It was refreshing to spend the weekend here in Singapore after two consecutive weeks of exploring some parts of South East Asia. It was basically back to normal for me and I got up at almost 11 in the morning.

I am particularly excited today, as we will be going to the NATAS Travel Fair. This twice a year event brings together the finest travel specialists, tour operators and national tourist organizations in one roof to offer their popular and unique holiday packages – at discounted price. Truth be told though, I really did not expect to get something big (like a tour with price tag of above 500 SGD). All I wanted to do was look around for ideas on an interesting new regional destination and maybe book for resort accommodations for two planned beach holidays this year.

Follow Your Heart!!

Follow Your Heart!!

We arrived at the venue, Singapore Expo, at past noontime already and decided to eat first before proceeding to the travel fair. I had Subway Sandwiches for lunch; my first to eat such as I am really not into sandwiches (most especially this overpriced brand).

There wasn’t any queue yet when we bought our tickets, probably most people were still enjoying their lunch at that time. We got our ticket for just 2 SGD; got a dollar discount as we paid it via MasterCard which I think was one of the major sponsor.

Just like the previous NATAS Travel Fair, which we attended earlier this year, the two halls of the Singapore Expo were packed with travel related exhibits from various vendors. Most are travel agencies enticing customer to buy their unique tour packages. There were also exhibits from the various airlines. Of course, different countries managed to set-up their own booth as well in order to promote tourism. Even the Philippines was there; sadly though, the exhibit of my country was very plain. It would have been better if they had made it unique in order to attract attention.

the booth of the Philippines

the booth of the Philippine Tourism Office

an actual bus brought in by Transtar

an actual bus brought in by Transtar

SQ is still promoting the A380

SQ is still promoting the A380

There was a stage that was set-up towards the back part of the exhibition hall wherein we saw a lot of entertainers performed onstage (mostly cultural dance). Most notable of which was the preview performance of JUMP, a Korean comedy blending various martial arts such as Taekwondo and Hapkido from Korea, Wushu and Drunken Fist from China, and Capoeira from Brazil. I was so amused that I got tickets from SISTIC on their Sept 12 performance at the Esplanade Theatre.

We went out of the exhibition hall after 2 hours. We didn’t go home empty handed; we bought tickets for the Singapore Flyer, which were sold at a bargain for 34 SGD a pair (SRP of 29.50 SGD per ticket). We also bought voucher for a customized photo album that was sold at a Buy 2 Get 1 Free promo. We figured it would probably be good to get an organized hard copies of our holiday snaps.

As for the resort accommodation, we found out that it would be better if we get the book online rather that getting the land transfers packages being offered by the travel operators we inquired as it was cheaper by a mile.

As for the regional destinations, I managed to get some interesting travel ideas but we didn’t buy any packages as the prices were simply way above our budget. I am contended on getting these new ideas, learn more about these places and hopefully get there soon in the future; doing it my way, budget style…

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A few days ago, a friend of mine dropped me a note and asked about the travel budgets for the places that I have been to. I thought, why not publish it in this blog?

I will start with my most recent trip in Yogyakarta, Indonesia – my previous trips might be taken up also, it just may take a while to tally and recall my expense. I will not account everything to the last details but rather classify my expense according (i.e. airfare, local transportation, food, etc.)

Yogyokarta, Indonesia
21 – 24 August 2009

Airfare: 80.00 SGD
Land Transportations:  44.00 SGD
Accommodations: 62.50 SGD
Entrance to Attractions: 51.50 SGD
JOG Travel Tax: 14.50 SGD
Tour Guide: 4.00 SGD
Meals & Snack: 31.50 SGD
Souvenir: 12.00 SGD

Total: 300.00 SGD (or just slightly below 10,000 PHP)

It should be noted that the figure above was already converted to Singapore Dollars as this is my base currency. Also the above are the cost per person, everything that was incurred in this trip was divided into two. We originally targeted a 250 SGD budget, but we easily exceeded it after paying for our trip for Prambanan Temple and Parangtritis Beach.

On our 3rd day in Jogjakarta, we didn’t have to rush so early in the morning. I got up from bed at past eight already. I took a shower and we availed of the free breakfast of Merbabu Hotel in their mini restaurant located at the top floor, the third storey to be exact. From the restaurant, the roof of the surrounding buildings can be seen.

a view of Gang I from the top of Hotel Merbabu

a view of Gang I from the top of Hotel Merbabu

Food was nothing to rave about as it was just continental breakfast. I was thinking the other day that nothing really beats the breakfasts they serve back home in the Philippines; I miss all the LOGS that I can practically imagine (tapsilog, tocilog, longsilog, bangsilog, etc…)

We were out of the hotel at past 9:30 AM and headed out towards Malioboro Street. It was a long stretch of road in which all kinds of souvenir are being sold. The were persistent touts who would go near us and just start talking; they will still continue talking for a while even if you ignore them and walk away. Funny thing is that, I do not understand a single word they say. We bought some items; all of them were heavily discounted from the original price they quote. In this place, heavy bargaining is an essential in almost all aspects.

There was a Dunkin Donut store along Malioboro Street; we eagerly went inside as it had been a while since I had their doughnuts. First thing I noticed is that the outlet here in Jogja was very different from the ones back in the Philippines as they are definitely more upscale. This probably explained why there were no customers inside except us. We stayed there for more than 30 minutes to cool ourselves and to enjoy their iced coffee.

Continuing our stroll, we encountered many more stall along the way. Most of them are selling the same kind of goods (e.g. batik goods, t-shirts, handicrafts, etc). The touts are still there and it was beginning to become a challenge to shake them off.  

Towards the end of the road, we took a detour in Benteng Vredeburg.  This Dutch-era fort located opposite the main post office was built in the mid-1700. The restored fort is now a museum with dioramas showcasing the history of the independence movement in Jogja. The architecture is worth a look and it is relatively clean compared to the rest of the area in the city. Although we can’t relate to the dioramas (as it was Jogjakarta history and most scene descriptions were written in Bahasa Indonesia), we very much enjoyed the cool air-conditioned room.

inside the walls of

inside the walls of Benteng Vredeburg

It was already almost noontime when we went out of Benteng Vredeburg; since we were not that interested in seeing surrounding attractions, we hired a becak for 10,000 IDR to take us back to Jalan Sosrowijayan.

The ride took more than 10 minutes; the poor old man driving the becak was sweating when we arrived in the backpackers’ area. We quickly headed back to Bedhot Resto for lunch.

the only place we ate in Jogja

our favorite place in the city

During the whole duration of this trip, I was very boring when it came to my food choices. I didn’t need a menu when I ordered my steak. No offence intended but I never was a fan of traditional Indonesian food and the last thing I would be doing on this particular trip would be to try the more exotic variety.

Our driver picked us up at exactly one in the afternoon. It turned out that it was only us who signed up for this trip and it means we will be having a private tour at a fraction of the price.

As we passed by this upscale mall in the city, I asked the driver to turn around and park for a while as I wanted to check if there is a Starbucks outlet. It turned out that there was one and they also sell the city mugs. I got the big mug for my mom; the only available mini mugs they have is the 5-piece collector set which I already got before during a family trip last February in Jakarta. The price for the big mug was very cheap at 85,000 IDR and it came with a free frappuccino – not bad at all!

IMG_7676

this is for you Mom!

We went back to the van with the loot in our hand as well as the ice-cold coffee frappuccino. It took us less than half an hour to reach the Prambanan Temple. The driver arranged for our tickets while I arranged to hire a tour guide which cost us 60,000 IDR.

Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Central Java, Indonesia and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a tall and pointed structure which is common amongst Hindu temples. Our tour guide, Ibrahim, mentioned that amongst the temple ruins scattered around the temple complex, only a few can be restored as reconstruction can only be done if 75% of the original stones are available. Most of the original stonework had been stolen during the early 19th century.

The three major temples in the complex are still currently off limits to the public as these were badly damaged during the 2006 earthquake that rocked central Java. Ibrahim led us to the shrine in front of the Shiva temple; inside was the statue of Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva. He explained to us that the shrines in front of the three main temples are each dedicated to the vehicles of the 3 main Hindu gods.

the sacred bull, Nandi

the sacred bull, Nandi

Finally, Ibrahim led us to the back of the ruins where he said that it was a good spot to take photos. He offered to take a snap of us with the temple ruins as the background before saying “my guided tour ends here, please feel free to roam around…

The information given by the tour guide was appreciated but it was simply not worth the cost as the tour was simply too short, probably less than half an hour. Oh well, at least he captured an excellent snap – I forgave him for this.

this snap is worth 60,000 IDR

I paid 60,000 IDR for this snap

taken behind the temples

taken from behind the temple complex

It took us more than another hour before we headed out of the temple. There was a small museum just beside the temple complex which housed various artifacts dug from the surrounding area. The make-shift train ride going to the outlying temple Candi Sewu was worth trying as well, ticket is sold at 5,000 IDR per person.

stone pieces from the temple ruins

stone pieces from the temple ruins

the train going to Candi Sewu

the train going to Candi Sewu

We continued to our next destination, Parangtritis Beach, about an hour away from Prambanan Temple. This famous area is located about 35 km to the south of Jogjakarta. The primary attraction of this beach is its natural view. Standing from the seashore, the wide ocean with violent high waves and wide stretch of green mountains on the eastern side is indeed a splendid sight. But what is breath-taking was the gentle and silent setting of the sun amidst the sound of the waves, laughter and screams of people both young and old and the harsh bustle of the wind.

wonderful landscape...

wonderful landscape...

fiery sunset

fiery sunset

We stayed in the beach for a good thirty minutes, enjoying the sun setting while munching on a grilled sweet corn we bought from a local vendor. It was a perfect afternoon, the sky was clear and the breeze was chilly. I managed to get worthwhile snaps of this great view. Afterwards it was another long ride going back to the city.

a rider heading towards the sunset...

a rider heading towards the sunset...

The van dropped us at Gang II. As we were very hungry, we headed towards our food refuge — Bedhot Resto. This time, there were lots of tourists around; most of them were familiar faces in the area. We managed to get a table at the center of the restaurant; once again I ordered my usual steak. While waiting, I wrote down in my small notebook the highlights for the day.

Though tomorrow will be another normal workday for me, it’s worth remembering that this short 3-day getaway has led me to two of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I will bid goodbye to this part of Indonesia tomorrow, I will be back in two weeks to explore another part of this country.

The phone rang at exactly 4:30 in the morning; it was room service calling as I requested for a wake-up call for the Borobudur sunrise activity. First thing I did was to go out of our hotel room and check whether the sky was clear or not, after all I would not want to waste 150,000 IDR (per person) for the activity. As the sky was clear, we decided to give it a go.

We were in the lobby before five to collect our flashlights and tickets and meet the guide, who will lead the group on the way to the temple. There were other guests, as well, who will be joining us to watch sunrise from the top of Borobudur. Shortly after, we were on our way to the temple. As it was still dark, we made use of the flashlights to stay within the paved path. And in less than 10 minutes, we were once again on top of the massive Buddhist temple.

It was somehow cold while we were waiting for the sun to rise. Unlike our adventure last week in Siem Reap, there wasn’t any coffee available to help keep us warn. I had to settle with rubbing my hands against each other. We found a good place on the eastern side, and from there we waited patiently for the sun.

the sun rising from Mt Merapi

the sun rising from Mt Merapi

At first we thought that the sunrise would disappoint us, (just like our sunrise tour in Cameron Highlands several months back) – fortunately for us, we got lucky this time. The sun rising from Mt Merapi was a beautiful sight to behold. Taking advantage of the very good light, we took snaps randomly as the sky was beginning to change color. Since we didn’t hire a tour guide this time, we just made use of my tripod. The morning mist hanging over the surrounding hills was a sight to behold.

noticed the mist in the mountains?

noticed the mist in the mountains?

a row of headless Buddha statues

a row of headless Buddha statues

As the sun was inching higher in the sky, more and more tourists were beginning to appear inside the temple. We took it as a sign to go back to the hotel and enjoy the buffet breakfast waiting for their guests. Sadly though the breakfast was nothing special and I was disappointed with what I ate.

finding enlightenment from Buddha

finding enlightenment from Buddha

I managed to catch up on my sleep and woke up at around 11, with just enough time to pack things up. We checked out at exactly noontime. It was still very hot outside so we decided to stay a bit in the lobby. There, it was very relaxing as breeze just simply flows from everywhere; the sounds coming from the bamboo chimes were like a lullaby that was tempting us to sleep in our comfortable chairs.

i will miss you Manohara...

i will miss you Manohara...

We left the Manohara compound at around two in the afternoon. It may have an imperfect breakfast but everything else there was fantastic. It was truly a good place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of living in the city.

We found our way to the main road and started looking for our transportation back to Jogja. The idea of taking a bus ride was scratched out and we decided to take a private car going back to the city. Best bet to get some ride was the entrance of the Borobudur temple; upon entering the gate we were immediately surrounding by persistent touts who sell various kinds of stuffs. They were very persistent such that after saying “no” and “thank you”, they would continue doing the sales talk in Bahasa (as if we understand a word they say).

Finally a vendor who can speak English approached us; he asked us if we are looking for a ride back to the city as he has a friend who can take us there. I asked him the price and he quoted 300,000 IDR. I blatantly told him I am not falling for that outrageous price. I quoted I will only pay 125,000 and we walked away. To make the long story short, we agreed on a price of 150,000 IDR after ten minutes of negotiation.

A few minutes later, we were on a dilapidated van going back to the city. Apart from the brief stop-over at the Mendut temple (located a few kilometers away from Borobudur), it was a straight trip to Jogja.

the monastery in Mendut

the monastery in Mendut

We were dropped off in Jalan Sosrowijayan and headed towards Gang II to inquire about the place we wanted but unfortunately it was still fully booked. I asked for a recommendation on where we could stay and they pointed us towards this place in Gang I called Hotel Merbabu. Upon checking the available rooms, we found it to be good enough for the next two nights and so we took it. Rate was fairly cheap at 160,000 IDR per night, which comes with free breakfast.

Wasting no time, we got ourselves a hotel room and quickly inquired about the Ramayana Ballet. The tour operator told us that the last show for the week would be tonight, so we immediately bought tickets (50,000 IDR) and as well availed of the transportation service going to the program venue (another 50,000 IDR), which was near Prambanan Temple.

Since we still have enough time, we decided to have an early dinner at Bedhot Resto in Gang II. It was a simple restaurant but it was clean and has an excellent ambiance (think rustic beach restaurants in Boracay with a Reggae theme). The food was okay as well, with a whole range of choices. Unfortunately, I was not in the mood to experiment anymore on local dishes so I opted for a steak – such a steal at a cost of less than 5 SGD if converted.

Bedhot also offer tour packages to various sights in and around Jogja. Since I noticed that prices of the tours being offered are more or less the same, I decided to get our transportation for the following day to Prambanan Temple from this restaurant. This included a sunset side trip to Parangtritis Beach. The price for this was 260,000 IDR – somehow expensive but I tried to justify it because the entrance ticket to Prambanan was already included (this normally costs 12 USD).

Just immediately after dinner, we were picked up by the van which took us to the Ramayana Ballet venue. The ride took more than an hour as we picked-up several other tourists as well. We reach the place just before 7:30; just in time for us not to wait for a very long time before the program started.

The Ramayana Ballet is currently one of the most popular performances in town. On the night we watched it, it was held at an outdoor theater 16 km east of Yogyakarta, with the magnificent Prambanan Temple as the background. The program is based on a popular Hindu legend with gods, mortals, giants, monkeys and beautiful women as characters. Basically, it is an epic about good triumphing over evil. The hypnotic music from Javanese traditional musical instruments and the dramatic stage lighting makes this performance a must for any traveler in Jogja.

the Prambanan Temple at night

the Prambanan Temple at night

a scene from Ramayana

a scene from Ramayana

The program ended two hours after; we managed to get some quick photos together with some of the Ramayana casts before we went back to the city.

goofing around with Ravana

goofing around with Ravana

the lead star, Rama

the lead star, Rama

While on our way back, all I can think off was to get into my bed and call it a night. It was a quite a tiring day as we started it very early and I was terribly exhausted with all the time spent on the road. Tomorrow would be more relaxed as the tour will not start until after lunch. If we can manage to wake up early, it might probably a good opportunity to explore the area near Jalan Sosrowijayan & Malioboro Street.

Another early weekend for me, the past four days has been really quick. I finished work at around 2 in the morning. My clothes were already ready beforehand so I jut did some last minute research about our weekend destination, Yogyakarta (pronounced as Jogjakarta by Indonesians), before I decided to call it a night and catch some sleep. No time pressure on being really early in the airport as Air Asia offered online check-in to passengers.

I managed to wake up at 7:30; I realized that it has been a while since I woke up this early. The last time I managed to catch the early morning sun in Singapore was when we accompanied Nina of Just Wandering, to explore the tiny island of Pulau Ubin.

I took my time to have breakfast and did some last minute preparation before heading out of the apartment at around quarter past nine. 

The train ride to Terminal 1 of Changi airport (including inter-airport transfers) took roughly 45 minutes. There was only less than an hour before the departure time, we immediately headed towards the boarding gate. Boarding commenced on time however it took another 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time before QZ 7139 was airborne. 

The plane ride was serviced by Air Asia Indonesia and the first thing that I noticed was the piped-in in-house FM station which I thought was a brilliant idea as it made the 130 minutes flying time to Jogja a lot less boring. The flight attendant though who made the announcements was very bad in her English; it was barely understandable. 

We were served hot meals as we pre-ordered food when we bought our tickets. I ordered Asian fried rice, which came with 2 sticks of beef satay. I did not like my lunch as I found it too dry. I would have been better off had I settled for a cup noodle.

Airline Food, will you like this?!

Airline Food, will you like this?!

All in all, it was not so bad. It was totally worth the 80 SGD I paid for the roundtrip ticket, which included the crappy meal and the advance seat request fee. I will still fly Air Asia again.

The plane landed in Adi Sucipto International Airport at around quarter to one, it was slightly delayed. The airport is very small with only one runway and it reminded me of the domestic airport back home in Cagayan de Oro.

QZ 7139 at the Jogja tarmac

QZ 7139 at the Jogja tarmac

It was a mess getting past immigration as they only have 2 counters. I would say that it took us more than half an hour before we were cleared. First thing we did was to get some Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). There was this sole money changer inside the airport, which gave us a very crappy rate. In their chalkboard, 1 SGD is equal to 6,400 IDR (in XE Universal Currency Converter it was 1 SGD to 6,900 IDR) – so I decided to just change 10 SGD, just enough to pay for our taxi fare going to the city. They gave me just 60,000 IDR stating that it was small bill – in my mind I was screaming that I was being screwed but unfortunately I didn’t have any choice.

long lines enroute to the Jogja immigration counter

long line to the Jogja immigration counter

We bought a taxi coupon for 50,000 IDR. This took us to Jalan Sosrowijayan, the backpacker area in Jogja. It was a 20 minute before we arrived in our destination. Jogja is a small city but you can also feel the vibrant environment as a result of the boom coming in mostly from the tourism industry. 

Upon getting out from the taxi, we were immediately greeted by this man who asked us if we have accommodations already. I told him that we have made reservations already to drive him away. I manage to find a money changer in the street, which offered a much more decent rate. I immediately had our pocket money changed and instantly I became a millionaire!

We found our way into Gang (alleyway) II to inquire for a room tomorrow and Sunday from this guesthouse that is highly recommended by Lonely Planet. It must be really popular as we were told that they are currently full but we could check again by tomorrow.

As we will be staying in a hotel somewhere very close to Borobudur for the night, we availed of their shared taxi service going for 35,000 IDR. It was a good deal, as a private taxi would easily cost more than 4 times that said amount.

The ride going to our hotel was more an hour so I took that opportunity to get a quick sleep. When I woke up we were already inside the Manohara Hotel compound. Check-in was a breeze and I just provided my personal details as the payment was settled a week before. A complimentary welcome drink was given in their spacious open-air lobby before we were lead into our room.

enjoying coffee at the Manohara Lobby

enjoying coffee at the Manohara Lobby

We just dropped our bags and we immediately made our way towards the Borobudur temple as it was already nearing sunset then. The concierge told us to just follow the pathway if we want to go to the temple; I was surprised it was just 5 minutes away. 

Borobudur glowing at sunrise

Borobudur glowing at sunset

The Borobudur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a stunning reminder of the Buddhist days in Java. Almost all over the temple complex you can see a statue of a Buddha, most of them headless. We explored our way the four square terrace going up in a clockwise direction. There are bas-reliefs all over the place, which depicted mostly on scenes from the life of Buddha. I noticed that the bas-reliefs were somehow crudely made as compared to the ones in Angkor Wat but nonetheless it is still a sight to behold.

one of the hundreds of Buddha statue all over the temple

one of the hundreds of Buddha statue all over the temple

a portion of one of the four square terrace

a portion of one of the four square terrace

bas-relief in one of the terraces

bas-relief in one of the terraces

The structure opens up into another four circular terrace in which many latticed stupas can be found as well. Inside these latticed stupas are half hidden Buddha statues (many of them are headless as well). At the center of the topmost terrace is the huge central stupa

one of the many headless Buddha

one of the many headless Buddha

Mr Whattaworld and the central stupa

Mr Whattaworld and the central stupa

As the breeze was very wonderful, we sat for a while facing west and enjoyed watching the sun slowly setting. We managed to take some wonderful snaps before they announced that the temple would be closing. A few minutes after, the guards were already going around and politely asked us to leave.

view of the eastern gate from the top

view of the eastern gate from the top

one last snap of us before leaving the temple

one last snap of us before leaving the temple

We started walking back into the hotel in a slow pace enjoying the cool afternoon air. Upon reaching our room, I tried watching TV. I immediately gave up since most channels are in Bahasa Indonesia in which I cannot understand. I then began writing this entry; shortly after I finish this we will probably have an early dinner. I hope to sleep early as we want to witness sunrise tomorrow from the top of Borobudur.

sunset from Borobudur

sunset from Borobudur

The whole journey from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh was uneventful. As we left Phnom Penh at 6:00 in the morning, I practically continued my sleep inside the bus. I just woke up on a mid-morning break near the border where we had breakfast and a toilet break.

A few minutes after resuming the journey, we were already at the Cambodian side of the border. It was quick and easy as the bus company took our passports beforehand and they took care of the necessary stuffs to clear past immigration.

It was a different story though when we reached the Vietnamese side as they were stricter. It probably took us more than 30 minutes to clear past immigration. They have conducted a thermometer check on my girlfriend and me as they have observed that we were “glowing” in the thermal camera. Of course, we didn’t have any fever but that alone probably took more than 15 minutes. All went well afterwards though as they do not have a reason not to let us in as we have previously been inside their country. As soon as we were resumed our bus ride inside Vietnamese territory, I continued sleeping.

It was only upon entering Ho Chi Minh City that I woke up, it was around 11:30 then. I can see from my seat the familiar chaos buzzing around the nation’s capital, most notable the motorcycles scrambling all over the place.

We got off in Pham Ngu Lao Street (the backpacker area in the city) at around 11:45. As we still have sufficient time, we decided to have a decent lunch at this wonderful restaurant called Quan An Ngon. I had our last dollars changed to Vietnamese Dong (VND) and immediately boarded a taxi that took us to the Reunification Palace, the tourist spot nearest the aforementioned restaurant.

snap taken at Pham Ngu Lao

snap taken at Pham Ngu Lao

I have already eaten in this restaurant before with my brother. It is a very famous establishment amongst locals and tourists in the city ; as expected, we had to wait for around 10 minutes before we were able to get a seat. We ordered grilled beef, Pho and cold sweetened coffee. Our lunch was very delicious, it was definitely worth queuing.

taken outside Quan An Ngon

this was outside Quan An Ngon

i could salivate by looking at this...

i could salivate by looking at this...

Phở Bò Kho, another favorite dish in Vietnam

Phở Bò Kho, another favorite dish in Vietnam

After settling our bills, we took a taxi going to Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Traffic was not bad at all as it was a Sunday and it was just immediately after lunchtime; I have read somewhere that Vietnamese also have their own version of the siesta, this probably explained the relatively easy traffic condition. The ride from the city center took around 15 minutes and it cost just under 100,000 VND.

There was a slight queue in the check-in counter but it didn’t take such a long time before we got hold of our boarding pass. At this point, we knew we are already nearing Singapore as we heard a couple of people in a queue beside us speaking in Singlish.

We cleared past Vietnamese immigration with no problem except for that grumpy old immigration officer who told me to place my tripod inside the bag. I told him that I have been hand carrying this same tripod in all my flights and so far I haven’t encountered any problem from any airline. He didn’t bother me after I made that comment.

Tan Son Nhat - a nice clean airport

Tan Son Nhat - a nice clean airport

The waiting time for boarding to commence didn’t take so long and before we knew it, we were already inside flight 3K 554 bound for Singapore. You might be expecting me to sleep for the whole duration of the flight but no I did not. The reason I was not able to get some shut-eye was because of this guy sitting in front of my seat who was snoozing very loud (as in VERY LOUD). I will remember next time to bring my iPod to filter out unwanted noise.

What I did instead was open my trusty Lonely Planet Guidebook and started reading about my destination next week. I just realized then that it will be less than five days to go and I still have not arranged our itinerary and our accommodations.

It didn’t take long before we were back in Singapore and was back to reality. Tomorrow, it will be back to work – on the brighter side though, it will just be for four days before a new adventure begins. 

When I bought our tickets several months ago, the flight going to Siem Reap came out very cheap. However, the flight coming back came out expensive (tickets were expensive plus the heavy 25 USD departure tax levied upon foreigners) – so we decided, why not fly out from either Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh? We immediately scratched out the Bangkok option since the ticket was still pricey and besides we would be there during Halloween this year. It was decided that we would be flying out from Ho Chi Minh, 12 hours away by bus from Siem Reap. 

The original plan was to take a direct bus ride to Ho Chi Minh and just spend the night there but since we have already been there before (and I was there for the second time last July), we decided to take a side trip to Phnom Penh and spend Saturday night there.

It was an early day again for us since the shuttle going to Phnom was scheduled to leave at 7:00 AM; there was a complimentary pick-up at our guesthouse at 6:30 AM so we had to wake up an hour before to prepare. The price of the 12-seater shuttle going to Phnom Penh was 11 USD and it promised to take us there in 4 hours (versus the 6 hours travel time if one takes the bus). 

The tuktuk that took us to the shuttle terminal arrived 10 minutes before the scheduled departure, it turned out though that we were the last passenger that was picked up; hence we didn’t have to wait that much and at exactly 7 in the morning, we were bound for Phnom Penh already.

The ride to Phnom Penh was a horrible one; the shuttle we rode must have probably had a defective shock absorber, as it was very bumpy from my seat. It didn’t help much that I was seated just above the rear right wheel. It was a good thing though that I was very drowsy that morning so I just basically slept for the duration of the trip (although my sleep was disturbed a lot of times when we encounter some bumps on the road). In all fairness to the shuttle operator, we arrived exactly on time in Phnom Penh.

Upon stepping out of the shuttle, we were greeted by hoards of tuktuk driver each with all of them offering for a ride somewhere in town. They were very persistent and somehow rude (as they wouldn’t stop even when you say no) unlike their counterpart in Siem Reap who would immediately leave you alone once you say so.

First things first, we needed to get our ticket to Ho Chi Minh for the following day. The earlier the departure time, the better it would be since it would be a 6 hour ride and our return flight to Singapore would leave at 2:50 PM.

We headed to the nearest travel agency along the street and inquired about the earliest bus going to the capital of Vietnam. The earliest trip would be at 6 in the morning and costs 12 USD. It already comes with a free pick-up from the guesthouse. I thought this would just be perfect since we would arrive in Ho Chi Minh at approximately 12 noon and we will have an allowance of 2 hours before the counter closes. I was about to buy the ticket when I remembered that we still do not have a place to stay in the city. The travel agent recommended Waterview Guesthouse, which was located just around the corner. They even offered a free ride going there as I guess they will be given some commission for every guest they bring.

We took the free ride, as it was too hot to walk around. Upon viewing the place, we figured that it was good enough for a night and it came out really cheap (at that point, we were really in for a bargain as we were already running really low in cash). We checked-in for one night and bought our bus tickets there as well. I paid using my credit card and took a 3% surcharge just so we can have enough cash to survive for one more day in a foreign land.

After unpacking our stuffs, we headed out to grab some lunch. We decided to have lunch at the Boddhi Tree Cafe, a lovely restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, which was located just across the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. As the museum was still close, we had sufficient time to really enjoy and savor our lunch. As usual, we ordered some Khmer dish. One thing I noticed was that all of the customers there were Caucasians except us; it made me conclude that there were really a lot of western tourists in Cambodia. It made me somehow sad in thinking as to why the Philippines cannot have this many visitors as well.

interiors of the Boddhi Tree Cafe

interiors of the Boddhi Tree Cafe

sauteed beef with mixed mushroom

sauteed beef with mixed mushroom

By 2:30 PM, we were already finished and walked across the street towards Tuol Sleng. There were beggars at the museum entrance asking for money, the most noticeable amongst them was the landmine victim and the man whose face was horribly deformed by some sort of accident. I felt sad in seeing those poor people but the sadness was nothing compared to the sadness I experienced when I entered Tuol Sleng.

inside Tuol Sleng compound

inside Tuol Sleng compound

I will not elaborate what I saw inside but suffice to say the Genocide Museum really got me affected. I am not an emotional person but dark history behind the place was simply too much for someone to imagine. One can simply wonder as to how evil a person can become if given the power. I felt deeply sad when we stepped outside the museum compound.

We headed back to the Boddhi Tree Cafe and grabbed something to drink; it was comforting to be inside that restaurant again after the visit in Tuol Sleng. After a few minutes of silent reflection, we regained our sanity and immediately hopped into a tutkuk for a ride to the Royal Palace. 

It was already too late when we reached the Royal Palace as it was already closed for the day. We did the next best thing by walking around outside the complex and took some pictures. Phnom Penh is quite similar to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh – wide streets, tall trees lining up the sidewalks and old colonial houses; call this French influence as these places used to be colonies of France.

Sothearos Blvd

Sothearos Blvd

the Royal Palace

the Royal Palace

the National Museum

the National Museum

We headed down towards Sisowath Quay and checked out the various stalls along the streets. The FCC branch in the city caught our attention and we did not hesitate to avail of the happy hour promo where draft beef costs just a dollar. The good location that we got at the topmost floor that offered a good view of the Tonle Sap River plus a mug of cold (and cheap!) beer and pan of all meat pizza satisfied our soul.

one of the artworks inside Happy Painting Galleries

one of the artworks inside Happy Painting Galleries

view of Sisowath Quay and the Tonle Sap River

view of Sisowath Quay and the Tonle Sap River

tiger beer + cold pizza = happiness!!

tiger beer + cold pizza = happiness!!

Slowly, we started walking back to our guesthouse. Just like the two previous mornings, it will be an early day again tomorrow. The pick-up time will be at 5:30.

I said a quick prayer before I called it a night; for the thousands of people who were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime and most especially to those who met their gruesome end inside Tuol Sleng…

However, just like the Cambodians, I know that I have to move on as tomorrow will be another day and I have a plane to catch.