Wednesday, December 31, 2008

i gotta go! adventures in 2008

2008 was a great year for me, and for i gotta go!, even though my travels were cut down by about 50%. still, i enjoyed the places i've been to, and i hope that the travel information i provided got to help you out a little bit.

just a quick recap of the i gotta go! travel adventures for this year:

mariveles, bataan

this is susie's yearly trip, and it was my third time to join him. mariveles, while not a bustling tourist destination, is a quaint little town with quite an amazing scenery. it never fails to recharge me and susie, and it's always a good trip to start any year.

will i get to go again in 2009? i wonder what i'll get to see.










mt. pinatubo

i greeted my 26th year by hiking to mt. pinatubo. it marked a lot of firsts--first time to hike up a volcano, first time to swim in a crater, first time to be buried under volcanic ash.

can't wait for my birthday this year. i have nothing planned yet, but we'll see.








puerto princesa, palawan

this time, it's for susie's birthday. we booked tickets to puerto princesa, and got to enjoy a whirlwind weekend in palawan's capital. i finally saw the subterranean river, and enjoyed feast after feast in the many restaurants of the city.











capones island, pundaquit, san antonio, zambales

i can't seem to get enough of this place, so i invited friends to spend holy week enjoying the beach of san antonio. it was three days of feasting on cheap, but delicious food, soaking up some rays, tossing the ol' disk, and just plain lounging around on the beach.












pila, laguna

a declared holiday had susie and me taking a short drive to the beautiful little nook of pila, laguna. it's a little historical pocket of great churches and old heritage houses. always nice to spend a day exploring the nearby towns.













baguio

after 17 years, i got to set foot in baguio again. it has greatly changed, and the absence of that distinct pine scent disappointed me a little, but i guess it's alright when you get to shop for great fashion pieces at rock-bottom prices!

in fact, i enjoyed my revisit and re-revisited late in the year, for a balikan trip with my girls. nothing binds us girls better than an ukay-ukay trip to the city of pines! (or the city of ukay)












andanita taj, tagaytay

we got tempted by this new indian-inspired bed and breakfast in tagaytay, so we decided to check it out when we were invited to a wedding held in the city. it's a great deal, since you get a nicely-decorated room, free continental breakfast, and massage treatment for two!












singapore

to celebrate our anniversary, susie and i decided to bite the bullet and finally travel out of the country together. we ended up landing in changi airport, with susie burning up with a fever. still, we got to see some parts of the city, and we discovered a nice little place to stay called one florence close.

can't wait to go back to the lion city. but maybe not in 2009.













the national museum tour

that sunday i spent touring the national museum would be the inspiration of the first ever i gotta go! contest. john silva's irreverent yet informative tour was inspiring and refreshing, and i certainly learned a lot in that one sunday afternoon.

i'm hoping the winners of my contest got to enjoy their tour as well.













siem reap, cambodia

i was away from the philippines for nine days in november, as i traveled to siem reap, cambodia and bangkok, thailand. siem reap's wondrous temples were astounding, and to this day, i still find a hard time believing that i was really there, touching stones and walking on paths that have been around for centuries.

the villa siem reap is the best place to stay if you want to visit this historic city.












bangkok, thailand

bangkok was quite an experience. i definitely enjoyed my time there, but there is still something that i can't quite put my finger on. it was a busy city, with people who are "same-same," but not quite.

i have yet to write down my thoughts on the trip, but when i do figure out what it was i wanted to say, you will see it here. bangkok and i will see each other again, of that i am sure.





well, what do you know? i thought i hadn't traveled much this year, but as it turned out, i got to see a lot anyway. there are still more places to see, and i'm hoping to travel to more far-flung places and share the experience with you.

happy new year, everyone!

i gotta go!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

po toi islands, hong kong

it's two days from christmas, and all i can think about is hong kong.

especially after i found this:

po toi islands
photo from hk outdoors

it's yet another set of outlying islands in hong kong, and for the moment, curious travelers can get there only by ferries that leave from aberdeen and stanley. schedules are only on the weekend, with only one trip to and from the island per day.

gaaaah. i want to go!

here's another photo:

also from hk outdoors

Sunday, December 21, 2008

i found a decent hong kong budget hotel!

hong kong is one of my favoritest places in the world (granted, i haven't even been out of asia). the hold it has on me is kind of hard to explain, but something about this city makes me want to keep going back.

budget and time constraints kept me from going back this year, but after i found this lovely hong kong budget hotel, i will probably be flying off to chek lap kok soon!

while i was already able to stay at a decent budget hostel last time i was there, the boutique-budget guesthouses that i've been to in singapore, bangkok, and siem reap had me looking for a little more luxury and some style in my hong kong accommodation sans the astronomical price. hong kong's transportation and sights are truly a tourist's paradise; however, its hotels and accommodation options are not.

for one thing, hong kong hotels are VERY expensive, and the rates don't even include breakfast (thank goodness for cafe de coral!). space is also not a luxury that you will likely get in most hong kong accommodation. with the limited space in this city, you'd be lucky to have enough space to swing your foot from the bed to the floor.

i am completely resigned to the space problem, but the budget problem is always something i know i can do something about, and i couldn't help but feel elated when i finally found the bridal tea house hotel.

this is the single room in the bridal tea house hotel. it looks small, yes, but like i said, i'm not after space here, i'm after the cleanliness, style, and attention to detail.

believe me, after scouring through numerous photos of hong kong hostels with ratty sheets and dirty floors, this room definitely looks like a room in a luxury hotel!

i love the nice curtains, the simple white sheets, and the rose on the towel provided.









here are more photos of their rooms:
another single room


the double room

and aside from that, all bridal tea house hotel branches are well-located. next time i'm in hong kong, i'll probably stay in the one in western district, which is close to the tram on des voeux road on hong kong island.

i still have to verify if their "single" room is indeed the one with two single beds.

i believe that all rooms have private bathrooms, and as you can see, towels are provides, and they also have daily room cleaning service. rooms are also furnished with a hair dryer, refrigerator, and closet (how they fit that in the room is yet to be seen). broadband internet connection is also available (i hope it's free), and all guests are entitled to free local calls.

the bridal tea house also has its own restaurant aside from the rooftop bbq restaurant. i really think this is a pretty sweet deal, and i hope that when i do book a room there when i visit hong kong, i won't be disappointed.

travel information:
the bridal tea house hotel
kowloon island branches: sham shui po, tai kok tsui, yau ma tei, to kwa wan, hung hom,
hong kong island branches: western district, apleichau, aberdeen
rates: single rooms for HKD 380 per night, double rooms for HKD 480 per night
email address: enquiries@hkchhotel.com
phone number: (852) 2780 6113
website: http://www.hkchhotel.com/eng.html#

Friday, December 12, 2008

take a nap hotel, bangkok

choosing your accommodation in bangkok is quite a chore, not because it's hard to find affordable and high standard ones, but because the choices, for every budget and for every taste, are seemingly endless. but after checking out a myriad of hotels in bangkok, our group finally chose take a nap hotel along rama IV road in bangkok's silom district.

booking
booking with take a nap hotel was a breeze. just go to the website, pick the room that you want (in my case, i chose the angkor room, which had a 6x6 bed, while sarah and ayeen chose the bamboo twin room), and click book now, or send them an email.

no online payment is necessary. you just need to print out your email confirmation and show it to them when you arrive at the hotel. full payment is required upon check-in.

location
take a nap hotel had one of the most attractive locations, as far as i'm concerned. other visitors would probably prefer to stay in siam for shopping, or in khao san road for the river and the temples, but silom district suited me just fine. it didn't hurt that take a nap had quick access to both the BTS (saladaeng station) and MRT (sam yan station), which can take you to a number of attractions without going through the world-renowned traffic jams of bangkok. the saladaeng BTS is actually a couple of stops away from saphan taksin, where the river ferry station can be found.

other nearby places of interest include patpong, lumphini park, a lot of restaurants, and department stores.

service and staff
i would have to say, that take a nap hotel had one of the friendliest and most accommodating staff i've ever encountered. while i haven't had any complaints with most of the places i've stayed in (since i don't really ask or expect too much from them), take a nap hotel staff really went out of their way to help us out during our stay.

when we arrived, we were met by louise at the front desk, and let us leave our luggage in their storage room while we spent our first few days in siem reap. after that, she went outside, hailed a taxi, and told the driver to take us to the morchit bus terminal, since the driver couldn't speak english that well.

and when we came back from siem reap, it was tan who received us and showed us to our rooms. he was also very friendly, and gave us some tips on where to eat and what to do. he was also quick to help me out when i couldn't open the safe in my room. all the staff spoke english well, which is something you will appreciate when you're in bangkok.

rooms
sadly, this is the part i didn't like about take a nap. true, the rooms were spacious enough, with enough areas for your luggage and hooks for your clothes, and everything indicated on the website was provided for--i had a TV, a luggage rack, two extra seats for visitors, a dresser, and a pretty clean bathroom.

however, the sheets didn't look clean enough, and the floor was a tad sticky. and i'm the type to want to go barefoot in my room after a long day of walking outside. i just couldn't do that at take a nap.

sarah and ayeen also complained that they didn't have comforters in their room, when my bed was provided with one.

breakfast
another letdown. but then again, it was probably our fault for expecting something good for THB 1,300/night. i have no problem with simple fare, but the sausages they served were simply bland, and was complemented by the depressing eggs and pork and beans. i would usually get myself some bread and jam, or yogurt and cereal, to start my day when i was there.

others
take a nap hotel also had a recreation area slash dining area, which was where breakfast was served everyday. there were bean bags here, too, where you can watch TV or DVD movies. by the lobby, there are a couple of computer terminals for you to use the internet, check your email, and what-not. a bookshelf is placed on the corner with fiction and travel books available for your reading pleasure.

conclusion
overall, though, our stay wasn't a complete disappointment. the beds were still comfortable enough, and it was still relatively clean. the price is hard to beat, at THB 1,300/night for my room fitted with a king-sized bed, and THB 1,300/night as well for sarah and ayeen's twin room.

i wouldn't readily recommend take a nap hotel to friends, unless i know they're the types who, like us, just wanted a simple "headquarters" in bangkok. it's definitely not for people who like to lounge in their rooms, but it's an option for those who don't want to spend too much, but want to be able to get to bangkok's prime spots.

accommodation information
take a nap hotel
920-926 rama IV road (at surawongse junction, opposite red cross society)
silom district, bangkok
email address: takeanaphotel@hotmail.com
room rates:
single room: THB 1,000
twin room: THB 1,300
double room (small): THB 1,150
double room (medium and large): THB 1,300
double room (XL): THB 1,500
4-bed private room: THB 2,000
dorm rooms: THB 350 per person

Thursday, December 11, 2008

photos of the bangkok-siem reap adventure

it's taking me a while to complete all the entries of our bangkok-siem reap shebang, but thankfully, all the photos are already up and ready to go.

naia terminal 3
take a peek into our new airport. hassles still part of the package

from bangkok to siem reap
the bus ride, tuk-tuk, siem reap roads.

the villa siem reap
the perfect headquarters in siem reap.

introducing siem reap
our first glimpse of the temples, and our tuk-tuk picnic.

angkor wat
i was there!

angkor thom
majestic bayon, the baphuon ruins, the high from phimeanakas.

khmer dinner and apsara show
buffet dinner with dance show, all part of the villa package!

ta prohm

vines snake through these tomb raider temples.

the view from the elephant's back

photos from the saddle.

the roluos group
preah ko, bakong, and lolei.

the train to bangkok
six hours on the railroad from aranyaprathet to bangkok.

centrally located budget accommodation in bangkok.

getting to know bangkok
some half-hearted shots of wat arun, wat pho, and khao san road.

getting the hang of bangkok
lumpini park, jim thompson house, and some more food shots.

the grand palace
when in bangkok, you just have to see it.

baan dinso
fancy hostel near the grand palace. i'm staying there next time.

bangkok shopping
bazaar scenes in thailand's capital.

Friday, November 28, 2008

ivan about town takes you to pampanga

my apologies for not updating the blog about the cambodia-thailand adventure. my brain has been BSOD-ing on me, and i want the details and blogs about the trip to be helpful and informative. :)

so while i'm trying to fix my brain, here's a christmas treat for all you guys from ivan about town:

The Ultimate Kapampangan Show-off!

On December 20, let's journey to the Central Luzon heartland as we immerse
ourselves in things Kapampangan! From Baroque to *betute*, its fun-filled
day as we poke around and get intimate with the very best of Pampanga's
cultural offerings. Gawk at the jewel-box of church in Betis while wading
through the lahar-buried town of Bacolor.

We'll stuff ourselves silly with the best Kapampangan fare by one of the
country's best known Pampango chefs! A tour with nothing but Kapampangan
cool! To it cap-off, we'll have front-row view of the most dazzling display
of Kapampangan artistry - the Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando! A tour
screaming with Pampanga's pride! There are just 35 slots so book now by
e-mailing info@ivanhenares.com.

The Tour Experience: Breakfast at Everybody's Cafe, Betis Church, Bacolor
Church, Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, Pampanga Pasalubong Shops, Ligligan
Parul (Giant Lantern Festival) in San Fernando, and a special packed dinner!

Check out last year's tour:
http://www.ivanhenares.com/2007/12/pampanga-show-off-and-giant-lantern.html

--
IVAN ANTHONY S. HENARES
http://www.ivanhenares.com

travel information:
the ultimate kapampangan show-off
a trip to discover things kapampangan
places to visit: everybody's cafe, betis church, bacolor church, claude tayag's bale dutng, pampanga pasalubong shops, ligligan parul (giant lantern festival)
email address: info@ivanhenares.com

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

back in manila

my apologies for not posting as much when i got to bangkok. that was a really tiring city, and i would often doze off when i got back to the hostel.

but the good news is that i'm starting to upload the photos over at my multiply. i'm trying to align my posts with the albums, to make things easier for everyone. :)

for the moment, these are the albums ready for viewing:

from bangkok to siem reap
in which i show you the road conditions of thailand and cambodia.

the villa siem reap
where you can see just how fancy our digs were in siem reap.
this is one big WIN. but wait for my review! :)

introducing siem reap
what we saw on the first day.

angkor wat
need i say more?

angkor thom
the equally majestic capital of king jayavarman VII

will post more as i upload the photos. and do check back soon for the articles. :)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

oh, how fast the baht flies

don't count on keeping a lot of your baht when you travel to bangkok. here in the land of bazaars, tiangge, and cheap food, temptation is always waiting for you around the corner. no matter how much you say you won't go shopping, bangkok will not let you leave without at least a shopping bag in hand.

we girls have scoured MBK (and eaten at the fifth, too! yummy food!), platinum, and chatuchak. it's amazing how women don't get tired when they're shopping. when we do feel some pain in our feet, there are massage places everywhere, ready to give you the rubdown that you need.

aside from shopping, bangkok's requisite sights will also have you handing your baht over for admission fees. entrance to the grand palace is THB 300, which includes ticket to the vimanmek mansion (i'm hoping to make the trip there today). i did the audio guide thing since i went solo, and it was pretty informative.

the reclining buddha charges THB 50 for admission, with guides going for THB 200-400, depending on the number of people. wat arun is also at THB 50. the ferry ride on chao phraya ranges from THB 14 to 19, depending on the boat. the BTS skytrain tickets and MRT subway tokens can go as high as THB 39.

meals can be as cheap as THB 25, or as expensive as THB 300. today's breakfast at chatuchak cost us THB 25 each, for warm noodle soup with beef and meatballs. the other day, we paid THB 40 for noodle soup with pork in a locally-popular and dingy noodle stall. in MBK's the fifth, my meal cost almost THB 200, for pad thai seafood and a tall glass of thai iced tea.

my wallet's seen a lot of action in this city, but i'm not regretting anything. for the entire trip, including cambodia, i haven't even gone over PHP 30,000. for 9 days, including budget-luxury package and accommodation in cambodia, and a centrally located hotel here in bangkok with private bathrooms and TV. i think that's a pretty good deal. just goes to show that fun doesn't have to cost that much.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

scammed in patpong

the mere mention of bangkok conjures up images of grand shopping centers, majestic temples and palaces, and, well, girly bars.

and being my first time in bangkok, i wasn't going to miss out on that must-see. thankfully, ayeen, her friend jody, and jody's mom, were all game to check out the shows as well. sarah, on the other hand, got too comfy under my duvet and decided to doze off.

patpong was just a short distance away from take a nap, but we decided to take a detour to check out this street full of boy shows. we regretted this detour the moment we stepped on the street. all of a sudden, a mass of male GROs were pulling us and leading us to different bars, trying to convince us to watch the show in their bar. "show starting now, miss!" "come here, miss!" "i love you!"

this went on throughout the entire stretch of the street. i just kept walking and avoided eye contact, while ayeen swatted the men away from her. we heaved a huge sigh of relief when we reached the end of the street. but because of the detour, we got turned around and couldn't figure out where patpong was.

a couple of thai women finally led us to patpong 2, where there was a line of stalls filled with clothes and accessories. we walk warily, the memories at "boys street" still fresh in our minds. then this old man came up to us, and he held up a card that said "pingpong show, girly show, smoking, darts..." and all the other tricks you're supposed to see in patpong.

"100 baht for all, plus one drink," he said. we were hooked.

he led us into the bar, where there was a long stage in the middle, with three or four poles, and each pole had a scantily-clad woman standing beside it. the show hadn't started yet, so we took our seats, ordered our drinks, and waited.

a tiny woman came up on stage holding a lit candle, then proceeded to drop wax all over her body. strange, i thought, but kept watching. after a few minutes, a younger woman went up on stage, put a whistle to her vagina, and made it trill.

when the third "act" was up--the tiny woman from the first act was pulling a really long, neon-colored ribbon out of her special place--we noticed a couple of big-boned women in blazers standing by our table. we didn't know who they were, but thought nothing of it.

it was after the darts exhibition when we discovered what the blazered women were there for. a woman shot all the balloons with the dart from her vagi-sumpit. pretty good, i thought. but really, is anyone turned on by this? my musings were interrupted. all of a sudden, there were four blazered women trying to bully us into paying a bill of THB 3,200.

of course, we didn't relent. not only did we not have that amount, but we knew exactly what this was. taga-pinas 'to, 'no, 'di kami magpapaloko. one of the ladies kept saying that since we stayed to watch a lot of the shows, we had to pay that much. we retorted that our "deal" with the man outside was THB 100 for all the shows, plus one drink.

"NO, NO, NO!" the captain of blazered women insisted. "you watch, you pay!" they tried to look menacing, but they never made a move to touch us. we held our ground.

finally, she realized she wasn't going to get the THB 3,200 from us. she decided to go for the usual: "okay. THB 300, but you leave now." of course, that wasn't the deal, too, but at this point, we've had enough. the show wasn't even that impressive, so it wasn't worth the trouble. we paid the THB 300 and left through the back door.

out on the street, we come out of the shock, and laughed the experience off. "that's bangkok for you!" jody said. and to an extent, i have to agree. the bangkok and the patpong experience just isn't complete if you don't get scammed.

so if you're ever in bangkok, and thinking of checking out the girly shows at patpong, be careful, and be ready to pay more than what was agreed upon. even with this experience, checking out this "wild" side of the thai capital is still something i would recommend. it's not something you can easily find elsewhere, you know.

finally getting the hang of bangkok

today's bangkok adventure was a bit more relaxed, or maybe i'm just getting used to the pace. whatever it is, it let me have fun today.

since sarah and i were still not feeling ready for the grand palace, we just decided to walk to lumphini park with ayeen. the park was huge, the largest park in bangkok, and we spent most of our time by the lake, where sarah and i went pedal boating in duck-shaped boats.

we were all shocked to find a lot of komodo dragons around, just roaming freely. in fact, when we tried to express our fear and concern when one komodo dragon was crawling towards us, we didn't get a concerned response from the lady by the boating pavilion. she was all, "meh," having no idea what we were so scared of.

after that, we left lumphini in search for lunch. we crossed rama IV using the subway, and ended up near saladaeng. at the corner was a tiny noodle house, and our curiosity got the better of us. it was packed, and the place was selling just one product: noodle soup with pork and liver. diners just get to choose their type of noodles for variety. a bowlful of noodles was going for THB 40, and drinks were at 10. lunch for THB 50--what a steal!

while marveling at the cheapness of our lunch, we walked up to the saladaeng BTS station and headed to national stadium, the stop for jim thompson house. i didn't really expect anything from it, but i was impressed at how well they were able to maintain the house, and how much information they had on jim thompson and how his house was built.

jim thompson was a soldier in the US army who fell in love with thailand. when he decided to live in thailand after leaving the service, and he revived the country's silk industry.

he disappeared in malaysia in 1967, and to this day, nobody knows what happened to him. fortunately, the thai silk company still flourished, and his house is being taken care of by the james h. w. thompson foundation. the foundation has tours in english and french to guide visitors throughout the house. entrance is at THB 100.

jodi, ayeen's friend, and her mom, caught up with us there, and after having some drinks at the jim thompson bar and restaurant, we headed to MBK, one of the leading malls in bangkok, which was just a few minutes' walk away. sarah and i parted ways with ayeen, jodi, jodi's mom, and spent the rest of the afternoon haggling and shopping.

now, sarah and i are back at take a nap. we had dinner at yum saap, and passed by some stores along rama IV. i'm just waiting for ayeen and jodi to be finished with their shopping so we can hit patpong later. :)

details:
lumphini park
ratchadamri cor. rama IV road
silom area, bangkok
BTS skytrain: saladaeng
MRT subway: silom
admission: free
boating: THB 40 for the first 30 minutes

jim thompson house
6 soi kasemsan 2, rama 1 road, bangkok
admission: THB 100
last tour is at 5pm
BTS skytrain: national stadium

MBK (mahboonkrong)
corner of thanon phra ram I and thanon phayathai
skytrain: national stadium
clothes, accessories, souvenirs, electronics

bangkok shocks my senses

first day of exploring bangkok, and instead of being excited, we felt really tired.

still, sarah and i plowed on through. while ayeen headed to siam for some shopping, sarah and i got on the BTS in the opposite direction, to get off at saphan taksin.

from saphan taksin, we only had to walk a little to the central pier, where we were to board the ferry to tha thien (n8), where wat arun and wat pho are.

chao phraya river was exactly as i imagined it; the ferry system, was not. with all the stories i've been hearing that the thais are just like us, i thought i wouldn't be surprised by how things are here.

but the ferry system was a pleasant surprise. there are regular trips, and they're reasonably priced, too. our trip from central pier to tha thien, about 8 piers apart, was just THB 19 each. the seats were comfortable enough, and there was even some tourist commentary on board.

to get to wat arun from tha thien, we had to board another ferry to cross the river, which cost THB 7. this i found a little too expensive.

after getting off the ferry, sarah and i began to feel it--that templed out feeling. we hadn't expected that this would happen even before we had gotten to see any temples, but 3 days of siem reap explorations brought us to this. we debated whether we should still go, and we decided to enter wat arun anyway.

i felt it was a mistake, because neither of us were up to exploring at all. we found the temple impressive, especially the broken porcelain that adorned it, but other than that, we weren't really curious nor interested. it was a feeling i never thought i'd experience, and i hated it. i mean, here we were, in another land, and we were refusing to see the sights! it was an outrage.

after crossing back to the other side of tha thien, we got some street food, looked at some souvenirs, and still pushed through with wat pho. this time, we were a little interested, but our level of enthusiasm was so low, i really felt we cheated ourselves on this one. we did have fun dropping the coins in the pots, though. unfortunately, sarah had too little, and i had too many coins! i guess, no luck for us.

we finally raised the white flag after seeing the reclining buddha. no use fooling ourselves and spending money on something that we don't really feel like doing. so we thought we'd just meet ayeen on khao san road.

we got lost along the way, getting distracted by fresh juice and books on sidewalks. finally, we found khao san road, a place packed with side-by-side clothing stalls and other souvenir stores. this was known as bangkok's tourist town, where there are pubs every few meters.

we had lunch at central pub, where i had three flavor fried chicken--spicy but good! afterwards, we answered the call of the shopaholic and got ourselves some goodies. i found a pair of fire poi for just THB 350. a pretty good find, i believe. maybe it'll reignite my interest in firedancing.

finally, we called it quits at around 4pm, took a taxi back to the hotel, which turned out to be a mistake. we got stuck in traffic, and got off on the wrong street, that we had to walk our way back. because of exhaustion, i decided to hail a tuk-tuk to take us to the hotel. the tuk-tuk driver then took us to a clothing shop, because he gets paid to take tourists there. victimized!

after pretending to be interested in the shop's goods, the driver finally took us to the hotel. because of that extra stop, i was able to haggle the tuk-tuk price down.

we decided to rest in the hotel after that, scratching plans of witnessing the loi krathong festival by the river. there's just something about this city that tires the hell out of you. so far, though, i'm still enjoying, and i'm still curious. i'm not quite sure if i'm up to seeing the grand palace and the other must-sees, but whatever i end up doing, i'll let you know. :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

back in bangkok

exhausted from a 6-hour train ride from aranyaprathet to bangkok.

gah.

story in the days to come. will rest now.

the train from aranyaprathet to bangkok

all good things must come to an end, and we were feeling really mopey when we had to leave siem reap. we decided to up the adventure ante by taking the train from aranyaprathet to bangkok.

we woke up bright and early today, to make sure that we get to poipet early. we left siem reap at 9am (with heavy hearts), and went on the three-hour shaky ride back to the thai-cambodian border. our driver this time was really quiet, and kept downing bottles of red bull. we were a bit scared, but we reached the border in one piece. the cost of the taxi from siem reap to poipet is much, much cheaper than going the other way around, i think we just paid USD 10 this time.

this time, no extra charges were asked of us at immigration, and everything went uneventfully well. we walked to the tuk-tuk depot and had them drive us to the aranyaprathet train station.

the station was an old, yet very pretty, in my opinion. the well-preserved wooden structure transported back in the old days when trains were the only way to go. we lined up to get our train tickets, a measly THB 48 each (such a steal compared to the THB 220 bus tickets), and waited for 1:55pm to roll around.

to pass the time, we went out of the station to the stalls, to see if we could get something to eat. i was so excited when i saw crickets and silkworms for sale, but since i hadn't eaten anything yet, i had to pass on the critters. instead, i got myself some grilled chicken on a stick to eat on the train.

with our meals in tow, we boarded the train. finding adjacent seats for four proved quite a challenge, because a lot of people had already boarded. but we eventually got a set near the back, a few cars away from "second class." we settled down, and i took in the look of the train. it definitely could use a little cleanup, but it wasn't all that bad.

the train to aranyaprathet consisted mostly of third class seats, with the second class ones simply having reclineable seats. the entire wasn't air conditioned, and i was worried that we might be sweating throughout the entire six-hour journey, but the train was cool the entire time, because we passed through a lot of rice fields and greenery.

we left on time, but since the train station signs would almost always be in thai, we were all filled with a sense of fear that we might have taken the wrong train, or that we're going the other way. we started to relax some time around 6pm, 2 hours before we arrive at the bangkok hualamphong station, since we saw signs of bangkok busy-ness already.

the first three hours of the train ride was still pleasant, and we all managed to find ways to amuse ourselves. on the fourth hour, however, we started to get restless, and every now and then, would take turns walking the long train hallway, moving from car to car, to rid ourselves of boredom. ayeen actually played with a baby on board, and once in a while, we would entertain the thought of buying some of the refreshments being peddled by the vendors on the train.

throughout the train ride to bangkok, though, i was filled with envy. the thais really seemed to use their train system a lot, and i wanted the same thing to happen with our PNR trains. students used the train system every day to get to and from school, and people carrying goods from aranyaprathet to bangkok used it to ferry their goods more conveniently. it was such a lovely idea, having a train system at your disposal.

we arrived at the station a few minutes late, so we were rushing on the way out. but i got a chance to take a look at hualamphong station, and once again, felt a rush of envy in my veins. the station was packed, people were seated on the floor with their bags, waiting for their trains. it was such a lovely mess, i couldn't help but stop and take a snapshot.

the hualamphong train station is also pretty accessible to the bangkok MTR, so we took the MTR to saladaeng station, and made our way to take a nap hostel, our bangkok headquarters.

would i go on that train ride again? hmm... maybe not. it drove me crazy keeping still for six hours, not knowing if we're going the right way, and not even being able to carry a conversation with anyone on the train. but while the train from aranyaprathet to bangkok proved too much, it's an experience i don't regret. if anything, it got me itching to test out other rail systems in the world.


check out more photos of our train ride from aranyaprathet to bangkok.

the villa siem reap: pleasant digs in siem reap

our trip to siem reap certainly had its fair share of discouraging moments--pesky touts, overcharging vendors, and impending scams. but our entire stay was made pleasant by the villa siem reap.

the three-hour road trip from poipet to siem reap rocked and rattled us, and even though we were mostly inside the car the whole time, we found our pants and our faces caked with dust and red earth.

that experience was erased from our minds the minute we entered the villa. one of the staff served us a tray of cool white towels to wipe our hands and faces with. this, and the refreshing welcome drink, immediately put us in high spirits after being on the road for nine hours.

package inclusions
we initially wanted to book the 3-night super value package, which was priced at USD 130 per person, but, unfortunately, their standard rooms were all booked (serves us right for waiting too long). so we upgraded to the 3-night lots of luxury package at USD 155 per person, which included 3-night accommodations in a deluxe room, daily breakfast, an arrival pack of wine and chocolates, a sunset pack of wine with a selection of cheeses and olives, temple tours, 1-day guide, tuk-tuk and driver for 2 days, khmer dinner for two, cocktail vouchers (2 cocktails for 1), khmer buffet dinner with apsara performance, pool passes, and massage vouchers.

all packages are good for two.

it bears noting that breakfast at the villa is just superb. selections range from simple cereal meals to heavier, bigger breakfasts of toast, ham, sausages, eggs, and bacon.

booking
we ran into some trouble with our reservation, because we didn't receive immediate feedback about our booking, even after several attempts using email and the enquiry form at their website. fiona, the manager and owner of the villa, apologized for the delay, and everything went smoothly from that point on.

booking rooms with the villa siem reap is done through their online booking form, and after they get in touch with you, you will have to fill up their reservation form and send it via email. no down payment is required to secure your room, but you will have to provide your credit card number. this is to ensure that they can charge you for your room in case you don't show up at the last minute. i was a tad concerned about credit card fraud, what with the internet being one of the most dangerous places on earth today, but i'm happy to report that the credit card info i submitted was not compromised.

the tours
i found it a nice touch that a representative of the villa would take their time to discuss your tour options with you on the day you arrive. after giving you time to rest, one of their consultants will show you your options, and let you decide what you would like to do. they also offer their recommendations. everyone we encountered at the villa was friendly and accommodating.

we made a good choice going for a packaged tour, since we hardly knew anything and didn't know anyone in siem reap. getting a tour also minimizes your chances of spending more than your budget will allow, since most of the things you'll be needing, such as meals and transportation, are already included. no need to haggle for your tours and guides, since everything is already taken care of.

the villa tours were an exceptionally good choice, since they seemed to have handpicked pretty outstanding guides and drivers to maximize the short time you have in siem reap. they were also very accommodating, letting us change the tours around to our liking. we all warmed up immediately to mr. han, one of our tuk-tuk drivers, because he was genuinely interested in showing us the best of siem reap. he would supplement the information that thia, our guide provided, and mr. han also went the extra mile to make sure that we were comfortable and safe.

tours at the villa doesn't have that detached, hurried feeling that you usually get from packaged tours. you don't feel rushed at all at any time, and you're given your own guide to make sure that you get the most out of the siem reap experience. most guides in siem reap are well-trained and highly knowledgeable in the city's history, telling you little interesting bits and pieces about the different temples, and giving you the best photo vantage points during your tour.

aside from this, every tour at the villa comes with lunch packs, which usually consist of sandwiches and a drink that you order the night before, so they can prepare it ahead of time. for gourmet seekers, this might not be that appealing, but for us, who were so enamored with the temples that we couldn't really think of food that much (except for sarah), having such simple sustenance did the trick during our tour.

service
we experienced a few bumps in this category when we arrived. when we checked in, susie and i were told that instead of a deluxe room, we would have to stay in a standard room for the first night, because our supposed room had faulty plumbing, and was still being fixed. it was fine, though, because a standard room was decent and spacious enough.

on our second day of touring, we also didn't have our lunch packs with us, but that was probably our fault, since we submitted our lunch packs orders too late the previous night.

overall, though, the staff was pretty efficient, and everybody was always ready to give a hand.

rooms
this is the best part of staying in the villa. this place is the best budget hotel i've ever stayed in. for starters, the standard room that we had to "suffer through" was humongous for a basic room in a budget-boutique guesthouse. it was elegantly furnished, complete with traditional carvings on the ceilings. we had a shoe rack, a luggage rack, television, air conditioning, and a small refrigerator with refreshments. our private bathroom had a separate shower facility with hot water, and we were given toilet paper and soap, and a large bottle of dove shampoo was provided for "in-house use only." we certainly couldn't complain at all!

the bigger deluxe room had a couch, a full-length mirror, and more closet space. we experience some airconditioning problems at night though. the temperature changes by itself even without us tinkering with it--it's either too cold or too hot.

other comments
one other feature of the villa that we weren't too pleased with is their shoes off policy. i'm actually quite used to this, as we have such a policy at home, but it gets problematic because of the brick floors. we'd often feel the dirt clinging to our feet while walking along the hallways. but this is but a speck of criticism in the overall pleasant experience that we had in this nice, cozy place. this is definitely outweighed by the friendly service, the well-thought-out tours, delicious meals, comfortable rooms, and spanking great prices of the villa.

so if you're ever traveling to siem reap and want the whole shebang, the villa siem reap is one of your best bets.

have a look at my photos of the villa siem reap.

travel information:
the villa siem reap
pleasant rooms, great tours, friendly people!
153 taphul road, siem reap, kingdom of cambodia
website: http://www.thevillasiemreap.com
for bookings and enquiries, please use the online booking form

Monday, November 10, 2008

the roluos (hariharalaya) group

the roluos group, or harihalaya, is probably my favorite set of temples during the trip. :D

exploring ta prohm and riding chiben took a lot out of us this morning, so we headed back to the villa to have breakfast. while scarfing down our meals, we decided that we weren't up to going to banteay srei, which was an hour and a half away by tuk-tuk. our tired little bodies are now officially templed out.

still, we wanted to make the most out of the day, so we consulted with thia about our options. that's also one of the great things about taking the villa tours; you have enough flexibility to change your tours around, even at the last minute.

anyway, thia told us that we've basically covered most of the major temples, and the only ones left that are nearby are the roluos group. he also offered to take us to the nearby killing field memorial, and we thought those are pretty good alternatives to the supposed 1.5-hour drive to banteay srei.

we rested after breakfast, then met up with thia again at 10am. it took quite a while for us to reach preah ko, which was standing in front of the mini angkor wat sculptures. i told myself that i wouldn't visit the miniature temples, but the visit wasn't all that bad. i even got to buy a sculpture by dy proeung, the artist that created the replicas.

we then entered the preah ko grounds, and i was glad to find that instead of gray stones, this one was made of bricks. i've always loved brick structures, though i still haven't understood why. i guess the orange gradient gives the buildings more personality.

the hariharalaya group was created by king indravarman I. the term hariharalaya refers to an ancient city, where the three temples i saw (preah ko, bakong, and lolei) are found. today, though, this group is better known as the roluos group.

preah ko was specifically created by the king to honor his family. these kings are pretty thoughtful kids, having their people toil all day to make sure their family feels honored and respected. this temple has six towers, all facing east. three of the towers are in front, and three at the back. the center temple in front is dedicated to jayavarman II, the one on its right is for the king's father, the one on the left is for his grandfather. the three temples at the back represent the wives of the three men. all temples feature fancy sanskrit carving by the door, and the original doorway and intricate carvings above it are still intact.

next up was bakong, the first temple mountain of the khmer empire. while the main temple itself is made of huge, dark stone, it was surrounded by eight brick structures that resemble a tiny version of the preah ko temples. thia asked us to climb to the top while he stayed behind. i can understand why. the steps were hard to climb, as they were higher than the usual steps that we're so used to. and being a temple mountain, it took a while for me to climb it (with me being unhealthy and all). the view at the top was worth it, though: you can see the entire complex, complete with the tiny elephants carved at the side, and the eight brick structures. we hung out there for a while, resting our legs, not really looking forward to going back down.

finally, we sped off to lolei, the northernmost temple in the roluos group. before climbing up to see the temple, we decided to take a little break and join in the festivities, as there was some sort of fiesta going on in the town. they had that dart game where you try and pierce balloons to get a prize. i tried my luck at it, but didn't succeed in puncturing seven balloons straight. thia got to win a few packets of junk food, which he gladly shared with us.

after that, it was back to business (i.e. serious temple stuff). lolei closely resembled preah ko--it had the same carvings, the figures carved on the facade were also similar. even the carvings above the doorways were the same, but instead of six temples, there were only four. thia said that this used to be an island temple, but the water has now subsided, and lolei is easily accessible by land.

templing done, we drove back to the center, where the killing field memorial is found. it resembled a cemetery, with tombs lined up by the gate. in the middle was the small, temple-like structure covered with glass that contained the skulls. off to the side, there was a board where photos of the people who were killed are displayed.

our time there was solemn, and i took no pictures to show my respect. thia told us of the massacre, how old people, bald people, people with glasses--any person that the khmer rouge deemed to be against them--were killed mercilessly. while pol pot has already passed, a lot of those who ruled with him are actually still in power in cambodia today.

it was a jolting realization; i had almost forgotten that even with all the heritage treasures it possesses, cambodia was once fraught with violence. it was a humbling and fitting ending to our adventure.

the elephant ride to bayon

while researching for the siem reap leg of the trip, i found out that elephant rides are being offered in some temples in the city. since then, i made it my personal mission to get up on one of them pachyderms and have the ride of a lifetime.

when we got to siem reap, though, i was feeling a bit hopeless about the mission, as i didn't see elephants on our first and second day. we made it clear to thia, our guide, that we wanted to ride elephants, and he promised us a ride when we got to ta prohm. unfortunately, we were a bit too late, and the elephants had left the temple when we got there.

but thia made good on his promise, and he asked our tuk-tuk drivers to take us back to the east gate of angkor thom, and sure enough, a bunch of elephants were "parked" there, waiting for some adventurous tourists who were game for a ride.

the ride cost USD 10 each for 15 minutes, starting from the gate of angkor thom all the way to bayon. we three girls shared chiben, our 45-year-old elephant. as you can see from the photo, we were all pretty exhilarated to be up on our darling elephant, lumbering through the east gate towards the temple.

it was pretty exciting during the first five minutes, when you can see everyone looking up and trying to get a picture of the elephant walking on the street. the view was also quite different from up there. however, after the 8th minute, we started to feel restless, especially after seeing a bunch of tuk-tuks speeding ahead of us. thankfully, susie was there to amuse us, as mr. han took him on the tuk-tuk so he, susie, could take photos of us up on the elephant.

one of the highlights of the ride was when our elephant "driver" directed chiben to a nearby tree, and the elephant driver plucked a leaf off the tree, and he started playing a tune on it. he played it from the 10th minute until the ride ended, giving us a nature-inspired soundtrack to our elephant adventure. :) here's a video of him, showing off his musical prowess:


video

it was definitely an unforgettable moment, despite the feelings of restlessness when we were up on the saddle. i consider it one of the best experiences i've ever had in my life. it's out-of-the-ordinary things like this that get me so excited to travel and see the world. i can't wait for the next chance i get to ride an elephant!

ta prohm in the morning

i climbed into the tuk-tuk, yawning, ready to fall back to sleep. it was a chilly monday morning, and at 6am, the siem reap sky still looked dark.

but that's what happens when you're on a tour. thia, our guide, advised us to get up really early so we could catch the sunrise at ta prohm, also known as the tomb raider temple.

i shivered as our tuk-tuk roared in the direction of the temple, the wind piercing my cheeks. a tiny frog managed to hitch a ride with us, but it slipped through a crack and bounced on the road.

we reach the temple in around 30 minutes, a lot longer than the time it takes to get to angkor thom, even though ta prohm is just supposed to be a kilometer away. we were greeted by an arch topped by another buddha face. no matter how many of these i see, i never seem to get enough.

thia led us into the forest, and after five minutes of walking, we finally saw the first set of ruins. even with all the rubble, the temples still look amazing. my mind couldn't even contemplate how magnificent it must have been when it was newly-built.

i probably shot more than a hundred photos just going around ta prohm. the day before, i was still able to exercise some restraint, just taking photos of things that i knew would be of interest. but at this temple, it was hard to do that. aside from the fact that my camera was fully charged that morning, i found the jungle element really fascinating--roots were interwoven so intricately with most of the stone structures. it was hard to turn away without snapping a photo.

we probably stayed there for about two hours, just exploring, playing lara croft, and having thia take our pictures with tree roots. we never did get to catch the sunrise, but there was no sense of loss on our part. just seeing these temples, actually being there, was enough for us.

see more photos of my ta prohm adventure.

oh my god!

i rode an elephant today!

it was fun seeing everything and everybody from that vantage point. it didn't hurt that all the tourists were looking at us and taking our picture. haha!

this trip is getting betterer and betterer!

later today, we shall see some of the smaller nearby temples, and the killing fields here in siem reap. more adventures for us.

for now, i gotta go!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

angkor thom: king jayavarman VII's playground

after marveling at all the structures of angkor wat--the naga bridge, the apsaras on the walls, the long galleries depicting ramayana, mahabharata, and suryavarman's departure from that particular angkor, our tuk-tuk drivers took us to angkor thom.

passing through the east gate, where the vedas and asuras were lined up, depicting the churning of the ocean of milk, we got a glimpse of bayon straightaway. but before enjoying this structure, we had to partake of lunch first, courtesy of the villa. all tours include special lunch packs placed in a tiny cooler to keep them fresh. we sat down in one of the eateries near the souvenir shops, and mr. han carefully took out our sandwiches from the cooler.

afterwards, thia, our guide, gathered us by a hut in front of bayon, and began his lecture. the entire angkor thom complex occupies 12 square kilometers of land, and the center of it is the bayon temple, a buddhist temple created for and by (though not with his own hands) king jayavarman VII.

the outer walls of the temple were decorated with carvings and "drawings" depicting every day life back then in the khmer empire. we saw a semblance of a barbecue, people grilling their sticks of fish and meat, and there was even one of a man being bitten by a turtle held by his wife. it provided us with a great window to the past, which i found really interesting. i was struck by one particular picture, that of a woman giving birth. it was nice to know that these things were "documented," and we know how they lived before.

after exploring the outer walls, thia led us to the second level, where you can see most of the buddha faces. much of the temple is now in ruins, but you can still see just how majestic it used to be, and it still has a commanding presence in the capital. there were plenty of cool photo points here, including a nose-to-nose buddha photo op. thia also pointed out a specific area where you can see three faces lined up.

we then walked over to baphuon, another temple that featured little columns and a large outdoor reclining buddha made up of large blocks of stone. the face of the buddha is not easy to recognize, as much of the blocks that make up the entire buddha image are still scattered on the forest beside the temple. the wiki entry on baphuon states that the rise to power of the khmer rouge interrupted the restoration of this temple in 1960, and the records indicating the position of the blocks have been lost.

thia then led us across the forest, where the former royal palace was. the palace was burned to the ground during an attack. (i make the entire trip sound so easy and fast here, when in fact, at this point, we had been really exhausted already!) after a while, we got a glimpse of phimeanakas, another temple with a rather interesting background. it was believed during the khmer empire that a naga (snake) lady lived in this temple, and that all kings were required to make love to the naga lady lest misfortune befall the kingdom.

next on the list was the elephant terrace, and the terrace of the leper king. by this time, my exhaustion was causing me to lose interest, and all i heard was that the elephant terrace was used for special ceremonies like taking oaths and festivities. there were several brick structures across the terrace, and thia explained that these buildings were used by tightrope walkers for their performances. they would walk from one structure to the other, which was actually impressive, since they were so far apart.

i was pretty relieved that the tour ended there--i didn't think i could have handled more climbing and more walking, and my camera's battery had also given up. serves me right for not charging it the night before! our trusty tuk-tuk drivers, mr. han and mr. tal, picked us up at the foot of the elephant terrace, and we roared back to the villa.

see more photos of angkor thom.

the angkor wat experience

i still find it surreal that i was at angkor wat today. the experience of walking on 10th century stones and seeing intricate carvings was overwhelming.

we were already speeding off in the direction of angkor wat at 9am. in the tuk-tuk, our guide, thia (spelling not verified), told us that today was actually their independence day. back in 1953, cambodia was liberated from the french on this very day. in two days' time, the country also celebrates the water festival, but we'll already be leaving for bangkok then.

our tuk-tuk drivers let us off in front of the moat of angkor wat. after letting us take a few photos of the famous towers, thia gathered all of us to start his spiel about the famous temple complex. first off, he clarified some terms: angkor actually means city or capital, which can be any place that the reigning king chooses to be. in this case, it was king suryavarman II who decided to reign from this particular angkor. wat, meanwhile, means temple, but angkor wat was only called a wat after the 16th century, when buddhist monks decided to take care of the temples.

thia also told us about the different "levels" of the temple. the entrance to the temple was the first causeway, signifying the movement from hell to earth. walking atop this causeway, thia pointed out that half the causeway has been restored, while half, as we saw, was still made of the very same stones placed by king suryavarman's men.

i was also surprised to find a lot of people all dressed up in wedding garb, having photo shoots for their weddings. thia told us that a cambodian wedding is a two-day celebration. eegz!

he then led us into the first temple, introducing us to the apsara, which is meant to be the perfect woman. about a thousand apsaras can be seen carved into the temple walls, but only one is smiling.

we spent half the day exploring angkor wat, walking to the second temple and seeing the lengthy bas relief galleries telling of the epic of ramayana, mahabharata, king suryavarman II's move from angkor wat to another city, and another large bas relief gallery telling of their idea of heaven, earth, and hell.

the entire experience was exhilarating, and my head is still swimming from all the information that thia told us about. thank goodness he was very easy to talk to, and he explained everything in a way that we could understand. the lighter side of the tour consisted of him telling us the best spots to take photos, with some insights on the view as well. another plus was the fact that he knew how to take photos, giving us great group photos with the angkor wat sights as our backdrop.

just so you know, though, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to taking photos in angkor wat. the temple is highly photogenic, and you definitely will not be going home with sucky photos. it's best to get a guide, though, so he can point out the best vantage point to you.

after that, we had lunch, and headed off to angkor thom. :)

see photos of my angkor wat experience.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

the road to siem reap

now's the part where i tell you all about how i got to siem reap from bangkok. :)

we landed in bangkok on schedule, around 1230am manila time. the immigration line was longish, and we spent quite a while inside the airport looking for ATMs. had we known that there were a lot of these just outside, we wouldn't have hung out there as much.

we took a public taxi (it was pink! i nearly died!) from the airport to take a nap hotel, just so we could leave some of our things behind to make it easier to cross the border. louise, the girl at the front desk, was very accommodating--she even helped us get a taxi to morchit bus station.

we arrived at the bus station at around 2am, bangkok time. i was pretty impressed; the station exceeded all of my expectations. it was clean, it wasn't crowded, it wasn't noisy. of course, we were there at an ungodly hour, and some people had slept on the floor, or on the seats, waiting for the ticket booths to open up. lucky for us, a 7-11 was inside the terminal, and we got to have our first bangkok meal (cup noodles and microwavable food, which were all very satisfying).

at around 245am, ticket counter 30 had opened up to sell tickets for the 330am bus to aranyaprathet, our trip. it was fun communicating with the ticket lady using nothing but numbers: i signaled 4 with my hands to indicate the number of people, and she answered by telling me how much the total was (THB 884 for 4 tickets). after i paid, she gave me 2 tickets, and said, "two seat, two seat," pointing at each ticket, indicating that one ticket is good for two. then she said, "121," to let me know that our bus leaves from stall 121.

our bus left on time, and i got to experience bangkok and thailand sans the traffic. it was a pleasant ride--the roads were well-paved and the driver seemed to know what he was doing. we got front row seats, and i was worried that i would witness a lot of close calls on the road, but no such moments came up. it's kind of strange and scary traveling so far in unfamiliar roads. it would have felt safer had there been a lot of signs in english, but the whole trip was a kind of guessing game, and trusting that what you read online were reliable tips from genuinely helpful people.

thankfully, it was, and we arrived in aranyaprathet at 730am, then took a tuk-tuk to rongklua market. our tuk-tuks stopped at a travel agency first, trying to get us to pay up for visas, but unfortunately, they couldn't make any money off of us, since filipinos can enter cambodia for free. one tout even shook susie's hand when we told him that we were filipinos. "oh! philippine! FREE!" he exclaimed. to me, it sounded like he was proclaiming our country's independence.


we eventually found our way to thailand's customs bureau, where we got ourselves stamped out of the country. after that, we crossed the great, intricate arch of the kingdom of cambodia (couldn't take pictures, though. had to walk fast!). we walked to the immigration office to get clearance to enter, and was promptly asked to pay THB 200 for a stamp, something you really shouldn't pay for. at this point, we were all too tired and a tad wary to argue with the officer in charge, so we just forked the cash over. he did make everything easy for us border-crossers when he did that.


the hard part was getting the cab to siem reap. there was a tout who followed us from the thai immigration all the way to cambodian immigration, forcing us to get a cab from him. it turns out he works for the association of mafia taxis that we were going to get anyway, and we all hated that fact. we didn't want to give him any business, but you hardly control the outcome of these negotiations when you're in another country.

after paying our THB 2,400 cab fare, everything went uphill. our driver, roum, was a friendly man, telling us stories every now and then and answering our questions about cambodia. in between conversations with him and susie, we three ladies nodded off at various intervals, with roum's indian music serving as our lively
lullaby.


as expected, the roads that lead to siem reap were a mix of smooth asphalt roads and red soil that shook us for a good two hours. that's why we were so excited when our driver roum finally said, "welcome to siem reap!" after a few minutes of driving, he had us transfer to a tuk-tuk, driven by one of his "friends," who will be taking us to our hotel.

his friend seemed dismayed when we said we had already booked tours with the hotel aside from accommodation. the subtext was clear: no money to be made from these people. so he just asked us to pay him THB 200 for a ride that was supposed to be free.

but all that seems like a dream now, because the villa is such a paradise of a budget hotel.

stay tuned for my feature of the villa, and of course, for tales of angkor wat and angkor thom.

more photos of the road trip from bangkok to siem reap.

travel information:

bangkok suvarnabhumi airport
official website:
http://www.airportthai.co.th/airportnew/sun/index.asp
to find information on airport layout and other travel details

taxi from airport to silom area: THB 550 (no meter)


morchit bus terminal
also known as chatuchak station, or morchit 2

bus routes for central, north, and northeastern areas
address: kamphaeng phet 2 road, bangkok

MRT subway: kamphaeng phet


air aran pattana bus

first class bus from bangkok to aranyaprathet
(buy from ticket window 30)
fare: THB 221 per person, with free water

trip duration: 4 hours

the ultimate guide to going overland from bangkok to siem reap
only tales of asia has the most comprehensive guide on this journey.