Tuesday, November 26, 2013

For Pakistanis moving to Houston... don't worry! Its another Karachi!

There is such a huge Pakistani community here it is not even funny. And you will find all kinds of Pakistanis. Generally hard working people who have come here to make a better life for themselves. I don't really miss Pakistani food much as I can find just about anything here. If you have a hankering for Halwa Puri or samosas or even bun kebab... Bismillah Cafe in Hillcroft is where you want to head off to

I love my gannay ka rus (sugarcane juice) and we have an Agha's juice right here in Houston... Sugarland... They do kulfi's... mango shakes.. I did try their chiku shakes... but nah.... didn't quite cut it... their kulfis are amazing though :) Not to be linked with the Agha Juice in Karachi.. apparently no relation whatsoever. In Ramazan .. you can see many Pakistanis outside after Iftari hanging out.. its almost like walking down Boat Basin

A place I have been told so much about and really need to get down to is the Hong Kong Food market. If you have a hankering for anything to do with food from the far East... here is where you will find it. Some excellent Vietnamese restaurants are rumoured to be here by Bellaire which I plan to explore at some point. 

Tomorrow I take off for my road trip. Having Thanksgiving with a some friends in Dallas. I was supposed to leave today but it was freezing weather and raining and after watching tv for a few minutes (not FOX) and watching how many accidents were piling up on the highway due to the sleet.. I decided to hide away in my warm apartment and set off tomorrow as that is when the sun is threatening to show up again. Finally in my own apartment... a tiny little place..but enough for me at the moment... absolutely no furniture except for a mattress and a sofa bed incase I have friends who want to come over and crash... reminds me of my earlier single days when I was just starting out in Karachi at the age of 19. I remember my apartment ... didn't even have fans... and I was on the top floor. But what an adventure that was... I wouldn't change a thing as I learned the value of working hard for everything one got. 

Living in America is teaching me a lot too. Learning how to do a lot of stuff on my own that one would never do living in Pakistan or Vietnam. Like how to get my curtains up. Step 1. learn how to use a drill! Or have a friend who does. I thankfully have the latter... so for the moment won't need to learn how to put stuff up! 

Thank God for dishwashers!! That certainly does make life a lot easier. That is one thing the Americans have mastered... how to make life easier and more time efficient!! I am now toying with the idea of going to college and taking a course in something I enjoy doing. Either Baking or cooking for a restaurant. Maybe one day I will finally open up a cafe like I have been dreaming of doing for so long. One thing is for sure.. now that I have a little more time on my hands... I would like to take on another dream and see if I can make it happen. Having said that... still have not made my film which I wanted to get done by now... but then again... you never know! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Getting To Know My Way Around

Well...its been almost 3 months since I made Houston my new home. I have to admit when I first moved here... my spirit felt crushed! Coming from the East Coast... Houston seems more like Dubai with lots of flat spaces and not much greenery. In fact Dubai is prettier because they have made some effort into beautifying their city. But Houston is a city that grows on you.

First order of business is trying to find a hair stylist. Now if you remember I had similar struggles in Vietnam till I finally found Cindy. I imagine this will be an eternal struggle no matter where I go. So I can tell you first where not to go. 

So don't get fooled by the celebrity endorsements. Yes you can buy all kinds of products there.... yes they have a little salon at the back of the store (should have been my first red flag) but their stylists there have no idea what they are doing. So I went in to get my roots done... (yes I am vain and getting old... two terrible combinations) and the lady nodded profusely like she understood completely what I wanted. Next thing I knew... my colour went from a mouse brown to a dark brown. I started to look kind of like Morticia Adams from the Adams Family

When I asked her to blowdry my hair... I felt lucky to get out of there with my hair still intact on my head. I personally suspect the lady was trying to make a new wig for herself and was using unsuspecting clients for their hair in order to get it done. I gingerly asked her if I could get someone else to do the blowdry... at which she snapped at me and told me to sit still... my hair is just crazy and behaving badly and that's why she was having a hard time

Relieved to get out of there in one piece I of course vowed to NEVER go back there and would strongly advise all my friends who are looking for a decent place to do your hair... ULTA is not the place to do that... no matter what anyone says

Next advice I got was to go to the Paul Mitchell's school. Now I have used Paul Mitchell's products. I think some of them are fantastic. So the idea of going to the school seemed like a good one. Yes they are students... and theoretically if one is working with the students who are about to graduate it should be a safe bet...? right? WRONG!!!! So If I thought I looked like Morticia before... this hopeful young thing took me from dark brown and notched it all the way up to a black!!! Again... I explained I wanted roots.. but I guess that doesn't mean enough money for them... so they just went ahead and coloured my whole head!!!!!!!! 

So .. my lovely friends.. if you are a perfectionist as far as your hair is concerned... and you are in Houston... I would advise against the Paul Mitchells school. But ... just when I was running out of hope that I would ever have a decent haircut again unless I went to Pakistan or back to Vietnam... I had a Eureka moment and pulled up reviews of salons on Yelp! and THAT is where I discovered  a hair salon that is now the only place I would go to if I need a haircut or a colour done. 

First of all the interiors are fantastic... which gave me a sense of relief as I figure... ok...so these guys do have some idea of style! Then I was introduced to Danny. I have a feeling that pretty much anyone they will introduce you to will probably know what they are doing... but I LOVED how Danny was patient through all my nervous questions... which is understandable considering my Houston experiences thus far. Finally got my colour back to almost where I wanted it to be... and he gave me a great cut too!!! So.. have finally found my salon of choice !! Word of warning: they are very expensive... so this would probably be a place I would visit once every six months... can't afford to do this every month for sure

That done... next step is to find cool things to do and places to eat at... That should be the fun part... have discovered a few places that are fast becoming my go to fav places... but will divulge those in my next post! If you know of a place or something I must check out in Houston... please feel free to comment or write me at ayeshahalam@yahoo.com. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Khaness of Nam is now the Texan Queen!

So you know... I moved to Texas. Houston to be exact. Since I am no longer in Vietnam it stands to good reason I change the title of my blog to The Khaness Chronicles. My life has so many twists and turns that I never know where the road may lead me.. therefore safer bet...If I thought coming to the US meant cooler weather... boy was I wrong! Houston is HOT! And not the kind of HOT as displayed in the pic below.. I mean like searing heat kind of HOT!

Aside from that Houston is NOTHING like the East Coast which I love. The East coast is pretty, its cool, street life... plenty of things to do. Houston is nothing like that. Its flat land.  No one really walks as its too hot so everyone HAS to have a car or  you are stranded! Think of Dubai meets USA but Dubai has public transport which makes Dubai better than Houston!

For those of you who have grown up in Karachi Pakistan... and have driven on the streets of Karachi... you will feel right at home. The only difference is .. they drive a lot faster here... and are totally insane! Just because someone has a left indicator blinking does not necessarily mean they want to turn left! And just because they don't have an indicator blinking does not necessarily mean they don't want to suddenly jump out right in front of you at the speed of 65 miles an hour.

And I thought Lahore drivers were nuts! I did manage to get my drivers licence. Of course I was nervous about the test despite having been driving since the age of 16 (which was a lifetime ago but lets not get into that part). Next order of business was get a job so I could afford to get a car to get to my job... see how the cycle is starting?

So in the US one cannot do anything without credit history!! I mean nothing!! so you want to buy a car? you know those unbelievable low monthly payments? yeah they don't apply to you unless you have credit history. So unless you are willing to dole out oodles of cash and buy stuff straight out... forget about it. So first order of business... establish credit history.

Its as if the whole system is designed for one to be in debt and spend one's life paying it off! Its insane!! Very frustrating for a newcomer!! Luckily I have wonderful friends who trust me enough to know I am not going to run away leaving them in debt, and so had them cosign for me... but for people who don't know anyone there.... its rough!! Best solution is ask a bank for a secure credit card... and just keep adding cash to that and build your credit that way. Forget about trying to rent a place, or get electricity or gas! Yes EVEN THAT needs credit history! Did I mention job? 

I am now a Fundraiser for Children International. My first job in the US. Loving the fact that we are able to be enablers of impacting children's lives! It really is an amazing organization and I love the work they do! Not bad to start my new life with. No idea where this will lead me but it looks like an interesting journey so far. I do miss Vietnam. I miss my friends and my life there. Certainly so much nicer living there than here... but.. this is my journey. Have to bloom where I am planted and for now this is where I am planted. Shall keep you guys posted as I discover Houston and what it has to offer. If you have any suggestions as to what I could do... please write me and let me know at ayeshahalam@yahoo.com or leave a comment for me! Would love to get some suggestions! till we "meet" again... ciao!

Monday, July 29, 2013

MY top 10 places to eat in Saigon

Well, we have moved. Which explains the hiatus I had taken from writing. I am now in the United States of America. I will get to that part later. First I must say I miss my lovely eateries that I used to frequent.  And because of that I have decided I am going to make a list of places which I would HAVE to go to, if I was to go back

Having said that... this list is actually in no particular order.. it just depends on what you are in the mood for eating

1. Cuc Gach Quan

Yes its more expensive than the average street food vendor... but I love the ambience and the food is fantastic!! If you ask for the manager he will guide you as to what to order. Apparently the owner of the restaurant turned his grandmother's home into an eatery and so its a really interesting place to visit and see what he has done with the place. He is an architect so has used his skills to turn the place into a very interesting venue. Definitely worth a visit. 10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh, District 1, Saigon. You can learn more about the restaurant here

2. May

Now the restaurant I mentioned earlier was done apparently in partnership with Vietnamese French lady, and they eventually had a falling out as rumour has it. She then went ahead and established her own restaurant in a very interesting part of town. Its round the corner from the Lunch lady... made famous by Anthony Bourdain. and the food is very good and pretty well priced too. Address here is 3/5 Hoang Sa, District 1, Saigon. You can learn more about this restaurant here

3. The Lunch Lady

Now everyone has gone on about her .. she does a different soup every day of the week and if you are going to be in Saigon.. its definitely worth a visit. If you want to know more about the Lunch lady and her offerings.. take a look here

4. Scott & Binh's

I just loved going here. Going to this restaurant is like going to an old friend's house. Scott and his wife will both be there most times along with their adorable baby and they welcome you in as if you have been invited into their home. The food is fantastic and the prices are pretty reasonable. Its not street food so if you are looking for those kind of prices you are in the wrong place! Try the brunches on the weekend... Their tag line for the restaurant is "comfort with a twist" YUM YUM YUM. To know more about their restaurant click here

5. TIB

This is a Vegan restaurant and I am a meat eater. But I discovered a new passion for vegetarian dishes after eating at this place. Absolutely LOVED the food here and I would love to just hop down for their delicious lettuce rolls with peanut sauce. I could get 2 for 30,000 VND which is a little over $1. To know more about this restaurant click here

6. Hum

Since we are on the topic of Vegan restaurants, another place I discovered and loved both for their food and the ambience,  is Hum. I had the Tofu in a spicy sauce and it was absolutely delicious. Could not get enough of it. Again its not street food prices but totally worth it! If you want to know more about the restaurant click here

7. Ban Sonate

A friend of mine introduced me to this little cafe. Its down a little street and one cannot imagine this little green paradise would exist on this street. But that is one of the things I love about Saigon. One never knows what to expect. Their cafe sua da is fantastic ! To know more about this place click here. But you will need to make sure your browser can translate as the page is in Vietnamese

8. Dong Hoa Xuan

This fish dish is to die for. The restaurant is just a hole in the wall place but this dish is worth going there for. Absolutely LOVE this meal. Many of the taxi drivers knew exactly where this was. I discovered this place thanks to a blog and this is what the author had to say about this meal. I agree with him

9. Pho Phu Huong

This was one of the first Vietnamese experiences I had thanks to Barbara and Vu's tour company http://saigonstreeteats.com/ They introduced me to Pho and taught me how to eat it. This place they took me to try the pho out has to be the best Pho I had in Vietnam. And I tried quite a few places but this was without a doubt the best. Contact Barbara and get her to take  you on their Pho trail. Totally worth it

10. L'Usine

And last but certainly not the least.. this is a great place for a casual hangout with friends. If you are alone, there is a giant table you can sit at along with other people who come alone and you can strike up a conversation with your neighbours if you like. The food is pretty good. All expat food mostly and the prices are expat prices too. But I love the space and enjoy the food so for me deserves a mention. All of the above spots I have mentioned are places I would absolutely want to go back to if I was to visit Saigon again. I hope you enjoy them as much too. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Surprising & Fascinating Saigon

So we finally hosted a couple of dear friends from our hometown, Karachi Pakistan. This was going to be a tough one. They had just spent a wild few days in Bangkok... destination wedding of a friend... and if you know anything about Pakistani culture you know our weddings are insane

From there they continued on to Cambodia ...having survived two hours of sleep a night from their previous destination.. straight to Siem Riep where they oohed and aahed and fell in love with Angkor Wat wondering why they had to leave Cambodia

Considering the fantastic time they had there.. I was nervous about them coming to Saigon... and tried my best to show them Saigon through my eyes. So when they landed the first place I took them to for lunch was Monsoon, which I have already written about earlier in my blog.

They of course loved the food there... nice intro to Vietnamese food .. and given that cuisine from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam were on the menu.. .it was a good easing into  the culture considering they were familiar with food from Thailand and Cambodia 

Next it was time to take them to Binh Thanh market... coffee, laquer work, a typical tourist trap but not to be missed as its a great opportunity to do some fab shopping...

Since we were in the area... took them round the corner to that embroidery place that I raved about earlier in my blog as well. Another must stop for anyone visiting as I don't think this art form will last too long... the embroideries are so fine that you could easily mistake them for paintings...its XQ embroidery..and one of their branches is on Le Loi street... do drop in and have a look

By this time they were exhausted so we dropped them off with a promise to take them out somewhere special for dinner. And they were not disappointed. Now we have been to this particular restaurant a few times. Apparently Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have stopped here to dine as well... the food is fantastic.. a bit pricey.. but beautiful. We all know of it as the architect's house.. as he revamped his grandmother's place.. but its Vietnamese name is Cuc Gach Quan and the address is 10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh, HCMC District 1. Their number is +84 8 3848 0144

Once we had stuffed our gullets well... it was time for some fun entertainment.. and we all trooped down to one of my favourite hang out places in Saigon these days...and that is Carmen. A fun bar with latino/American music played live by a Filipino band.. great sense of humour.. and if there is any talent in the audience..they step up and join the band. We saw a fantastic guitarist from Brazil join them as well as someone from Malaysia step up to sing Hotel California!!! We were blown away! Their address is 8 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, HCMC 

That was quite a bit to pack into the first day so we let them rest and asked them to let us know when they were up so we could start our adventures the next day. They were feeling kind of lazy so we didn't hear from them till noon. Recovering from all the partying... so I took them to another one of my fav places... for one of my fav Vietnamese dishes... Bun Ba xao at Cafe Press

I think I may have mentioned them earlier as well. One of the things I love about Saigon is you turn down a street .. or an alleyway and at the end ....one discovers these amazing spaces... this was one of them.. located at 14 Alexandre De Rhodes.

The owner has a passion for trains which is quite obvious in the decoration of the place..and the food quality is very good too!! I would have never discovered this place if it wasn't for the Ho Chi Minh food forum on Facebook.. but what a find. We all loved our meal and then swiftly moved on to the next destination... which was a cupcake purchasing trip.. to be had as dessert after lunch.. I know... timings were off and considering we had just eaten.. but everything revolves around food in my book.. and the BEST cupcakes in Saigon... are from Sweet and Sour Bakery. They have the best cupcakes I have ever had. They are located at 40/3 Nguyen Van Huong Street, Thao Dien, District 2 HCMC

Armed with our delicious box of goodies.. it would be a shame to just let them sit there.. so we decided to be complete pigs and headed out to the Boathouse. I knew they would enjoy sitting by the river... in this lovely environment where we could chow down some more before pulling out the cupcakes... great place to chill... wonderful food.. nice and zen after the hustle bustle of the city

Since one of our friends visiting is an architect herself... I knew she would love all these spaces but also knew of her interest in furniture... so next stop was a hole in the wall type place for antique furniture where she fell in love all over again with Saigon. Once the hole in the wall was done.. took them to a retail outlet where again the furniture is beautiful. A bit over priced... but beautiful

At this point I was being cursed at for not really explaining all the wonderful treasures held within Saigon... and then it was time to move to our next destination. We had a little more energy left in us and my mind was desperately trying to come up with a place that everyone would enjoy. Now one can't google this place or Foursquare it. I found it because of my dear friend Barbara from +Saigon Street Eats . What's amazing is you go down this street that looks like it just teeming with traffic and then suddenly.. here is this man made park hidden away from the city. Right behind the Manor for those of you who want to get down there and discover it for yourselves. The next dinner location for that night was the Sushi Bar on 141 Nguyen Dinh Chieu

The sushi was served beautifully.... and before we could even remember to take a photograph of the food... we fell upon our platters with much gusto... one would even imagine we hadn't had much to eat considering the speed with which everything was demolished.. great quality food. Entertainment time again so we first stopped in at Pecharan .. the spanish bar next to Caravelle hotel...but the music was the boom boom kind and we were not in the mood... or age group dare I add... so we moved on to Saigon Saigon, top floor of the Caravelle, where a Cuban band gets the crowd moving. The salsa club were there too.. .so the energy is was fantastic. Definitely worth a visit

If you visit the place in the daytime this is what it looks like... a very charming place indeed

After watching the dancing and downing a few drinks.. we called it a night when they were told with great seriousness that breakfast together was a must as we had a place they HAD to see. Notice we didn't do the museums, or Cu chi tunnels ... I suppose they can do that when and if they come back. Where was breakfast planned you ask? where else... L'usine. Its not just that its a great space... charming and simple... or that the food is great. Even the entrance is a little lane...through an art gallery... and then up some dodgy looking stairs... Surprising Saigon again! This is on Dong Khoi street

After breakfast I wanted to show my friends another space. Yes all our activities were planned around food.. and since this was a restaurant I couldn't fit into a meal time... I wanted to show the space atleast. Its a beautiful restaurant and the food is pretty good too. La Fenetre De Soleil is located at 44 Ly Tu Trong.. definitely worth a visit. 

We just sat here for a while... soaking in the ambience.. and then took her to a friend's house who is a fabulous artist. What I love about Saigon is how everyone serves to contribute to the energy that is Saigon. The Vietnamese and the expats alike. They contribute to the culture, music and art scene as well as the food of course. Now despite not doing the normal touristy things .. I couldn't let them come to Vietnam and not let them try the Pho... so next stop .. Pho

It was well into the afternoon by this time so we deposited our friends back at the hotel with instructions to rest up as we had quite an evening planned for them considering it was their last night in Saigon. So for drinks we stopped at Shri around 7:30 pm .. enough time for our friends to pick up some art work and of course a beautiful hand carved junk to take home

Shri is a beautiful rooftop restaurant with fantastic food.. prices to match as well...but worth it... its located at level 23 of the Centec Tower. The address is 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1, HCMC

Drinks done then time to move to the next location. This is another spot apparently frequented by Brangelina... and for good reason too... beautiful restaurant... food is ok.. just about.. but the ambience is fantastic. The Temple Club was opened about 10 years ago in one of the last Heritage buildings in Central Saigon. Its located at 29 Ton That Thiep, Ben Nghe, District 1, HCMC

Now for dinner I had two options for them... but we settled at the first place we went to. Not quiet and intimate as the other places but the food there is phenominal.. we took them to The Refinery. They are located at 74 Hai Ba Trung street, Saigon, HCMC

Here you have a choice of Western food, Japanese, Lebanese and of course Vietnamese. Since it was their last night here we chose Vietnamese. The food was out of this world... and certainly worth suffering through the loud lebanese music being played across the street while the belly dancers did their thing. If there is one thing we all came away with ...its how surprising Saigon can really be. My friends called it a fascinating city. Another friend described it perfectly. If Hong Kong and India were to hook up and have a baby... the resulting offspring would be Saigon. That is the best description ever!

Well I hope I have given you plenty of ideas of where to visit when you are here... or if you are here ..then some places to go to that you may not have been to yet. Thanks for reading through my meanderings.. :) if you wish to leave a comment .. would love to hear from you.. or write to me at ayeshahalam@yahoo.com 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Adventures from Nam

So as you know, we are leaving Nam... and we are now in holding mode. Its shocking how many companies are pulling out of Vietnam this year. Big companies who have already invested so much time and money... but its very challenging working here with all the red tape and what have you. Companies like MGM and Chevron.. are out.. so if you remember my post on the the MGM casino... you can imagine what a big shock this is. 

So now we have a significant amount of expats in holding mode... waiting to see where they will all go next. And now I get it... why everyone was so surprised we brought all our stuff with us from Pakistan.  So word of advice to anyone who is jumping into expat life.. DON'T!!! Seriously, it is very limiting when you are looking for a space to live in and makes you a lot less mobile. Only bring the necessary stuff... like maybe a blender.. or food processor... or whatever you think you can't live without. The rest of the stuff.. put it into storage.. which is what we are now doing with all our stuff. 

Since we knew we would be leaving I felt we should have at least one adventure here.. and get to know a country that is right next door. Cambodia. I had no idea what to expect.. and I was super surprised. First of all .. don't use a tour agency to book for you. Seriously you will save so much money doing the work yourself. And with the internet ..things are much easier.. or you can do what we did and just wing it...if you are up for that kind of experience.. but you can avoid the pain of looking around on foot by simply spending some time on the net. 

Trip Advisor is a great resource.. you get real people's reviews and gives you a feel for what to expect. They usually have a contact for the hotel as well, and you can also look at restaurants, things to do etc. Definitely worth checking out. I was lucky to have spoken to my dear friend Barbara who taught me many of the travel tips I am sharing with you here. Another fantastic site to check out is 

Great resource for information. Do check them out as well. Now for the part where I tell you about travelling to Cambodia from Vietnam. Its a lot simpler than one would imagine .. and super cheap to get there ... 

So if you are an expat... carry your Resident card with you. If you are simply passing through, most countries can get a visa at the border for a cost of $25. Many sites say that a tourist visa costs $20 but I just got back and can tell you that has changed. Your visa will be valid for a month. If you plan on going towards Thailand from there be careful which border town you enter through as some areas do have low level threats .. Siem Riep to Bangkok is what was advised to me. The only bus service I would use after my experience is the one from Sinh Tourist

They are located in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand which makes it very easy. They have a beautiful clean bus service and they offer the best deals as far as transport is concerned. For $10 I could get from Ho Chi Minh city to Pnomh Penh. Another $7 got me to Siem Riep. You board the bus, they give you a bottle of water for your trip, collect your passport from you and basically take care of what needs to be taken care of. You just need to walk through the border control and get your passport stamped where and when needed

Its an hour and a half approx from HCMC to the border. The bus leaves at 6:30 am which puts you in Pnomh Penh at around 12:30 pm. It will be hot. VERY hot.. so wear light clothing. Do remember to bring shirts with some sleeves as entrance into pagodas in sleeveless shirts are not allowed. Shorts are not allowed either so make sure you pants are at least calf length. Accommodation is fairly cheap... you can go as low as $12 for a tiny but clean room at the Nordic house on street 136 or up to $89 at the Foreign Correspondent's Club by the Riverside, which is beautiful by the way. 

The room above at the Nordic House has a rate of $35 but you can bargain.. so best of luck with your negotiation skills. But even at $35, its a pretty good deal. They have free wifi too, so its quite a steal for that price. Or if you want something a little more fancy...

This room at the FCC (Foreign Corresondent's Club) would put you back about $90, inclusive of breakfast and wifi. Both the above hotels are very close to the museum and the Royal Palace. Many places to eat around here too... so its a great location. Or you can walk around that area and check out the many places and try and find yourself the best deal. Another great place to stay is the Golden House International hotel on street 136. May not look like much on the outside but the rooms surprised us. They are right opposite the Nordic House. Ask for their room rates and then bargain. Always check the rooms and bathrooms before you agree to stay anywhere. If you get a dodgy feeling from the place.. don't stay there. 

Cambodian food is fantastic!!! It is really super delicious and super cheap. Much cheaper than Vietnam. The people are super friendly too and most people you will come across speak English. I travelled with both my teenage daughters there and for three of us we could comfortably eat for $10 collectively for each meal. Street food would be even cheaper I am sure.. we ate at the riverside restaurants. I would have eaten at the street food stalls but my daughters were not quite up for that yet. 

To get around.. you will find plenty of tuk tuks. The drivers will probably call out to you.. Bargain with them.. most places can be reached for $2... the max we spent on any tuk tuk ride was $4 to get from our hotel on street 136 to Sinh Tourist which was a bit of a distance away. You will be approached by hawkers and if you don't want to purchase something from them ... simply say no and walk away...They may even enter the restaurant you are eating at.. but say no and they will leave you alone. Here is how I would plan the trip if I were to go again. 

Take the Sinh Tourist bus from Saigon to Pnomh Penh at 6:30 am for $10. Pay $25 for visa at border. 

Arrive at Pnomh Penh by 12:30, Check in to hotel of choice and rest for a few hours after lunch. Its sizzling hot so make sure you have plenty of water on you at all times! Get to the Royal Palace by 3:45 pm which gives you plenty of time to explore the palace before it closes. You could go in the morning as well..but I found the evening cooler and more manageable

The Palace is beautiful and definitely worth a visit. The King actually lives there but his portion is obviously not allowed visitors. You will be able to peek at his quarter from afar though. The Silver Pagoda is within the palace grounds and not to be missed either. It is called so because the floor is made of silver. It is all carpeted now.. but they have left a portion open so you can see for yourself. No sleeveless shirts or shorts allowed here. Some places you will be allowed to take pics, others you won't.  There is an entrance fee of $6.50 

After you are done with the Palace, you can take a cyclo tour ... or a tuk tuk tour for an hour and let the drivers show you around. Find a place to eat, and just chill and walk around. Depending on how many days you have the next day early morning go see the museums. There are two major museums, the National Museum and the Genocide museum. I didn't get to them as I didn't plan my trip as well for myself. But now with the experience when I go back.. this is how I would do it. If you are only there for a day...once you are done with the museums get back to Sinh Tourist and book a bus for Seim Riep. Their bus leaves at 2:00 pm I am sure you can find other companies that take you there too... but theirs was the cleanest and cheapest bus.. can't beat the price of $7. I tried... so I know. Try and get there early before you hit the museum to get your spot on the bus. 

if you plan to stay another day in Pnomh Penh, you can check out the Killing Fields and of course the markets. Central market and Russian market to be precise. For me it was way too hot and the museums would be enough for me. 

Siem Riep is slightly more expensive than Pnomh Penh. The city has been built up solely for tourists.. so you can see why. Having said that.. its more expensive than Pnomh Penh but its still cheap. Do not get tempted and book a tour with an agency. Your money will go further if you do it yourself. So if you have taken the 2:00 pm bus, you should be in Siem Riep by 8:00 pm. Again, use the internet to find yourself a decent hotel. Try and stay around the night market area.. you can find hotels here for about $35 a night inclusive of free wifi and breakfast. There is a Foreign Correspondent's club here too.. and yes its beautiful if you don't mind shelling out almost $100 per night to stay there. Another recommendation was the Angkor Riviera which will put you out about $60 for the family suite

So its 8:30 pm in Siem Riep what to do... ? go check out the Night maket..you may find interesting knick knacks to buy.. lots of pubs and bars and eateries, the energy is amazing!! 

I had the best noodles ever on Pub Street near the night market. Its street food and so delicious and cost me $1.50 for a nice big plate of the stuff..yummilicious!! 

Now if you are in Siem Riep naturally you will go see the Angkor Wat

Entrance fee here is $20 per person. So if you are travelling as a family that can work out quite expensive. But its one of the wonders of the world so if you are on a budget.. stay in cheap places and splurge on this. I made a massive mistake and didn't go at the right time. Get there by sunrise. That is the best time to visit. Yes of course the lighting makes it beautiful, but its also much cooler. You will be suprised how quickly it becomes very hot and you will have a fair amount of climbing to do.  Carry plenty of water with you, though outside the temple you will find stalls where you can buy bottles of water. It is a large area... so do take the time to around the whole area. Get a tuk tuk to take you $15 and if you want you can hire a tour guide for $12 on the spot. Take a break for lunch from 12:00 to 2:00 to cool off a bit.. and then you can see the rest. If you are not templed out you can see another temple that was made famous by the Lara Croft film.. Beng Melea temple.. 40 kms away as advised by my twitter friend  +Robin Wylie . I was templed out so didn't go.. maybe next time :). For me one day was enough and then book your bus back to Pnomh Penh which leaves at 6:30 am

Enjoy the city again.. and book bus back to HCMC which leaves at 1:30 pm. We made the mistake of missing the Sinh Tourist bus and went to another company to book our bus back. We paid $10 for a public bus that stopped every so often to pick up passengers... was not clean compared to the $7 we could have paid for getting up early and getting back. You could take a VIP bus as well which is supposed to be a clean bus and that is $12. If I had known about that I would have definitely taken that one. But now I know and so will plan better for our next trip there. Last parting note.. try to travel there during the weekdays.. you will find things cheaper thank on weekends specially in Pnomh Penh. The reason being that many Vietnamese tourists hop over on the weekends to gamble... so prices tend to go up a bit :)

Hope you found this helpful.. please feel free to leave a comment or write to me at ayeshahalam@yahoo.com