7 days backpacking trip with my friends

Traveling with my old good friends is to me one of the healthiest and most positive things I can do to strengthen our friendship.

Angkor Thom

I was chuffed to bits that my friends who I hadn’t seen for so many years visited me and my family in the Penh. I was also grateful that my boys gave me some time to join backpacking trip with them!

Bayon Temple [Thanks to my friend Gb for taking this photo]

Our 7 days backpacking trip provided us the opportunity

  1. to develop a deeper bond and to get to know each other more. Those fun, crazy, and stressful situations helped me get to know them even better. Even though we have known each other for a long time, traveling together allow us to deepen our friendship in ways neither of us expected.
  2. to make lifelong memories and mutual experience to savor together. These shared stories would be things that we can reminisce about forever especially since we haven’t lived near enough to each other to have many common experiences in recent years. Personally, these shared travel stories become really, really important.
  3. to break the ice when the 4 of us meet new people on the road and these travel stories bring about some genuine laughs.

with my good friends at the Angkor Wat

Also, one of the best parts of our trip was the planning stage. We didn’t tire of our endless travel chat and it was perfectly acceptable when Ga messaged us at midnight with all her urgent and essential questions like which hotel we were going to book, flight changes, which clothes to bring, or simply talking about all the amazing places we wanted to visit together – got all of us super excited for the adventures

Ta Prohm [Thanks to Carl for this photo]

My friends and I backpacked from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Phnom Penh City, Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and then back to Phnom Penh for 7 days. And since it was my first backpacking trip with them, I decided to share our awesome memories together.

with my friends in Angkor

Wander the wonder of the Angkor Temples in Siem Reap

Wandering the wonder of the Angkor Temples (one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia) with good old friends was just awesome. First we visited the amazing relic and extraordinary Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century and dubbed as the largest religious monument and one of the finest monument in the world. We spent a half-day exploring the Angkor Wat, and even though there were hordes of tourists at that time, the view was still breathtaking, and it was worth it.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Bas reliefs

After lunch, we headed to the most fascinating temple in Angkor – The Bayon Temple – where there were 200 plus gigantic mesmerizing faces adorn this incredible temple. Truly it’s the cheeriest of them all.

Bayon Temple

Then we continued to Ta Prohm Temple, a temple known for massive trees growing out its walls. This temple was also featured in a movie “Tomb Raider”and Indiana Jones movie. These giant trees appear to melt into the meticulously hewn stones, binding them together or tearing them apart in extraordinary fusion of nature and man is a juxtaposition of order and chaos. Indeed, Ta Prohm is a perfect harmony of nature and architecture.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm [Thanks Gb for this photo]

Chill at the PUB Street in Siem Reap

After temple trekking, we chilled at the PUB Street – a happy pedestrian with amazingly excellent vibe. It was a very lively place and there was so much fun and joys. We grabbed a bite at the Temple Restaurant. We had Cambodian soup and Tom Yum and it was good.

Temple Restaurant [Thanks to Carl for this photo]

PUB Street [Thanks to Carl for this photo]

Early morning splash in the pool

I love how we started our day – quick early morning splash in the pool at Naga Gate Hotel. To me, it was an easy way to get my exercise for the day and provide me some poolside relaxation. Plus, it was cool making the half-awake commute to the pool and getting into a completely still, flat, placid, calm and cold pool while the rest of the world was still asleep.

@ Naga Gate Hotel in Siem Reap [Thanks Gb for this photo]

Exploring the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh

When we were rested and refreshed, we explored the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. We went there at around 3.30pm, and I think it was the perfect time to visit the palace as there were only few tourist. We paid $10.25 for the entrance fee (which is quite expensive) and we stayed there for an hour. My friends were awed by the beautiful architecture and the magnificent collection of gold in the Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace is certainly a place of history; and a worthy place to visit if you are in the city.

The Royal Palace

The Silver Pagoda

The Royal Palace

Strolling around the River and Lazying at Le Moon Sky Bar in Phnom Penh

From the palace, we strolled around the Riverside, a colourful place and a nice spot for tourists and Khmer people alike where you can enjoy a nice breeze and local activities – play different games, walk, and relax. It’s also a great place for everything – restaurants, bars, markets, Mekong boat cruise, and many more. After strolling, we lazed at the Le Moon Sky Bar while savoring tea and coffee and enjoying the commanding views and the open-air rooftop breeze.

Visit S-21 (Tuol Sleng) Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields in Phnom Penh

The Tuol Sleng Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing fields are the saddest places we’ve been to. Our tour there was very interactive and the audio guide provided us with very good information of the events – about 3 million Cambodians were tortured and killed by their own people. The recorded testimonies from the survivors and guards are very grounding. Such a harrowing and sad piece of history but a must go if you visit Cambodia and definitely worth having the audio too as it gives you a very descriptive and realistic outline of the two places! We spent about an hour in Tuol Sleng Museum and an hour and a half walking quietly in the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.

Choeung Ek Killing Field

Choeung Ek Killing Field

Choeung Ek Killing Field

Devour Vietnamese Street Food and walked around the walking street

One thing I love about Vietnam is their sooo delicious street food. After our tour at the Cu chi tunnels, we dropped off at the Ben Tanh Market to grab Vietnamese street food. It’s an ideal inexpensive spot selling many types of food and drink. The atmosphere there was relaxed. We especially enjoyed sitting the hustle and bustle. In the evening, we walked around the very lively Bu Vien walking street, a great street of bars, clubs and streetwise food. There were a lot of tourists and locals alike, jamming the road. We walked up and down the street and sampled some drinks and food as we went along. We sat into a few little local bars, devoured local tasty food while we watched the world went by. It was fun!

Vietnamese food

Vietnamese food. [Thanks to my friend Carl for this photo]

Bui Vien Walking Street

Bui Vien walking street [Thanks Ga for this photo]

Crawl at the Cu Chi Tunnel

We spent half day to visit the Cu Chi Tunnel. Our guide showed us how the Viet Cong outwitted the Americans at every step with their primitive but quite effective weapons. We learned how the Viet Cong and the local people constructed the tunnels, the infrastructures (hospitals, kitchen, conference room, etc) and the various traps – booby door trap, window, rolling, etc. Our guide also pointed out the bomb craters with collapsed tunnels entrance, the termite mounds covering the bamboo air tubes to the tunnels and the camouflage entrance to the tunnels with multiple firing positions. We also learned that the Viet Cong used sandals made out of used rubber (from an old motor bike or car tire) and cut out a foot print to trick the American soldiers as they thought that the trail of footprints they had picked up was heading one way but instead they were heading the opposite way. During the tour, we crawled 60 m out of 200 km tunnels – it was really an amazing experience! Can you imagine living in the tunnel for many years? Certainly our visit to the tunnels was a wonderful insight into life during the war in Vietnam.

Inside the tunnel. [Thanks Carl for this photo]

The rubber slippers used by the Vietcongs.

The rescue entrance

Shop in Ho Chi Minh

We went shopping at the Ben Tanh Market, one of the huge markets in Ho Chi Minh with a large range of products – food, bags, clothing, etc. It has a good atmosphere and good products. Just like in Cambodia’s markets, there is no fixed price in this market, so you need to learn how to bargain. If you are foreigner ask for 40-50% off when you bargain across the board. Overall, we had so much fun in the market especially when bargaining.

@ Ben Tanh market [Thanks Carl for this photo]

Meet my family in the Kingdom

My friends got to meet my family in the Penh for the first time. As a way of welcoming them into our simple abode, we offered them cooked meals. I’m grateful that my hubby cooked food (Gratin Dauphinois, Coq Au Vin, Cantonese Rice, toast salmon, etc.) for my friends. And on the last night (before they fly back home), we took them to one of our fave bistro in town to chill. For two nights, round the table with good food and a fine wine, we had one of the best and most fun discussions. Indeed, it was such a fun and great moment for all of us!

Fun Tuktuk ride

Tuktuk ride is one of the most common public transportation here, and it was one of the fun experiences we have had while showing some places in Cambodia to my friends. We took a tuktuk wherever we went. While riding a tuktuk, we felt alive in traffic from the fellow tuktuks, motorbikes and cars. It was fast, cheap, fun, we got “fresh air”, and we love the wind in our hair.

tuktuk ride

Enjoy the long bus ride

Even though there are local flights available from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh, we opted to travel by bus to see more of the countryside. We traveled with the Giant Ibis Bus Company and the ticket (one way) was $18 per person. From Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, we nearly missed our bus as we were 10 minutes late. Luckily, the staff was kind enough to wait for us. It took us about 6 hours to reach the capital city. On our way to Ho Chi Minh City from Phnom Penh, we missed our bus at 8.30AM. We tried to catch it but we couldn’t – it already went far, so we decided to go back to the bus station. Fortunately, there were still some seats available for the next bus trip at 12.30PM – we were relieved! We went to the bus the station 30 minutes early before the departing time to make sure we wouldn’t miss it again. The entire bus trip was good and comfortable. The bus provided us a wet tissue, and small snacks (savory bread and a small bottle of water). There was wifi and there were outlets on every row. The bus stopped 3 times (1 stop for lunch and 2 stops for toilet). The road occasionally took us to the river, we saw stilt houses, small children walking on the road from school and we past beautiful scenery of rice paddies. We saw the countryside – poor but beautiful. Indeed, the 22 hours bus trip (6 hours SR to PP, 8 hours PP to HCM and 8 hours HCM to PP) was a nice journey, and no such thing as dead time.

Bus ride to Ho Chi Minh from Phnom Penh [Thanks Carl for this photo]

Bus ride to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap [Thanks Carl for this photo]

Certainly, traveling with these 4 good friends was awesome as they augmented the epic-ness of the adventure.

 

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Review: Naga Gate Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap

Early in November this year, me and 3 of my good friends from elementary and high school traveled to Siem Reap to see the majestic temples of Angkor. The city of Siem Reap is rapidly expanding. There are new infrastructures being built everywhere from hotels and residences to high-rising commercial buildings.

So, in keeping with our budget while exploring a new place with comfort, we stayed at Naga Gate Boutique Hotel, a new nicely designed contemporary hotel in Siem Reap.

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

It is conveniently located along Makara St, Chun Lung Village. It’s 2 km away from the city centre, but it’s easy to get around – about 7 minutes by tuktuk ride to the PUB Street, the place to be if you need a range of options for restaurants and for evening entertainment in Siem Reap.

The tuktuks that picked us up. Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

Arrival – at the hotel’s reception. Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

Upon arrival they picked me up at the bus station, and they picked my friends up at the airport. At the hotel, the staff were very welcoming and we were greeted with a towel and a complimentary welcome cocktail – it was so refreshing!

Me…enjoying the complimentary welcome cocktail by the pool. 🙂

Since we were 5, we opted to stay in a Family Interconnecting Pool View Room so that we would have ample time to catch up since we haven’t seen each other for so many years (2 of them I haven’t seen for 18 years and for 14 years). The rooms are interconnected to each other and there was enough space for everybody. It was very spacious, very tidy and very comfortable.

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Our room has 1 large double bed, 2 extra double beds, 2 private bathrooms and a bathtub. The beds were very comfortable; it’s firm and pretty good for your back. The blanket is thick and soft too, and the pillows are fluffy.

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

The windows are huge to ensure sunlight when you need it. It has a sitting area – a small couch, a small round table and 2 chairs where we could relax or do some work.

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Our rooms were well furnished with 2 safety deposit boxes, 2 flat screen TVs with cable channels, 2 small refrigerators, 2 air conditioners, 2 kettles. Other extras include free toiletries, 5 bathrobes, slippers and many more.

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel has also a lovely restaurant which offers Cambodian and western cuisine. We had breakfast there and it was super – plenty of choice and very generous portions. The food was fresh, healthy and luscious.

Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

I highly recommend the chicken soup. My friends and I loved their salad, too, as well as their coffee and fresh homemade fruit juice.

Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez

Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

Photo credit to my friend, Carl G. Fernandez.

What I loved about Naga Gate was its facilities. They have a nice sea water swimming pool with sun loungers as well as a fitness center and a spa. Due to our hectic schedule, I never got to try out the gym and massage. The hotel facilities are excellent – keeping with any top class hotel, and provides free strong WiFi which is accessible everywhere in the hotel.

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Photo credit to my friend, Julie Ann D. Manzano.

Photo credit to my friend, Julie Ann D. Manzano

Early splash in the pool, 6AM. 🙂

The staff were absolutely lovely and always greeted us with a beautiful smile. We like the kindness and politeness of the staff. They were attentive – always there to help us, and they really tried to make sure that our stay would be a special one.

with the staff of the hotel.

The best thing about Naga Gate is definitely its price. A room, complete with breakfast and complimentary use of swimming pool, as well as a discount to services like massage. Talk about good value for money! 🙂

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel

Naga Gate Boutique Hotel is certainly a true oasis – quiet, fabulous and a real touch of luxury! It’s chic and cosy in a busy street but managed to remain remote from the noise and movement of the city. Its location, helpful staff and its facilities, not to mention its affordable rate, makes it the perfect place for family and friends visiting the gateway to the ruins of Angkor.

Visiting the Salt Fields in Kampot

Have you been to a salt field before? Just outside of Kampot town, about 15 minutes, on the road to Kep we visited the only salt fields in Cambodia – Kampot’s salt fields both during the dry season and during the rainy season.

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Kampot’s Salt Fields

During the dry season (November to May), we saw small dazzling white hills of salt crystals from the sea water that we use in cooking.

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Kampot’s Salt Fields

While we were on the tour, we learned that the workers bring in sea water from the ocean by hand and pour it into the fields. Then let it evaporate so that salt crystals will form. The raw salt is then raked into neat triangular piles, collected and piled up in sheds beside the salt fields. It is then delivered to the salt factory where it is cleaned and iodine is added. Then it is scooped up, packed down and sold off throughout the country.

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Kampot’s Salt Fields

When the rain comes (June to November), the sea water in the fields does not have time to evaporate and the salt crystals cannot be collected.

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Even though we didn’t see the glowing white hills, we still enjoyed the stunning view of the salt fields that turns into big natural mirrors.

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Kampot’s Salt Fields

Certainly, the salt fields offer strikingly different views and perspectives every season and provides great photo opportunities and ability for photographers to play with the beautiful landscape.

Trekking at Kep National Park

Kep is a small coastal town in Cambodia. It is known for its seafood and tropical beaches. It is a beach getaway for foreigners living in Cambodia, although mostly for locals, as one could eat fresh seafood, laze on the beach and enjoy sundowners.

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep is more than just a beach, though! Behind the beaches are a range of small mountains/ big hills where Kep National Park, a jungle preserve, is located. It boasts beautiful views of the surrounding islands, tranquil scenery and a galore of local wildlife.

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

So, on the second day, we decided to go trekking in an 8km trail in Kep National Park that makes a loop around the mountain. It was actually our first time in the Cambodian jungle. The main trail was quite steep, well-prepared, well-maintained and well-marked.

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

We took a few minutes rest where the Sunset Rock is, which had a lovely view over the coast. After a rest there, we continued our journey in the remaining loop of the trail. In total, we spent about 2.5 hours in the park. We got to see interesting exotic plants and animals, breathtaking panoramic views of the dense vegetation, nearby islands, and the thick canopy kept us shaded most of the time. At some stage, worried monkeys started to growl and one even threw a stone at us while we were taking a short break on a bench. We got the feeling that they meant no harm and just wanted to protect their habitat.

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

As we hiked up the mountain, our conversations with our 10 year old lil explorer ran from different types of insects, reptiles, arthropods to the possibility of multiverse to American-Vietnam War to politics and to I-pad games.

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

We are certainly impressed and proud with our son as he finished his 1st long hike in the steaming jungle – even though he suffered he was brave. The temperature was about 35-40 degree Celsius, with this ever present pre-storm electrical heat one can only find in Cambodia during the rainy season.

Kep National Park

After the hike, our clothes were totally soaked in sweat; we had to take a shower as soon as we got back to our Bungalow.

Kep National Park is beautiful! It was well worth the effort – enjoyable good walk and challenging in a pleasant way, plus we got a tan! While trekking, we met quite a few other enthusiasts who were equally proud to endure the heat in order to enjoy the local wildlife.

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Kep National Park

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • The entire trip will take about 2-3 hours.
  • The entrance fee s USD1.50 per person at the start of the trek just above the parking area of Veranda Natural Resort.
  • Start early because it is steaming hot in there and if you’re lucky you could see wildlife including birds, snakes, squirrels, monkeys, butterflies and many more.
  • Be guided by the maps and information on the trails as you walk up the mountain.
  • Bring water.
  • Wear mosquito repellent because mosquitoes are everywhere.
  • Wear decent walking shoes.

Beat the heat at DIB Club

What’s the perfect way to cool off under the kiss of the summer Cambodian sun? Under the open sky, we took a dip in the soothing warm water, with stunning views of the tropical surrounding while relaxing with my family.

DIB Club

DIB Club

DIB Club

DIB Club is a brand new place in Phnom Penh blessed with a refreshing breeze from the Mekong River. When we arrived at the place, we were pretty impressed with the swimming pool – a huge, clean outdoor pool to lounge at!

DIB Club

DIB Club

DIB Club

Each poolside is cozy, perfect for lounging, dining and conversing.

DIB Club

DIB Club

Also, the kids can enjoy the paddling pool and the bouncy castle.

DIB Club

DIB Club

The entire place is tidy and nice. The food was good even though it was quite pricey for what it was. Plus, there was only a limited choices of drinks, and the music was too loud.

DIB Club

DIB Club

Overall, it’s one of the good places in Phnom Penh where to relax and beat the heat with family or friends away from the bustling city.

DIB Club

DIB Club

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • It is located on Kock Pich Street, near Golf Driving Range in Diamond Island, Phnom Penh.
  • The pool charge is $5 per person. However, if you order food and drinks there, you can use the pool for free.
  • You can make a reservation at (+353) 099-997-740.
  • No happy hour.

 

Relaxing at L’lephant Blanc Resort

Last weekend, we headed off to L’elephant Blanc Resort to relax, unwind and to escape the rush of our everyday life. It is a little heaven on earth in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the tranquil tropical gardens.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

We love the peaceful ambience of the place.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

We also like the saltwater swimming pool – it’s big enough and clean.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

There’s also a pool table, ping pong and a nice poolside restaurant. The food is good and the prices are reasonable (around $5 for a meal). We did enjoy our food and the drinks.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

The staff were friendly and helpful, and the wifi was descent.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

The place gets busier at weekends, but when we went there it was not crowded and we almost had the place to ourselves.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

Even though the whole place is tidy and nice, I think it needs some makeover to refresh the resort.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

L’lephant Blanc Resort

Overall, it’s a good value for money and it’s good for family weekend getaways.

L’lephant Blanc Resort

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • In some websites it is called Domrey Sor.
  • It is about 10kms, about 30 minutes drive, from the city centre. Cross the Monivong Bridge and continue along National Road 1 for about 6 kms then you’ll see the resort on your left.
  • For non-guests, the pool charge is $4 for adult and $2 for children. Otherwise it is free if you rent one of their bungalows.

Taking our Son to see the Temples of Angkor

Last weekend, we took our 10 year old little wanderer to Siem Reap to show to him one of the most amazing places in the world – the temples of Angkor, the landmark of Cambodia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was our 5th visit but it was even more special because we were showing such magnificent place to our little one for the first time.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century. I have learned that it was the largest city in the world from 1010 -1220 with about 0.1% of the world’s population. The Angkor Archaeological Park comprises of several temples such as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Ta Som, Banteay Srei, and many more, and the ruins are located in the middle of the jungle between farmlands.

Angkor Wat

The temples truly are amazing! And our little explorer was amazed at the beauty of the architecture, craftsmanship, the size and the details of each monument. Even though it was very hot and humid, he was still very energetic and very keen to explore everything, walk within the structure and marvel at the architecture of so long ago.

Angkor Wat

Ta Prohm

Bayon Temple

This time, we only visited three temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm.

We all love Angkor Wat the most – it is grand and majestic! We went there twice before, during sunrise and sunset and the two visits gave us different feels.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Besides Angkor Wat, we also like Ta Prohm. I think it is the most romantic temple in the entire complex as you could feel the joint venture between nature and architecture merging into the forest. Pete, our little navigator was mesmerized by the several hundred years old trees and the way they were going out of the ancient ruins. It is incredible to think that this has been hidden for centuries.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

We also enjoyed visiting Bayon Temple, the cutest of them all – it’s mystical, charming and you could see huge smiling Buddha faces everywhere.

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

Places like this certainly remain in our hearts forever and it is a wonder that you must see to experience it as pictures do not give it justice.

Angkor Archaeological Park

Angkor Archaeological Park

Angkor Archaeological Park

Angkor Archaeological Park

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • I strongly believe you must spend a minimum of 2 days and longer would be more preferable.
  • Entrance fees – 1 day=$37. 3 days=$62, 7 days= $72. Children below 12 years old don’t have to pay the entrance fee. Bring your child’s passport to show to the security otherwise you’ll have to pay for the admission fees.
  • Tuktuk charge for a day tour in Angkor complex is $15.
  • Wear proper clothes – no sleeveless, no shorts. Some temples like Angkor Wat, Baphoun, etc do not allow you to get inside if you are not properly dressed.
  • Wear comfortable shoes for walking because you have to walk a lot.
  • Bring a bottle of water to keep you from dehydration.
  • Bring a towel, an extra tee-shirt, a hat or an umbrella.
  • Bring a camera. There’s a lot opportunity to take good pictures.