Arrived in Siem Reap

Preah Khan Temple

Ho Chi Minh airport drama

I am flying to Cambodia today. It is an international flight to Siem Reap so I arrive early hoping to take advantage of the lounge at the airport. Unfortunately the window to check into the flight doesn’t open until 2 hours before the flight leaves. For the airline Cambodia Angkor Air it opens even later than that. Also there is a tour group that has arrived before me and they have already made the check in line quite long. I hope the line moves swiftly when it opens; but it doesn’t. I notice every passenger is at the check in window for an excessive amount of time. People are arguing with the customer rep; suitcases are being opened and items are being shuffled around. Line is moving at a snail’s pace. I am annoyed at my fellow passengers but my anger is misplaced. It is the airline. I realized Cambodia Angkor Air is a discount airline when booking my ticket. I knew there are additional charges for luggage when I booked my ticket but I believed I purchased a ticket at a price that included luggage. Unfortunately my ticket nor my receipt reflected this fact. I had no proof that I already paid for my luggage. When it is my turn at the counter the agent tells me my flight price only included 7 kg of luggage. Who the hell only has 7 kg of luggage for an international flight???? I had no proof that I already paid so there is a charge of $65 USD for luggage at check in. Highway robbery but this kind of crap is part of traveling right? I am annoyed as I take out my credit card. “No, we don’t take credit card. We take cash only and in US dollars.” I am livid at this point. I had spent down most the US dollars I did have and have not had a chance to replenish my cash yet. Am I going to miss my flight to Cambodia because I don’t have enough cash? It is getting dangerously closer to flight time as a ruffle through my things for cash. I find $60 USD hidden in my backpack and exclaim it is all I got and I get a a disappointing look from the agent. Finally I find a 5 euro I had leftover from Europe. They happily take the 5 euro to complete my fee. I am visibly angry at the airline, as are most others in line. I have never dealt with such a corrupt airline in my life. I check my bag and hurry to the gate. There are still so many people behind me in line that probably still have to deal with this nonsense.

Once on the flight it is uneventful and pretty typical for a discount airline.

Arrival in Siem Reap

I arrive in Siem Reap. The airport is small. I am able to go through customs pretty quickly since I booked my visa in advance. I exit outside. I struggle to find an ATM. I wander around and around and can’t find one. I discover the only ATM are by the departure terminal. I am hot and sweaty pulling my luggage around. American dollars are widely accepted in Siem Reap but only crisp clean and nice dollars. When you receive change upon making purchases you need to make sure that someone doesn’t try to pawn off a crumbly, ripped bill because you will be stuck with it (at least until you return to the USA). Luckily the ATM distribute american dollars and Cambodian Riel. Most places prefer USD.

I wait forever for my tuk tuk and it never comes. After a few failed attempts I finally get a hold of my hotel. It is miscommunication. They finally send someone. He is really nice. I find out he is my assigned driver for my stay. When I book tours from hotel he is there to take me around.

My ride from the airport
All the different tour options in USD.

It has been a long day and I am hot and sweaty. I am happy to check into my room but I soon learn how annoying the steps are to my room. I am on the third floor and it is a climb up steep steps to get to my room. I am generally in good health so I shouldn’t complain. Less mobile individuals would not be able to stay here. The climb would be too challenging.

My room is satisfactory. It seems safe and there is working AC. The two disadvantages are the little ants that destroyed my coconut candy I purchased in Vietnam and the two mating geckos that live in my room. If you haven’t heard a gecko the sound is like a loud annoying bird. It took me a couple nights to figure out what was going on. I would hear a loud sound randomly in the night. I thought there was some stupid bird living outside my window. I eventually discovered it is the jerk geckos. I would wake up periodically in the night when they decided to talk. I could hear dogs and heritage music outside but nothing compares to the noise of the geckos.

Nice pool for hot afternoons

Tomorrow I start my first day tour of the iconic temples of Angkor. I scheduled the Big Circuit tour with a sunset so luckily I don’t have to wake up too early tomorrow.

Mekong River Delta

Today I head to the Mekong river delta. Today is just a short visit. A van picks me up at my hotel and we drive out to a launch area.

On the way we stop to see a bunch of Buddhas at Vinh Trang Pagoda.

We arrive at the boat launching site. We are shown a map to see the areas we plan to visit today.

First we stop at a honey bee farm. We learn about honey and royal jelly. We get the hard sell on the wonders of royal jelly. We get to enjoy a honey tea.

Honey Tea

We try some local fruits: Mango, Papaya, persimmon, dragonfruit, jackfruit.

While we sample fruits we experience a musical performance. Singers sing local songs and we hear instruments I have never seen before.

video

It is now time to catch a ride to where we leave for our boat rides.

Apparently it is too far to walk or I would have walked it if I could. The transportation to the boat is a horse drawn carriage. Most people probably think that is quaint but I have vowed to not use animals for transportation like that anymore. When asked if we would like alternative transportation I and one other ask for something else. The other mode is an electric golf cart. Apparently it is a big deal because the guide keeps trying to talk me out of it. I know I am sort of being “difficult” about it but I am going to trust my gut this time. If there is an alternative mode of transport then I am taking it. There is a long wait but the cart finally arrive for us difficult ones. The distance doesn’t seem too far. I probably could have walked it.

Launch area

It gets pretty crowded at the a launch site. Lots of boats are being filled with tourists such as ourselves. Eventually it settles down a bit.

We stop at a coconut candy factory. We get to see how the candies are produced. After sampling the candies I buy some to snack on during my travels. Unfortunately they don’t get too far since ants in my hotel room later in Siem Reap chow down on them instead 😦

We also get to sample some coconut liquor. I try a little bit, but not the type that is fermented with snakes, yuk.

We have another boat ride, this one motorized, to where we are to eat lunch. There are less boats in this area so besides the motors, it is very peaceful.

It is time for lunch. Look at those fried fish!

After eating I take advantage of one of the bikes they have to take a short ride around. There are fish, fruit and random animals around the property to look at.

We take the boat back to the van. We are given a refreshing coconut drink to finish out the day.

Cu Chi Tunnels

The second half of my day tour consisted of an optional visit to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were built as a network of hiding and war strategy by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. During the war they would live and hide in the tunnel system.

As part of our visit we are given a demonstration on how the various booby traps would work to deter the opposing soldiers from finding the hidden Viet Cong.

We are also given a demonstration of a smaller underground hideout.

Various other tunnel entrances.

More examples of traps used.

During a short break there is an optional shooting range. Not really my thing so I sat this activity out. The gun shots coming from the range are loud and consistent.

We get to try out one tunnel. This one isn’t so bad with only just hunching over a bit. There is another longer tunnel to try but it looks way too narrow. I am afraid I’ll be trapped in that one.

Our tour guide shows us different plants in the wild and their medicinal uses. Living in the tunnel system away from hospitals was quite dangerous for the soldiers so they had to learn how to use mother nature.

Tunnel diagram

After my tour I am dropped back off at my hotel.

I spend the evening wandering around Bui Vien street. It gets pretty lively.

I try Bún Bò Huế across the street from my hotel. It is pretty decent and it is a good end to a long day of sightseeing.

Ho Chi Minh City Day tour

I book a couple of day tours in Saigon. Logistically it just seemed easier to do so then plan my own transportation to all the different sites. There is a travel agency in the lobby of my hotel’s sister hotel. I book my tours through them. The first tour I book is a Ho Chi Minh City day tour. It is a 1/2 day tour with an optional Cu Chi tunnels afternoon tour (another post about that).

Not loving my tour companions for today’s day tour. They show up 30 min late because their breakfast is more important than the rest of the tour and now we are still waiting to leave for them to finish their cigarettes. Eventually they get in the van and we head to our first destination.

Independence Palace, or Reunification Palace

First stop is the Independence Palace. This headquarters of the South Vietnamese almost seems frozen in time.

We are given a tour of the underground bunker. The original maps and charts are still in place from the war. You can see how they kept track of troops and casualties.

After the reunification palace we stopped by an old temple Taoist temple

Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ngoc Hoang Pagoda)

Temple for a Taoist god built in early 1900’s.

War Remnants museum

Next we stop at the very powerful War Remnants Museum.

A thorough museum on the vietnam war but from a south vietnamese perspective.

*TRIGGER WARNING* There is a very hard to see photo exhibit on the affects of agent orange on the population. One would have to be a monster to come out of there without tears in their eyes. Out of respect I did not take photos of that section. Only the piece of art below.

We complete the morning tour with a visit to the historic post office and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Notre Dame Cathedral

Historic Central Post Office

Part two of my day tour includes a visit to the Cu chi tunnels. I’ll post about that later.

Arrived in Ho Chi Minh City

My hotel

I am now in Ho Chi Minh City, the last town in my Vietnam exploration (or commonly known as Saigon). In my trip planning it was very important for me to include this city since it would help complete my tour of all the different parts of Vietnam. Each area of Vietnam has its own culture and style of food and I wanted to experience as much of it as I could given my short window (3 1/2 weeks in the country).

I am seated next to two friendly Vietnamese men on my flight. One lives in the United States and is visiting family, and the other is an infectious disease doctor in Saigon. I probe the doctor about the need for Malaria pills (since Cambodia is coming up soon). He assures me that I will not need the pills in any of the places I am visiting. It is so much more helpful to get the advice from a doctor that lives in the region you are visiting. The doctor gives me his business card in case I need any help around while in the city.

Looking down over Saigon

I stay in a hostel-like hotel in the middle of the action for my Saigon visit. I book a private room at the very pretty Aquarizon Boutique Hostel on the busy Bui Vien street. The hotel is funky and cool. Unfortunately my first room assigned is too moldy and musty for me to enjoy. After one night of sleep I fear I will get a sinus infection. Luckily the hotel has a spare room and is willing to work with me. I am moved to another room in the front of the hotel. The new room still has a musty smell but not as bad as my original room. I decide it is good enough for my stay. The noise from the street is louder in the front of the hotel but luckily I can mostly sleep through background noise; plus I have my ear plugs if I really need them.

Because I book a private room instead of the hostel dorm I get an upgraded breakfast. My breakfast is a buffet with more choices at the sister hotel next door. It is a bit of a maze to access the breakfast room but there is connectivity via one of the upper floors of my hotel.

My first evening I decide to try some mexican around the corner. I ask for a seat outside so I can people watch at Sancho’s Craft Beer & Mexican Kitchen.

Sancho’s Craft Beer & Mexican Kitchen
Bui Vien Street.
There are no cars at this time but usually you have to be careful to dodge cars while walking on the street.

Bun Cha 145

The next day I go out for Bun Cha. I have heard they make it differently in Saigon. It is true. It is sweeter down south. The place I choose is popular. I arrive before it opens and there is already a small line outside

I can’t resist ordering the fried banana in green rice. It has a fun chocolate dipping sauce.

I decide to wander around and find an indoor food court. I have recently eaten but make a mental note in case I run out of places to eat nearby.

The food court is next to a park. A collegiate girl stops me to practice English. She wants to major in hospitality and wishes to visit the USA someday. She tells me interesting things about the city.

Walking street

I walk back to my hotel via Bui Vien to take advantage of the happy hour offered downstairs that evening.

I have tours booked tomorrow so no late night for me.