A March Wedding

On 28 March 2012, one of my high school friends got married. She and her boyfriend/fiancé/husband have been together for 11 years, and the 28th was their 11th year anniversary! As I told them, they make me believe that love is possible 😀

They were both based in Singapore, but the wedding was very nicely planned. The wedding ceremonies were held at Christ the King Parish in Green Meadows, and the reception was at Enderun College in Bonifacio Global City.

The function room

From Scrapbook

I initially thought that Enderun College, though it is a culinary school, was a weird place to hold a reception. However, I was wrong! Parking was a breeze, there was a great looking staircase where cocktails were held prior to the reception, and there was a big function room with a nice skylight (the type of skylight where a Mission Impossible like scene could be filmed, I actually imagined a romcom type movie with such a scene being shot there). There was also a margarita machine in the gardens, which had about 3 orange couches. It was a nice touch, it certainly made the place more photogenic.

From Scrapbook
From Scrapbook

The food was also great, at this point I forgot what I ate 😦 but I do remember the standout lamb. I promise myself to take note of whatever I eat from now on. 😀

To my friends, P and P, congratulations! Love is alive!

From Scrapbook

Vietnam Cambodia 2012 Itinerary and Expenses

In a nutshell, here is our itinerary and a breakdown of expenses. Please note that I traveled with 3 others, so our cab expenses, tour guide expenses, and other expenses that can be broken down were split among the 4 of us.

Day 1:

0040: Arrive at Ho Chi Minh City

0145: Arrive at Pham Ngu Lao, Phan Lan Hotel

0500: Wake up!

0600: Breakfast in hotel

0800: Pick up from hotel, going to Cu Chi tunnels

0930: Arrive at Lacquer factory

1040: Arrive at Cu Chi tunnels

1240: Depart Cu Chi tunnels

1410: Arrive at Ho Chi Minh City, War Remnants Museum

1510: Reunification Palace

1625: Notre Dame Cathedral/ Post Office

1650: Ben Thanh Market, eat lunch at Pho 24

2035: Go back to hotel

Day 2:

0500: Wake up!

0600: Breakfast in hotel

0700: Pick up from hotel, board bus to Phnom Penh

0925: Arrive at Moc Bai/Bavet border

0955: Lunch at Bavet

1340: Arrive at Phnom Penh

1430: Depart from Phnom Penh for Siem Reap

1748: Dinner at Stung Sen stopover

2040: Arrive at Siem Reap

2105: Check in at Soria Moria Hotel

Day 3:

0500: Wake up!

0630: Breakfast in hotel

0710: Pick up from hotel

0730: Arrive at ticket booth

0735: First glimpse of Angkor Wat

0850: Climb the central tower of Angkor Wat

1025: Leave Angkor Wat

1035: Preah Kravan

1055: Lunch at Rumdoul Khmer Angkor Restaurant

1205: Leave Srah Srang area

1215: Ta Prohm

1315: Banteay Kdei

1350: Back at Srah Srang

1410: Silk Factory

1435: Reserve seats for the night show at Koulen Restaurant

1445: Back at the hotel for some rest

1545: Leave for Tonle Sap

1620: Arrive at Tonle Sap

1655: Arrive at the middle of the Tonle Sap to wait for sunset

1815: Sun finally sets, depart Tonle Sap

1930: Arrive at Koulen Restaurant, just in time for show

2030: Show ends, go back to hotel

Day 4:

0400: Wake up!

0500: Pick up from hotel to go to Angkor Wat

0510: Arrive at Angkor Wat

0540: First light to shine on Angkor Wat

0630: Sunrise, finally.

0700: Breakfast at Angkor Reach Restaurant

0745: Depart for Angkor Thom

0755: Arrive at Angkor Thom, enter through South Gate

0820: Bayon

0855: Preah Ngok

0900: Baphoun

0955: Phimeanakas

1020: Elephant Terrace/ Royal Palace

1030: Leper King Terrace

1110: Preah Palilay

1225: Preah Khan

1315: Lunch at Neary Khmer Restaurant

1420: Checked in at Borei Angkor Hotel

1700: Pick up from hotel to go to Healthy Hand massage

1850: Drop off at Old Market

2025: Dinner at Khmer Kitchen Restaurant

2100: Art Centre Night Market/Angkor Night Market

2200: Back at the hotel

Day 5:

0500: Wake up!

0600: Breakfast at hotel

0700: Pick up from hotel

0735: Pre Rup

0845: Banteay Srei

1110: Banteay Samre

1230: Lunch (and nap) at Steung Torcheak Restaurant

1430: Preah Ko

1500: Bakong

1700: Dropped off at Centre Market

1850: Dinner at Cambodian bbq

2030: Back at the hotel

Day 6:

0500: Wake up!

0600: Breakfast at hotel

0700: Pick up from hotel to go to bus terminal

0800: Depart from Siem Reap

1000: Stopover

1400: Arrive at Phnom Penh

1430: Depart from Phnom Penh

1530: Mekong River crossing

1735: Dinner at Bavet

1755: Moc Bai/Bavet border

2105: Arrive at Ho Chi Minh

2235: Arrive at airport

2250: Dinner again at airport at Lotus Restaurant

2330: Board for Manila

Day 7

0430: Arrive at Manila

Expenses

Airfare: 5325.66PHP

Cab from airport: 200,000VND

Cu Chi tour: 136,000VND

Cu Chi entrance: 90,000VND

Water: (approx price) 5,000-10,000VND (depends on where you are)

War Museum: 15,000VND

Reunification Palace: 30,000VND

Pho: 103,000VND

Cab expenses (approx per ride): 25,000VND

Hotel: about 6-7USD

Bus: 22USD per way

Weasel coffee: 110,000VND

Spring rolls: 40,000VND for 4 pieces

Meals in Cambodia: around 2.125-6USD per meal, except for Apsara dance buffet 14USD

Entrance fee to temples: 40USD

Tonle Sap (entrance and boat): 18USD per person (it was 68USD)

Water: about 1USD each

Scarves: 27USD for real thing, 1.40USD in the market

Shirts: 1.50-4.00USD

Tuktuk rides: 3.00USD per ride

Magnets: about 1.00USD each

Massage: 10USD

Tour guide: 60.00USD (3 days)

Sweets on the street: 1.00USD for 3 pieces

Tuktuk (3 days): 72.00USD (this includes Tonle Sap, Banteay Srei and Rolous)

Spices and lotus seeds: 2.00USD per pack

Hotel in Cambodia: 90USD

My total expenses: 23,380.59PHP or around 420USD without the airfare

Some of what I brought home

From Scrapbook

Conversion rates:

1USD

=4,000Riel

=20,850VND

=43PHP

Mekong Express

On our third day (20 March 2012), we woke up at around 0500 to prepare for our 12-hour trip to Cambodia. We were packed and ready to go by 0630, because we were warned “Chanh” that we should be ready by that time. For our tickets, O asked him when we were still in Manila to buy Mekong Express tickets for us. The two-leg trip costs 22USD per person, and had to be paid in cash (as in US Dollars).

The bus conductor was very prompt, we were fetched from Phan Lan at around 645. After profusely thanking Van and “Chanh”, “Cam ern!”, we were herded to the Mekong Express bus parked along Pham Ngu Lao. One thing to know about Pham Ngu Lao, not only is it very busy because it is essentially the heart of the backpacker district, it also doubles as the bus stop of many busses.

The Mekong Express boarding process was very orderly. We were asked for our tickets and baggage. Each baggage was tagged and we were given part of the bag tags, which we were instructed not to lose. We were then pointed to our seats.

The Mekong Express Limousine Bus was just a regular airconditioned bus with a washroom in the rear. What initially struck us most was the décor. It looked like an 80s party bus. The curtains had pompoms on them. Very interesting. As O said, we should not raise our expectations. We didn’t, and we were pleasantly surprised. It’s not too bad, really.

Look! Pompoms!

From Scrapbook

At exactly 0700, we left Pham Ngu Lao. We had a Cambodian “stewardess,” who immediately spoke about the trip ahead: it will be approximately 6 hrs. to get to Phnom Penh. We will cross the Mekong River about 2 hrs. from Ho Chi Minh, and stop at the border at Moc Bai (Vietnam side) and Bavet (Cambodia side) in 3 hrs. We will also stop for a meal at Bavet, and the total travel distance is 262 kilometers. We were also given immigration forms to be filled out by us. The bus was full of passengers!

The stewardess

From Scrapbook

Our “stewardess” also handed out cold towels, a bottle of water an a box of snacks (ham and cheese sandwich). This came with the ticket, and also explains the premium price we paid for the trip. Other bus services are cheaper, as I understand, but Mekong Express had these additional factors that made us choose it over the others.

The freebies. Cold towel, water, snack

From Scrapbook

The snack

From Scrapbook

The journey was comfortable enough, and I fell asleep almost instantly. I only wake up again when we were about to cross the Mekong River. There was no bridge connecting the two banks, and we had to board a barge. Thankfully, we need not leave the bus and simply look at the river from our bus. It was barely a 10 minute ride between the two banks.

The next stop was at Moc Bai/Bavet border. Our “stewardess” asked for our passports and reminded us that we had to go down the bus with all our belongings, and present ourselves to the Vietnam immigration authorities. Inside the Vietnam border building, we passed through the x-ray machine and waited for our names to be called. It was a wee bit confusing, as there was no line, our passports were with our “stewardess” and she just called out names. Eventually, we got our passports, presented ourselves to a Vietnamese officer at the door, and out we went. A short distance away, we were asked to de-bus again, this time to present ourselves to the Cambodian authorities. On this side of the border, we lined up at the counters, asked for a picture and our fingerprints, and passed through a thermometer. This was the first time we were asked if we were Filipinos (the Cambodian who asked did not see our passports). This would be a theme of our Cambodia trip (How do they know we are Filipinos???). I understand some nationalities need to obtain a visa at the Cambodian border, but not for us Southeast Asians.

We again boarded the bus and we proceeded to an eatery on the side of the road about a kilometer or two away from the border. It was almost 1100hrs, so we thought of eating our lunch there. It was your good old carinderia (eatery), with prices ranging from 6,000-8,000 Riel per meal (that is roughly 2USD, or 85PhP). It was clean, and we were quite peckish, so we all settled down for a meal. What was noticeable were the individual trash bins in each table. We all thought, why didn’t we think of this! It was a very useful indeed. Another noteworthy observation T and O had was the excellent quality of the rice.  According to them, it was aromatic and flavourful. I wouldn’t know, I am not a rice expert… even though I am a very voracious rice eater. Lastly, we noticed that you can actually pay in US dollars! There was no need to have your money changed, that definitely came as a surprise. After 30 minutes, we again boarded the bus and off we went to Phnom Penh.

The "carinderia" (eatery) style

From Scrapbook

Free tea!

From Scrapbook

To get to Phnom Penh, one has to pass through the provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Kandal. Between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhang and Kampong Thom will be traversed. After three more hours, we finally arrive at Phnom Penh.  We first stopped at the market where the passengers getting off at Phnom Penh alighted. The bus subsequently went to the Mekong Express Terminal. We all had to get out of the bus and get our luggage. There we showed the part of the bag tags given to us (yes, there was a purpose, unlike the tags given to us by airlines :p). It was about 1330hrs. We had some time before our 1400hrs trip to Siem Reap, but not too much time. We just stayed at the (thankfully airconditioned) office, and decided to buy our tickets for the 24th Cambodia-Vietnam trip. It was similarly priced, 22USD per person, and the woman who assisted us was very sweet and charming. By 1350hrs, we were called to board the bus, and it left at 1400hrs. Unlike the Ho Chi Minh-Phnom Penh leg, the bus was only about 3/4 full.

Mekong Express Terminal at Phnom Penh

From Scrapbook

For this part of the trip, our “stewardess” was a man. He immediately gave out the cold towels, bottles of water, and snack (this time, it was a tuna turnover, and a slice of cake). This leg of the trip was uneventful, except for the exceptionally beautiful sunset we saw at about 1800hrs. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a photo of it.

Party bus mode

From Scrapbook

We also stopped for a meal at Stung Sen Restaurant, where we had dinner because it was already 1748hrs.. There were also trashbins under every table. We started to think this was a Cambodian thing. We had to eat very fast, as we were only given 30 minutes, and we dilly-dallied for the first 15 minutes.

I should also tell you about the entertainment in Mekong Express. For each leg of the trip, they show a movie on the wonderfully designed tv :D. For our trips, they played Indiana Jones (the new one), a Khmer film, and Khmer mtvs. The mtvs were very entertaining! They are unlike the mtvs we’re used to watching, they are much rather like the videoke films, but with a storyline. One story could be told in several songs, so you’d have to watch the next video. It’s fun 😀

From Scrapbook

Finally, and after about 13 hours, we arrive at Siem Reap. The bus parked at the bus terminal, where there are numerous tuktuk drivers waiting for us. We immediately gathered our things, and carefully chose our tuktuk driver. We settle on Li, who gave us the ride for 3USD. We asked to go to Soria Moria Boutique Hotel, where we were booked for two days. Upon arriving at Soria Moria, Li asked if we already had tours booked. We asked for his prices, and said that it was 15USD a day, with additions for other trips (like the farther temples). We also asked if he knew of a tour guide who could accompany us during the trip, and he said he will take care of it. O and Li shook hands and it was a deal. He said we had to be ready by 0700hrs the following day.

Fast forward to 23 March 2012.

We decided to avail of the hotel pick-up service offered by Mekong Express. It just so happened that we went to Central Market that afternoon, and saw the Mekong Express office there. We did not have our tickets with us, but since their system was online, they found our reservations. However, horror of horrors, we did not have reservations for the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh leg, and the bus was already full! We had to explain that we booked the ticket at Phnom Penh 3 days prior, and paid in full. We were offered the aisle seats, which we refused. It would be uncomfortable and not at all worthy of the 22USD per person! We asked if they could just bear the expenses of booking us in another bus company, but the manager of the office said she will try to fix the problem. Apparently, the sweet and charming girl who assisted us failed to book us for the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh part of our ticket. After several fretful minutes, the manager using 3 different phones, struggled to procure seats for us. In the end, however, she did get tickets for us, although we were seated in separate rows. We did not mind, and we were just very grateful that the mess was settled. For that, we are very thankful to Mekong Express for not simply abandoning us, and acknowledged (though not directly) that it was their fault. Also, we would like to thank the staff at Siem Reap for being so accommodating. They also took down our hotel and our request to avail of the complimentary pick up from the hotel.

For our trip back on 24 March 2012, we left the wonderful Borei Angkor at around 7. Since we were ready by 0600hrs., we still had time to grab some breakfast. At the lobby, we met fellow Filipinos who were also taking a bus (though not Mekong Express). It is so Filipino to ask “What is your work?”, which is an awkward question especially when posed to strangers. Anyway, by 0700hrs, we were picked up from the lobby by a minibus, and brought to the Siem Reap bus terminal. There, our tickets were checked, luggage tagged and put in the bus compartment, and seated. Once again, we had the complimentary water, cold towel and snack of 2 kinds of bread. We stopped over at a restaurant midway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and in the street stalls, O bought some mangoes for 2000Riel. It was different from the mangoes sold in the street in Manila, in the sense that the condiment was salt with chili. In Manila, it is usually bagoong (fish paste) and chili.

We once again changed busses at the Phnom Penh terminal of Mekong Express, where our passports were checked and listed down (in some sort of guest manifesto), to be submitted at the Vietnamese border. Once again, there was the complimentary water, cold towel and snack. After some time, we finally reach Bavet. We stopped at the same bus stop we stopped at on our trip to Siem Reap. We ate a meal again, we anticipated that we would not have much time when we reach Ho Chi Minh. At the border, and we were requested to go down to get our fingerprints again, and at the Moc Bai part, we had to get all our stuff out of the bus to undergo the x-ray machine.

At the border. There's our stewardess

From Scrapbook

There we met a fellow Filipino (let’s call him XYZ), who told us a tragically comic story of how he came to the bus. He related that he brought the wrong passport so he did not make it to his original bus schedule, had to buy a new ticket, and he would meet his friends at a department store in Ho Chi Minh, a city he had not yet been in. He asked for our help, but we did not know the store either. After about 2 more hours, we finally reach Ho Chi Minh. Once in the busy part of the city, he shouted “Ate!” (a Filipino term of respect for women older than the speaker), referring to me, and I spun around. I actually did not know what he wanted, but I approached the stewardess anyway, and asked if he can be dropped off. The stewardess beckoned XYZ and told him directions. He looked dazed and confused, but we are not in a position to help him any further. We merely wished he would meet his friends. (NB: we met XYZ again at the airport, he was also about to fly to Manila. Thankfully, he met up with his friends)

Upon arriving at Pham Ngu Lao, we immediately hailed a cab to go to the airport. It was hard at that time (around 2030pm), because the cabs were occupied. There was even an accident right in front of us, not a major one, but still caused some commotion (it was between an Innova cab and a motorcycle). We got to the airport in no time, waited for about 20 minutes before check in, and got through uneventfully. I just have to note that the airport was extra chaotic as there were a lot of people waiting in the lobby, it seemed that the departure and arrival gates were the same. I also have to note with envy the fact that there were direct to Europe flights from Ho Chi Minh. At the time we were there, there were three flights to Paris! How I wish it would be the same in Manila, but as luck would have it, the last direct to Europe flights from KLM have been cancelled already.

Before boarding, we still had some time to kill so we searched for a pho place in the airport. We settled at Lotus Restaurant at the mezzanine floor, where there was also a Burger King, a coffee place, and some massage places. We wanted some pho to cap our Indochina trip, and we did get our fill. Unfortunately, it was expensive at 8USD per serving, plus it was really just mediocre pho. Oh well, as I am writing this I am craving for some pho!

Mekong Express Front

Mekong Express Back