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Dreaming's Trip Report: Bangkok, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, HCMC & Narita

Dreaming's Trip Report: Bangkok, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, HCMC & Narita

Nov 2nd, 2009, 07:22 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 326
Siem Reap Day 1 (Overall Trip Day 4)

We picked the Bangkok Air flight from BKK to REP at 11:25. There was a flight closer to 8am, but we chose the later flight for a more relax schedule. I had tried to book the flight through Bangkok Air online, but could never complete the transaction online; so I finally booked through Expedia.

We weren’t sure what time to leave for the airport, so spoke to the concierge. He suggested that if we used the hotel car, we would take the boat across the river, the car would pick us up on the other side and we’d skip the bridge traffic and save time. In this case we should leave at 8:30. If we were going to take a taxi, we’d need to sit through the bridge traffic, but 8:30 should work as well. We left a little confused, as one was faster, but we’d still leave at the same time?

We chose the taxi from the hotel, risking the bridge traffic. We caught a taxi from the hotel, confirming that it was a metered taxi before getting in. As soon as we got started and I asked for the meter the story changed. He charged a fixed rate of 500 baht, including tolls. After some discussion we decided that wasn’t too bad and went with it.

Traffic on the bridge was indeed bad, but it wasn’t more than 15 minutes before we were through it and had a clear drive to the airport. At the airport we browsed with our remaining baht, buying a variety of face blotting papers (much cheaper then at home), tiger balm and other drugstore goodies. We also bought some food for lunch prior to boarding.

On the 55 minute flight, the airline managed to provide cool hand wipes, food and a drink. Upon landing in Siem Reap we all crowded around outside of the customs and immigration building while we received – one at a time- a health inspection form. Once the form was completed and handed in and we had passed through the thermoscan we entered the immigration area. Those with eVisa went straight to immigration, while those applying for a visa on arrival lined up (line was short). We got our luggage (and again, my bag had taken a pretty good scuffing but no additional tears or missing pieces), passed through the unmanned customs point and out to the arrivals hall. Our guide, Saron, was waiting with a sign and we went directly out to our car, a van, and our driver, Mr. Lee.

As arranged, Saron took us directly to our hotel, the Hotel Be Angkor, where Martin and his team were waiting for our arrival. We checked into Saffron (me) and Sepia (TC). My initial impression of Saffron was that it was a little musty, but once the AC was on and I was in and out of the room, I didn’t get that impression at all again – so it may just have needed a little airing. The Hotel Be Angkor has a personality all of its own. It’s not that of a 5 star hotel and it’s not a B&B, but it’s friendly, comfortable and wonderfully located by the old market. They’ll exert themselves on your behalf, finding you whatever it is you’re wanting, but it runs to slightly different beat. We liked it and liked it a lot.

After getting settled, I walked around the old market area, noting the fish foot baths in kiddie wading pools, the very close internet café with VOIP telephone service. Lots of boutiques, lots of massage places, lots of restaurants. Not a lot of tourists. I think in the middle of the day, people are back to their hotels, to the pools, to the restaurants, but not out on the streets. A lot of the spas were offering discounts from 12 – 3 to lure people in.

Saron picked us up at 3 and we were finally off to the temples. We were relieved that the worst heat of the day had dropped off by 3. The first stop was to get our 3 day temple pass ($40, no photo required, they take the photo there.) Then it was Angkor Thom starting with the gates. I had to keep reminding myself that I was really, really there. We went to the Bayon. Saron was terrific for guiding around crowds or in the opposite direction of the crowds and finding us interesting viewpoints for photos. What an experience. All of those four-sided faces everywhere. We spent quite a while exploring here and then back to the car (heaven. Cold water, cold wipes. Ahhh…). Then we were off for the Elephant Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King. The Elephant Terrace was fronted by water and I gather that it was remaining from Typhoon Ketsana, just about 2 weeks before. There was a good deal of standing water left along roads, at the bus station and by the temples.

Eventually we returned to our hotel and made arrangements with Saron to start at 8 am the next day. We went to the old market for a bit of a browse. TC found a silk scarf – really more of a wrap that she was taken with, but not quite enough to buy. After we left Siem Reap and it was too late to buy it, it became the scarf that got away. Dinner was at Khmer Kitchen and we had an amazing Khmer soup – lemongrass, lime and chicken in a broth. The flavors were intense and tart and so good. I scooped mine over rice and ate it up. The entrees were about 3 dollars each.

By this time we were looking for a foot massage, so it was off to Bodia Spa for a foot massage. The foot massage was 22 or 24 dollars and it was sheer pain. The building was lovely, the foot massage was painful. My masseuse kept looking at TC’s masseuse as though she didn’t know what to do next. The pain wasn’t specific to my masseuse though. TC wasn’t faring any better. We both kept asking for less pain, more gentle, softer, “owie”, “oh no”…. They'd back off for a bit, but their knuckles would not be denied. We both had bruised feet in the am – mine on the arch, TCs on the foot pad.

It was off to the Linga Bar for martinis and recovery… Bean from the Hotel Be found us at the Linga Bar (just steps away from the hotel) and gave us our order forms for breakfast the next morning. There were several choices, including chocolate croissants, muesli, fruit and yogurt, eggs and ham(?), etc. They were pretty flexible on the choices and let me pick muesli, fruit, yogurt AND a chocolate croissant.

Coming Up: Siem Reap Day 2 (Overall Trip Day 5)
dreaming is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2009, 05:17 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 1,328
Thanks for the recom about your magic shirt. I just ordered one for our trip next April.
barefootbeach is offline  
Nov 5th, 2009, 09:58 AM
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Posts: 231
dreaming, Thanks for this report. DH is going to Siem Reap to visit his daughter and I was wondering how long was the ride from the airport to town.
LizQ is offline  
Nov 5th, 2009, 01:29 PM
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great reporting
rhkkmk is offline  
Nov 5th, 2009, 03:43 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 326
Wow! I get so excited when someone replies to this trip report.

Barefootbeach - I hope the shirt works out for you. I just went to my local REI and they had one (in my size) on the clearance racks, so I bought a second one!

LizQ - It seemed like it was about 15 minutes from the airport to the old market section of town. There are hotels on the airport road though, so he may be closer or further away.

Rhkkmk - Thank you!
dreaming is offline  
Nov 5th, 2009, 03:54 PM
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Siem Reap Day 2 (Overall Trip Day 5)

As planned, Saron picked us up at 8. Prompt, professional, informative, interesting – Saron was a great guide. He answered a wide range of questions ranging from specifics about the temples to queries about political party signs to questions about advertising signage.

This morning we went to Ta Prohm (of Lara Croft fame). Ta Prohm offered a glimpse of what discovering these overgrown temples must have felt like. Coming around every corner and finding a new carving, a new building even more amazing than what you’ve seen before. The tree roots overgrowing the stones and clinging to the sides and tops of walls seem like they’ve been there forever and have become part of the building itself. From the Lara Croft movie perspective, there was quite a different sense of space – much less open – then it had appeared in the movie. It was here that we found a tarantula clinging to the underside of a lintel. I did some definite ducking and covering as we walked through the doorway.

From Ta Prohm we had a few minutes of AC in the car then it was Angkor Wat. The size of Angkor Wat is daunting and impressive. We spent a fair amount of time looking at the bas reliefs circling the walls of Angkor Wat with Saron telling the stories. Every once in a while a whiff of breeze would brush past and we’d gasp with relief. Going inside Angkor Wat, we were limited to the second level, as the third level was closed (for repairs? Can’t remember) at the beginning of October. Once we were actually inside, any breeze that existed was gone. Yet there was still so much to see, so much detailed carving.

We exited through the front of Angkor Wat, looking out at the pools and the libraries. Once we looked back at Angkor Wat, we could see the scaffolding on the front. We used tree placement to try to obscure the scaffolding in some of our photos.

As it was past noon, Saron and Mr. Lee took us to one of the restaurants across from Angkor Wat for lunch, Angkor Reach. Fortunately, we were seated under a fan. I’ve never sweat as much as I was sweating in Siem Reap. At one point I inhaled through my nose and inhaled sweat. Gag. Ick.

After lunch it was back to the Hotel for a bit of a rest. When Saron picked us up again, we swung by the offices for the Mekong Express and bought our outbound tickets for the Siem Reap to Phnom Penh 8:30am bus ($11). Seats were assigned in advance and we chose our seats there in the office.

We spent the afternoon at Banteay Srei. On the way to Banteay Srei we could see a storm off in the distance, looked like it was dumping a fair amount of rain. But it was clear up to Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was a gorgeous jewel. Saron told us that it was also called the jewel in the jungle. The carvings were scrolling, detailed and deeply carved into the rose and gold hued stone. Breathtaking. A breeze came up that made leaves suddenly swirl from the trees and all at once Saron was rushing us to the car. We made it there just before the sky started dumping rain.

We stopped at Preah Rup for the sunset. There were a few other people there, but not a crowd. The views from the top were good – people herding water buffalo, views over the trees. Apparently Angkor Wat used to be visible in the distance, but the trees have grown taller and it can’t really be seen anymore. The sunset didn’t quite work out for us as the sun stayed behind the clouds. Eventually it was back once more to the hotel.

We had dinner at Soup Dragon on Pub Street; which was excellent for watching the activity on Pub street. It wasn’t jammed packed, but seemed to have most of the activity in town concentrated here. Tourist police and tuk tuk drivers lined the ends of the street. We had fresh spring rolls, and I had some kind of chicken in a coconut sauce (again!). This was served very attractively in a leaf folded into a square bowl and stapled shut. The sauce was so mild as to be bland and I had to track down some chili sauce for flavor.

After dinner we had a foot massage at Islands across from the Old Market. This was an $8 massage in more basic surroundings than Bodia Spa. And a much better massage than Bodia (but not as good as Massage for Health in Bangkok). Back once more to the Linga Bar for a martini or two to cap the day.

Coming Up: Siem Reap Day 3 (Overall Trip Day 6)
dreaming is offline  
Nov 5th, 2009, 08:42 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
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Thanks for such a detailed report on Siem Reap, absolutly fantastic, i am heading there from the 20th-27th of November and cannot wait.
We are staying at the Angkoriana Hotel also near the old markets.
firemansam is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 05:32 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 48
Thanks so much for your most interesting report. How and where did you get Saron, your guide?? I am going to be in Cambodia from 28th Feb to 8th March - I have ONLY booked a flight so far - into Phnom Penh and then (after 2 days in PP) hope take a bus to Siem Reap. Have not booked any accomm. yet (need advice on where to stay) budget of $25 per night - intend to stay 3 full days in Siem Reap - is this enough? Then fly to Luang Prabang for 5 nights. Would be very grateful for any advice/help with trip.
Wonkyknee is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 09:24 AM
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 147
And I plan to be in Siem Reep a few days earlier since I need to be in Bangkok on March 1. I, too, would like to contact your guide. He sounds wonderful.

Please give us contact info. Also, your trip report is great..thanks for the input
SandraJoy is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 03:22 PM
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Firemansam - Thank you! I'm quite jealous of your trip. Hope you have a wonderful time!

SandraJoy - You can reach Saron at saron AT sarontours dot com. He also has a website http://www.sarontours.com.

Wonkyknee - I found Saron's name listed a few places online and I e-mailed him directly several months before we went and booked him. The bus from PP to Siem Reap will be easy - we took the Siem Reap to PP bus on the Mekong Express (there are other buses that run the same route)-it was $11 and overall a good trip. (AC and a bathroom on the bus.) I've got a card with a schedule on it. It on the card it says it leaves PP for Siem Reap at 7:30, 8:30, 12:30 and 14:00. I can't help much with the accommodations at that price point. There are several B&Bs listed on tripadvisor in that price range that seem to get good reviews - if people here can't help, you might try the Lonely Planet thorn tree.

In Phnom Penh we stayed at the Pavilion, which is closer to your price point, but I think their cheapest room is 40 or 50... It was really nicely located though.

Is three full days enough? I would have loved to stay longer and wish I had at least one more day there. But it really comes down to the balance of the rest of your trip...
dreaming is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 03:56 PM
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Coming Up: Siem Reap Day 3 (Overall Trip Day 6)

I started the day at about 6:50am at the internet café around the corner from the hotel. The café seemed to officially open at 7, but by 6:45 the doors were open and they were setting up for business. Phone calls to the States ran about $1.50 6 or 7 minutes. The internet was inexpensive too – about 50 cents for 30 minutes. I sat next to a young man who was actively typing away sending lots of e-mail. When I got up to leave I couldn’t help but glance at his e-mail, “I love you. I miss you. I want to kiss you.”

Once again pick-up was at 8am. Saron had given us a few choices for our day and we had decided to make the trip out to Beng Mealea. There was an additional car and driver charge because of the distance, but when we read about Beng Mealea it appealed to both of us (or at least the Indiana Jones in both of us).

Driving out to Benh Mealea we passed a few villages, a few markets and the usual roadside commerce. We asked to pull over to get a better picture of a motorcycle fill-up station – the liter bottles of gas displayed by the side of the road. We noticed that roadside commerce was grouped by type – the sticky rice section of road, the dried fish section of road, etc. The drive was about 1 ½ hours and fortunately, there was a bathroom at the entrance for Beng Mealea. Beng Mealea has a separate entrance charge of $5 per person. We entered the temple through a lesser used side gate, climbing and scampering over fallen piles of moss covered stone. There was no one else in sight, and mosquitoes buzzed around us. It had a similar look to Ta Phrom, but the distance away from Siem Reap, the larger size and the damper stones made it feel incredibly remote and mysterious. It had the sense of space that Ta Phrom lacked. Once inside the temple, we found the usual tour groups, but Beng Mealea was still a little harder to get around, with standing water requiring hopping from stone to stone.

Returning from Beng Mealea we stopped at the Rolous Group, going to Preah Ko and Bakong. These were the oldest temples we saw and we were particularly interested in the brickwork and the inscriptions.

By this time it was after lunch and we were hungry and flagging. As much as we would have liked several more days in Siem Reap (and we weren’t templed out either!) we needed a breather. So, we let Saron and Mr. Lee know we were done for the day; we planned to go to the market and to, what else, the spa!

We had lunch at Khmer Kitchen so we could get some of that yummy Khmer soup again. Then we meandered through the market, TC looking for silk yardage and me just browsing. I might have been just browsing, but I ended up with quite a stack of scarves to take home as gifts. Bargaining was interesting. No one seemed to go down as much as 50% on their price, but each vendor’s starting prices varied widely for the same type of scarf. So, if I had a favorable starting price then I could negotiate to buy 3 or 5 and everyone was happy. TC found that a lot of the scarf shops had cases at the back with silk by the meter, so she was able to buy her raw silk by the meter. (And I got some too.)

Once we wrapped up at the market and took our things back to the hotel we went looking for a tuk-tuk. We had heard a lot of “tuk tuk lady?” and “tuk tuk?” over the past few days, after a couple of days of saying no, we finally did need a tuk tuk. The drivers all crowded around our chosen tuk tuk with our map to see if they could help figure out where we were going…. Our driver seemed keen to take us to his massage place, but we were set on Frangipani. We didn’t make reservations; we thought we’d just drop by and see what we could get. Once there I decided on the “After Angkor” package – a 60 minute aromatherapy massage and a 50 minute foot massage for $40. This was a real spa setting, with the massage and the foot massage done in a third floor treatment room that also had an incredibly long tub (8 foot?) and an outdoor rain shower on the balcony. The masseuse went straight from the massage right into the foot massage, so there wasn’t any transition time or waiting for a different person for the treatment. The whole thing was wonderful.

By the time we left Frangipani, it had gotten dark and Frangipani is on a very quiet street so we wandered over a few streets to a busier street and then had no problems catching another tuk tuk. We had dinner that night at Viroth’s. It was a fancier setting than the other restaurants we had been to in Siem Reap, but the food was just ok.

Finally it was back to the Linga Bar to our now regular chairs to end the evening with a martini. Bean from the Hotel Be Angkor came over for a chat and we settled our bill for our morning check-out from our bar stools. While we were at the bar there was a sudden down pour of rain and we were able to sit inside nice and dry while rain filled up and overflowed the gutter down the passage.

Coming Up: Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (Overall Trip Day 7)
dreaming is offline  
Nov 8th, 2009, 08:06 AM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 612
>>>It may have been a couple of friends visiting their friend from out of town…. But that’s not where my mind went.<<<

Beautiful writing and thanks for taking the time to post, 'dreaming'. (Right up there, almost, with certain, all-time cherished SQTalk, 'TRs'.)

Keep up the good work, please kindly consider a certain Singaporean airline for your future flying needs (and a productive week of Asia business travel for all of you), and 'btw', any chance your 'nocturnal' Bangkok Peninsula moment occurred on floors 32 or 35? (All-time beloved Bangkok Peninsula business travel floors -- and deepest apologies for not revealing 'our' all-time favourite P floor.)

macintosh (robert)

but it ain't me babe/

(b. dylan)
AskOksena is offline  
Nov 10th, 2009, 12:26 AM
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 7
for 13 days or so.. u did the touch and go, but
wow, you pulled it off it seems.

too quick and head spins, eh ?

ya, biz trips are like this too.

at least you did it, congrats and enjoyed all this...

so nice.
passionSpirit is offline  
Nov 13th, 2009, 11:17 AM
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Posts: 326
Macintosh - Thank you... And thanks to a Singapore Air promotion from LAX to Tokyo that tempted me into a previously unplanned trip, I'll be flying Singapore air (sadly, in coach) in February. We were on the 9th floor...

PassionSpirit - Thank you, the touch and go did work out for us. If we hadn't had the tailoring plans in HCMC I would have liked one more day in Siem Reap or on the Mekong and one fewer in HCMC.
dreaming is offline  
Nov 13th, 2009, 11:22 AM
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With apologies for the delay. I've been sidetracked with an especially busy work week.

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (Overall Trip Day 7)

We were booked on the 8:30 am bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Mr. Lee came and picked us up from Hotel Be at 8 to take us to the bus station. Parts of the bus station were still flooded from Typhoon Ketsana, but fortunately the Mekong Express was parked in a dry spot. Checking into the bus was like checking into a plane. They gave us claim checks for our luggage. Took our bus tickets and gave us the stubs, we got on the bus and the attendant showed us to our seats. The seats were somewhat narrow and there wasn’t much leg room at all. Not great, not horrible. For a little extra excitement though, my seat bottom wasn't fastened to any supports, so as we vibrated our way down the road the seat would occasionally slip off of the support and slide out from under me.

We were served water and a “snack hamper”, a small box with a “peanut cookie” and a “moncristo”, which seemed to be fried bread. The attendant made announcements throughout the trip in Cambodian and in English about items of interest we passed on the road.

The bus trip was interesting, seeing the countryside along the road. We saw more of the ongoing roadside commerce and were particularly interested by the stone carving vendors. Some were doing very sizable Buddhas. Homes varied from small wooden shacks on stilts to more sturdy looking brick and stucco homes. Once the bus trip started up, the TV screen started up, showing Cambodian Karaoke, lots of elaborately costumed women with men watching them, somewhat disturbingly more like stalking, from afar. It seemed like it was going to be terrible to listen to the whole time, but we were soon engrossed in watching a series that was telling the story of a girl, torn between two men. The story seemed to be told from the point of the view of one of the men and from the time jumping sequences, we knew it was going to end with a wedding, but not to which man. To our dismay, the DVD stopped working before we found out who she married… After that, they put on a movie.

TC tried out the restroom on the bus and said it was acceptable in appearance, but really hard to use as the bus swayed and bumped down the road. After a couple of hours, we had a rest stop in Kompong Thom. The roadside vendors at the side of the bus stop were the first vendors we found in Cambodia who weren’t willing to take dollars.

At the rest stop, the bus emptied out and flowed into the nearest large restaurant. We followed the flow and I joined the queue of women lining up for the restroom in the back of the restaurant. The line was long, but there was a way that the more savvy (or sneaky) were able to handle the line. It was middle ageish looking women and they’d sneak to the front of the line, indicating to anyone who protested that they were going to wash their hands at the sink. They’d wash their hands, when a stall opened up right behind them, they’d slide in. I finally got into a stall, used the restroom, then flushed and a gush of water flowed out of the back of the toilet onto the floor.

Back in the restaurant TC had gotten a table and the restaurant had gone from empty to completely full as the contents of another bus had emptied into the room. The waiters brought another woman, travelling alone, to join us at our table. Apparently we looked like we belonged together, as they also brought our check combined. TC, being braver or hungrier than I, ordered lunch and I got a coke. In a burst of activity, the restaurant turned everyone over in the ½ hour we had and we all flowed back out to the buses.

The next couple of hours disappeared in a blur of roadside until we arrived in Phnom Penh. Rain was pouring in Phnom Penh and there was a crowd of shouting tuk tuk drivers. We collected our bags (and needed to show our baggage claim tags). We popped into a travel agency at the bus stop thinking we’d try to order a taxi, as our bags were big and the tuk tuks small, but the agency recommended using the tuk tuks. Once we emerged, there was only one tuk tuk left. He charged $2 to take us to the Pavilion.

We had separate rooms again in the Pavilion; mine was directly above the lobby, looking out at the pool. I was a little concerned about noise from the lobby, but never heard anything. The room was airy and big. The bed had mosquito netting, but as some sort of crud dropped out of the folds when I put it down, I don’t think people used it often. I only saw one mosquito in the room, of course it was inside of the netting. He was slow moving and easily dispatched.

There was a safe and a blow dryer in the room, but there was no phone in the room and as they wouldn’t take a message when DH called, I gather they don’t take messages. There were 4 computers in the lobby with internet access for guest use (free).

We settled in and then headed out in the rain to see the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda and the temple of the Emerald Buddha. The silver pagoda was breathtaking with jeweled and decorated pieces. I don’t think we saw any of the silver floor. Most was covered with rugs, but wherever the floor was exposed it was silver tiles. Could that have been real silver? I had the impression of something underneath the tiles, as the tiles shifted and tilted underfoot. Perhaps the real silver was an underlayer?

Then we were off to the FCC for a couple of drinks and then dinner while watching the geckos eat and fight on the wall. Crossing the street on the way to the FCC was a scary experience after the relative quiet of Siem Reap. But it was only a warm up for HCMC.

We caught a tuk tuk outside of the FCC on the way back to the Pavilion. The driver lowered the side shades to keep the rain from getting in – fortunately because as we were driving down the street a man reached into grabbing toward TC. Perhaps her bag? And then we were past.

Coming Up: Phnom Penh (Overall Trip Day 8)
dreaming is offline  
Nov 16th, 2009, 09:12 AM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,598
I'm really enjoying your report, sounds like a great trip, including the foot massages and the food.

Did I miss the date that you went? Your first post was Oct 29, had you just returned?

Looking forward to more of Phnom Penh.
Luisah is offline  
Nov 30th, 2009, 10:52 AM
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Posts: 326
Luisah - Thank you. We departed on Oct 12 and returned on the 26th...

Phnom Penh (Overall Trip Day 8)

We had breakfast at the Pavilion (included in the room rate) and mapped out our day. We were flying out on a 6:50 pm flight, needed to check out of the Pavilion by 11 and wanted to go to Tuol Sleng, Choeung Ek, and the Russian Market. The Pavilion front desk staffed suggested that we book a taxi for the day and they called and ordered one for us.

We checked out of the hotel, leaving our luggage for us to pick up later in the day. Our taxi arrived, but as our driver didn’t speak English, the dispatcher? coordinator? came as well. Narit went over our plan for the day with us, adding Friends Restaurant for lunch and then told the driver the outline of the day’s plan. If we had any difficulties or needed to change anything, we could ask the driver to call Narit and he would be the intermediary for us.

Our first stop was Tuol Sleng. We paid the entry fee and went in, paying an additional $6 for a guide. Tuol Sleng was heartbreaking. The stark black and white photos, so many children, all so young. Our guide had family who had been here and she told us their story. From Tuol Sleng, we drove out to the Choeung Ek Memorial, visited the memorial stupa, the grounds and watched the film.

We drove back into Phnom Penh and went to Friends Restaurant for lunch. Our driver called Narit and Narit let us know that the driver would pick us up a 2 in front of the National Museum – just a block down from Friends. I had tacos for lunch. I had been craving Mexican food for days and couldn’t pass up the tacos on the menu! The shell was a little stale, but otherwise, they were very yummy. From our window we could see kids playing at the Mith Samlanh center behind the restaurant.

From Friends we wandered next door to Friends n Stuff – the associated shop. Both Friends and Friends n Stuff benefit Mith Samlanh, a program for street kids. I bought a bunch of things at Friends n Stuff. Pencil cases and change purses made from rows of zippers sewn together, necklaces made from paper, etc. The zipper bags were a HUGE hit at home with the kids and were only a few dollars each.

We walked down to the National Museum and paid the admission and wandered through. Seeing statues and carvings from Angkor Thom and Banreay Srei was oddly unmoving, pulled from their natural environment, but at least they were safe at the museum.

Our driver picked us up promptly at 2 and we drove over to get our bags from the Pavilion. And to get our last look at the mini-frogs found on the walkways around the Pavilion pool. The frogs seemed like large dots, the size perhaps of an eraser on the end of a pencil. Then they’d jump and you’d realize it was a frog.

The Russian market was stifling hot and a maze of tight rows. We again found a few scarves to bargain over and I found some small embroidered silk purses to bring home. From the Russian market, we were off to the airport. Our driver dropped us off and we paid ($25 for the day was the prearranged price).

On arrival at the airport, our flight wasn’t checking in yet, but when we asked at one of the other counters they said it would start checking in soon. We spent $3 per bag to have our checked luggage wrapped in plastic wrap. The wrappers wrapped the entire bag and then used a box cutter to cautiously yet speedily cut out slots for handles, wheels, etc. Perhaps a flight where my bag wouldn’t take a beating!?

I had tried to book the Vietnam Airlines flight online, but kept having trouble with the website. So, I booked the flight through VietnamStay way back in February or so when I booked the Mekong cruise. I had checked back in with VietnamStay just prior to leaving home just to confirm payment details (paying in cash on arrival in HCMC), but I hadn’t asked them to confirm our flight.

When the counter opened for check in, we were first in line. And nearly the first words we heard were, “there’s a problem”. We had an itinerary with a confirmation code from the local agent’s office, but we didn’t have printed electronic tickets and the confirmation code wasn’t one recognized by the airline. And we weren’t on the passenger list for the flight. And the flight wasn’t on Vietnam Airways, that flight had been cancelled and passengers re-booked onto Cambodian Angkor Air.
The check-in staff tried a number of ways to find our booking, but couldn’t find us. We asked if there were seats available and yea! there were, but we’d need to buy a ticket for $110 each. US Dollars cash only. We were carrying cash to pay the travel agency, so we both had the money ready to go. When we asked for a receipt, they had to call a supervisor over. The supervisor kindly spent 40 minutes with us starting from the beginning, trying to find a record of us, looking to see if we might have been booked on a different day, etc.

Finally, we were on the short flight to HCMC. When we arrived in HCMC, we went to the Visa counter with our visa on arrival paperwork, our photos and our money. There were four of us from the flight getting on visas on arrival and it took a while (20 minutes?) to fill out new forms, wait for the paperwork to be processed before going through immigration and customs. By the time we were through, the terminal was virtually deserted. We found an ATM in the terminal and got some dong – we could only get the equivalent of about $70 USD from the ATM, the machine wouldn’t allow any more. The exchange places let us break a couple of larger dong bills into smaller bills with them.

From there we went outside and got a metered cab to take us to the Caravelle. We got in the cab and requested that he turn the meter on. He pressed a few buttons, making a few reassuring sounding beeps, but ending up with a starting balance on the meter. We were confused by the dong exchange rate and it took us a while to figure out the meter…. But he had left 108000 on the meter at the start. The total on arrival at the Caravelle was 184000, or about 10 dollars.

We checked into the Caravelle and got our room – a twin bedded room on the 20th floor with a river view – partially blocked by adjacent hotels, but still nice. The bellman seemed used to the wrapped luggage and quickly cut it off for us.

As it was late, we went to the Saigon Saigon bar on top of the old wing of the Caravelle for drinks and snacks for dinner. Drinks seemed expensive – 165000 for a cosmo martini. There was live music and the play was somewhat crowded for a Tuesday night. The band sang Spanish and American songs and had two female singers swishing their hips in skimpy catholic schoolgirl outfits. Neither the band nor the drink was great; but the window view and being in Saigon made up for it.

Coming Up: HCMC (Overall Trip Day 9)
dreaming is offline  
Dec 1st, 2009, 07:39 AM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,598
Tuol Sleng sounds so grim but I think one has to visit such places to honor the victims.

I'm supposed to be in Phnom Penh next year so will make notes on your shopping (like the zipper change purses) at Friends and the taxi for a day for $25, that's seems very reasonable.

Will be watching for more on Saigon.
Luisah is offline  
Dec 7th, 2009, 05:38 PM
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 75

May I know how much you paid for your Vietnam visa? Also, how much was that for Cambodia?

Thank you
scomars is offline  
Dec 8th, 2009, 04:24 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 326
Scomars - I paid a $22 to a travel agent to arrange for the visa on arrival letter. On arrival in HCMC I paid $25 for the visa. For Cambodia I got an eVisa through the Kingdom of Cambodia website (http://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh/index.php), which was $25 - $20 for the visa and $5 for the processing fee.
dreaming is offline  

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