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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam in 9 Days

by Regin Reyno


             Traveling is my passion. I want to travel a lot. To be in a different location, experiencing different culture and exploring beautiful places of different countries. It satisfies my curiosity to explore the unknown.

            One of my goals in traveling is to see and experience the different wonders of the world. It may be natural wonders of man-made wonders. Examples of these are the Eiffel tower, the Great Wall of China and Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines. Since I’m living in Thailand, one of the closer wonder of the world is Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world and declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Since Cambodia is near Thailand, we planned to go and visit this wonderful masterpiece.

            Cambodia also interests me because of its rich history and culture. And since we are going to go there by land, we’ve decided to go straight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to make use of our travel.  Vietnam lies beside Cambodia.

The Plan
The plan was to visit two countries though land trip and on a budget. So we are going to backpack our way to Cambodia and Vietnam from Thailand.

 I decided to take the train because it is cheaper and more scenic. So we’ll take a train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet. Aranyaprathet is a town in Thailand that borders with Cambodia. From Aranyaprathet we’ll take a tuktuk going to the immigration border at Poipet, Cambodia. Then we’ll take a shared-taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap, Cambodia. After exploring Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, we’ll go straight to Vietnam. In a city called Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) via bus.


Reality
Last May 2011, we were able to conquer two countries in 9 days without flying. We started our journey on April 30 and ended on May 8, 2011.

(April 30) Day 1: Nonthaburi,Thailand -- Hualamphong, Bangkok Trip
Highlights: Bangkok Adventist Hospital Seventh-day Adventist Church worship, Chinatown(Yaorat)

We departed our place in Nonthaburi, Thailand at 8 am in the morning to attend church in Bangkok Adventist Hospital. Since we are Seventh-Day Adventists, we go to church on a Saturday. We arrived at Bangkok Adventist Hospital church at 9:30 am and attended the church services.

            After the fellowship lunch, we went to Hualamphong train station. Since the train will be leaving early morning at 6am the next day, we’ve decided to stay in a guest house near the train station in Hualamphong so we will be able to catch the first trip in the morning.

 There are only two trips going to Aranyaprathet, Thailand. 5:55 am and 12 pm. The travel time is about 6-7 hours. So if you want to arrive in Siem Reap that very same day, you must take the 1st train trip or else you will have to sleep at Aranyaprathet and continue your trip the next day, because the immigration border is open until 4pm only.
MRT (Bangkok's Subway)
We arrived at Hualamphong at around 2pm. We took an MRT (subway) from Saladaeng station. The fare is 15 baht from Saladaeng station to Hualamphong station. We checked-in in a guesthouse called My Place Guesthouse. A backpacker guest house about 50m from the train station. It’s a good location if you want to catch early morning trips of the train because it’s walking distance from the train station. We took a fan room with twin bed for 600 baht including breakfast. It was quite expensive to think that is just a fan room. Anyways, since the location is very accessible to the train station, we chose that guest house and rested until sunset.
Hualamphong Train Station
We rested until sunset because it’s Saturday and that is a holy day for us. When sunset came, we went out to explore the place. We considered it to be the start of our backpacking trip. So we started walking around the place and discovered that it is near Chinatown (Yaorat). So we asked some locals which bus to take going to Chinatown because we need to buy some things for our trip the next day. We took a bus going to Yaorat. We took an aircon bus and the fare was 11 baht. That is the minimum fare for airconditioned buses in Thailand. Once we’ve reached Yaorat, we’ve discovered that it is quite near; actually a walking distance from our guest house.

Chinatown
            It was a Saturday night at Chinatown and the place was packed. It is like you are in China. You can see Chinese neon signs everywhere. Chinese foods are everywhere. Street foods that serve Chinese dishes, Chinese medicines all abound in that area. There are lots of people eating in the street; locals and foreigners alike. The vibrancy of that place is amazing. What I don’t like though is, they are still serving shark fin soup. It is everywhere even if killing sharks is now banned. As an environmentalist, I am against killing of endangered animals like the shark. I hope the government will take action on this. Anyways, we enjoyed roaming around Chinatown, the sights, sounds and the vibe.

It’s time to buy stuffs for tomorrows travel. We went to a Lotus grocery and bought some food for the travel like apples, water, bread, and had our photos taken in a Kodak studio there in case they need some in the border.

Going back to our guest house, we opted to walk. That’s part of backpacking, right? It is for you to be able to save money and experience more of the place. As we were walking, we found out that it is really better to walk because we had the chance to take more photos. And, we discovered a beautiful Chinatown sign. It is like in a middle of a park and there are backpackers who are hangin’ out there playing ukulele. Cool hippie backpackers. Along the way we discovered a beautiful Buddhist temple. The lights shining to it makes it appear like gold. The temple is so beautiful that we met tourist there taking photos of the temple too. That’s the good thing if you walk. You’ll see more things and places.

Before heading straight to our Guest house, we bought a Thai food in the street for our dinner. We just took it out to be eaten at our room. We ordered Khaophat Kai (Fried rice with chicken) and Pad Khapao Pra (fried basil leaves with fish) for 30baht each. Our budget for our meals is just 40 baht per meal. And we try to stick to eating local foods as possible, to experience more of the place.

We finally reached our guesthouse. It is now time to sleep, in preparation for the big day tomorrow. 



(May 1) Day 2: Bangkok, Thailand-Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip

Since our train will be leaving at 5:55am, we woke up at 4:30am took a shower and headed to the train station to buy tickets. We walked from our guesthouse to the train station for 3-5 minutes.

The only trips going to Aranyaprathet are 3rd class trains. There are no reservations, just buy a ticket and hop in. It is very important to be early and the first one to hop because there are lots of locals who are taking the train and you don’t want to stand all the way to Aranyaprathet. That’s approximately 6 hours of travel.

We arrived at Hualamphong Train Station at around 5:00am. Bought some tickets and waited for our train. The fare going to Aranyaprathet from Bangkok is 48 baht. That’s 3rd class. Yes, it is cheap. Talk about a six-hour ride.

When our train arrived, we immediately hopped in. There were lots of locals and some backpackers too who also tried to find seats. We were one of the first to come in so we had seats. The seats are cushioned but cannot be reclined. There is a toilet inside the train too. We are now ready to roll!
view from our train
The train departed at 6:20am instead of the supposedly 5:55am.(Thai tine?) The train ride is indeed an experience. We ate our breakfast in the train; whole-wheat bread, apples and some chips.  This is my first time to ride a 3rd class train in an Asian country. I’ve experienced riding trains in Europe before but those are German trains, 1st and 2nd classes. This train is nowhere near those trains. It’s so slow, like 20kph, and it’s air-continous. The air flows continuously through your face. It’s cluckety clickety cluck train. But the experience is wonderful. I saw the houses of people in Bangkok who are leaving near the railway. I saw their lives, their morning routines.

 As we cruised to the provinces, the scenery became more beautiful. We behold Thailand’s provinces, agricultural lands and villages; the sight of locals commuting everyday taking the train.

At 1:00 pm, we reached the town of Aranyaprathet. That’s almost 7 hours of traveling.  

Along the way, we befriended an American backpacker who is going to Cambodia for her visa run. We’ve decided to take one tuktuk going to the border. The tuktuk cost 80 baht. We shared together in paying the tuktuk.

The tuktuk brought us to a fake immigration. A person came out of the building and asks us to write our names and asked for some fee. Fortunately, I’ve read in the internet how scams work in that place, so we just ignored the fake immigration officials and walked straight to the true immigration border. The fake immigration border is just near the real immigration border. You can just walk from there. So if you will encounter that same situation, just ignore them and walk right away to the real immigration office.

Filipinos are given free visa-on-arrival in Cambodia. So if you are a Filipino, no need to pay for visas. For westerners, you will pay 20 dollars for the visa.

We didn’t encounter any problems in the immigration office. We walked safely and arrived in Poipet, Cambodia at 1:30pm. Not yet the end of the journey. We still need to proceed to Siem Reap, the town where Angkor Wat is located.

Before, they say that the only good thing about Poipet is leaving it. And the journey from Poipet to Siem Reap used to be a grueling 8 hours. That was before, when roads were not yet fully cemented and repaired. But now Poipet is improving. Tourism is boosting and the place is now fully cemented. Gone are the days when Poipet was all mud and dust. And the journey from Poipet to Siem Reap now takes only 2 hours. Thanks to the beautiful road made possible by international aid.

There is a free shuttle from the border to the shared-taxi terminal. We took it. It’s totally free, but the guide there asks for tip. It’s understandable knowing that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia. We gave a dollar to the guide and he helped us get a shared-taxi. The shared-taxi’s fare is 12 dollars each. And there are four people who can fit in one taxi. It’s a Toyota Camry car.

Tipping in Cambodia is encouraged because that country is so poor and so war-torn. Your dollar will go a long way. And one of the purposes of traveling is helping the poor and helping the country’s economy. I feel good whenever I tipped the people in Cambodia. They are so friendly and helpful.

The journey to Siem Reap via shared-taxi is one of the most beautiful part of your trip if you’ll go to Angor Wat. The roads are beautifully paved. The cars are good and the scenery is lovely.

We were together with an American volunteer who will help in one of the orphanages in Siem Reap. Along the way I saw Cambodians who are still wearing their traditional dresses. The view mostly consists of vast rice fields. The sight to behold is really awesome. I thought of Cambodia before as a dirty, 3rd world, full-of-pot-holes- country. I was wrong. The road to Siem Reap was so beautifully paved. The sights are wonderful to behold, and the people, friendly.

We arrived at Siem Reap at 4pm. Siem Reap. I thought of that place before as a tiny Cambodian town that is not so developed. I was wrong again.  When we arrived at Siem Reap, hotels, resorts, casinos welcomed us. Five star, four stars, three star hotels everywhere. Beside the road are huge hotels. Is this Cambodia? I’m like in Las Vegas. It is so beautiful in Siem Reap. It is so laid back. It is so relaxing. It contains more than a hundred hotels. Many tourists flock here every year. Siem Reap is one of my favorite places in the world.

We haven’t eaten our lunch yet and it is now 4:30pm. After checking in in our guesthouse, called Angkor Wat Guest House, we went out and checked the city for food. We were so hungry. Finally we were able to find a nice eatery along one of the streets of Siem Reap. They serve authentic Khmer foods. There were also foreigners who were eating there when we arrived. We ordered Khmer Fried Rice for 1.5 dollars each. It comes with a free refillable Khmer tea. We enjoyed our meal. After that we also ordered “balot”. One thing Filipinos love about Cambodia is the availability of “balot”. A duck egg with embryo. It is one of the favorite foods of Filipinos.  It cost 5,000 riel for 3 pieces. It comes with salt and pepper plus sliced garlic and some leafy vegetables. By the way, in Cambodia you can use two currencies, the US dollar and their own currency which is called Cambodian Riel. The exchange rate was 1dollar=4,000 riel at the time of our visit. They accept both currencies.
"balot" in Cambodia
After satisfying our stomachs, we went to a barber shop to have my hair cut for 2 dollars. I had a chat with the locals. We talked about Cambodia’s history with the Khmer Rouge and its current situation with Thailand regarding the Preah Vihear Temple. It’s nice to have a chat with the locals. After that, we went to our guesthouse called Angkor Wat Guesthouse. It’s a nice guesthouse, very comfortable. Our room costs 9 dollars a night with breakfast, twin bed and two fans with no AC. It’s really inexpensive and so nice and comfortable. It is Ten times better than My Place Guesthouse in Hualamphong, Bangkok. They provide free drinking water. The owner of the house is friendly. We had a little chat that afternoon about his guesthouse.



(May 2) Day 3: Angkor Wat Tour

Angkor Wat, the largest religious infrastructure in the world that dates back to 1113 AD is one of my dream destinations. Finally it’s our time to go there. We woke up early for preparation for the tour. That night, I arranged a remorque( a three-wheeled vehicle like the tuktuk in Thailand and motorela in the Philippines) to tour us around the Temples of Angkor. The guesthouse’s owner said it’s 12 dollars for the whole day. So I agreed on that.
on a remorque
We ate our breakfast in the guesthouse. They prepared fish filler, lettuce and rice for us as requested. It was a good meal with matching tea. After we finished our breakfast, the remorque arrived ready to take us to the temples of Angkor.

The remorque driver, which acted as our tour guide as well, was very nice. In the remorque comes an ice box with lots of bottled water for us. This was in the summer so we really needed lots of water. Summer in Cambodia is so hot and humid.  Our first stop was the ticket booth. It is located just a few meters from the temples. There were lots of people queuing in to buy tickets. There were lots of different nationalities, mostly Anglo people. It reminded me of Bananau Rice Terraces in the Philippines when there was a time that there are lots of tourists in that rural area. How I wish those days will return when tourists will flock again to Banaue just as they are in Angkor Wat. Anyways, we bought our tickets. It cost 20 dollars for a day pass; we just needed a day pass. Time to explore Angkor Wat!

As we approach Angkor Wat, my excitement grew bigger and bigger. We are passing through a forest but the roads are cemented. There are lots of tourists biking their way to the Angkor Wat. So here we are, riding comfortably in a remorque, about to explore Angkor Wat.

The moment I saw the temple, I was awed. It is really magnificient. Just imagining that it was built thousands of years ago with no modern tools makes it really amazing. I finally saw Angkor Wat, one of the wonders of the world and a heritage site. The temple was originally a Hindu temple. But now, Buddhists are using it for their religious services. The bas reliefs on the wall were amazing. It’s like they are telling stories just like the carvings of the Egyptians on their pyramids. Lots of tourists were there. So it’s kind of hard to get a shot with no people. 

 We spent like an hour exploring Angkor Wat, the mother of all temples. But we are also aware that there are still lots of temples to explore. The Angkor complex is composed of many temples. So as much as we want to stay longer in Angkor Wat, we need to proceed for us to explore all the temples. Our guide was waiting for us outside. So the moment we need to proceed, he was the ready to take us. 
at the entrance of Angkor Thom
            
Our next stop was the Bayorn Temple. Our guide and driver introduced to us each temple that we were about to explore. But he just stayed in his remorque while waiting for us exploring each temples. Bayorn temple, a beautiful temple made by Jayavarman I. Cambodia’s former king. It contains many faces. They said that those are the faces of Jayavarman I, a kind of narcissistic king. Imagine a person who wants his faces to be seen all around.
Ta Phrom
One of the most famous temples of Angkor is Ta Phrom. Thanks to the movie Tomb Raider 1. It is a temple in the middle of the jungle with all the roots of big trees eating up the temple. That was one of the temples where we stayed a little bit longer. Except for the fact that it is huge, we really took lots of photos in that temple because it is so famous and it is really amazing. You are like an explorer who just discovered a temple out of nowhere. 

Exploring Angkor Wat is the best part of our trip. We were really amazed, bewildered, awed by the temples. The environment was wonderful as well. It is surrounded by forest. Well, it is literally inside a jungle. The Cambodians are one of the friendliest people. They were very helpful and accommodating. You can see children selling postcards and souvenirs. I felt pity for them. At that early age they need to work in order to eat. Cambodia is a poor country, and is war-torn. So it is advisable to tip the locals once your there. We ate our lunch in one of the food stalls there. There are lots of food stalls there that serve authentic and inexpensive Khmer foods.

I also noticed that the Cambodian guides in Angkor Wat can speak many languages, depending on their visitors. I can hear them speaking French, Chinese, Korean etc. It is really interesting. We also met some Filipinos also touring that place. Filipinos are really everywhere. That experience in Angkor Wat was so meaningful. It was meaningful that we plan to go back there again someday.

After we completed the tour, our guide asks us if we still want to visit Tonle Sap lake, the biggest lake in Southeast Asia and is a source of food and livelihood for many Cambodians. Since that was not in our plan, we decided to skip it. Though we plan to also visit that next time because I know it also offers a different experience. At 4pm we headed back to our guest house to relax and prepare for a big trip tomorrow.

Baguette. A French bread that is so common to French Indochina countries. It is found everywhere in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I heard they really prepare good baguette in these countries. It is time for us to try one. I bought two pieces of baguette in one of the street food carts. I noticed so many locals buy them. It’s like they like it very much or some kind of a specialty? They put some filling in the bread. Usually chicken or pork, some butter, and pickles. Since we don’t eat pork, I just requested for chicken. It was so delicious. No wonder the locals love them. The bread was perfectly baked plus the fillings make it more delicious and complete. That was our dinner for that day. One baguette cost 5,000 riel. It is a must-try in French Indochina countries. That was our dinner for that day, baguette. And it turned out that that will be our dinner for our next days in Siem Reap.

After dinner I went out. Walked along the street, went to a nearby internet café and updated my Facebook. It turned out that that café is also a travel agency. So I bought our bus tickets going to Ho Chi Minh City for the next day in that café near our guesthouse.  Our initial plan was to take the Mekong Limousine Bus, a first class bus. But the price of the Mekong Limousine Bus is a little bit expensive. It’s 20 dollar one way. Since we are on a budget, I just opted for the less luxurious Sorya Transport. It cost 15 dollars one way trip to Ho Chi Minh City. The travel agent instructed me for us to wait at 6am in front of our guesthouse because a vehicle from the bus company will be going to pick us up there. Our trip is at 7am.


(May 3) Day 4: Siem Reap, Cambodia-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We had an early breakfast, thanks to the guesthouse’s efficient and personalized service. Then at 6 am, a mini coaster bus picked us up from our guest house. I liked the convenience of their service. Imagine they pick you up from your guesthouse? No hassles of going to the bus terminal. The mini coater bus picked up other passengers as well from different hotels and guesthouses around Siem Reap. We had the chance of touring the city of of that pick up thing. It went to many different hotels around the town picking up passengers.

We arrived at the bus terminal around 6:45am. Our bus was quite decent. It has a toilet inside. The seats were comfortable. We are now ready to roll! It departed 7am and it was announced that we will be in Phnom Penh at around 1pm.

The scenery along the way is so beautiful. We behold Cambodia trough the window glass of our bus, crossing the country. We saw their villages and their houses with stilts. Going to Phnom Penh, you will see mostly rice fields along the way. I also noticed that their land is mostly clay. Red clay, that is.
stop-over on our way to Vietnam. Cambodia's soil is mostly red clay
            At around 10:00 am, our bus had a stop-over at a restaurant. Some passengers ate, but I just went outside and took some photos. 

That land trip was awesome. You can see the beauty of Cambodia.

            Then at 12:00 pm, the bus stopped again for lunch in of of the restaurants along the way. We opted not to eat at the restaurant to prevent possible diarrhea along way. You don’t want to have diarrhea while on  a bus, travelling. We just bought some baguette, banana chips, and mango for our lunch.

            Just outside the restaurant, vendors are selling exotic food such as crickets, birds and frogs. I really wanted to buy some crickets to satisfy my curiosity, but the realization that I’m on the road travelling, prevented me from doing so. Again, it’s the fear of possible diarrhea bouts.

1:00 pm, we arrived at Phnomh Penh, Cambodia’s capital. It is quit a busy city, not as busy as Manila though. It is along the Mekong river, which makes it accessible by boat, from Siem Reap.

We changed bus in Phnomh Penh. Our new bus going to Ho Chi Minh City was bigger. Just after changing bus, we headed right away for Ho Chi Minh City. We were now travelling for 6 hours.  7 hours more to go.
about to cross Mekong river 
After a few hours, we reach Mekong River and our bus got on a ferry to cross the river. It was a wonderful experience to be actually on a ferry crossing one of the biggest rivers in the world.

Around 4:00 pm, we reach Bavet, Cambodia, the border town of Cambodia and Vietnam. Here, we stopped for the passport control and immigration. We got off our bus and went to the immigration office. There were lots of people from different buses and it was so hot and the line was long and unorganized.

After 30-45 min, we finally got our passport with a new stamp. We walked to where our bus was parked. Welcome to Vietnam. The border town of Vietnam is called Bavet. That is the Mocbai-Bavet border.
  
to be continued...











        




21 comments:

  1. Keep on travelling while you are still young...and it'll help you as well to understand other cultures.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Indeed. Thank you for following my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  3. galing!
    hopefully i can do this also in the near future..
    in God's time""..

    ReplyDelete
  4. hi! after reading your blogs, i found it interesting to travel to thai,cambodia n vietnam. do i need a travel agent?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello. You don't need a travel agent. Many indie travelers, backpackers travel to these countries. It's so accessible. The transportation is convenient, there are hostels/hotels everywhere are the people are friendly. You definitely don't need a travel agent.

      Delete
  5. I stumble upon to your blog the search the "best travel agency in Vietnam” and I found your blog information about Vietnam adventure tours packages. This would be more useful for me because I am going to be making Vietnam trip with my family next month. Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Stemin for dropping by. Enjoy you Southeast Asia trip.

      Delete
  6. In the capital of Phnom Penh and the province of Siem Reap, a Cyclo including a driver can be hired at a reasonable price; do agree on a price before the ride.

    http://www.tourismcambodia.org/company/index.php?pccat=5#comp

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  7. Hi Regin,

    Me and my friends are actually planning the same trip, but we'll be doing it the other way, Vietnam first then Cambodia and Thailand.

    As browsed through the net, I came across your blog and found it very relevant with our plans.

    Your day to day narration of your activities are very interesting and informative, not to mention your beautiful photos which make me more excited to see those places.

    However, I just cant find the continuation of this article of yours. Hope you can help me or provide me your detailed itinerary if its not too much to ask.

    Thank you in advance and keep on blogging and sharing your travel experiences.

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    Replies
    1. By the way, I forgot to give you my name, I'm Eric.

      I hope to hear from you soon and if you find time, I would be very greatful if you could send me your detailed itinerary and other tips through my email (danoy2002@yahoo.com).

      Thanks again.

      Delete
  8. Hi Regin,

    I'm Chai and I also have similar concerns with Eric. My fiance and I are planning to embark on this adventure (for our honeymoon) but will be doing it the other way: Vietnam - Cambodia - Thailand. Will it be possible to ask for your tips? I'm hesitant to leave my email add here but is there any way that we can get in touch with you? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Chai. Sorry for the late reply. You can contact me at www.reginstravels@gmail.com

      Delete
  9. I appreciate how well written your blog is! I couldn't stop reading! I could imagine everything like I was there myself. Thank you, I will be doing this trip too soon and it's cool to stumble upon this page.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Regin!

    Just would like to ask, how much was your budget for the whole trip? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you for sharing this great information. Vietnam and Cambodia are breathtaking destinations of diverse delights. At Citrus Holidays we have a Vietnam and Cambodia tour Packages for you to choose from, all competitively priced.

    ReplyDelete

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