We rode Sokha Komar Tep Bus going it Siem Reap. It was heavily peddled in Fancyguesthouse. The Mekong Express costs $13 going to SR while this Sokha Komar Tep Bus just costs $8. That $5 costs a quite fancy dinner already. So we got the cheaper deal. Dun sa mura syempre.

Bus with BFF Sarah, the serial photobummer in the whole trip

The bus provided bottled water, and there was also a bathroom on board. We stopped once during the 6-hour trip for lunch. We weren’t particularly keen on eating yet so we survived with Oreos and their grass jelly drink. It was freakin hot during the bus ride, the aircon was working, but it wasn’t enough to combat the heat. Siem Reap is welcoming us.

Yeo's grass jelly drink during the stopover: $0.60

We arrived Siem Reap at 3pm. Our tuktuk driver, Ny, had been patiently waiting since 2pm. He had a sincere smile on his face when he welcomed us. It was short drive going to our Bousavy Guesthouse.

The streets of Siem Reap

Adventure time! We headed for Tonle Sap Lake, which is around 30minutes from the city center. It was a scenic drive at first, 'til the clouds came.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hostel Review: Fancy Guesthouse + Some Khmer Food

Fancy Guesthouse is located a few minutes from the bus terminal, near the Russian Market. I booked our room via email. I also haggled our room down to $15 – it was off-season anyway. Mr. Phannak replied to all my queries promptly and cordially, a plus!

Upon our arrival, we were greeted warmly by Mr. Phannak himself. The guesthouse has a well-lit lobby. There is a single computer that you can use for free. They also sell some drinks, snacks and some toiletries. However, they do not offer breakfast.

We discussed how we can go to Siem Reap the next day. I wanted to ride the Mekong Express since it proved its worth during our ride from HCMC to PP, which costs $13. We bought the heavily peddled bus ticket going to Siem Reap for $8. That was a $5 savings – which goes quite a long way in our spending.

This is the famous autographed picture of Elton John.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Prison-School: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

It was 6:30 when we arrived at the front entrance of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was already closed. I resigned myself to just taking photos of the sign. But our driver said we could still get inside. He drove us to the entrance. True enough, there were some guys hanging out (read: tumatambay) at the front. Kinda scary scenario for tourist girls, in this old high-school-turned-prison, at night, with a bunch of guys. I didn’t feel safe at that moment, but I wanted to see the place.

We were charged $3 because it was already past the museum hours. I knew the fee costs $2 so I smelled that this was not exactly legal – ala colorum na tour itoh teh. We bought the tix anyway. Our driver went with us inside. He kept on apologizing that he didn’t speak a lot of English because he didn’t go to school. We smiled and said that was okay – he was so helpful. He toured us around the deserted prison.

The ten commandments, the prisoner's version

He said he was a small boy when the war happened. He does not recall a lot about it – or he can’t express himself in English.

This is another depressing place. The walls witnessed the torture of the prisoners. Their living condition in this prison in inhumane.

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