THROWBACK TRAVEL: My Memories of Vietnam-Cambodia Trip in 2016

NEWS FLASH!

I was about two months pregnant when I went on this post-birthday travel trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with friends. They say that the first trimester is the most crucial stage of pregnancy. But it didn’t bother me at all because I knew my body can handle it. Traveling is something that my body and soul completely embrace with wide arms open, giving me a new sense of perception and inspiration. Besides, I was surrounded by friends that care about me and the baby inside me. I knew I was in good hands. But if you are prone to high-risk pregnancy, I highly suggest that you stay at home and have enough rest. Don’t be stubborn like me. Stay home, and get some rest.

 

HO CHI MINH

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, has a vibrant mix of old and new attractions from French-inspired architectures, to crazy busy local markets, to action-packed streets filled with bustling scooters.

There are also lots of cheap buys and cheap eats. You can find delicious-looking street foods everywhere you look. I tried to go local by eating pho noodle soup, banh mi, and the classic Vietnamese spring rolls. But the most indisputable is their local coffee. Distinctively flavorful.

We had very limited time to spend in Saigon because our itinerary includes Cambodia (Angkor Wat) which was actually the highlight of this trip. But I’m sure I will go back to Saigon and will explore more.

Despite the hot weather and bustling city hustle, Saigon should be included in your travel bucket list.

 

Pho Noodle Soup. Being pregnant at that time, I remember having a huge craving for noodle soup. But I didn’t know what noodle soup it was. Only to find it in Vietnam!

 

Roaming around Saigon Square with Pinoy Squad

 

PHNOM PENH

Traveling to Phnom Penh, Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City is a breeze. All we had to do was to book in advance a minibus for a 6-hour cross-border trip. We reached the immigration border around twilight and was given the Arrival Card that we had to fill out.

As Philippine passport holder, it is visa-free to enter Cambodia and at that time, we were allowed to stay for 21 days. This is the same for other ASEAN countries such as Laos, Malaysia, Singapore , Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, and Myanmar. For other foreign nationals, a visa is obtainable upon arrival while some can obtain online through E-visa.

Some nationalities that are required to get a visa in advance at Royal Embassy of Kingdom of Cambodia in their country are the following: Afghanistan, Algeria, Arab Saudi, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Nigeria.

It really depends on which country you’re from. If you want to know more about it, you may check for more info here after reading this post.

The arrival card that needs to be filled out in Cambodian Immigration

 

Our first order of business when we arrived in Phnom Penh is food. LOL

We refreshed ourselves first at the hotel, and once everything was settled, we headed to Phnom Penh Night Market to find cheap eats and anything interesting.

 

The next day, we rode on the kingdom’s most popular mode of public transport, the “tuk-tuk.” It’s like a tricycle in the Philippines but bigger. More like kalesa (horse carriage), but no horse, just motorbike. You get the picture.

Riding a tuk-tuk with Sid

We went on a trip down memory lane and discovered more about local culture and history by visiting the museums, temples, and pagodas. Of course, we didn’t pass at the chance of seeing the famous Royal Palace. Just being at the grounds of the palace made me feel some kind of a royalty. Charot!

At the Royal Palace grounds

 

But the most unforgettable was seeing the horrors of horrific reminders of genocide in Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. Up to this day, 2 years after, remembering it still gives me chills to my bones.

Skulls of the Khmer Killing Fields victims

 

 

SIEM REAP

As mentioned, this is the highlight of this trip: to visit the 7th wonder of the world and a UNESCO heritage – Angkot Wat. From Phnom Penh, we travelled another 6 hours by minibus (or van). We hit the road before sunset so it was a little bit late when we reached our hotel.

We got a decent and affordable hotel via Booking.com. If you don’t have a Booking.com account yet, you may sign up now here and get 10% off on your booking! I may get a small bonus for referring you but that also means you get some discounts. Give and take. 

The next morning, before dawn actually, we woke up early to see the majestic Angkor Wat temples. The tuk-tuk driver (our driver during our entire stay) said that we should be there early to catch the sunrise if we want to have an awesome photo of it. Expect that the famous destination will be flocked by tourists and it will be crowded which means longer queue and wait time if we want to see the major temples.

 

Angkor Wat at dawn

 

ANGKOR WAT

The name Angkor Wat means “Temple City” in Khmer language. Angkor which refers to the city of Cambodia, and Wat is the Khmer word for temple ground. Angkor Wat, the main temples, is just one of the many ruins to visit in a famous ancient temple complex and one of the largest religious monuments in the world. From the outside, it looks like a huge single temple, but it’s actually a city of temples. It is hard to imagine the work that has gone into building those vast temples hundreds of years ago.

You probably need 3 days (or more) if you want to see them all. But we didn’t have that much time so we only visited the major ones in one day. To see one temple after another, we needed to ride a tuk-tuk. Remember, I was pregnant, so we didn’t dare go on foot to see the other temples. After all, that’s what we hired the tuk-tuk for.

 

 

We specifically asked our tuk-tuk driver to bring us to “Tomb Raider” temple after seeing the Angkor Wat. Turns out, that temple’s name is Ta Prohm. It is the actual temple where they filmed Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft) following a little Cambodian girl and finding a special flower that she picked after which she fell into the tomb below.

Because of this Hollywood fame, Ta Prohm temple is insanely popular with tourists. Also, the giant tree growing out of the front of it looks awesome for photo op. And being the movie buff that I am, of course I didn’t pass the chance to be a copycat of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft! See video here.

FUN FACT: Paramount Pictures had to pay $10,000 daily to film Tomb Raider at Angkor

 

 

ANGKOR WAT ENTRANCE FEES

Unless you are a Cambodian, you should have an Angkor Pass to visit the temples. The Angkor Pass is also valid for some other temples in the Siem Reap area, like Phnom Krom, Wat Athvea and the Roluos Group. You can purchase the pass from the Angkor Wat Ticket Office also known as Angkor Enterprise. As of January 2018, Angkor Enterprise has moved locations from the checkpoint in front of Angkor Wat to downtown Siem Reap. The current address is at Angkor Enterprise, Street 60, Siem Reap, Cambodia and opens from 5:00 am until 5:30 pm. The office is located next to Angkor Panorama Museum and across the street from the Asia Traditional Museum.

The admission pass fee (Angkor Pass) for a single-day ticket to the temple back then was only US$20. Due to the price hike, the prices of admission for foreign visitors to Angkor Wat are now set at $37 for a single day pass, $62 for a three-day pass, and $72 for a week-long pass. They used to be $20, $40 and $60, respectively. There is no discount for students, while children under 12 years old are not required to purchase an entrance ticket. A passport needs to be shown as proof. They will then take your photo and issue your ticket.

Angkor Pass back in 2016

During our time of visit, they only accept cash to purchase the tickets. But with the new update, paying by credit card (Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay, JCB, Discover and Diners Club) is now also possible. An on-site ATM is also available to withdraw cash.

Note: Entrance tickets for a one-day visit are issued up to 5pm, and tickets issued after 5pm are valid for the next day.

You can visit Angkor Wat from 5:00AM – 6:00PM.

Always carry your ticket. It will be checked upon each park entry and at major temples. There is a significant fine for not possessing a valid ticket inside the park.

 

ANGKOR WAT DRESS CODE

I know you probably need to plan your OOTD (outfit of the day) so this information is really crucial to us, millennials. But you have to pay attention to this because this is being strictly enforced. They even have the posters outside the ticketing area as a reminder to visitors.

Shoulders and knees should be covered at all times when inside any of the temples. Guards stationed at the entrance to each temple will not permit you to enter unless you’re wearing appropriate clothing. You also need to make sure that your shoulders and knees are covered when buying your ticket otherwise they won’t sell you a ticket.

Though I was born and raised in a tropical country, I still find Cambodia weather super hot. During our Phnom Penh tour, I was wearing shorts and comfortable cotton shirt the entire time and still got super sweaty. But just to avoid the hassle and paying extra dollars to buy a pair of local made flowy trousers (which is by the way being sold at a rather higher price than usual) outside the ticketing area, don’t go there wearing shorts, minis, or sleeveless tops. The guards definitely recognize that most tourists aren’t used to the tropical heat. But as long as you dress accordingly or conservatively when entering the temples, you shouldn’t have any issues.

Remember, you’re visiting a temple complex that is home to the largest religious monument in the world. It only makes sense that as a visitor, you respect their dress code. After all, you only need to cover your shoulders and knees inside the temples. When you’re walking, riding, or just hanging out outside of the temples you can wear whatever you want.

If you wanna see how we dressed up for Angkor Wat, watch this masterpiece of a video here. LOL. Thanks, Lawrence for being an awesome videographer! And of course to the entire Pinoy Squad for being so game!

 

MUST-HAVES

Water. Definitely. It is hot and sticky at the Angkor. You may want to remain hydrated. I suggest that you bring as many as you can carry because they’re expensive to buy in the park.

Snacks. Light snacks or finger food will do just to tide you over until you get a decent meal once you’re back in town.

Comfortable clothes. As mentioned, they have strict dress code at Angkor. I suggest wearing a cool and comfortable kind of clothing that’s not exposing your shoulders and knee. Rule of thumb: covered shoulders and knee. OOTD shouldn’t sacrifice comfort and dress code compliance.

Comfortable footwear. Even though we hired a tuk-tuk to bring us from one temple to another, we still did a lot of walking. And I meant A LOT. Not only on flat surfaces but also over uneven layers of bricks and stones. I highly recommend that you wear your “most trusted” footwear that will protect your feet from blisters and uneven ground.

Sunscreen. I can’t tell you enough how important this is. And please, don’t give me that excuse that you’re not fair skinned or you don’t bother to wear a tan, so you don’t need one. Sunscreen is to protect your skin from being damaged and chances of getting skin disease caused by the UV rays of the sun.

 

That’s about it, folks! Have you ever been to Vietnam and Cambodia? Any memories you can share? Leave it at the comments field!

 

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