Love at first sight: Pub Street

Siem Reap might be big, but there aren’t a lot of things happening in this town. Pub Street is the biggest night out scene in REP and I bet the partyphile on you won’t be able to resist the happenings around here. From night markets to street food to restaurants to pubs (duh), you won’t run out of things to do in Pub Street. It’s an organized chaos around here, that’s why I loved it the moment I laid my eyes on it (not exaggerating — even before going, while browsing online!)

20140510-091253.jpg Big ol’ Jenny-no-Jenny Johnny is kinda big around here

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20140510-091312.jpg This massive and random bookstore is a welcome peaceful corner in the midst of all chaos

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Pub Street is a mish mash of everything in a tiny convoluted array of streets. It would be easy to get lost, but hey we really didn’t mind if we got lost a bit — because everywhere you go just seems lively and so… full of boys (there I said it!) Everyone’s so friendly and cheerful — them foreigners and locals alike love to holla at ‘ya whenever wherever. You’ll feel like this is just your usual pub in your usual city… just with a tropical climate to boot.

20140510-091345.jpg The neon signs signals your entry to the playful streets

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The food doesn’t disappoint as well. As long as you have a nose for good food and great crowd — you’ll never run out of places to eat at. Choices are abounding as well – some with apsara dancers, and some with that music you might have left at home but were badly missing. There is something in Cambodia that tries so hard to make you feel at home.

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20140510-091437.jpg We were just in time for the Angkor Photography Festival when we went there.

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If you’re tired chugging Angkor beer and spicy chow, head to the night market – a few struts away from the main happenings. Don’t be apprehended by “You lady, what you want,” or “Mister, mister you want?” from the locals who are trying to make a living. Just politely say no if you don’t want to buy. Or feel free to haggle — I  did have more shopping done here than I did in Bangkok because haggling is just so fun to do!

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The best part that I liked about Pub Street is how the whole street is a hotpot of different cultures – whether local or foreign, Asian or Caucasian. Everyone’s just there to have fun – get drunk, high, or bloated. Everyone wants to meet everyone. You just need to have your best brave intoxicated self (as for me, that is) to introduce yourself and ask for names. Ask people where they’re from, what they do in life. What brings them to Siem Reap? Most relevantly, have they been to the temples? This French couple we met were just incredible travellers – having been in Siem Reap for the second time around and absolutely loving it so far. I really enjoyed listening to stories of far away lands, where I might have never been. It makes me long to see the world more. It makes me long to learn more, walk more, climb some more. It makes me feel alive.

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Ella left me for a while. I followed where the lights are, and where the people are dancing. I’ve made some friends, some I flirted about. Thanks to the buzz I have in my head til the morning. But some are just lonesome rangers of the night that won’t budge (that Latino wearing a muscle shirt in Linga is one tough nut to crack.) Meeting eyes with eyes, a shot for a shot. I found myself in a shithole where the sobriety of the night is only the hush whispers the walls make. A young Moroccan with the most expressive deep-set eyes to my left, and a seasoned (emphasis) British businessman who has seen half of the world to my right. Hush talks, laughs. Let the serendipity work. The alcohol did its work as well. But not that day, I thought.

20140510-091616.jpg In those intoxicated days in Pub Street, the tuk tuk is one’s only respite. 

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I was back to my friend, who enjoyed her banana-milo crepe in the middle of the street, and who wishes she can bring it to Manila. Ella thinks of the endless shift hours she makes at the hospital she works at. I thought of the guys I could’ve done that day. But we were in the middle of a happy street. And we were just happy. That’s all we need to know.

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Photos taken from iPhone 5

Selfies In The Angkor

Nope, my Cambodia series is not yet over. But I’ll take a break from temples. Because at the end of the day, the amount of selfies taken in a day matters. No kidding.

20140415-144815.jpg Gone drinking at the famous and never-miss Angkor What?!

20140415-144956.jpg I may be a scaredy cat but a selfie while trembling atop the Angkor Wat is a must.

20140415-144831.jpg Ella couldn’t resist as well!

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20140415-144939.jpg Mommy, save meeeeeeeeee! Those are stairs but half steps are still half steps!

20140415-144840.jpg The Bayon temple is a great spot for meditating… and getting your vanity fixes.

20140415-144947.jpg And more in the shadows please 😛

20140415-144932.jpg The silhouette of the Khmer stupa is sucha nice backdrop for a morning sefie, post-hangover.

20140415-144851.jpg Take others’ selfie when they took yours. (But isn’t that a non-selfie already?)

20140415-144908.jpg Two things (no not because you’re seeing double of me) — This is a panorama experiment gone fail, and that caucasian hunk at the right side

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20140415-144919.jpg And we’re off to Pub Street for some drinks and boys!!! 

Up next: Pub Street! Read the other entries on my Cambodia series here!

Temple-tramping the Angkor, Part 2

And our temple-tramping adventure continues deeper into the heart of Angkor. The Angkor Wat isn’t the only temple in the park. I used to believe that it is the only thing there, and I was overwhelmed by all the temples within Angkor. The Angkor Thom is an older temple complex and home to the most enduring empire in Khmer history. Inside Angkor Thom, we found the Bayon, Baphuon, and Phimeanakas temples. Also included in this is Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Kdei from the temples in towards the East. You may also see some elephant rides for hire starting from here. I think it starts from $20 and up. Wasn’t so sure because we didn’t ride the elephants.

The entrance to Angkor Thom is marked by the Bayon faces

The Bayon temple has the that Khmer architecture with a bajillion faces on ’em. Some say they’re the faces of emperors, some say they’re of the bodhisattvas

The faces are everywhere! They look serene and peaceful and looking at ’em all day just makes me wanna meditate. At this point too, I had the slightest inkling to smoke… it was hard to resist but I waited till lunch because the smoking area is near the makeshift restaurants near Angkor Thom. Climbing also seemed to be a challenge already, because it was nearing lunchtime and the sun was harsh. The steps were really just half steps and one wrong move will have you tumbling down in a very unclassy Jack and Jill manner. You don’t like that. Besides, Ta Keo has a lot of steeper stairs to climb so train while in Bayon!

These temples are actually functional temples, so tramp with care, silence, and respect.

The apsara engravings are still everywhere. These sprites guard the walls with utmost class.

Baphuon temple lies just beside Bayon

Baphuon looks like an Incan ceremonial sacrifice mountain. I get glimpses of the last scenes in Apocalypto where the Incans are sacrificing their POWs to prevent the solar eclipse. But that’s irrelevant, I just wanted you to have an idea how somehow it was creepy… and again steep. I no longer know how much I’ve used the word steep for this series. Haha!

Ta Keo was being renovated when we were there

Now if there was one temple steeper than the others, that would be Ta Keo. At 2pm, the scorching heat on our backs, and more than a dozen half steps and Jack and Jill waiting to happen, this one appeared to be a challenge. But when we got to the top, it all felt so good — having climbed all those steps, having looked all those dizzying heights. We can’t help it but to feel the air and spread our arms.

But the climbing down is much more difficult, actually.

And one the final temple we went to (jeez, by then we were thinking what a day it has been) is filled with Tomb Raider realness. This is where, Lara Croft – in all her pouting and temple tumbling prowess – battled the forces of evil. While it looked like a battle-ridden field, the battle is between man and nature, really. Ta Prohm is one of the heavily ruined (pun intended) temples in the archaeological complex. Trees sprung out from the temples and broke the stone walls. It looks like some kind of medieval war happened here, but with nets instead maybe?

This guy is just too hard to resist not to take a picture of, but I couldn’t muster the courage to do so upfront. So there. 

And another hunk along Banteay Kdei (don’t know how to pronounce)

The Angkor Cafe provides refreshments for those who needs respite… and wifi!

The monks wander freely, and contrary to popular belief, talk to people.

After a whole day of temple tramping, we got a glimpse of the once great Khmer empire and a feel of Cambodia’s most essential religious and political history. I’d like to be back here soon and visit the other temples we missed. And all those cute guys doing a temple run as well! Teehee 😛

This is a series of posts about my trip in Cambodia and Thailand:

Temple-tramping the Angkor, Part 1
Banyan Leaf Hotel in Cambodia
Primer: How to get to REP, Cambodia

Temple-tramping the Angkor, Part 1

So back to reminiscing the Angkor! I swear, this blog sounds like a disoriented, attention-span-deprived crazy person, but I think I have enough sanity, thanks to the cup of coffee besides me *sips coffee*

So Angkor! The historical temple wonderland that is Angkor Wat Archeological Complex (full name yo!) It’s hundreds of acres of land spanning historical political and religious sites in Cambodia, mostly seats of power and civilization in ancient Khmer history. Now, it’s a sacred ground for Buddhist and Hindu monks around Cambodia and the world.

Ideally, you’d go here in the break of dawn to catch the staple sunrise against the Angkor Wat stupas BUT I was massively drunk the night before we went here with a new Moroccan friend in Linga (also, coming from a dragging seven-hour overland trip) so the earliest time we got here was around 7:30am — thanks to our trusty tuktuk driver who we just hailed from outside our hotel. Neat.

White washed walls and steep stupas greeted my drunk sleepy face. I know that some of the temples are steep (Ta Keo, which I will discuss on my next posts) but I didn’t expect that Angkor would require that much climbing. I might not talk a lot about this, but I have an immense fear of heights. I wish I knew this before I went here!

Apsaras were everywhere, guarding the magical walls 

Aside from apsara images from practically every corner, there were a lot of Buddha images as well – some casted in gold, some clothed in full regalia, and some bathing in incense. What I didn’t appreciate though is that some people would offer you incense and would actually teach you how the Buddhists pray… but for a price. It happened once, and I was happy to save my money on the next ones by refusing politely. It got eerie though when some leered at us 🙁

The walls of the Angkor Wat is a big storybook. Aside from being the biggest religious monument in the world — modeled after the five peaks of Mt. Meru where the Hindu gods live, it also tells the story of the Khmers and their ancient empire – from rise to fall.

The high stupas with the sky as a backdrop is just simply beautiful

The real reason why my trip to Cambodia was non-negotiable is that renovation is quickly starting

These aged stupas have some stories to tell

The walk from the moat to the temple itself is short, but there is more to walk around inside. It seemed to me like a maze inside, with steep stairs and… there’s no looking down because jeez those were some high stairs. Also, inside are more Buddha images. They were kind of starting to creep me out, but slowly growing into me.

Monkeys were all over too! The Khmers have kind of learned to coexist with them. These two, however, seemed too comfortable. 

This one seemed very hungry 🙁

Walking around Angkor Wat is just one thing, remember it’s not the only temple in the area – it’s a complex of temples! Also, Angkor Wat is the largest temple in the complex, let alone the world. You can easily use half of your day ’til lunch (especially if you didn’t go before dawn) to roam around. Remember to hydrate yourself ’cause it can be hot as the devil’s asshole in there. Water is available to buy at various points outside the temple.

After this half-day walkathon around Angkor Wat, we went to the neighboring Angkor Thom…

I’d really like to sum up everything in one post, but I think this needs a part 2!

Stay tuned!

This is a series of posts about my trip in Cambodia and Thailand:

Temple-tramping the Angkor, Part 2
Banyan Leaf Hotel in Cambodia
Primer: How to get to REP, Cambodia

Where to stay at REP: Banyan Leaf Hotel

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This is the view that will greet you upon arriving at Banyan Leaf Hotel, and most prolly the one thing that made me choose this — plus some other things! On a serious note, it really doesn’t look so big (picture in Agoda looks so big) but it does look like somewhere to dip yourself after a hot day at the Angkor. There’s a dedicated time for pool time in the itinerary, I tell you! That and a cocktail, aaaaaaaah.

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It’s not that bad, really. I got the room for under PHP2500 ($60) for two nights and it was a lovely stay. Even I can’t believe that this is already a 2-star hotel rate. In Singapore, it’ll cost the same for a hostel. I am truly amazed how affordable Cambodia is so far.

DSC_0020 I really like that the walls are green, very refreshing!

DSC_0018 Not bad at all! I just wish they have hot shower

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While the room is nothing to rave about, it’s comfortable enough to shelter us in our stay in Siem Reap. One cannot deal with bad room and service after temple tramping, shopping, drinking, and more temple tramping in this land of wonder. I like that when you arrive – backpacks, heavy stuff, and all that shnazz – they offer you a drink. And immediately, you’re led to your room. Wi-fi is complimentary — and more! Breakfast is complimentary! It’s nothing local, though. Sausages, eggs, beans, pancakes, bread. Usual stuff, but still really important!

It is a small place, that the bar is right across the pool and the concierge, and behind is the dining area. No frills, if you ask me. Pretty much how I live now, so who the hell cares. I like that they offer drinks til the wee hours of the morning. It’s a quiet alternative to Pub Street if you’re in for a quieter night. (Not for me that time, lol)

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And if the temple run becomes too much to bear and you just need a good kneading, they offer massage in your room. This one I didn’t get. I’m not the massage type of person, but I did ask if you get to choose between a masseur and a masseuse and they do offer that!

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I think the most important thing to consider here is how near it is to Pub Street and the night market. It is a 15 minute walk from everything, even 10 if you’re a brisk walker.

DSC_0021 Banyan is roughly 30 minutes away from the Angkor

Plus you can always take a tuktuk for a couple of dollars. Really essential thing to remember when you’re going home a bit more drunk than you’re used to (hello people who make me drink so much at Pub Street!)

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Banyan Leaf Hotel
Taphul Road, Taphul Village
Khom Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap
www.banyanleafhotel.com
+85563967968

P.S. I can’t wait to blog about the temples!

Cambodia Primer – How to get there, and what you need to know

Happy 2014 everyone! I’d like to start the year by reviewing one of my most favorite places on Earth – the Kingdom of Wonder, the once-powerful, then-disgraced, now-picking up country of ancients, the beautiful and wondrous temple country of Cambodia.

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This series will cover my experiences in Cambodia, including a rather personal review of the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Complex. I went to Cambodia with my friend Ella last year, and it was one of the most magnificent experiences of my life! I’d go back to the Kingdom of Wonder, and the next time around, it will not be just about temples!

The Angkor Wat is the most popular destination in all of Cambodia, but I guess, I just haven’t had the opportunity to fully appreciate what other stuff it has to offer. I hope this series will help you plan your upcoming trip to Cambodia. Oh yes, you will want to go to Cambodia after we finish discussing all the wonderful experiences I had there.

Did I use the word wonder and its variations too much? Oh yes, ’cause it will all be the word for it.

DSC_0001 Steampunk industrial Suvarnabhumi Airport

So let’s start with the most important part — the planning! I suggest you read up a lot of other resources. Wikitravel is a good crowdsourced material to start your travel cravings. I’d be leaving you with resources at the end of my posts, which I hope will get you pumped up to plan your own adventure to Cambodia.

So let’s start. There are a LOT of ways to enter Cambodia. It will all depend on the type of experience you’d like to have. A lot of airlines like Cebu Pacific here in the Philippines fly to Siem Reap (for Angkor) and Phnom Penh (the capital) once a week. And there are a lot of other choices, if you’re not picky. You can take a bus from nearby nations – Vietnam to Phnom Penh, and Thailand to Siem Reap, if you’d like.

One more factor is the time you have. If you’re working  and you only have limited leaves like me and you like options for your trips, then we’d agree with each other. For this trip, we entered Cambodia by flying to Thailand and then taking a bus from the Suvarnabhumi Transport Terminal to the Aranyaprathet/Poipet (also, Aran) border.

IMG_3580 Suvarnabhumi Transport Terminal, just a shuttle away from the airport

Here’s a summary of the pocket and time damage so far:
MNL to BKK flight 4 hours – est. PHP6,000 via Cebu Pacific (US$ 133)

Take the free shuttle from Suvarnabhumi airport to the transport terminal. The transport terminal only has two trips to Aran, 8am and 1pm. So if you arrive later, book a nearby hotel from the information inside the airport.

Average hotel near Suvarnabhumi, with shuttles to and from – THB1000 (US$30)
Suvarnabhumi to Aran bus 1.5 – 2 hours- THB200 (US$6)

If you’re required a visa to enter the border, then that’s additional US$20

Poipet to Siem Reap 4 – 6 hours, depending on traffic – US$12 for a shared cab, US$9 for a bus

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It’s pretty textbook to follow everything. What’s not in the textbook are scammers. I love Southeast Asia but it’s teeming with scammers. All throughout this series, you’ll be reading reminders from me, and you better remember them (because we almost got scammed, I tell you!)

  1. At the border, everybody’s desperate. I won’t put the blame on people – usual stuff like inflation and poverty, and Thailand and Cambodia are big countries and their central governments are far away from them. It’s very important to do your research so you know baseline prices for everything.
  2. Around here, the tuk-tuk is a normal means of transportation. Pretty much like the tricycle in the Philippines. Always agree on a price before riding. If possible grab a cab instead. The meter’s pretty fair.
  3. On that note, never agree with a cab on a fixed price. It’s illegal and they’ll really scam you with like 100-200% of the usual metered fare. I’d prefer the cab this side of the world. But if you’re in for the tuk-tuk experience, which is not really extraordinary, then try to haggle a fair price.
  4. A map will help you estimate your fare. I’d really suggest you try to map your journeys ’cause sometimes where you wanna go is actually just a walking distance.
  5. At the border, there is only one transport terminal that will get you to Cambodia fast. Do not agree on anything outside the border. This is where we almost get scammed. A local approached us and offered to lead us to the immigration office. Then suddenly he had a companion, and I was scared because this is what I read in the guides. Just before we entered the immigration office, they offered us to take straight to Siem Reap for THB800 (US$25) which is exorbitant and already an extortion. In this case, just say no. Insist, and they’ll leave you like they’ve never seen you before.
  6. Do not go into a fight. Pretty textbook wherever you go, actually. I read somewhere that they might gang up on you and you don’t want to spend the rest of your trip in jail.
  7. You are protected inside the immigration area, unless you’re bringing something illegal, so when you get to the border, head straight to immigration.
  8. It’s wise to pack light and smart. Because when you get offered to have your stuff carried, it’s difficult to turn that down when you’re carrying so much. And then that load goes to God knows where but not your hotel. I personally don’t like to deal with that.
  9. Lastly, get your visa at the immigration office ONLY. There’s no such thing as expedited, ’cause it’s just really easy to get your visa upon entry. I’ve heard horror stories, and you don’t wanna end up spending the night at the border. That’s just not right.

That’s a lot and reading up on forums and guides won’t hurt. I think this will cause some paranoia but with just the right sense of precaution, you still can enjoy your trip. I just think it’ll be wise to tell you this early so you know what you’re putting yourself into.

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Immigration really depends on the amount of tourists in the area. Border crossing is pretty popular among backpackers around SEA and its best to plot around 40 minutes to an hour of waiting. Then there’s the waiting for the transport to Siem Reap. I think we waited for around half an hour for that as well. That day, it was rainy in some parts of Cambodia, and it’s not weird to be in the middle of a storm-ish rain then be at dry land again – that’s global warming in the tropics for you.

I’d really want to fly in instead of taking the road for this one, but schedule-wise, the flights were not on our side. Hey, there’s always a way, if you keep your options (and reservations) open. The border isn’t exactly touristy but it gives an insight on what life there looks like. The road trip isn’t much of a sight as well, plenty of fields and greenery, but if you’re up for some local observation, then this is a plus for you.

Up next: Banyan Leaf Hotel and a primer to the Angkor!

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