CAMBODIA: Travelling overland by bus from Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

CAMBODIA: Travelling overland by bus from Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

Overland Bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap:
Travelling overland on local transportation is not for everyone I’ll admit, but I’ve always felt it gives you a great opportunity to get a glimpse into people’s everyday lives of the country you are visiting. This is truly something you cannot experience flying into & out of a city and just visiting the city itself. 

So this bus ride was approximately 6 hours (very bearable) from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. As you can see above there are very clear rules (if you are doing this yourself) as to who to get from Point A to Point B 

As bus travel goes, it was actually great (much better than the bus trip we took in India in 2009!!) Started out with a boxed lunch onboard, pastry with ham and a muffin as well as complimentary water handed out. Onboard were funny ‘black market’ movies that were dubbed so badly in English, they were almost unintelligible and  at times you could see the reflection of the person filming the dubbed movie. Good times!

Loved getting to see many areas of the countryside as we drove from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap province over the course of 6 hours. Seeing people working in their rice fields, walking the water buffalo, or carrying all kinds of EVERYTHING on bikes, donkeys, bicycles – you name it and it carried something on these roads.

Yes, there’s a bike in front of this

Many places the road had been washed out by heavy rains or flooding. It’s truly amazing to see some of these rural areas of Cambodia and previously Vietnam.


Upon arrival in Cambodia we were whisked away to Tonle Sap Lake. Where the homes and storefronts along the Mekong River seemed at times unstable as they stood on stilts in the dank water, the homes on Tonle Sap Lake are entirely built around the boat itself as the main living compartment. This allows the residents of Tonle Sap to move with the dry and rainy seasons, further up and down the lake as the water rises and falls. 


Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap

If your life ever presents the opportunity, take advantage of an overland bus trip in ANY country as you get to see SO much more of the local country and people’s customs even from community to community!

VIETNAM: Mekong Delta Floating Markets (Cai Be – Vinh Long – Can Tho)

VIETNAM: Mekong Delta Floating Markets (Cai Be – Vinh Long – Can Tho)

I love when I visit a place and it is exactly as my imagination expects it ‘should’ be. This is thrilling and gives me some of my absolute happiest travel moments. The Mekong River and its tributaries evolved before my eyes, just as I expected. The river offers up its own style of life and watching people live out their daily lives on the banks of the river was amazing to witness and experience.

Mekong Delta, Cai Be, Vietnam (J Camsell/Copyright)

There is a great deal of poverty evident along the river as we witness people in the murky, brown ebb & flow using the waters as everything from a bathroom and wash-up area, as well as a toilet, a place to wash clothes and throw out dirty dish water, as well as a place to catch fish for eating. We are told there are no more crocodiles in these waters along the banks, but you know all kinds of snakes and water life exist in the muddy waters.

The Mekong is wide and raging at some points and slow and still at other points and just about every form of life activity is carried out on the River. You can witness life happening just about everywhere you look: petrol stations along the way, huge cranes on barges dredging sand and salt from the waters, men fishing in the low, shallow waters, shops offering caskets for sale, other factories selling rice products, coconut products and just about everything one could imagine.

The factories we visited were all family-owned and many generations would all work together to run the many operations of the business. Young men working over labour-intensive hot stoves cooking and puffing rice in black sand (the sand keeps it at a level temperature so the rice doesn’t burn) to make what we call “rice krispie” cookies, another line of women cutting and bagging the puffed rice into the single cut cookies and wrapping them in rice paper or plastic, others shaving coconut from the shell to make coconut milk we buy in cans off the shelf, and still others pressing the rice to make rice wine and rice vinegar.

Making the Rice Krispie Cookies! (J Camsell/Copyright)
Snake Oil anyone? (J Camsell/Copyright)

Amazing factories and way of life. Of course there are many larger factories that use machines to do this, but these smaller, family-run factories along the Mekong Delta will sell their products to buyers along the Delta, who then sell to even larger buyers who may sell to markets overseas. Everything in the circle of life.

Hammock stops: It is the best thing I have ever seen. To offer drivers a place to rest and take a break from the heat if they are driving any long distance, there are everywhere you can see along the roadways, these rest stops or “hammock” stops. Small places where you can pull in your motorbike and jump in the hammock for a quick nap, and you’re on your way again. Fantastic. I am in FULL SUPPORT of the hammock stop!!

We ended our day in Vinh Long area.

Contact Us for assistance with planning your travels to Cambodia, Vietnam, Asia or any place you’re interested in!

VIETNAM: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

VIETNAM: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Lobby of Kim Do Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Sept 1, 2012 after 18 hours of travel (What a LONG flight, but travelling Cathay Pacific First class cabin makes it SO much easier)! More about that in another post…

Some housekeeping notes: 
1) VISA ON ARRIVAL in Vietnam (Cdn Passport holders): was a painless process. 

Needed: 
– $25 USD cash 
– Visa application completed (if you don’t have one, they will give you a form to complete) 
– 4×6 passport style picture 
– Visa on arrival letter from tour company you will be touring with (If you do not have this letter, VOA might be much more difficult & we suggest you contact a Vietnamese tour operator to make arrangements)

They take your application and picture, process the Visa on the spot (takes about 10 minutes) call you back up to wicket, you pay your $25USD (make sure you have exact cash required in hand). Make your way to immigration/customs, and pass through customs cheak, pick up luggage and make your way to exit, as per normal (if you have a driver waiting for you, they should be just outside exit doors with your name on sign) 

After check-in to hotel (Kimdo Royal Hotel) was located in the new tourist section of hotels and upscale shops. This is where one of my problems with travelling always happens. I truly LOVVEEE being in the guts & glory of ‘real life’ in a new city, where you get to see and enjoy the real vibe of the local scene, and get to see local people interact and run their daily lives. However, (especially in countries with less standard amenities than I’m used to) I LOVVVE being in comfortable properties (Western style to an extent with amenities I am used to at home, so I can have some comforts of home, while travelling). 

So here’s the problem: usually these nicer properties are located in areas surrounded by boutique shops and upscale restaurants that cater largely to tourists. Unfortunately in these types of areas, I find all sense of “local life and livelihood” is virtually extinct in the immediate surroundings and replaced by the whitewashed Chanel and Bulgari boutiques. Don’t get me wrong, love these shops and boutiques and LOVE fine dining (100%), but for me, there is a time and place for those, and I will go to seek those shops out, if/when I need. 

So this is my travel conundrum. Sometimes I meet my needs half way, by staying in properties in less desirable/comfortable and less touristy areas (so I can get my fix for the destination’s real life ‘feel’ & culture) or instead, in more desirable and touristy locations, (but I lose the ability to walk out of the hotel in walk into the real life culture of my destination). Anyway blah blah blah.

After getting situated at the hotel, we walk out to see what life is all about in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh. The streets don’t let me down: as soon as we turn a few corners, there is shop after shop of people offering “spa services” (massage, starting at $10 dollars!!) I declined (unfortunately) – I can’t get into letting some poor woman or man endure the distress of giving me a rubdown when I am sweaty after walking around in the oppressive heat that is Southeast Asia during rainy season. Call me anal, but I need to feel clean BEFORE I go to a “spa service” as well as after, and in the sticky, sultry heat of Ho Chi Minh city, just 5 minutes of walking gives you the standard warm-weather, sultry, skin sheen. No Massage – Thanks. 

Also it’s handy to note that EVERYONE drives a motorbike in Vietnam, well almost, but they have a very orderly chaos that takes place when the lights turn and people are coming from left & right and rarely, does anyone crash!

Dinner after arrival was a funny and somewhat cheesy dinner cruise with many tourists onboard to eat a fixed meal and watch a staged song & dance show. It was enjoyable, mostly for its comedic value as it was so over the top cheesy and campy – imagine your worst cruise line show EVER in terms of ‘typical’ and this was it. Guys dressed in marine/navy style outfits, Asian singers singing “C’mon let’s twist again.” It was quite bad, but so funny. Being extremely tired & jetlagged helps one enjoy this show to a much greater extent I think. 

Would I recommend this or pay for it? – if I had a choice, probably not as I would much rather walk around and see the nightlife of Ho Chi Minh’s streets but as a first night event, it was ok. Funniest part was the flame thrower “Britney” dancer with her go-go boots and the “Con-on less tist agin, like vee did lass summah” singer. Sorry, maybe the fatigue made me not enjoy it as I should have. Oh well, there’s something for everyone. This show under the influence of severe jetlag that evening, was not for me.

VIETNAM: Ho Chi Minh City, Cu Chi Tunnels, Presidential Palace & War Remnants Museum

VIETNAM: Ho Chi Minh City, Cu Chi Tunnels, Presidential Palace & War Remnants Museum

Arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Sept 1, 2012 after 18 hours of travel (What a LONG flight, but travelling Cathay Pacific First class cabin makes it SO much easier)! More about that in another post…
Some housekeeping notes:
1) VISA ON ARRIVAL in Vietnam (Cdn Passport holders): was a painless process.

Needed:
– $25 USD cash
– Visa application completed (if you don’t have one, they will give you a form to complete)
– 4×6 passport style picture
– Visa on arrival letter from tour company you will be touring with (If you do not have this letter, VOA might be much more difficult & we suggest you contact a Vietnamese tour operator to make arrangements)

They take your application and picture, process the Visa on the spot (takes about 10 minutes) call you back up to wicket, you pay your $25USD (make sure you have exact cash required in hand). Make your way to immigration/customs, and pass through customs cheak, pick up luggage and make your way to exit, as per normal (if you have a driver waiting for you, they should be just outside exit doors with your name on sign)

After check-in to hotel (our hotel, Kimdo Royal Hotel) was located in the new tourist section of hotels and upscale shops). This is where one of my problems with travelling always happens. I truly LOVVEEE being in the guts & glory of ‘real life’ in a new city, where you get to see and enjoy the real vibe of the local scene, and get to see local people interact and run their daily lives. However, (especially in poorer countries) I LOVVVE being in comfortable properties (Western style to an extent with amenities I am used to at home, so I can have some comforts of home while travelling).

Lobby of Kim Do Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

So here’s the problem: usually these nicer properties are located in areas surrounded by boutique shops and upscale restaurants that cater largely to tourists. Unfortunately in these types of areas, I find all sense of “local life and livelihood” is virtually extinct in the immediate surroundings and replaced by the whitewashed Chanel and Bulgari boutiques. Don’t get me wrong, love these shops and boutiques and LOVE fine dining (100%), but for me, there is a time and place for those, and I will go to seek those shops out, if/when I need.

So this is my travel conundrum. Sometimes I meet my needs half way, by staying in properties in less desirable/comfortable and less touristy areas (so I can get my fix for the destination’s real life ‘feel’ & culture) or instead, in more desirable and touristy locations, (but I lose the ability to walk out of the hotel in walk into the real life culture of my destination). Anyway blah blah blah.

After getting situated at the hotel, we walk out to see what life is all about in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh. The streets don’t let me down: as soon as we turn a few corners, there is shop after shop of people offering “spa services” (massage, starting at $10 dollars!!) I declined (unfortunately) – I can’t get into letting some poor woman or man endure the distress of giving me a rubdown when I am sweaty after walking around in the oppressive heat that is Southeast Asia during rainy season. Call me anal, but I need to feel clean BEFORE I go to a “spa service” as well as after, and in the sticky, sultry heat of Ho Chi Minh city, just 5 minutes of walking gives you the standard warm-weather, sultry, skin sheen. No Massage – Thanks.
Also it’s handy to note that EVERYONE drives a motorbike in Vietnam, well almost, but they have a very orderly chaos that takes place when the lights turn and people are coming from left & right and rarely, does anyone crash!

Dinner after arrival was a funny and somewhat cheesy dinner cruise with many tourists onboard to eat a fixed meal and watch a staged song & dance show. It was enjoyable, mostly for its comedic value as it was so over the top cheesy and campy – imagine your worst cruise line show EVER in terms of ‘typical’ and this was it. Guys dressed in marine/navy style outfits, Asian singers singing C’mon let’s twist again. It was quite bad, but so funny. Being extremely tired & jetlagged helps one enjoy this show to a much greater extent I think.

Would I recommend this or pay for it – if I had a choice, probably not as I would much rather walk around and see the nightlife of Ho Chi Minh’s streets but as a first night event, it was ok. Funniest part was the flame thrower “Britney” dancer with her go-go boots and the “Con-on less tist agin, like vee did lass summah” singer. Sorry, maybe the fatigue made me not enjoy it as I should have. Oh well, there’s something for everyone. This was not for me. The vid is sorta funny (See if you can make out the words).

Expensive Cities on the Cheap

Strategies for navigating notoriously pricey cities like Honolulu, London, New York, and Tokyo, along with unique experiences in each that won’t cost you a penny.

By Tim Leffel, Monday, Oct 20, 2008, 2:18 PM 

Big Ben and the London skyline
Big Ben and the London skyline (Goodshoot/Corbis)

LONDON
At about $5 for a pint and $8 for a single Tube ride, that London pub crawl is going to cost you. But London does have a better choice of hotels in all ranges than most other European capitals, and most of its
fantastic museums are always free.

The foot of Powell Street in San Francisco is a downtown transportation hub (Phil Coblentz/San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau)

To find other bargains, go to the Budget section of Visit London for an exhaustive rundown of free attractions and performances, cheap eats, and inexpensive hotels. If you’re only going to be in London a short time and plan on buying theater tickets, you can save a small fortune by booking a Theater Breaks package with tickets and a hotel stay. Be sure to get an Oyster card if you’ll be using the Tube regularly; it cuts the ticket price down to a more bearable level.

Freebie Join a BBC show audience by reserving tickets for a TV-show taping—perhaps trivia with Brain of Britain or comedy with Grown Ups. Choose from a schedule of upcoming sessions and come ready to laugh or clap.

TOKYO
You know you’re in trouble when half of the “affordable tips” section of Tokyo’s website is devoted to ways to get from the airport to the city for under $40.

To find an affordable meal, eat at noodle stalls for under $10, or explore the unique Japanese culinary stop: the department store basement. Seibu Department Store in the Ikebukuro area is a destination in itself, with two giant underground floors of food stalls extending several city blocks. The prim uniformed greeters bow as you enter.

Book a free walking tour of the Shinjuku commercial avenue through the tourist office and you’ll get the lay of the land from English-speaking volunteers.

Freebie Gape at the neon city below from the 45th-floor observatory of the Tokyo government skyscraper. For only-in-Tokyo views of another sort, stroll through the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market, otherwise known as the Tsukiji fish market. By either name it’s the world’s largest, with 1,400 stalls selling everything that moves in the ocean,as well as active auctions from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.

NYC
New York City gets a bad rap mostly because of its sky-high hotel prices. But beyond hotel doors, NYC is teeming with cheap or free events and attractions all year long.

If you’re around in the summer, look for free outdoor concerts in Bryant Park or during Central Park’s SummerStage series. On Saturdays between 10 a.m. and noon and on Wednesdays, you don’t pay to enter The New York Botanical Garden. Every day is free at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Museum at the Hispanic Society, and the National Museum of the American Indian, the latter housed in the beautiful original Custom House building.

One silver lining in the recent economic meltdown is that prices are leveling off and even falling a bit at many New York hotels. If you don’t see a deal, try Hotwire and Priceline, where unbooked rooms go for a sizable discount. Also check BT’s recommendations: New York Hotels at a Price That’s Right.

Freebie Get a good look at the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline by taking a free cruise on the Staten Island Ferry. Join the commuters at dusk to watch the skyscrapers change as the sun goes down. There are also views of the Statue of Liberty from the Ikea Water Taxi, which makes the trip between Manhattan and Ikea’s new location in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Tip: On the way there, sit on the starboard/right side as you’re facing forward—and leave time to sample Ikea’s take on Swedish meatballs.

MOSCOW
Expensive restaurants, pumped-up prices for foreigners at museums, and forgettable hotel rooms that can easily top $500 a night—what’s not to like?

Fortunately, parks and gardens cover almost a third of Moscow, and it’s easy to put together an interesting walking tour. Many guidebooks list routes that circle around the center, stop by all the historic churches, or explore the oldest section of the city, called Kitay gorod. If the weather isn’t ideal, go underground. Moscow’s metro stations are attractions of their own, impressive spaces alternately filled with mosaics, marble columns, and bronze statues. A one-way ride will cost you less than $1.

Avoid accommodations in the the pricey city center and instead find something near an outlying metro stop. You can reach the center within 30 minutes from almost any stop. If you’re staying for a few days to a week or traveling with a group, renting an apartment is an option. You’ll pay anywhere from $80 to $200 a night for a larger space with cooking facilities; browse cityrealtyrussia.com.

Freebie At Red Square, you’ll find Lenin’s Mausoleum, where His Waxiness has been embalmed since 1924. The line starts moving at 10 a.m.

PARIS
France is so popular that restaurants and hotels don’t have to try very hard to stay full. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to save a euro besides sitting by the Seine eating baguettes and cheese.

The Vélib bike service launched in 2007. More than 20,000 bikes are kept in automated racks posted throughout the city, and the first half hour is free. Use your credit card if it has a smart chip; the chip is typically visible as a small gold or silver circuit board on the card. (some American Express cards, for example, will work.) Otherwise, you’ll need to buy a seven-day ticket for €5 to access the system. Pick up a free Paris a Vélo map for routes and bike paths. Find out about more European bike-sharing programs here

Freebie Hong Kong’s tourism board runs a wide variety of free culture classes in English. Learn the principles of feng shui one afternoon; then practice some moves with a tai chi master the next morning by the harbor.

LOS ANGELES
There’s no getting around it: in L.A. you need a car and you’ll put a lot of mileage on it. You’re joining throngs of aspiring film and TV workers who are neither famous nor rich, so you can eat and have fun on the cheap if you know where to look.

Those in the know say L.A. has the best thrift shops in the U.S., and Hollywood estate sales turn up all kinds of goodies.

Cheap eats are plentiful: Try a double-double and a real milkshake from In-N-Out Burger, and stop by a taco stand for an authentic Mexican lunch.

For a quintessential L.A. experience, shell out $10 per person for a Sunday-night movie screening in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. You can bring a picnic dinner and a cooler of drinks—alcohol is permitted.

Freebie View the Hollywood sign and the city from the Griffith Observatory, or relive countless movie moments by admiring the sprawling city from nearby Mulholland Drive.
The beaches around L.A. are free and open to the public. Once you get north of Malibu to Zuma Beach and beyond, you can find free parking along the road.

HONOLULU
Let’s see…take an isolated volcanic island chain in the Pacific and turn it into a tourist paradise full of golf courses and huge hotels. Only one problem: the costly long-distance shipping of everything but pineapples and poi.

Staying in a house or a condo with a kitchen helps. When stocking up on groceries, avoid the tourist centers and find a regular supermarket to save on your bill. Most restaurants in Waikiki are priced for tourists. To pay what the locals pay, head to Honolulu’s Chinatown, order Hawaiian-style fast food from one of 24 Zippy’s locations, or check out the Cheap Places to Eat in Oahu blog for ideas.

Freebie Learn to play the ukulele or dance the hula with free one-hour lessons at the Royal Hawaiian Center.

Get a free big-wave surf show between November and February by heading out of town and up to Oahu’s North Shore. Many of the world’s premier surfing competitions are held here, with waves that can swell to 30 feet.

SAN FRANCISCO
There’s a lot to love about this city, but the dramatic hilltop vistas come with nosebleed prices for hotels and restaurants in prime areas.

The gap between expensive restaurants and cheap ethnic dives here is as wide as the San Francisco Bay. To eat great Chinese food on the cheap, avoid the spots decorated with pagodas and dragons, with waitresses in floor-length silk pajamas. Instead, find the alley spots away from tourist areas—the ones with Formica tables and a staff that barely speaks English. Z&Y Garden, Y. Ben House, and Hang Ah Tea Room are good places to start. Then next meal, hit one of the Mission District taquerias to stuff yourself as full as a burrito for $10 or so, drink included.

If you’re traveling with a bike or in-line skates, you can move freely through the eastern half of Golden Gate Park on carless Sundays. Hiking trails in the hills of Berkeley and Oakland offer panoramic views of the whole area. You can also get some exercise and some interesting photo ops by strolling 1.7 miles (each way) across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The new CultureBus is $7 for an all-day unlimited pass, and it allows you to get on and off at many of the top museums and parks. Read more about it on our blog.

Freebie The volunteer San Francisco City Guides organization has been running walking tours for 30 years. Each day presents a menu of choices, like a “Bawdy and Naughty” tour of Gold Rush-era brothels and dives downtown or a tour of the famous Haight-Ashbury district.

ROME
Hotels and attractions in this popular European capital are jammed with tourists—especially in the summer—and eating out can make you say “Mama Mia!” when the check arrives.

On the other hand, getting around Rome by bus and metro is downright cheap: €4 for a one-day pass or €11 for a three-day tourist ticket (the BTI). Or just hop on the #40 express and get a scenic tour from the Vatican to Termini Station by way of the Forum, Piazza Venezia, and the Tiber River.

The Europeans love their bottled water, but that doesn’t mean you have to shell out €2 or €3 for it every time you get thirsty. Buy yours at a supermarket instead, and refill it from one of the many public drinking fountains: the water’s perfectly drinkable.

To eat well without breaking the bank, visit a pizza-by-the-slice place or a tavola calda (hot table) cafeteria, where you pick from a selection of meats and vegetables. If you manage to hit a bakery at closing time, you might luck out with a bag full of extra goodies thrown in gratis.

Freebie There are more than 20,000 pieces on display at the Numismatic Museum of the Italian Mint, where you can learn about evolving money-making techniques. Show your ID to obtain the free entrance pass. A free daily puppet show (granted, in Italian) at Park Gianicolo on Janiculum Hill has panoramic city views for a backdrop.

Link to Full Article: http://www.budgettravel.com/bt-dyn/content/article/2008/10/16/AR2008101602022.html#ixzz1fUgSex45