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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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.

 

Bayon Temple: The Temple of Faces

The Bayon Temple is my most favorite temple besides Angkor Wat in the Angkor Archeological Park even though each temple has a special something. It is one of the most enigmatic and ambiguously strong religious constructions. Today, the temple is best known for the gigantic stone face sculptures.

Bayon Temple

with my sister in Bayon Temple

This was taken during my first visit in Angkor Thom in October 2010.

The Bayon Temple is located at the centre of Angkor Thom. It was built during the late 12th century and early 13th century, about 100 years after they built Angkor Wat, during the reign of the famous King Jayavarman VII. It is considered as the second most important temple in Cambodia after Angkor Wat because it is a Buddhist temple consecrated to the Buddhist cult.

Bayon Temple

My sister in Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

As part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, Bayon Temple has been famous for its amazing collection of Buddha large, serene, smiling stone faces found on each towers. I have learned that there are about 54 towers which represent the Khmer provinces in the Great Khmer Empire period. I have also learned that there are about 200 faces which symbolize different Buddha smiling faces such as beautiful smile, glad smile, sad smile and charming smile. And, these different stone faces in the walls surely amaze each tourist.

l6-1

 

Visiting Bayon Temple with my sister

Bayon Temple

When we visited the Bayon Temple, I could feel the splendor and the magic from the people living during those ancient times who were able to construct all these amazing temples in the Angkor Kingdom. I loved the many smiling Buddhas in this temple. It was so peaceful and quiet. We climbed to the top of the tier of the Bayon Temple and we found great views of the tree canopy and some bird spotting. We captured a lot of beautiful pictures in there. We saw some workers who were restoring this beautiful architecture.

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

I would say that this place is an exceptional architectural heritage. The details that went into carving the faces from stones are spectacular. It was a unique experience and a pleasure to photograph. To me, the architecture plan is one of the greatest in the world.

It was my sister’s first time visit in Angkor Thom

Bayon Temple

Have you found the most smiling face?