Friday, 4 November 2016

Crossing Borders : Traveling from Vietnam to Cambodia

Inspired  by  travel shows like The Loney Planet, House Hunters Asia, Samantha Brown, and other shows from the Travel Channel, I decided to do this trip as my birthday gift for myself. I supposed to travel solo but my husband did not allow me so I drag my sister with me for this trip.

Let me share with you my day-to-day journal entry as written on my Volo travel journal. Oh, by the way, I am loving this travel app because you can write your entry even offline. I am glad that I downloaded this app before this travel.

Day 1 : Braving Manila Traffic
It is a long weekend here in the Philippines, and as expected, traffic is really something that you need to consider before your flight. I left at 4pm in Shaw Blvd and arrived at NAIA Terminal 3 by 6pm. Our flight is at 10:45 pm but I want to check-in as early as 7pm so we will have ample time to relax and have  our dinner .

I'm a bit worried if my sister will make it on time. She left Quezon City at 5:30 pm and seeing passengers running around outside the terminal makes me feel nervous. Everyone seems be late in their flights! After braving Manila traffic by riding the MRT and bus, she finally made it before 7 pm.

We had our dinner at Lauro's Cafe at Terminal 3. It  offers Filipino dishes and Pinoy delicacies for pasalubongs like dried mangoes, piaya, peanut kisses, peanut brittle, and a lot more. It is a good thing that T3 already upgraded facilities and the newly opened Food Hall showcases different specialty restaurants. I ordered crispy pork chop for 120 pesos. Nothing to rave about but it taste just ok.

Day 2 : Miss Saigon
Arrived safely here in HCMC at 12:00 am which is 20 minutes earlier on our ETA. No arrival card given to us to fill out. 

We are millionaires in HCMC. We exchange a hundred US dollar for our pocket money amounting to 2.2 Million VDN for our pocket money.

Since I do not want to stress myself haggling for a cab to bring us to the hotel at this hour, I already included  the airport pick-up in the hotel package. An old white car is our airport transfer service for tonight. While riding the car , the music from the Broadway musical keeps on playing in my mind....."The heat is on ... Miss Saigon..."

We will be staying here at Little Saigon Botique Hotel for 2 nights. I still have no time to check the place since it is already 1:30am. The room is small but clean. Great staff and affordable too. You just have to walk 20 meters on  a small road or "eskinita"  from the main road.

7:00 am   Good Morning Saigon!
We woke up at 6am and had our free breakfast. The selection consists of a variety of local fruits, juices, bread, noodles, dim sum, bacon, ham and egg station.




8:00 am Cu-Chi Complex Tour 
Our tour guide, Kim, arrived and fetch us for the Cu-Chi tour. We are 7 tourists in the van consisting of Americans, Europeans , and Germans. 

Before heading to the tunnel, our guide dropped us at a handicraft shop. For their lacquer art, they are using duck egg shells and mother of pearls in most of their works. All of the artists, by the way , are handicaps.

We reached the Cu Chi tunnel on time and our guide who speaks good English  explained to us the role of the tunnel during the war.

I was able to squeeze down easily to one of the "high/low cover" entering the tunnel but I had a hard time going out. I am glad that our guide was strong enough to pull me out.

My sister and I also tried to fire an M16 gun so we can have a feel what it is like to be a guerilla during the war. The price of the bullet is 400,000 VDN for 10 bullets is pricey, but my sister and I shared the 10 bullets.

The tour is actually very informative and made me realized that there is really a tie that binds Vietnam and the Philippines. (A separate post about our Cu-Chi Experience on the blog soon).

The tour only takes 4 hours and we arrived at our hotel around 1pm. We had late lunch at Achaya Cafe Restaurant near Ben Thanh Market. It was raining hard so we had our Vietnamese coffee before heading to the bus company to buy tickets to Cambodia.

We ended our day with a sumptuous and filling dinner at Ben Thanh Market and had grilled shrimp, seafood rice and pork spring rolls.





 Day 3 : The heat is on Miss Saigon
I love today's itinerary. We've been to 5 districts (Districts 1,3,5,6 & 10) riding a  motor bike. This is what I came for here in Saigon. Some of the places we visited on this tour are the Central Post Office, The Notre Dame Cathedral, The Reunification Palace, Tan Dinh Market,  The Thich Quang Duc memorial, Ho Thi Ky Flower Market,  Cholon (China Town), The Binh Tan Market, and Thien Hau Pagoda.

<Come back soon for a separate blog post about our XO tour experience>



With our new friend from Taiwan, Xian.


For lunch, we had a platter of Vietnamese  rolls at Wrap and Roll located at Saigon Center.

7:00 pm : Halloween in Saigon
We are about to leave Saigon in a while and  waiting for our bus to Cambodia is boring. With no plan for tonight, we headed to the Central Market Park to attend a Halloween Party. Saigon is taking their Halloween celebrations seriously. Kids and adult alike were all dressed up for the trick and treat.

11:30 pm
Exactly 11:30 pm when a staff from the bus company arrived. A lot of foreigners are joining us tonight. It is going to be a loonnnnggg travel. I can't wait to see what is this sleepers bus is all about. 

1:00 am 
Finally, we are ready to leave. The sleepers bus looks good outside but inside its old and have a not so good smell. It is also tight and most Americans and Europeans find it uncomfortable.




Day 4: Crossing Borders 
We left Saigon around 1 am and arrived at Moc Bai border around 3:30 am. The border opens at 6 am and so we just continue with our sleep. It was not that comfortable but we were able to save for a night of hotel accommodation. "Lonely Planet ba ang peg kamo? eto na un!"

I woke up around 5:30 am and waited. This is the moment that I have been waiting for and this is what it feels like. The bus company offers visa processing service and assist the group in the immigration. No Visa fee for Filipinos but it costs 35$ for other tourists.

With no comfort room in our bus, we need to wait for the border to open so we can have our toilet time.

At 6 am, this is what happens at the Moc Bai border. I would like to describe this moment as a scene from the Flu. I don't know if I am excited that we were the first bus to enter the border today or I am excited to use the CR.



We reached Phom Penh at exactly 12nn. The bus company said that we will be transferred to a mini-van going to Siem Reap. We left at exactly 12:30 and there was 9 of us. The van is quite comfortable enough for the 5-hour travel.

Arrived at Siem Reap at 5 pm. A group of tuk-tuk drivers were waiting for us. I saw my name written on a piece of paper and it says Jennifer G.  The tuk-tuk pick-up was already arranged by the bus company and  I am glad that they arranged it for us already because I don't know how to get to the hotel from the bus station. Our driver, Sunday, safely brought us to the hotel and we arranged him to be our driver for the Angkor tour the next day. He will pick-up us up at 4:30am for us to see  the Sunrise at Angkor Wat. Tuk-tuk packages for a whole day tour costs about 20 to 30 $.

6:00 pm
I love our hotel, Apsara Centrepoint Hotel. The room is soooo clean and smells really good. I wish we could stay a  little longer. Few steps away from the hotel is Pub Street and a lot spa/massage shops. Can't wait for my 1 hour massage for 4$.

7:00 pm
We attended again another  Halloween Party. Pub Street is just a block away from Apsara Hotel, so just imagine how crazy the people are here today. I've been seeing a lot of zombies.



Day 5: Angkor Tour

We checked out at 4:30 am because we will be back to Manila tonight at 10pm. The hotel arranged for us our "baon" for today which consists of assorted breads, jam, butter, butter, and "dalandan". We left the hotel around 4:45 am and head to the ticket station. The ticket station is jump-packed at this time but we were able to get our tickets in less than 5 minutes. The ticket cost 20$ and make sure to keep your ticket because they are checking it every time you will enter a temple.

Make sure to dress modestly, no shorts please!








From Sunrise to Sunset in Cambodia
Our first stop is Angkor Wat. A lot of visitors were already set-up their cameras and we do not know where is the best spot to see that sunrise. We also had our coffee there and then leave after an hour for the next temple.

Next, we visited is the Angkor Thom City and we started at Bayon temple which is the highlight temple in the center of Angkor Thom. Then we walk to the next temples nearby Baphoun, Royale Enclosure, Elephant and Liper King Terrace.

Outside the Angkor Thom City si Ta Prohm temple and is famous for its gigantic root of trees over the temple. This is where the movie "Tom Raider" was shot.

All the temples are picture perfect, but we don't have enough battery life on our phones  to take more photos. I wish my husband was with me today  because I still do not have a photo yet for my FB cover page. huhu!

Waiting for the sunset
Our next stop is Phnom Bakheng. We do not have enough energy left to climb the hill so we rode on a motor for 2$ each hehe! It was quite early so we just stayed there and I was able to take a nap while sitting. I am not sure if I enjoyed watching the sunset there. I still cannot forget the sunset in Batanes in the Philippines last February. After sunset, we climb down the hill and asked Sunday to bring us to the airport.

There are a lot of restoration going on the complex and it was just so sad that all these remnants from the past are slowly getting destroyed over time.




It was a tiring trip but an educational  experience for me. I learned a lot from the culture  of our Asian neighbors. There were a lot of similarities in the culture, food, people, shopping, pop culture, traffic and even politics. I also learned about new things from them.

This trip is not for everyone if your goal is to relax. My objective for this trip 'tho is to learn more about the Asian culture by getting to know the locals. I was able to talk and spent time with them even just for a few days. Therefore I can say, objectives attained.