Here to There: 5 Transportation Tips I learned the hard way

wpid-Photo-20150224193309838.jpg
I am a solo-budget-traveler who likes to book my long-haul flights to/from home and then leave room in my itinerary for unexpected adventures along the way.  While this gives me the flexibility and freedom I enjoy, it also means that I find myself spending precious time considering all my transporation options.  Here are the top 5 things I learned along the way.

1- Land vs Air = Time vs $$$

P1070686 Let’s say I want to get from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.  First, I’d look up bus/train time tables and prices.  Next, I’d hit up Skyscanner and find flights for my chosen time frame.  If I could find a flight for under $70, it was almost always worth it since it saved me from sitting in a minivan all day.  In Vietnam, I bought a flight from HCMC to DaNang that was the same price as an overnight train ride.  Later, I rode the train from Hue to Hanoi and really enjoyed the trip.

2- If there is a border crossing: fly

P1060325 Crossing land borders adds 1-2 hours to your trip.  First, you get out and stand in line to get your visa/stamp. Get back in the bus, drive to customs and unload your gear.  Wait in line again.  The best bus companies give you VIP passes that fast-track you through the visa process. The worst make you switch buses at the border.

3- Wait…WHERE is the bus station?!?

wpid-Photo-20141129234323.jpg I noticed that the bus stations were located miles out of town and were only accessible by taxi.  Sometimes, this means you arrive to your ‘destination’ only to find the cab drivers are charging $15 for the 7 mile drive to your hotel. The nine hour bus ride was only $14. Haggling usually works, but these cabbies know you aren’t going to walk to town, so make some new friends and split the fare.

3-Pay for the ‘Luxury’ bus

wpid-Photo-20141103072411.jpg When the option for land travel is minivan, bus or luxury bus; spend the extra $5. I rode five hours in a minivan, with my hands braced against the back of the bench in front of me  It wasn’t bolted down and tipped back, precariously, every time we accelerated.  Luxury buses often give water or a meal as well. We also paid a bit more for our overnight train berths which slept four people instead of six people.

4- Avoid driving a motorcycle/scooter

P1050520 During my pre-trip research I read it over and over again; moto travel is dangerous! I promised myself that I wouldn’t travel by motorcycle while in Asia. Reinforcing my fears, I met numerous travelers with broken bones/terrible road rash and scary stories.  I was NOT going to be one of them! The last week of my trip, I rented a ‘scooter’ from our hostel to explore the low-key island of Koh Lanta. Luckily, nothing happened to me but my scooter wasn’t so lucky. Uneven pavement and a well-placed guardrail resulted in a hefty repair fine that my travel insurance wouldn’t cover.  Lesson learned.  Next time rent a pedal bike.

 P1040598

5- Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Eventually, I learned that ANY time I changed locations I should just plan on using a full day of travel time.  So, I tried to relax when in transit. I talked to other travelers, binge-listened to my favorite podcasts and watched the world go by outside my window. The journey is part of the adventure and makes the destination sweeter.

One more thing- Ride the SkyTrain from BKK to Bangkok for $3!

A cab can get stuck in traffic for HOURS and cost $27us!  Bypass that hassle and figure out if your destination is near a SkyTrain station.

Taking it easy in Phnom Penh

Oct. 10th, 2014

P1050388When you last left us, we had stumbled into Phnom Penh and finally found our hostel, Me Mate’s Villa. We ate breakfast at our hostel and by then, they had clean sheets on our beds. There was major amounts of sleep to make up.

(Oooh- high ceilings, a bathroom and A/C!)

P1050694

Kate & I didn’t think we’d stay in PP too long.  Unfortunately, that terrible bus ride threw us off our game & we didn’t end up making it to Sihanoukville (4 hrs) or even Kampot (2.5 hrs) since we couldn’t fathom being on a bus that week.  We walked the city and treated ourselves to massages and smoothies.  It was still hot as blazes & super humid, so we needed those smoothies for hydration…

This is me, in front of the Palace, with the river behind me.

P1050724Today, we wandered down the shady pedestrian road and went to the Nat’l Museum. It was $5 and pretty interesting, although I must admit that I was expecting A/C… Or at least glass windows. Nope- there were 2000 year old artifacts (Like this ancient statue of Garuda) just a few feet from a wide open window. No humidity controls here!

P1050357

 

The museum was worth a few hours and could have been more interesting with a guide since the signage isn’t especially informative.

P1050380

We ended our low-key day by meeting up with Meaghen, (my camp friend of 20+ years!) for dinner!  We took a Tuktuk to an Aussie bar and had super yummy hamburgers! It was great to get to catch up with Meaghen and I’ll get to visit her school later this week!

P1050735

Good night!  More Phnom Penh adventures to come!

Bad decision: Night Bus to Phnom Penh.

The magic of a package tour vacation is that someone else finds the places you will visit & figures out how to get you there. Solo traveling is always less expensive.  Unfortunatey, you spend a lot of time weighing the options.

Boat vs Bus vs Plane?  What will it cost?  How long it take?  How comfortable will it be?

Is it safe?

After gathering all the information, you make a choice and cross your fingers that the weather/government/seat mate/break-down doesn’t ruin you trip.

“Oh, did you want to drive on this road? Sorry, it’s not done yet!”

After Kate & I had our fill of the ancient ruins & street harassment of Siem Reap we needed to figure out how to get to Phnom Penh.

Here is the Bad Decision we made…

After weighing the options for transport from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh Kate & I decided that a night bus would save us time and money- since we wouldn’t need a hostel that night! We purchased $15 tickets for the Giant Ibis Luxury O/N bus. The bus had an upper & lower double rows of ‘beds’- so if you didn’t reserve both seats, you’d end up sleeping next to a stranger all night. (Tip: The lower row didn’t have any air vents…)

These photos were taken BEFORE we began our journey and were entertained by the novelty of a bus with a bed.  It was also BEFORE we realized that 2/3 of the 9 hr journey would be on washboard dirt road and we would bounce & slide around in our seats all night. We were excited about the journey… then I had to buckle myself down to avoid getting tossed into the aisle.

After a loooong sleepless night we arrived in PP at 6am in a grouchy fog and were deposited into a swarm of ambitious Tuktuk drivers. We were NOT interested in being pestered so we just started walking, we knew where our hostel was located. It was 6am and a stroll along the Tonlé Sap River seemed relaxing since it wasn’t insanely hot yet.

60 minutes later we arrived at the Royal Palace!

Our hostel should be a few blocks from the palace (Google maps is dumb) but we spent the next 30 minutes overshooting our mark and finally flagged down a Tuktuk driver who charged us $2 to drive 3 blocks to our hostel tucked down an alleyway. It was worth it.

Luckily, when we arrived at ‘Me Mate’s Villa’ we liked it so much we stayed a whole week! ($5/night!)

Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

Te Prohm: Da Bomb

Trip Date: 10/8/2014P1040910 copy

Back in the 2000, Angelina Jolie did a little film called, Tomb Raider.  The most memorable scenes take place in the ruins of an ancient city and were filmed in Te Prohm, Cambodia.  (Kate and I are doing our best Laura Croft poses!)

1424832374_thumb.jpegTe Prohm is BY FAR my favorite site in Siem Reap!  Oh, the trees are glorious!  In the oppressive, wet heat of Cambodia, the lush, shady trees of Te Prohm offer magical amounts of shade.

1424810908_full.jpeg
We wandered, we sat in the shade and contemplated this ancient city.  We took lots of photos and took in this amazing city.
P1040958

Te Prohm has numerous and winding paths to navigate.  Kate & I tried to find our way to the most picturesque spots with a map from my Lonely Planet.

P1040986

We were mildly successful yet were spotted by an entrepreneurial local who offered to show us around, for a fee, of course.  We happily accepted and he guided us through the complex, pointing out note worthy sights, like this giant Bayan tree.

P1040937Everywhere we turned, the trees show their strength by slowly dismantling this ancient city with sinewy roots.

P1040951

The empty nooks along this wall used to house statues of Buddha.  When a new (Hindu) king began his reign, he ordered all 180 of the Buddhas to be chiseled out of their nooks.

P1040899

Gosh, I love Te Prohm!

P1040931

On the way out, we passed by the ubiquitous stands of handmade treasures: paintings, carvings and trinkets.  The dealers are so insistant that you buy from them and I’d bet they would try to sell this darling, sleeping mouse if you looked at it twice.
P1040681

Rest Day@ Backstreet Academy.

I had taken a day ‘off’ of touring temples (the heat really got to me) and I had found an awesome workshop where you could take lessons in traditional Cambodian crafts. I chose to learn how to sew a padded laptop case from an Elephant Brand cement mix bag.

It was a super fun afternoon! I tried on an Apsara headpiece made by this adorable gentleman. (I am a sucker for tiny, smiling old guys!)

After my rest day I switched hostels (to escape a sneezing/coughing Belgium boy who kept calling his mom and whining.) The Luxury Concept hostel was only 3 months old and a bit difficult to find since the Tuk Tuk drivers hadn’t heard of it and the ground floor was a travel agency. The process of moving hostels is not my favorite but my hard work was rewarded when I met my newest travel BFF, Kate!

This was Aussie Kate’s first international trip and Siem Reap with it’s dirty streets and persistent harassment had understandably freaked her out. Luckily, our spacious bunk beds were in the same dorm and I was looking to share a Tuk Tuk! I invited her to grab some dinner and explore the night markets with me – she accepted and we were inseparable for the next 10 days! Kate had a contact in town: a girl named KimLeng whose college education was being sponsored by one of Kate’s friends. We hired her father, Guitar, to take us to the temples the next day.

Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

Hire a guide for the Grand Circuit: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom & Bayon

8am: My new friends had arranged for both a Tuk Tuk driver and a guide; Angkor Archeological Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since1992 and a guide enhances the experience ten fold.

Most tourists spend 2 days exploring the ancient temples. Day 1 is the Grand Circuit consisting of smaller temples, further apart. Day 2 is the Small Circuit, featuring 2-4 of the more spectacular temples. The Circuits’ names seem counter intuitive to me…anyways. Today was the 2nd day the boys had spent touring, so I accompanied them to see the Grand Temples on the ‘Small Circuit’. First up, Angkor Wat!

Without our guide I would have walked right past so many interesting details in the relief carvings. (For instance, there is a woman, washing someone’s hair just to the right of our guide’s elbow!) This impressive wall of reliefs was restored in 2012 and tells the story of the war of 1177 when the Cham people over threw the kingdom of Angkor. The Cham are taking seated Khmer people back to their land by canoe to be slaves.

Riding an elephant into battle. (I figured this out on my own!)

Often, our guide was able To tell us the history or mythology behind the carvings. I love hearing creation stories. My favorite was the creation of the Apsaras (aka. Celestial dancers with impossibly curved fingers.)

The Hindu story: Once upon a time 54 gods & 54 demons were searching for the Elixer of Life. They discovered that they must wrap Vasuki the snake around a volcano in the Ocean of Milk and churn it back and forth for 1000 years. In the reliefs, this looks like a giant tug of war. After 500 years of churning, the Apsara sprung up from the froth and danced in the sky.

P1040437-2

There are SO many carvings of Apsaras, in unique poses, with wild hairstyles that the Cambodian culture devised a very slow dance based on transitioning between the poses. Girls who aspire to be Apsara dancers when they grow up must start training their fingers to gracefully bend backwards at an early age.

Here I am, chiseling an Apsara at an interpretive station.

There are lovely views from the central towers in Angkor Wat. There are also shrines in each of the four directions. As the kings who ruled the area changed, the religious persuation of the temples occilated between Hindu and Buddhist. Therefore, most of the free-standing statues have been removed or vandalized. Luckily, this Hindu god has kept most of his arms.

Most of the original staircases have been closed or covered over with scaffolding; unlike this portion.

After 2 hours in Angkor Wat, we were ready to move on down the road… to Angkor Thom. (Which means Great City in Khmer.) These giant statues are playing tug of war with Vasuki the snake, as they churn the sea of milk.

Angkor Thom was founded by Angkors greatest king, Jayavarman VII , 800+ years ago. The most striking feature of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple at the center of the city. It is the place where earth and heaven join and it is decorated with 215 peacful, smiling faces.

It was hot as blazes by this time in the day, but those smiling faces kept me strolling for over an hour. These gentle faces are most likely the Bodhisattva Lokesvara, although some people think they are modeled after Jayvarman VII, himself. Either way- I could look at his serene face all day!

After soaking in the peaceful smiles of Bayon Temple, we headed to lunch to get out of the heat and rehydrate.

No, that is not us on an elephant on our way to lunch… we took a Tuk Tuk.

After lunch, slightly refreshed, we took on Baphuon.

P1040608It had an impressive raised walkway and children cooling off in the water.

P1040604
Thoroughly exhausted, we headed back to the hostel for a nap!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life List: Siem Reap

Angkor Wat has been on my 'must see' list since before I was 10. Growing up, I remember the colorful photos on the cover of G'ma's National Geographic alternating from 'boring' archeological digs to covers like this one-

Monks in saffron robes, the roots of jungle trees pulling down the walls of ancient cities. Who could resist dreaming about those leafy ruins?

Not me! I bought a ticket to Siem Reap on Bangkok Air and off I went! Since Bryan lives so close to the SkyTrain, I spent $3 getting to the airport instead of $27 to take a cab!

Siem Reap is small and very touristy. Everyone gets constantly harassed by Tuk Tuk drivers and 'massage therapists' – even if you wear this t-shirt.

I spent a day gathering information, maps & opinions and walking the neighborhood near my hostel The Welcommen. I had only stayed in Tokyo, Kyoto and Bangkok; all cosmopolitan cities compared to Siem Reap. This was the first time I saw street barbers and gas stations selling petrol out of Johnny Walker bottles. I crossed the river and followed the shade lined paths until I spotted this Wat, whose entrance is guarded by the 7 headed servant, Naga.

Apparently it was the monk's laundry day.

If you linger long enough at a temple, a monk will come to practice their English with you. “Where are you from? Is this your first time in Cambodia? How long will you stay?” This monk showed me this retention pond & asked if I wanted to go swimming…. No thanks. The second monk was listening to a teaching of the Dalai Lama on his MP3 player.

That afternoon, I rented a bike for $2 and rode the 5 miles to the entrance of Angkor Wat to buy my ticket. (Tip: If you buy your 3 day pass at 3:45pm the day before you can go into Angkor Wat for free that day from 4-5:30pm.) I rode up to the main temple just as the dark clouds rolled in over the entrance.

The dark skies added a bit of mystery to my first glimpse of these ancient ruins. The souveniers hawkers were selling $2 ponchos: it was a sound investment… Even though it didn't stop the deluge from filling my shoes with rain. Upon returning to the hostel, my 'drowned rat' appearance drew the sympathy of a pair of Guys from Toronto who invited me to tour Angkor Wat with them the next day. Early start tomorrow = early bedtime for me. Goodnight, Cambodia!