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Concluding Cambodia (Part 4)

>> Monday, September 12, 2016

[Part 1 - City Tour] [Part 2 - Angkor Wat] [Part 3 - Angkor Thom]

Two months after the trip, I finally found the time to write this last part and the concluding entry to my Cambodia trip.


Whenever I visit other countries or places, I like to observe. Observe how people live, what works in their countries, how it differs from where I live, and lessons I could bring home.

Here are 5 things I've learned and love about Cambodia (besides the rich history that they have):

1. The people are hella nice. I told Cerz and Edlyn, "They're so nice, it's annoying."

I just realized I don't have photos of people. lol Here's a random lamppost instead.

All throughout our stay, I was waiting for just one moment where I would have a bad experience with a local. We were there for 5 days and every single one of them was polite, courteous, respectful, and nice. You would know that it is in their culture to be chill and nice because they're not just nice to the tourists, but to their fellow Cambodians as well. They were patient with us when they could not understand us sometimes, and would go lengths to ask around to help us find our way around the city.

One time we were looking for a KFC store (I know, we wanted to try how KFC tasted like in other countries okay), one staff member of an ice cream shop really went out of her way to look for a map, run after us and tell us where to go. If I could grade their customer service from 1-10 with 10 being the highest, I'd give a 100.

2. They value the silence. Besides the occasional prayers by the Buddists (which I find very calming), Siem Reap was quiet. People didn't talk loudly, the motorcycles (which is their regular mode of transport) had their silencers working, and there were no street parties (aka the drunk karaoke nights). It was like they respected each other by giving them the space to be quiet.

Our hotel: Kiri Botique Hotel

We spent one whole morning lounging and chilling by the pool (also because we were tired from the two-day tour). It was relaxing because everything was quiet except for the gentle breeze of the wind, the birds chirping and hopping on the roof tops, and the swishy waves of the pool.

3. Feel free to splurge. Spending in Cambodia is cheap. They prefer to transact in US Dollars, which makes it easy for tourists. We didn't have to mentally convert prices and check if fees were cheap or not. This is a rough breakdown of what I spent, except for food. We shared our food expenses so I don't really know how much I spent per person. All I remember is that food prices range from $1 to $9. The $9 dish can be shared by 3 people.

Expenses for the whole trip. Does not include food.

Oh, beware of the Happy Pizza if you don't want to be detained in immigration for looking high. hahaha They have a pizza dish that has marijuana leaves in them, instead of basil and green bell peppers. We ordered an all-meat pizza to be sure that we won't be tricked in getting a Happy Pizza. haha But to be fair, they have restaurants that specifically serve happy pizza so don't fret.

The night market is the biggest and most famous (and probably only) food and shopping area in Siem Reap. There are not that many malls in the city, so if you want to do your shopping and experience different cuisines, then go to the night market. The night market is also open during the day, but it transforms into one happy party place when the sun sets.

4. Riding the tuktuk is fun. It was a good choice for us to take the tuktuk instead of a private taxi for our day tour and temple tour. The air in Siem Reap is clean so you don't have to worry about air pollution and riding in an open vehicle. Riding a tuktuk from one place to another is around $2-3 dollars, depending on how far two places are from each other. You can haggle, but the most they'll charge you is $3. They'll still do it politely and give you the best service possible.

5. Siem Reap is tourist-friendly. Before the trip, my mom was concerned that three girls were going to Cambodia for the first time. Not once did I feel unsafe while walking around. Friends who have visited Cambodia would say the same thing and they all had positive comments about their stay.

I saved this guide I found on Pinterest which also served as my checklist.

  • Countries who are part of the ASEAN don't have to bother on the VISA. Upon landing, we went straight to immigration and didn't have to fill out a visa form and pay a fee. For non-ASEAN residents, I think the visa fee is $25.
  • According to our tour guide, the first quarter of the year is the best weather to visit Cambodia. However, that is the bulk of visitors so he does not recommend if you don't want to experience a people-filled Angkor Wat. June is a good time too because it's in the middle of summer and rainy season. There's not that many people but the weather is still hot. You'll never win. lol
  • Tips are required. With the cheap prices, a 10% tip isn't too heavy on the pocket. Sometimes we give more than the 10% because how can you give a 10-cent tip for a $1 bill?
  • Out of the 8 food dishes listed on the guide, I was able to try the Noodle Soup, Pork and rice, Curry and Iced Coffee. I enjoyed the iced coffee the most because it's tastes so much better than the iced coffee drinks I get here in Manila. I'm not too sure what they meant by sour fruits because there are a lot of sour fruits. If that means pineapple, mango, then I guess I ate that too. Not too different than the fruits here in the Philippines. I didn't get a chance to eat insects because my companions weren't that adventurous (lol I love you still), and I could not find a vendor who sold it.

While waiting for boarding

I want to come back some day, and explore the other sights in Siem Reap. There's still the Flying Gibbon tour, which is more of a nature tour. We skipped the Kulen Mountain for a chillax day in the pool, but I still want to check that out. I also need to get my biking skills back so I can rent a bike and go around the city liesurely and hang out in different places like a local.

Wait for me Cambodia okay? I'll visit you again.


Tiring but Thrilling Temple Tour (Part 3)

>> Wednesday, July 06, 2016

[Part 1 - City Tour] [Part 2 - Angkor Wat]

According to our guide, Mr. Chai, 50% of Cambodia's income relies on tourism. And with all the temples to visit, tourists will sure not run out of places to check out.

The essentials: Day Pass and Map

After our Angkor Wat extravaganza, we headed out to the walled city of Angkor Thom. It was built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century and it became the last capital of the Khmer empire. It basically translates to "great city" and the structures within the walled city showed how great it is.

We were greeted by the bridge that goes over a moat at the south gate, with a row of god heads -- 54 demons on the right and 54 gods on the right. The gate itself gives a preview of the city: the four faces of Avalokiteshvara and elephants.

Bayon Temple is a Buddhist Temple right smack in the middle of the walled city. Bayon Temple is famous for the numerous towers with the smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara, which faces in all four directions. It's like saying that no matter what you do, there will be a god watching the north, south, east, and west areas of the land. While it is a Buddhist Temple, there are still Hindu elements to some of the carvings on the wall.

Count the faces

Photo tip: Ask your tour guide for a nose-to-nose photo with one of the sides of Avalokiteshvara.

At this point we were already getting tired from all the walking (and it wasn't even 10 AM!) so there were some temples that we breezed through. In other words, we skipped climbing and entering most of them.

Skipped Temple #1: Baphuon Temple is the state temple of Udayadityavarman II that was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. According to our guide, the main attraction in the temple is the huge sleeping Buddha. I wanted to go in and check it out but our feet were complaining already, knowing that we were going to climb stairs again like what we did in Angkor Wat. We just walked around it to get to the next temple.

I'm not sure if people can enter Phimeanakas Temple, but we just passed by it. This temple was created by Rajendravarman but completed by Suryavarman I. There's a legend behind it where apparently a nagini (no, no the snake in Harry Potter lol) that the King should wed every night or else misfortune will come his way. Weird, but fascinating.

We emerged at the Terrace of the Elephants, which is a huge stage fronting a massive open area. The King would sit in the middle of the tall podium and hold celebrations there. Entertainers would perform in the open area. It was also where the King would make his announcements. We felt like royals standing on it. I may or may have not waved to the imaginary citizens of my kingdom.

Spot the queen tourists

Just a few meters from the Terrace of the Elephants was the Terrace of Leper King. The detail to the carvings are impressive.

Skipped temple #2

Skipped temple #3

Skipped temple #4

We took a break for lunch before giving it one last push in Ta Prohm.

For the non-Cambodians like us, Ta Prohm is famously known for the location of the movie Tomb Raider. But really, this temple is known for its nature vs. man (or the harmony of nature and man, if you look at it differently) structure.

The trees grow with the temple, which was built by King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his mother. Roots crawl over every roof and wall, and through openings, as if nature spilled over the temple. Because the trees were flexible in nature, it found its way around every nook and cranny of the temple throughout the centuries. At the end of the day, no matter what structure man builds, mother nature will always win.

Peek-a-boo, says the god.

Trees grow overtime, which means that the temple is in danger of collapsing. Just like other temples, there are measures to preserve what is left of the temple and restore what has been damaged.

Ta Prohm probably is my favorite of all the temples we visited. Even if I was tired already from all the walking, I felt like Ta Prohm spoke to me the most, that we don't have to destroy nature in building structures. The interaction and harmony of nature and man-made buildings produces something beautiful and could be a testament to years and years of stories.

I feel like someone's in the shot

We ended the day at 2 PM, but we felt like the day lasted forever. As soon as we went back to the hotel and had a refreshing shower, we zonked out and slept the rest of the day away. Despite the heat and the tons of sweat we let out, I still enjoyed it with the information overload and breathtaking views. [Read Part 4]


Angkor What? More like Angkor Whoa (Part 2)

>> Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Read Part 1 of our Cambodia trip here.

"I stepped foot in Angkor Wat before McDonalds did."
-A button pin

Tour Guide: $45 for three people
Tuktuk: $15 for three people
Day pass: $20 per person

*Alarm rings at 3:30 AM*

Cerz: (groans) Guys, gising na [wake up].
Edlyn: (complains) Is it really worth it?

Even if we slept early to prepare for the early call time to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, waking up at 3AM was a huge chore for the three of us. We unwillingly dragged ourselves out of bed and into our clothes, pondering whether or not the trip to the temple at an ungodly hour was worth it.

The front desk was ready for our groggy selves as they prepared a carbo-loaded breakfast for us to bring to our temple tour. Pastries, white bread, croissants, jam, and half of a banana. Yep, we'll definitely need the carbs, sugar, and potassium to fuel us with the crazy walking tour of the temples of Siem Reap.

We lined up to get day passes, which we had to present to officials for every temple we visited. It was the most precious thing because if we lose our passes, we'll have to pay the fee again, no questions asked.

We walked our way to the outer enclosure (or gate) of Angkor Wat, as the sky started to paint itself a tinge of orange and yellow. Oh boy, the 4AM call time was starting to feel like it was worth it.

We had Mr. Chai as our tour guide for the temple tour. While this is optional, it is an advantage to have someone with you who knows the history of the temples because you'll have someone talk about the carvings o the wall or the meaning of the structures built. You can book your accredited tour guide at the hotel's information desk and choose whatever language you prefer.

At around 6 AM, we were all situated at the open area just after entering the outer enclosure, with the temple and a 'pool' in view. The pool is perfect for those famous reflection shots you see all over the internet. Time to prop your tripod, sit on the grass, and eat your carb breakfast, while waiting for the sun to rise. What a fancy view for breakfast, huh?

A photo posted by Ceres Helga (@cereshelga) on

Angkor Wat is the most famous religious monument in Cambodia and the largest too. It was originally constructed as a Hindu Temple by King Suryavarman II, but because kings changed over time, some of their beliefs changed to Buddhism so did the design of the temple. The temple walls became the eyes to the changing regimes because it holds so much history and information to Cambodia's history and beliefs.

Our very nice guide, Mr. Chai.

The walls in the temple are filled with intricate carvings of mythology and history. Their carvers have so much talent because the detail on every person or god carved is exquisite.

Walls for days (or centuries)

There was one king who combined his Buddhisim and Hinduism beliefs and it shows in this chinese looking Hindu sculpture

Spot the god

Pro tip #1: NEVER touch the carvings to preserve them or prevent them from fading away in the future.

The challenge started when we climbed the tallest portion of Angkor Wat, Bakan Sanctuary. It is at the middle of the temple and is the place of worship of the monks and religious people. And since Bakan is a religious place, you are required to be respectful of the place and observe the proper etiquette.

One part of Bakan

"We will climb that?!"
*Not pictured: the three of us suffering while climbing the stairs

The religious people were fit for sure because climbing those stairs were the most difficult ever. The steps were narrow, steep, and so high. Mr. Chai said that tourists nowadays are lucky because wooden stairs were placed over the original stairs to (1) preserve the original ones and (2) prevent the tourists from slipping. The wooden stairs have larger steps but it was still steep for me. haha I took it one step at a time because it was not the time and place for me to die because of stairs. Please Hindu gods and Buddha, save me.

Posing and smiling but really we were dying inside

Massive structures + wee little me

The climb was worth it though because it was definitely peaceful and serene up there. The wind found its way through the slots of the walls and cooled us down.

A photo posted by yumi pitargue (@bloowind) on

Pro tip #2: While waking around the temple, there are monks who still use Angkor Wat as a place of worship. So be mindful and keep your voice down because it might disrupt their prayers.

What I love about Angkor Wat is that everything is symmetrical. If there is something on the east side of the temple, there will be definitely something on the west side. There is even a marker that indicates the exact center of the temple. The OC in me is very happy.

A photo posted by yumi pitargue (@bloowind) on

Visiting Angkor Wat at 5 in the morning was worth it because of the beautiful view at the crack of dawn, and the cool-ish weather while roaming around in the morning. Visiting the temple when the sun is high and up is going to be torture because the temple has lots of open areas and the sun is going to roast you for sure.

If you have trouble waking up in the wee hours of the morning, you can opt for the sunset view. But then, the sun won't be setting in that area. You'll just see the sky change colors and still be able to take pretty photos with the temple from a distance. [Read Part 3]


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