Cambodia 2013: The Weekend Backpacking Experience

A few months ago, I wrote down my travel priority list. I’m proud to say that I have finally crossed out one from my list: to see the sun rise behind Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat Sunrise

The trip to Cambodia is definitely the most exciting and adventurous trip I have had so far. For starters, it was a very impulsive trip – most of the planning happened the night before. Mar and I discussed about going to Siem Reap on my last weekend in Thailand but we never really took the time to arrange the itinerary. We had a list of places we wanted to see and do, and less the 48 hours to accomplish it. Also, it was my first real backpacking trip to a different country!

We left the hotel at 5:00 am to catch the 5:30 bus to Aranyaprathet. Our entire trip was anchored on the assumption that we will find the casino bus at Lumpini Park, just as we had read on travel blogs. After several minutes of walking, we found the bus that was headed to Aranyaprathet! It was a five hour drive to the border but considering that we were headed to a totally different country, the bus ride did not feel that long. The bus was comfortable, so it was really not a stressful journey.

at the Cambodian boder

The bus arrived at the border at around 10:00 and we finally made it across to Cambodia where we were welcomed by a man offering free shuttle services to the transport building. At first it seemed a bit sketchy. We’ve read enough travel blogs to know that there are a lot of scams in the Thailand-Cambodia border, but we still went along with them. Thankfully, they got us to the transport building safely and we got on a shared taxi to Siem Reap. The taxi cost $12 per person for four people. We shared our taxi with two really nice American girls who had also been working in Thailand. It was a two hour drive to Siem Reap so we got to share a lot of stories with them while in transit.

We got to Siem Reap at around 1PM where a tuktuk was already waiting for us – very clever strategy for the locals. While we were seated in the tuktuk, we automatically got ourselves a tour organizer who offered to book everything for us. Given that we didn’t have any concrete plans, we just went with what he was saying. It probably would have been cheaper to have booked everything – the tuktuk driver, taxi to the border, etc., before heading to Cambodia. Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that everything else was already set for our overnight stay in Siem Reap.

On our tuktuk

They took us to a really budget (read:cheap) hotel that was a short walk from Pub Street. It was a bit sketchy and dark but it was also complete so we decided to stay there. While Mar and I were talking about the hotel on the way back to Bangkok, we both were actually a bit scared of the place at some point of our stay. I actually felt like I was in a slasher film waiting to happen! Well, at least we got out fine, but it honestly isn’t a place I would highly recommend people to stay in.

We headed to Pub Street for lunch. There are so many restaurants to choose from and I guess one of the sad things about staying there for only the weekend was that we weren’t able to try as many restaurants as we could have. We decided to eat at a pretty restaurant, the Kmher Family Restaurant. Their food did not disappoint.

After lunch, we finally headed to Angkor to get our day pass and witness the beautiful sunset at Phnom Bakheng. We had to climb a hill to get there, which was quite a challenge for me, but it was definitely worth it because I was able to witness this:

Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Walking down the hill from Phnom Bakheng

It was a beautiful sight and definitely a prelude to what we would be seeing the next day.

We woke up early to see the Angkor Wat sunrise, but even at 5:30 am, there was already a huge crowd waiting to see it as well. No matter how many pictures of it I’ve seen online, it was still such a majestic sight to see. Nothing can replace seeing such a wonderful sight in person. Once the sun showed itself at around 7 am, we went into Angkor Wat. There weren’t that many people yet so we took advantage of taking pictures that didn’t include other people. On our way out of Angkor Wat, at around 9:30, was we saw the mass of people headed inside.

Mar amidst the crowds in Angkor Wat

We spent the entire morning exploring the Angkor Complex. We weren’t able to go to the smaller temples because we had to leave for Thailand at 4pm. We got to go to Angkor Thom where we spent most of our time at the Bayon Temple. We visited the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm and lastly we went to Bantay Srei. By this time, I’ve been to several temples within 10 days but I didn’t feel too templed out. I guess it’s because all the temples I’ve seen were all different from each other.

The Thailand-Cambodia border closes at 8PM so we had to rush back in order to make it before it closes because my flight back home was at 11 am the next day. This was probably the most stressful part of our trip. Our taxi driver arrived late and on the way to the border he started picking up other people despite the fact that we paid for the full taxi. It started raining really hard as we were nearing the border and by the time we made it, it was flooding! Our taxi driver didn’t understand our need to be dropped off at a place where there was a shade so we made a run for it. It was 7:15 pm. Forty five minutes before the closing of the borders. There wasn’t much shelter between the borders so by the time we got to Thailand, we were both soaking wet!! We almost didn’t make it to the bus, but thankfully there were still some last minute seats available. After missing our stop, we eventually found our way to Bangkok thanks to a friendly Thai man who would not leave until we got a taxi that would take us home and use a meter. We got home with wet clothes on our back and a hell of a story to share. 

It was a crazy adventure. Sure, there were unfortunate moments towards the end but I would never trade it for anything else. It was definitely part of the experience (and it makes a better story to tell).

Backpackers!

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Chiang Mai 2013

Orchid and Butterfly Farm

I think that what excited me the most about my Chiang Mai trip is that it was going to be my first legitimate solo travel experience. Sure, I traveled solo in the United Kingdom but that was just for a few days because my good friend Ian Ricardo joined me and we had a blast! My Chiang Mai trip was very different in that it was just going to be me for the entire stay and I knew no one in the city!

I left for Chiang Mai the day after Henry and Justin left Bangkok. Chiang Mai is beautiful. It was definitely a nice break from the hustle and bustle of fast-paced Bangkok. In Bangkok, my friends and I jumped from sight to sight and our itinerary was jam-packed with activities. In Chaing Mai, on the other, I was able to take my time, walking and mulling along the quiet streets. I guess it helped that I was traveling by myself, thus I didn’t have anyone waiting for me.

On my first day, I decided to follow Mar’s suggestion and head over to Nimmanhaemin. He had been to Chiang Mai late last year and raved about the area. It was an entire street lined with restaurants and cafes. It was difficult to choose because all the shops looked promising so I ended up eating in Nimman Cafe at 3pm!!! If there’s one thing I have to work on when it comes to traveling alone, it’s eating at the right times. I tend to forget to eat whenever I’m traveling because I’m too busy adjusting to and observing my surroundings. I’ve traveled to many places but I always find each travel experience to be surreal.

I stayed in Baan Ouikhum which I found via AirBNB and the owners, Stephen and Ketsuda, were very accommodating and friendly. They advised me to drop by the Night Bazaar on my first night rather than my initial plan to visit it after my Chiang Rai. Thank God I followed their advice because I was way too exhausted after my Chiang Rai tour.

Chiang Rai is a couple of hours north of Chiang Mai. It’s a definite must-go place and I have been recommending people to visit it. In my few days in Bangkok, I had visited several temples – the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Ayutthaya – and I thought that I would be too templed out to visit Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Kun, or White Temple. I was incredibly MISTAKEN. The White Temple was just STUNNING. It was really just completely white – a much welcomed contrast to all the golden temples that we see in Bangkok. It was celestial just being in the presence of the temple. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Gorgeous White Temple

The next stop to my Chiang Rai tour was the Golden Triangle – the famed opium producing area and meeting place of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. We rode a boat along the Mekong River and visited Don Sao Island, which belonged to Laos. They served “special” whiskey which was made with reptiles such as the King Cobra and lizards which I did not have the stomach to try. It took me a lot of courage to actually get this close to take a picture of it:

Snake Whiskey. Yikes!

Another must-do when you’re in Chiang Mai is to visit the Mae Sa Elephant Camp! When my friends and I visited Ayutthaya, I was tempted to avail an elephant ride there even if I had already booked my Elephant Camp tour because most of them had done so. I’d like to think that my Mae Sa Elephant Camp was truly a different experience! The elephants were very talented, performing in front of the audience: dancing, doing tricks, playing football (!!!!!), and painting. It was such an amazing show! I was in awe the entire time that one of the people working there started laughing at how giggly I got every time the elephants did something amazing.

 

With my new pretty Japanese friend ^_^

Amazing Elephant Art!!!

I had second thoughts about going to Chiang Mai because my schedule was quite hectic in Bangkok and I felt like I’d be too tired for another adventure but I’m glad I pushed through with it! I feel like I’ve gotten even braver when it comes to traveling by myself. That, and the fact that I was able to explore another beautiful part of Thailand made me realize that I can never be too tired to travel.

Standing on the bridge of the beautiful Wat Rong Khun!

Bangkok 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had been looking forward to our Bangkok trip for months. First of all, it is our group’s first ever out of the country trip together! We had been on the planning to plan a trip stage for years now and it was an amazing moment when everyone decided book a flight when they found out that our friend Mar would be working there for a few months. Secondly, I hadn’t seen my friends since August 2012 and it would have been the perfect time to catch up with people’s lives! Finally, Bangkok was the first stop of my three-part, two-week vacation. 

Initially, this blog post was meant to be a chronological recap of the activities we did in Bangkok, which is usually what I do for my other travel posts, but as I was writing I felt that this trip was more about the companions than the destination. Bangkok is a wonderful place and I really appreciated the beauty and majesty of the temples of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Ayutthaya. I was amazed by the culture, by how nice the people were, by how patient the drivers on the road were. But if anyone would ask me what my favorite moments were in my Bangkok trip, the memories that pop in my head were memories that could easily be emulated in any other part of the world: playing with dry ice, doing the harlem shake in a moving vehicle, dancing on an overpass, etc.

With that being said, it was really so nice to see all my friends again. Most of them are based in the Philippines so I do tend to feel a tinge of jealousy whenever they’re hanging out together and I’m sitting in front of my computer and having virtual conversations with people with whom I used to physically interact. I do have friends here with me now but the feeling is entirely different when you are with friends who have known you and have been through all your craziness for more than five years.

There were twelve of us running around Bangkok doing crazy and embarrassing stuff which you can only do with people you are extremely comfortable with. There are videos of us dancing in the BTS, the Grand Palace, on an overpass, in a van, among other places. It was hilarious and we didn’t care if anyone saw us because no one really knew us. This Bangkok trip was a real eye opener for me and I’m really glad I decided to take the jump and join in the trip despite it being a bit more challenging for me to do so.

Friends ❤
Photo Credit: Kris Pura