Traveling with my old good friends is to me one of the healthiest and most positive things I can do to strengthen our friendship.
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!Our 7 days backpacking trip provided us the opportunity
- 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.
- 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.
- to break the ice when the 4 of us meet new people on the road and these travel stories bring about some genuine laughs.
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 adventuresMy 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.
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.
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.
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.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.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.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.
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.
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!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.
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.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.
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.Certainly, traveling with these 4 good friends was awesome as they augmented the epic-ness of the adventure.