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 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


Stephen McGrath said...

It's a shame you missed the Killing Fields, Tuol Sleng (S21) and Lara Croft's location, Ta Prohm temple (not Beng Mealea - although that does look great, too), as these were definitely the highlights of my trip in 2010. Hope you get a chance to go back and see these.

Check out my shots if you're interested in seeing what you missed.

Ayeshah Alam Khan said...

Thanks... yes I definitely want to go back to see those too... we had 4 packed days to do this trip and managed to do quite a bit... thanks for all the names of the sites.. :)

Robin Wylie said...

Thank you for the shout-out, Ayeshah! Stephen is right, the Lara Croft temple is Ta Prohm, not Beng Melea, my mistake, sorry! But Beng Melea sure *looks* like it belongs in Tomb Raider, it was one of the highlights of my trip. You packed quite a lot into 4 days! Hope you get a chance to go back, there's lots more too explore :-)

Ayeshah Alam Khan said...

hahah well thanks for the tips while I was there.. was very helpful!! And hopefully I go back mid of next month and will finish off what I didn't see this time around :)