Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Wrath Of Ondoy (Typhoon Ketsana)

Over 240 deaths... 4.6 billion pesos worth of damage... 80% of the Philippines' capital and surrounding provinces under water.. That is what Ondoy or typhoon Ketsana did to the Philippines. On September 26, 2009, the typhoon brought over a months worth of rainfall causing the worst flooding Manila and surrounding areas has seen in 50 years.

Here are some images from Time Magazine...

As of today, certain parts of the city are still flooded while thousands are displaced. Many are in dire need of food and supplies so your help is needed. Any kind of help is very much welcome. Here are some ways on how you can send your help. Thank you very much and I am sure your help will be very much appreciated by the Filipino people.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Island of Corregidor

The island of Corregidor was used as a military base to prevent Japanese troops from entering Manila Bay during the second world war. However, in 1942, the Japanese defeated the Filipino and American troops and finally took over Corregidor and then Manila. Three years later, Corregidor was regained by the US and Filipino armies and eventually, the Japanese troops were defeated and driven out of the Philippines. This place played a key role in the Philippines' history and this is why it is a must-visit for both Filipinos and foreigners alike.

Mt. Samat from Corregidor (taken on December 30, 2008)

One of the best way to get to Corregidor is by joining tours such as the one operated by Sun Cruises as transportation within the island is limited. Day tour costs 1999php inclusive of boat to and from Corregidor, Corregidor island transportation, tour guide, and buffet lunch. You can also opt to stay overnight and they also have tour packages for that.

We boared the Sun Cruises in the CCP Complex, left Manila at around 8am and after an hour or so, arrived in Corregidor. Our first stop was the Malinta Tunnel. Malinta Tunnel served as the headquarters of Gen. McArthur and seat of government of the Commonwealth. To fully understand the importance of this tunnel, a light and sound show is shown inside the tunnel for an additional fee of 150php.

Outside Malinta Tunnel (taken on December 30, 2008)

Inside Malinta Tunnel (taken on December 30, 2008)

After Malinta Tunnel, we proceeded to the Filipino War Memorial and the Japanese War Memorial. Having a Japanese War Memorial inside Corregidor might be disturbing to some, but there were also many Japanese soldiers who died when the Americans and Filipino troops gained Corregidor back.

Filipino War Memorial (taken on December 30, 2008)

Filipino War Memorial (taken on December 30, 2008)

Japanese War Memorial (taken on December 30, 2008)

After visiting the war memorials, we had our lunch and continued with our tour. We visited some batteries or places where military weapons were placed such as the Battery Way, Battery Hearn and Battery Grubbs. On the way, we passed by some army barracks which were ruined during the war.

Former army barracks (taken on December 30, 2008)

In Battery Way (taken on December 30, 2008)

Cartridge room in Battery Way (taken on December 30, 2008)

In Battery Hearn (taken on December 30, 2008)

Former army barracks near the batteries (taken on December 30, 2008)

Then, we proceeded to the Pacific War Memorial which was built by the US to honor both the Filipino and US armies who fought against the Japanese troops.

Pacific War Memorial (taken on December 30, 2008)

Outside Pacific War Memorial (taken on December 30, 2008)

The last stop of the tour is the Spanish Lighthouse which offers a nice view of the island.

Spanish Lighthouse (taken on December 30, 2008)

Corregidor is just around an hour away from Manila, but it was not until December last year that I visited this island. I wish I had visited this place earlier. But as they say, better late than never.

Our Itinerary:
0800: Left via
Sun Cruises in CCP
0915: Arrived in Corregidor

0950-1030: Malinta Tunnel
1045: Filipino War Memorial
1115: Lunch
1210: Battery Way, Battery Hearn, Battery Grubbs, ruins
1310: Pacific War Memorial Museum
1350: Spanish Lighthouse
1430: Left Corregidor
1545: Arrived in Manila

Cost: 1999php inclusive of tour guide, transportation, lunch buffet, boat to and from Corregidor. Additional 150php for the light and sound show in Malinta Tunnel.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand Overland

Traveling overland is a cheaper but slower way to get around Indochina. But since my friend, Lor and I were traveling on a budget, this was the best way to go. When we were planning our Indochina trip, we had a hard time finding out how to travel from Vietnam to Thailand overland, particularly the Saigon-Siem Reap-Bangkok route. This is the reason why I want to share our experience with you. Hopefully this can help you plan your trip.

Saigon to Siem Reap (Stopover: Phnom Pehn)

We rode the Mekong Express bus that took us to Siem Reap with a 30-45 minute stopover in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Pehn. We reserved the bus through the travel agency inside our hotel and ticket price is 25usd per pax inclusive of breakfast, water and afternoon meal. The bus also has a toilet inside which is a real plus for me. We took the 7am bus to Siem Reap, so around 6:55am, someone picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the place where the bus was waiting.

Mekong Express Bus (taken on August 21, 2009)
Mekong Express Bus Contact Numbers (taken on August 21, 2009)

At around 9am, we arrived at the Vietnamese border, Moc Bai. Here, we had our passports checked. Prior to this, the conductor of the bus had already collected all our passports and departure cards. He has also distributed the arrival cards for Cambodia. Then, we were asked to alight from the bus and bring our bags with us because these had to be checked. After passing through immigration, we went back to the bus.

Moc Bai (taken on August 21, 2009)

After a minute or two, we arrived at the Cambodian border, Bavet. Once again, we were asked to alight from the bus, pass through immigration, and get back on the bus. Then we were back on the road. I think the whole immigration control from Vietnam to Cambodia took around 40 minutes.

Bavet (taken on August 21, 2009)

After 10 minutes from the Cambodian border, we had a short stopover for some early lunch. Lor and I were full, so we decided to walk around area (although there is nothing to see) and take some pictures. 20 minutes later, we were back on the bus and on our way to Phnom Pehn.

30 minutes later, we arrived at the terminal of the Neak Loeung Ferry which is like a small roll on roll off boat used to carry cars and buses across the Mekong River.

Neak Loeung Ferry (taken on August 21, 2009)

Neak Loeung Ferry (taken on August 21, 2009)

We finally arrived at the Phnom Pehn terminal at around 1pm. All of us going to Siem Reap transferred to a minivan which took us to the other terminal of Mekong Express where the bus to Siem Reap is waiting.

Minivan to Second Terminal (taken on August 21, 2009)

10 minutes later, we arrived at the second terminal and since the bus to Siem Reap will not depart until 2pm, Lor and I decided to take in as much as we can of Phnom Pehn in 40 minutes. Because of the limited time we had, we only saw the Sisowath Quay (where the terminal is located) and Royal Palace from the outside.

Sisowath Quay (taken on August 21, 2009)

Royal Palace (taken on August 21, 2009)

Near the Royal Palace (taken on August 21, 2009)

At exactly 2pm, our bus departed from Phnom Pehn and made its way to Siem Reap. At around 7pm, we finally arrived in Siem Reap. The whole trip (plus immigration control and stopovers) took around 12 hours.

Mekong Express Bus to Siem Reap (taken on August 21, 2009)

Toilet of Bus to Siem Reap (taken on August 21, 2009)

Siem Reap to Suvarnabhuni International Airport or Bangkok

Since we were catching an 11pm flight from Bangkok to Manila the day we left Siem Reap, our hotel advised us to take a taxi to the Cambodian border, Poipet instead of taking the bus. It may be a bit more expensive, but it would be faster and scam-free. Based on a hotel staff's experience, traveling from Siem Reap to Bangkok normally takes around 6-7 hours, but if you take the bus, it might be extended to 12 hours or more because of the stopovers. He even told us that some drivers will not leave the stopovers unless the passengers buy something from the vendors. Because we were pressed on time, we decided to forego the bus and take the taxi to Poipet.

Taxi to Poipet (taken on August 23, 2009)

We left Siem Reap at around 830am and arrived at Poipet at around 1030am. We then passed through immigration controls in both Poipet and the Thai border, Aranyaprathet. We finished everything by 1120am. Honestly, looking for a bus going to either Bangkok or the airport is not hard in Aranyaprathet. There are lots of bus reservation offices around. Just look for people who speak English and they will surely be happy to guide you. Buses to Bangkok leave every 1.5 hours but I am not sure of the airport bus' schedule. Luckily, we were told that the next bus to the airport leaves at 1230pm so we had time left to eat our lunch and do some shopping. Aranyaprathet has a big market selling clothes, bags, shoes, etc. There is also a bank where you can change your money.

Near Poipet (taken on August 23, 2009)

Approaching Aranyaprathet (taken on August 23, 2009)

Airport Bus from Aranyanprathet (taken on August 23, 2009)

Inside the Airport Bus from Aranyanprathet (taken on August 23, 2009)

We left Aranyaprathet on time and arrived at Suvarnabhuni Airport at around 4pm. The airport bus costs 184baht inclusive of water and some crackers. It also has a toilet which is good for me.

Our Itinerary:
Day 1: Saigon

Day 2:

7am: Left Saigon for Siem Reap

9am: Immigration control in Moc Bai (Vietnam border) then Bavet (Cambodian border)

950am: Early lunch/stopove
1pm: Arrive in Phnom Pehn
2pm: Left Phnom Pehn
7pm: Arrived in Siem Reap

Day 3:
Siem Reap

Day 4:

830am: Left Siem Reap
1030am: Immigration control in Poipet (Cambodian border) and Aranyaprathet (Thai border)
1230pm: Left Aranyaprathet for the airport
400pm: Arrived in Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand


Saigon to Siem Reap:
Mekong Express bus - $25 per pax inclusive of breakfast, water and afternoon meal

Siem Reap to Suvarnabhumi Airport:
Taxi to Poipet: $30 per taxi booked from our hotel
Bus from Aranyaprathet to Suvarnabhumi Airport: 184 Thai baht

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Breathtaking Siem Reap

After spending our first day in Saigon, my friend, Lor and I headed for Siem Reap in Cambodia. Since we traveled overland, it took around 12 hours (including stopovers in the border and Phnom Pehn) before arriving in Siem Reap. Basically our second day was mostly spent in the bus. So all the sightseeing happened on the third day.

Our hotel arranged our tuktuk and tour guide for us so all we had to do is wake up early to catch the sunrise in Angkor Wat. We arrived in Angkor Wat at around 515am, bought our 1-day pass for 20usd per pax and waited for a while for the sun to rise. I can say that the sunrise is really one of the highlights of this whole trip. The view is just magnificent and it was really a great way to start our exploration of the Angkor National Park.

Angkor Wat Sunrise (taken on August 22, 2009)

After watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat, we went back to our hotel to have breakfast and rest a bit before leaving for our next destination - Bantay Kdei together with our tour guide Mr. Huat and our tuktuk driver Mr. Sookra (who I both recommend!) Bantay Kdei is a Buddhist temple and is not as grand as Bayon or Angkor Wat but it is a good starting point.

Bantay Kdei (taken on August 22, 2009)

After Bantay Kdei, we went to the nearby Ta Prohm which is famous for its massive trees and jungle-type feel. Our guide, Mr. Huat told us that the government made sure to retain the trees even if they are causing damage on the structure of the temple because they wanted to preserve the original feel of the temple. And it worked. But I think the main reason why this temple is very famous is because it is one of the location shoots of Tomb Raider.

Ta Prohm (taken on August 22, 2009)

One of the more famous trees in Ta Prohm (taken on August 22, 2009)

Then, we proceeded to the center of all, Angkor Thom or Big Angkor in English. Here, we saw the forum of the king, temples such as the Baphuon and the majestic Bayon. Bayon is famous for its collection of stone carvings with smiling faces on it and it is located in the center of Angkor Thom. This is one of my favorites.

Bayon (taken on August 22, 2009)

All smiles in Bayon (taken on August 22, 2009)

Inside Angkor Thom (taken on August 22, 2009)

We finished Angkor Thom at around 130pm and proceeded to the grandest of all temples, the Angkor Wat. Because we arrived at around 2pm, there were not much people yet (which is good). Mr. Huat told us that the throngs of tourists usually arrive at around 330pm so if you want to avoid the crowd, come before 330pm :D

Mr. Huat showed us around Angkor Wat and patiently explained the carvings on the walls of the temples. I was just so amazed with the skill involved in carving such intricate patterns. What is more amazing is that the people who carved the walls finished it in one go. Since the stones were already in place once carving starts, the workers had no choice but to concentrate and commit no errors. These carvings depict the story of Hindu gods and they were just amazing. After this, we went up the Angkor Wat. But since some parts are under repair, we cannot enter the top towers. As we were leaving the temple at around 330pm, just like on cue, the tourists started arriving. Mr. Huat was right! haha.

Angkor Wat afar (taken on August 22, 2009)

On Top of Angkor Wat (taken on August 22, 2009)

Carvings inside Angkor Wat (taken on August 22, 2009)

Our last stop in the Angkor National Park is the sunset viewing spot of Phnom Bakheng which offers a panoramic view of Siem Reap. You can get here either on foot or by riding an elephant. I opted to walk while my friend rode the elephant up. Since we arrived here early, there were only a few people. Sunset is not until 6pm so for around 2 hours, we chatted with Mr. Huat and he told us about Khmer culture, history and many other things. He is really a knowledgeable guide and seems to really enjoy his job. As we chatted, we did not notice the growing number of people in Phnom Bakheng. Just imagine, all the tourists we have been seeing had all gathered here to view the sunset. It was just jampacked but the view was worth it. The sunset was gorgeous and it was a great way to end our Angkor National Park exploration.

Phnom Bakheng (taken on August 22, 2009)

Sunset in Phnom Bakheng (taken on August 22, 2009)

After this, we asked our tuktuk driver, Mr. Sookra to drop us off in the center of the town where we did some shopping and had our dinner. What a wonderful day! :D

Where we stayed:
Kool Hotel. 37usd a night for 2 people inclusive of breakfast. We chose this because it is number 2 of all hotels in Siem Reap in Trip Advisor. (as of August 2009)

Pros: Great service,
friendly staff, great rooms, comfortable beds, has a pool, safe, great value for money. Upon arrival, a staff will sit you down and explain your itinerary. The hotel arranges all your tours and transfers.
Cons: Kinda far from the city center. The hotel provides free shuttle to and from the city center but only until 840pm. If you do not want to go home that early, you can hire a tuktuk to the hotel for around 1.5usd.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

What we ate:
First night: We ate in our hotel. For around 8usd for 2 people, we had Khmer fried rice, authentic Amok (the specialty of our hotel), and stir-fried chicken Khmer style.

Khmer Fried Rice (taken on August 21, 2009)

Amok (taken on August 21, 2009)

Second night: Khmer Kitchen in the town center. It is a famous Khmer restaurant so you can ask locals around for directions. We had Khmer curry, salad and Mchu Krearng (don't know what it is called in English) which a sweet/sour soup recommended by our tour guide Mr. Huat. Everything is around 7usd for 2 people.

Khmer Curry (taken on August 22, 2009)

Mchu Krearng (taken on August 22, 2009)

Our Itinerary:
450am: Left hotel for sunrise viewing in Angkor Wat
5am - 630: Sunrise
viewing in Angkor Wat
630am: Went back to hotel for breakfast and some rest
10am: Bantay Kdei Temple
1040am: Ta Prohm Temple
1140am: Angkor Thom
2pm: Angkor Wat
4pm: Climb up Phnom Bakheng
430pm - 630pm: Sunset watching in Phnom Bakheng
7pm: Went to town center for shopping and dinner
9pm: Back to hotel

Tour guide: 25usd whole day (starting from Bantay Kdei) - group sharing. I really recommend our tour guide Mr. Huat. He speaks good English. Aside from this, he is very knowledgable and seems to enjoy his work very much.

Tuktuk: 13usd whole day + 5usd for sunrise = 18usd - group sharing. I recommend Mr. Sookra, our driver. Very friendly and nice fellow.

Angkor National Park Entrance Fee: 20usd per pax

* Optional: Elephant ride in Phnom Bakheng: 20usd going up and 15usd going down (you can choose either or both)