Backpacking 2009: Phnom Penh

We rode a van from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the capital city of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The journey was about six hours. We stayed at the house of a Filipino missionary family in Phnom Penh for two nights.

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The first stop was a killing field during the Khmer Rouge regime. It was not far from the city.

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I cried when we walked around the field and saw where the people were killed and buried.

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We also visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was a former high school but was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 during the Khmer Rouge regime. We watched a sad documentary before leaving the place.

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We then capped off the day with a river cruise on the Mekong River.

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If you want to know the rest of our visit in Phnom Penh, visit this page.

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Backpacking 2009: Siem Reap

Fascinated by tales of ancient cities and civilizations, I packed my bags and together with three other girls started a journey to the ancient world. I learned that no matter how great a kingdom or civilization was, there was no such thing as forever. The ancient Khmer empire once ruled the entire Mekong valley from its capital Angkor. It was destroyed and forgotten until the site was rediscovered in 1860.

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The trip from Poipet to Siem Reap was fun thanks to our driver/tour guide, Mr. Hak, who was eager to answer all our questions about the city. We reached Siem Reap before dark and decided to go to the floating village in Tonle Sap, a famous lake in Cambodia. It was a bad decision because before we knew it, it was already dark. I was so scared because we can barely see anything and we were in the middle of a lake!

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After returning to land alive, we asked Mr. Hak to drop us near Pub Street. We ate, explored the area and bought some stuff in the night market before returning to our guest house and called it a day.

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We woke up early the next morning to eat breakfast. It was free. We then went back to our room to prepare for the much-anticipated adventure that day. After a short drive, we queued to get our one day pass worth $20 each. The first stop was Angkor Wat, one of the places I wanted to see. I was glad to visit it finally.

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The next stop was Angkor Thom, the last capital of Khmer empire. It was in Bayon style.

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We also stopped shortly to take a photo of Ta Keo, the state temple of Jayavarman V.

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Our next destination was Tah Phrom where some scenes in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were filmed. Trees growing out of the ruins made it popular to visitors. We walked for quite some time before reaching the famous spot.

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We visited another ancient temple but I forgot its name. We drove back to our guest house after spending some time there. The whole Siem Reap experience was truly memorable. I would like to thank Mr. Kunn and his wife for our great stay at Jasmine Lodge.

Backpacking 2009: Road to Poipet

Overland travel from Thailand to Cambodia took more than five hours. We took the earliest train that departed from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station. The train arrived past 7 o’clock in the morning at Lat Krabang train station, which was the nearest station from where we stayed. We just paid 40 baht for the fare to Aranyaprathet, which was a few kilometers from the Cambodian border town of Poipet. The train that traveled to the border had wooden seats. I thought it would be uncomfortable but I was proven wrong. The green scenery was a sight to behold and the cool breeze blowing in through the open window made it a wonderful journey.

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There was a long queue in the immigration, but after an hour we found ourselves walking down the street toward the Cambodian frontier. It was too hot and we were carrying heavy backpacks. After our passports were stamped, we walked toward the bus station where we waited for our ride to Siem Reap. Good thing my Thai sim card still worked in Poipet and I was able to contact the owner of the lodge who arranged our ride from Poipet to Siem Reap.

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There was a slight problem. We were not able to contact the driver of the taxi so we decided to go to another bus station where there was a money changer. The ride was free for tourists and it only took less than 10 minutes. After getting our riel, we saw someone holding a paper with my name on it. His name was Mr. Hak, the driver.

We found out later that it was better to use US dollars in Cambodia than riel. If you want to know what we did on our way to Siem Reap, check out this blog entry.

Backpacking 2009: Halong Bay

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I should say that the highlight of this getaway was spending the night in Halong Bay. Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi were also exciting, but it was my first time to sleep on a boat, and not a moving one this time. I slept on moving ferries during overnight trips in the Philippines.

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We rode a van from Hanoi to Ha Long. I couldn’t remember the exact location but we passed a bridge. It was not near. I took several pictures along the way but most of them were lost. There were already many tourists waiting at the wharf. After several minutes, our boat was ready. The cruise was composed of different nationalities.

The bay was calm. That was our first day in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Several isles started to grew bigger from where we were. We then stopped at Bo Hon island to explore caves. Stalagmites and stalactites greeted us once inside. They were lit with multicolored lights. We also explored the other chamber, which was bigger.

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Some people stopped at Cat Ba island to spend the night there. Most of us remained on the boat. It was not scary because there were other boats near where we spent the night.

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The next day, we saw more limestone isles and karst formations. We also passed by some floating fishing villages. We stopped in one village to kayak. It was quite a foggy day.

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Part of the cruise was meeting different people from other parts of the world. It was a great experience. The moment we saw familiar isles on our way back, it was time to bid farewell.

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Backpacking 2009: Hanoi 2

I wrote an entry on my foodie blog before about eating in Hanoi. I would love to eat authentic Vietnamese food again. After our stint in the Museum of Ethnology, we went to the Temple of Literature. I took several pictures inside but most of them were lost. This temple of Confucius was the first national university of Vietnam.

I hope one day to visit the several courtyards of the temple again, take pictures and make sure to store them in a safer place.

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It was late in the afternoon when we walked to a park where we found several folks exercising. The place had a relaxing atmosphere with trees and fountains. The picture below that I took before crossing the busy street near the park was also posted on my tumblr blog.

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We rode a taxi to the city center where I took a snapshot of a pagoda. We were not able to watch the puppet show, but we capped off the night by eating in a Vietnamese restaurant overlooking a busy Hanoi street. I would definitely visit this city again someday.

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Backpacking 2009: Hanoi 1

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Outside Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh, I saw a statue located in the roundabout and took a picture. I found out later it was that of a Vietnamese hero, Tran Nguyen Hai. We could have visited other places in HCM, but we needed to catch a flight to Hanoi that day. The latter was our next destination.

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A sister of two of my companions was based in Hanoi. We stayed with her and she took us to some cultural sites around the city. The first stop was Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. It was worth the visit. Both indoor and outdoor exhibitions were culturally enriching.

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The indoor exhibition showcased smaller models of houses, several artifacts and traditional  practices like weddings.

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The outdoor exhibition showcased replicas of several traditional Vietnamese houses. We explored most of their interiors. It was a relaxing experience. The stilt house below was my favorite.

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I was also able to take a picture of a very long dragon boat. After the outdoor tour, we decided to eat traditional Vietnamese food near the entrance of the museum.

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Backpacking 2009: Ho Chi Minh

Most of the pictures taken during this trip were lost after my old laptop was reformatted. Good thing I was able to save some pictures. This getaway was part of a backpacking trip with friends for almost two weeks. We packed only the essentials to avoid checking in baggage. We rode a bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) from Phnom Penh, our last stop in Cambodia. We stayed in Vietnam for six days. We arrived late afternoon on the first day and flew to Bangkok from Hanoi around 9 AM on the sixth day.

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Tourist visa was not needed for Filipino passport holders to enter Vietnam. After our passports were stamped in Moc Bai (see Lonely Planet’s Vietnam map), we road the same bus and arrived in HCM before evening. We did not book any hotel or guest house beforehand so it took us some time to find one that was cheaper and near the city center. That was one of the lessons I learned from this trip – book in advance especially during peak season or at least research about hotels or guest houses and take note of their names and contact info.

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We stayed within the tourist area. We woke up early the next morning and after converting US dollars to Vietnam dong, we ate breakfast. We withdrew US dollars in Cambodia because it was the more convenient currency to use. We wanted to shop but we had no idea where to go. We did not plan to stay longer in HCM so we did not do thorough research. It was a mistake.

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We just walked to where our feet would take us until we reached Ben Thanh Market. We did not do a Hansel and Gretel to find our way back. Just kidding. But yes, we were still able to collect our things back in the guest house hours ahead of our flight to Hanoi.

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