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Posts Tagged ‘paradise’

By: Christine Khuat/Julio Moreno (HaLong Bay Tour: $25/500,000 VND, Train to Sapa: ~$5/100,000 VND, Tour of Sapa: $12USD/240,000VND)

Buying fruit from a Canoe in Halong Bay

Note: This article is part of a 3 part series detailing how to make the most out of Vietnam by exploring geographically from North to South (starting with this one, the North, then the Center, and South coming soon). In addition a 4th article on Phu Quoc Island is already posted (hit the link).

Note2: In this and any Vietnam article, the name “Saigon” and “Ho Chi Minh City” will be used interchangeably  as they are the same city. Saigon is the pre-communist name, and Ho Chi Minh is the current official name.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Take a flight from where ever you are to Hanoi, Vietnam, the capital of Vietnam. Visa information was already posted on the Phu Quoc Island article. You can either get there directly, or fly to Saigon first and fly North to Hanoi. Jetstar.com offers flights from Saigon to Hanoi for around $50 USD/1Million VND. From here you will most likely need a tour company. “The Sinh Cafe ” is a well established international tour company which can help with tours and even visa info. They have tours and info on both Sapa (which is not required) and HaLong Bay (which is required).

Skeezy Tips:

  1. It is recommended that you book the HaLong Bay trip first as it is more popular, and ask them about info on how to arrive to SaPa by other means if you don’t want their tours.
  2. BEWARE of copycat companies.  Many places will tout that they’re “Sinh Café” or “The Sinh Tourist,” but they’re not.  This is especially true in Hanoi.  Double check the address to make sure you have the right company.

AIRPORT TRANSFER:

  1. Jetstar has an airport bus that will take you to/from Old Quarter for 30,000 VND (~$1.50).  The journey takes about an hour each way.  For travel to the airport, visit their office at 204 Tran Quang Khai STREET where you can check in and get your boarding ticket before boarding the bus.
  2. Vietnam Airlines offer the same airport bus departing to and from their office in Old Quarter.  The ticket costs 40,000 VND ($2 if paying in USD).  The earliest bus leaves Old Quarter at 4:30 am and departs every 1-2 hours.  Book ahead and check the schedule.

Skeezy Tips:

  1. Book at least 2 weeks ahead to ensure cheaper airfare and better time availability
  2. You will be charged 50,000 VND (~$2.50) per ticket for credit card payments, plus the 3% foreign transaction fee by your credit card company.  A cheaper option is to pay at the post office.  Book your ticket online and opt to “hold payment” at a post office (or bank).  This option costs you 25,000 VND per ticket, but you must pay in cash.  NOTE: If you choose to pay in person (post office or bank) you must do so within 48 hours of your online booking.  In addition, this method does not work if you’re booking a last minute flight within the next 48 hours.
  3. SKIP all the frills (seat selection, insurance, check in luggage) as they WILL COST YOU EXTRA.
  4. The limit for carry on luggage (free of charge) is 7 kg (~15 lbs).  If your backpack exceeds this weight limit, opt for the 15 kg checked baggage for an additional 60,000 VND (~$3).  They WILL check and make you pay extra (more than what you would have paid online) upon check=in if you exceed the 7 kg limit.

The Stories:

Halong Bay: It is a natural bay formed by the delta coming out to the East of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Its beauty is world renowned and was a finalist of the New Seven World Wonders contest. It is known for its snorkling and fishing, traditional boat tours, overnight boat stays, and amazing natural island/rock formations. It is only accessible by tours but it definitely a site to see if you are staying in the Hanoi area.

A closer look of the rock formations in Halong Bay

Halong Bay as viewed from a boat

Sapa: Is known mainly for its amazing beauty and its ethnic minorities. A very intriguing spot that doesn’t get too many foreigner visitors, as it is not well known thus remains a little known treasure among “road less traveled” travelers. It is near the Chinese border, and historically a highly contested land. However, in recent times, its small town feel and cultural diversity (mostly Hmong minority) is what attracts visitors.

Lake in SaPa, Vietnam

The Hmong minority in Sapa

Other things to do:

1) Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh: Since you will already be in Hanoi, go see Ho Chi Minh himself. The Mausoleum is an indoor museum where you can actually see his body. Be prepared to wait in a long line, however there are very few leaders preserved in this way (like Lenin in Moscow and Mao Zedong in Beijing, must be a communist thing). Ho Chi Minh led the Viet Cong to a most improbable win, now only over the Americans, but over the French from colonization, and his legacy lived on to defeat the Cambodians of Pol Pot, and the Chinese in their brief 1980 invasion.

Other relevant info:

1) Pho Bo: For foreigners, Pho is the signature dish of Vietnam. Hanoi is the birth place of Pho and like any foreign food, you probably will get a tastier version in the source of its inception. Grab a bowl from a mom and pop shop.

2) Relative cheapness: While Vietnam is already considered cheap, many foreigners will be surprised by HOW cheap. Consider that in the “tourist” part of town, a large bowl of Pho is $2.50 which might be considered cheap if you paid $6-7 in the US. However out of those areas, to Vietnamese people, its more like $0.60-$1.00. Also sandwiches can be bought off street vendors for $0.75 and full meals can be had for about $1. You can REALLY stretch your dollar if you know what you are doing.

3) Shopping in super markets: If you will stay a long time in Vietnam, consider shopping at the local market and you will find amazing deals on produce. The market places on the street also have great cheap fruit, including the amazing Dragon Fruit!

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Ruins: $4 (51 MXN), Bus to ruins $5 (70 MXN roundtrip))

Pyramid of the Sun, The largest pyramid in all of Mexico, and one of the largest in the world.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) By Plane (international/MOST national) if you stay at Lafayette Hotel (info below):

Take a plane from wherever you are to Mexico City, Mexico (Benito Juarez International airport MEX). While they have taxis, the metro is 3 MXN (15 cents) compared to 255 MXN ($22 USD) if you take a taxi to downtown Mexico city. Follow the signs in the airport to the Yellow #2 line Subway Stop “Terminal Aerea” and take it towards “Pantitlan” (subway map below). Get off on “Pantitlan” and switch to the Pink #2 line (only one way to go). Get off on “Isabel la Catolica” exit. When you get off the subway, take a left on the exit, and another left on the first light, and follow the map below to the Lafayette hotel.

The Hotel is on Motolinia Street, which is only a pedestrian road. After you settle down,  continue north on Motolinia road until the end (3 blocks) and you will bump into the subway Blue #1 line entrance “Allende”. Take the subway direction “Cuatro Caminos” and get off on “Hidalgo” exit. Switch to the Dark Green #3 line direction “Indios Verdes”. Get off on “La Raza” and switch to the Yellow #2 line, direction “Politecnico”. Exit Autobuses Del Norte (Bus Depot). From the exit, you will see the huge depot in front of you. Enter it, turn left and you should see desks with pictures of the pyramids saying “teotihuacan”. They cost 35 MXN ($3) each way. Once on the bus, just follow the crowd into the gate. You will exit from the gate closest to the Moon Pyramid (the smaller one). On the exit, cross the street and wait for the bus. They leave and come by around every 15-30 minutes.

You could also NOT switch on “La Raza” and get off instead on “Potrero” which is also a (less simple) bus depot which has buses that go to Teotihuacan.

2) By Bus:

If you have no heavy luggage, you will most likely arrive to the “Autobuses Norte” bus depot (as it is the main bus depot in Mexico City), so before you exit, turn right and you will see desks to Teotihuacan. OR, you could go outside, take the same route back described above in reverse.Using the subway, take Autobuses Del Norte –> La Raza–> Hidalgo –> Allende and walk south along Motolinia Ave to Lafayette hotel. Drop off your stuff in the hotel and return here.

SUBWAY MAP:

Skeezy Tip #1: You will probably use the subway a lot in Mexico City. You probably want to buy a bunch of tickets as lines can get ridiculously long in certain stops.

Skeezy Tip #2: Many places offer tours to see the pyramids for 350-400 Mexican Pesos, RIP OFFS! Use this guide and you can go round trip, using subways for 76 Mexican Pesos

Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (the snake) in his temple

Story:

Teotihuacan was once upon a time, was one of the largest cities in the world, having 200,000 people at its peak. It was built around 200 BCE and thought to have fallen apart by 700AD. Its name means birthplace of the gods, according to Aztec mythology. It consists of 2 large pyramids (the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon), the avenue of the dead, the Jaguar temple, and numerous other minor temples. It is believed that the pyramids were used to make sacrifices to the gods, but the site was abandoned long before Europeans first arrived. The two largest pyramids are amongst the largest in the world, and the sun pyramid is the largest in all of Mexico. Teotihuacan is not to be confused with the “Aztec City” which is a suburb of Mexico city, nor Tenochitlan, the Aztec (Nahuatl language) name for their capital and what is now Mexico City. The actual site lies outside of Mexico city, but within the State of Mexico (There is a City, State, and country with the name “Mexico”).

Despite popular belief, “Aztec” is not a single ethnicity but everyone who fell under the domain of the Mexica people of Tenochitlan and their allies in Texcoco, and Tlacopan who together formed the “Aztec Triple Alliance” or “Aztec Empire”. The Aztec Empire was the most powerful political entity in the entire new world at the time of European contact, dominating most of what is now Mexico. Most, including the capital city of Tenochitlan, were destroyed mostly by disease and partly by superior Spaniard weapons.

Pyramid of the Moon

Logistics:

Airplane: Use Kayak.com or vivaaerobus.com

Lodging:

1) Hotel Lafayette, $15 (180 MXN) 1 person, $20 (230 MXN) 2 people; Phone# 52-55-5521-96-40

They don’t have a website, but it is so “budget” and hidden, its never full. The location is also phenomenal as its a few blocks from the main downtown square “El Zocalo”.

2) Hostel Moneda; $13 shared, $18 Private (pay online American dollars)

Very clean, next to El Zocalo, free internet, and English speaking staff

3) Use either Hostelbookers or Hostelworld hostel search engines.

4) Couchsurfing.org, to crash in a Mexican person’s house for free!

There are many people who sell nice arts and crafts.

Avenue of the Dead

Other things to do:

1) Best Tacos on the Planet:

As a side mission, you can eat Mexico’s most common and famous food, TACOS. But not just any tacos, I am talking about the best tacos I have ever had in my life. You can reach it by taking the subway Dark green #3 line and exiting Indios Verdes. Take exit E, and you will come out in a flea market of sorts.You will come out of the subway onto a row of shops right in front of you. DONT TURN, go straight and it leads to another Exit E (north and south side). On this strip, look for a taco place with using the pictures below to guide you. If you cant come out on Exit E (some times before 5:30PM its locked) look for exit E once you come out onto the surface. Think geographically!

You can also combine this as dinner as you come back from the pyramids. Instead of the bus depot, say you want to get off on “indios verdes”. You will be dropped off in front of a green pedestrian bridge. Use the bridge to cross to the other side. As you come down the last set of stairs of the bridge, GO STRAIGHT IN THE SAME ORIENTATION AS THE STAIRS and you will come across a row of shops (this is where Exit E is) and the taco place will be on your right.

LOOK FOR THIS sign and THIS GUY!

Look for this sign

Co-Owner with his Siblings. You'll be lucky if there is a place to sit. It will nonetheless be worth it.

Best Taco Ever

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to the ruins: $5 (51 MXN) [Sian Kaan Reserve Entrance: FREE!!!], Bus from Merida to Tulum $12 (146 MXN) one way, $24 (292 MXN) round trip.)

Tulum archaeological site overlooking the ocean.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) Combining your visit with a stop at Chichen Itza (recommended):

Take a flight from where ever you are to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico [Visas are not required for Mexico from most countries] (airplane info below). Then take a cab outside the airport (see logistics and skeezy tips below) to your hotel or hostel (see suggestion on hostel below). Then use the google map below to guide yourself to the bus depot. Its walking distance from the suggested hostel. Take a bus to Chichen Itza (leaves hourly). They drop you off literally in front of the site. Go in, take your pics, absorb the culture. Buy a bus ticket to Tulum from a bus retailer inside the official gift shop (its directly across and to the right from where you paid for the entrance). Go to the exact point you were dropped off (a little courtyard) to wait for the bus (dont panic if its late… its ALWAYS late). Once you arrive in Tulum, go outside and take a taxi (expensive, no going around it) to whatever hotel/hostel you made reservations (recommended to make reservations ahead of time, see suggestion below). Once you settle in, you could put your luggage down and go rent a bicycle, motorcycle, car or take a taxi to the ruins and to the biosphere reserve (see map below).

Skeezy Tip #1: If you arrived in the morning to Merida you could skip the whole hostel in Merida and go straight from the airport to the bus depot. This will save you time, and one night lodging in Merida. Tulum is much prettier since its on the beach. Make sure however that you leave early to Chichen Itza as it is 3 hrs away, it takes about 2.5 hours to explore and 3 additional hours to Tulum.

Skeezy Tip #2: As mentioned in the Chichen Itza article, there are 2 bus depots next to each other in Merida. One is 1st class (named “CAME”), the other is 2nd class (No name, just called “central de segunda clase”). The service is almost identical, except that you aren’t guaranteed a seat in 2nd class. Arrive early enough and that isn’t a problem. 1st class costs 40% more and departs more seldom (big downside). From Merida there will always be seats in 2nd class (since most originate there), but from Chichen Itza, its a toss up. (Map Below)

Skeezy Tip #3: Taxis are extremely expensive in Tulum, approx $7-9 (80-100 MXN) from the city to the archeological site and an insane amount to Punta Allen inside of Sian Kaan $36 (400 MXN). Do yourself a favor and use them as seldom as possible.

2) Going STRAIGHT to Tulum:

Same instructions as above, but instead of getting a ticket to Chichen Itza from Merida, get one directly to Tulum. Keep in mind that the 2nd class bus depot only goes to Tulum at 5Am and at 9PM. The ride takes 6 hrs in second class, and about 4 in first class.

Story:

Mayan Ruins of Tulum: During the height of its power (13th-16th centuries), Tulum was a very important city for the Mayans. It served as a trading post and fortress due to its location adjacent to the Caribbean sea. It started to collapse decades after the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico due to spreading disease across the continent. Tulum however has a very interesting recent history as well (which you wont find on wikipedia!). During the Mexican Revolution (1910) the indigenous people of the area saw the conflict as the perfect opportunity to attempt to secede from the Mexican Republic. They formed an alliance of Native Mexicans (Mayan, and other native descendants), and made Tulum their capital. As with the Mayans, these descendants were defeated by the now Mexican Army.

Main structure of Tulum. Just like Chichen Itza, this is also called "El Castillo" (The Castle).

Library of Tulum. There used to be guided tours until people started tagging inside.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere: Sian Ka’an is a wildlife reserve, one of the largest in all of Mexico. It is home to many large species such as Jaguars, crocodiles, white sea-turtles, dolphins, and racoon-relatives. Since it was set aside as a reserve in the 1980s, human development has been very limited by the Mexican government. This has allowed this hidden treasure to be very raw with virgin beaches stretching for about 30 miles from Tulum to Punta Allen (a small town and farthest reachable point inside Sian Ka’an from Tulum, see map). The other charm of this site is that its largely unknown by the general public, probably due to lack of advertisement. You could stop for 30 minutes on the single road and not see another human around the whole time. From Tulum, the reserve is on a single road along an extremely thin peninsula, with a fresh water lagoon to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the East. The welcome center is about 10 km into the reserve and offers some (expensive $70 a person) tours. In Punta Allen, the tours are far more affordable ($25 a person) (tour info below).

Skeezy Tip: Under no circumstances try to swim in the fresh water side of the reserve. This is a crocodile infested area. On the beach side however, there are no dangerous animals.

Dolphins playing around the boat.

Lagoon to the west of the peninsula road

Bird's Eye View from a watch tower in the welcome center. You can see nothing but palm trees and beach.

Logistics:

Airplane ride: Use cheap websites like Kayak.com, cheapoair.com, or directly from Aeromexico,com, volaris.com, or vivaaerobus.com. The Merida Airport is about 15 minutes from the bus depot/hostel.

Skeezy Tip: The airport offers taxis for $13 (155 MXN). This is an outrageous rate. If you walk straight forward from the airport then take your first right on the major street until you hit an intersection, you can hail a cab for 1/3 the price. Taxis in the city are metered and costs about $4 (50 MXN) to get to the hostel zocalo (zocalo is a town square, which is usually analogous to “downtown”). They are also abundant and you shouldn’t have a problem finding one (even at 4 in the morning).

Lodging in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

1) Hostel Zocalo , $12 a person (140 MXN):

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-Zocalo/Merida/10630

Best spot for 2 reasons; a) Its walking distance to the bus depot, and b) Its the cheapest find in Merida.

2) Hostelworld.com (Search Merida city, Yucatan, Mexico)

Lodging in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico:

1) Cenote Encantado, $16 a person for a tent (180 MXN)

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Cenote-Encantado-1320/Tulum/42352

Since this is a very touristy area, all hotels are in the $50+ range. There aren’t many hostels but this one stands out. It is not only cheap, but the location is impeccable. It is on the beach (just cross the street, isolated and almost to yourself), and it is 500 meters from the entrance to Sian Ka’an. In addition there is a network of small lakes or lagoons connected by underground rivers, geologically unique to this area of the world called “cenotes” (sinkholes). This hostel has one such lagoon connected to it. You could either swim, or the owner will let you borrow his kayaks or inflatable rafts free of charge to explore this beautiful lagoon where you will likely be the only people there. The actual hostel is a set of tents, with beds inside of them. The bathrooms are also waterless holes, and the showers might or might not have hot water (the peninsula is always hot though, but their heater was broken when I arrived). Despite this, it is actually quite comfortable and the owner (a conservationist hippie) is super nice.

Cenote (sinkhole) behind "Cenote Encantado" from inside an inflatable raft. Crystal clear warm fresh water.

2) Cabanas Costa Del Sol: 200 MXN for campsite, 400 MXN for a dormroom, 800 MXN for a bungalow. Prices explode during high season.

www.Cabanascostadelsol.com

This place is one of the only isolated hotels allowed within the reserve that doesnt have many tourists. It is just outside of Punta Allen, and has many services such as tours on boats, bicycle rentals and so on. It also has a really good restaurant.

Skeezy tip: Since you are far from society, it is highly recommended you rent a motorcycle or car if you stay here to see some of the more isolated spots.

3) http://www.hostelworld.com or pricetravel.com It is suggested you read the reviews before booking as the cheapest place in Tulum “Lobo Inn” has a terrible reputation of being flea infested and having leaky roofs.

Transportation:

This is one of those places where you will need it. Bicycles are 100 MXN ($9) and motorcycles (scooters) are 400 MXN ($36) in high season. Cars are in the 500-650 MXN ($45-60) range. If you only visit the archaeological site, the bike is good enough, however you will need a car, or a motorcycle (only if you have experience, as the road is made of dirt, and it is uneven) to reach Punta Allen in the Sian Ka’an Reserve. Keep in mind, you dont have to REACH that town to enjoy the reserve so you could just bike 10 km into the reserve and enjoy.

1) Punta Piedra Hotel and Bike Shop: (011)-984-1574-248 // (011)-984-1153-710 (location on the map below)

-Scooters (motorcycles): $36 (400 MXN) in high season PER 24 HOURS

-Bicycles: $9 (100 MXN) high season. MUST BE RETURNED BY 6PM (lame)

-Other services: Life jackets (40 MXN, $4), snorkel gear (call for price). PER 24 HRS

-Hotel and tour services are also offered.

Skeezy Tip #1: Especially during high season, scooters and bikes sell out. RESERVE yours before arriving (have to give a deposit) as you are soooo screwed without one of these in Tulum (taxis are mad expensive).

Skeezy Tip #2: If you rent a scooter, you will be asked to leave your passport as collateral, no exceptions. This might make a few people uneasy, but I have done this here, and in Cambodia, and have never had a problem getting my passport back. Just make sure the place is in an established location. Just in case, find out where your nearest embassy is.

Skeezy Tip #3: Scooters have insurance, but only in a 20 km radius, anything else, you go at your own risk. If something breaks in the scooter when you’re far inside of Sian Kaan, you will have to pay for the scooter. Thus, take a car if you don’t have experience as it is a rough road. I had a hard time for a good 10 km of the trip, and have been riding motorcycles for 4 years.

Skeezy Tip #4: I recommend a scooter (or car) over the bike because of 2 reasons.

Skeezy Tip #5: Despite this being a very touristy place, most places do NOT accept credit cards (same goes for most places in Mexico). You will need cash. If you need an ATM, you will most likely have to head into the city. There is a bank very near the bus depot where you were dropped off.

a)  If you return a bike at 6PM (a must, you cant keep it overnight), you will need a taxi back to your hotel and back to Punta Piedra to re-rent it in the morning (and you really need 2 days in Tulum to do both). With a scooter, you don’t have to worry about this. Furthermore, unlike in other countries, there are only few places that rent bicycles and Punta Piedra is THE ONLY PLACE as far as I know that rents scooters.

b) If you decide to go to Punta Allen, you will never make it there and back in a bike, as it is uneven dirt road for 50 km (30 miles) and once sundown hits, its pitch black. 2) Car: To get a car, ask your taxi, right after you arrive at Tulum to take you somewhere that rents cars. They will all be in the city, so go straight from the bus depot as you save on taxi rides.

Other Services:

1) Boat Tour from Punta Allen (to see dolphins, sea turtles, crocodiles, and more):

email: info@puntaallenalianza.com (no website yet as its new)

As soon as you enter Punta Allen, you will see signs telling you to go to a tourist center. Follow them. This is actually a boat tour company (but thankfully worth it). They charge 1410 MXN ($125) for a 3 hr tour, or 1200 MXN ($100) for a 2 hr tour. However, this is per boat, and they will wait until they have enough people if you want to split the cost. When they get a maximum of 6 (30 min wait), it is 235 MXN ($20) a person for the 3 hour tour, and 200 MXN ($18) for the 2 hour one. The long one is well worth it because you get to see crocodiles in addition to the rest. The tour includes seeing dolphins, sea turtles, crocodiles, diving eagles, lagoons, large nesting birds and snorkeling along the coral reef (sadly, its bleached). They also take you to a natural pool (very shallow beach) to swim for a bit. This is worth it but keep in mind, you will need to come early to Punta Allen (arrive before noon) if you plan to leave the reserve before sun down.

Giant White Sea Turtles

2) As soon as you enter Punta Allen, ask around and you will find more boat tour places, if the one suggested above is not to your liking. There are more boat tours in the lodging place cabanas costa del sol suggested above.

Bus Depot from Merida to Chichen Itza/ Tulum:

This is a bit tricky. There are two bus depots and are across the (small side) street from each other. There is the Second class Depot  (No name, just called “central de segunda clase”) and CAME which is a 1st class service. Note that 2nd class buses take 3 hrs to Chichen Itza, while first class take 2 hrs. You are guaranteed a seat in 1st class, but not in 2nd class. The rates listed above are for 2nd class. 1st class costs on average, 40% more. They are both on the intersections of 70th street and 69th street (see map).

Skeezy Tip: Arrive early, and try to be one of the first ones on the bus to claim your seat. A seat number does not guarantee you a seat, as they sell more in the 2nd class buses to make more money. In 1st class this isn’t a problem.

Map of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

IMPORTANT: I know on the location for Zocalo Hostel, on the actual google map, it shows it as if its on 65th street. ITS NOT. Its on 63rd street in front of “Plaza Grande” (Zocalo) as I have shown on the map below

(A=Zocalo Hostel, B= 2nd class bus depot, C = CAME 1st class Bus Depot)


Map of Tulum:
Click on the link below. The bus Depot is where is says “ADO” in the CENTER of the city. Punta Piedra is along the coast (marked). The Archaeological Zone is where it says “Tulum A.Z.”. Finally, the Cenote Encantado is along the coast down south almost near the “Arco de Sian Ka’an” which is the entrance to Sian Ka’an.

Map of Sian Ka’an: In this case, a satellite map was more appropriate:

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Angkor Archaeological Park: $20 for a 1 day pass, $40 for a 3-day pass, $60 for a 7 day pass / person. Tuk-Tuk Drivers: $8-$25 a day.)

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) By bus from Phnom Penh ($5-$7 ): Any hotel (including the “Indochine 2 hotel”, recommended in the Phnom Penh article, check categories)can arrange a bus to take you to Siem Reap with pick up in front of the hotel. Also, almost any hotel (including the recommended “Golden Temple Villa”) can pick you up from where ever the bus drops you off or from the airport,  free of charge. “Buses” can range from a large van, to an actual bus. Just make sure to contact your Siem Reap Hotel to tell them your time of arrival. Once in Siem Reap, your most economical choice is to get a tuk-tuk driver for the day ($8-$15 / day) (see recommendation below). He can take you to the Angkor area containing all the main temples, just tell him where to go first (you will be charged the prices at the top depending on which pass you want). Hint: Start with Angkor Wat.

2) By airplane from Siem Reap International Airport: Same as above, but have your hotel pick you up from the airport instead of the bus depot. When you arrive into Cambodia, you will be required to pay $20 for an entry visa to be processed. You will also be asked to bring with you 2 passport sized pictures with you [tip below]. When you leave, you will have to pay another $25 as an “exit visa”.

Skeezy Tip #1: While the passport pics are “required” my friend lost hers on route. Apparently, its only a $2 fine if you forget. That is cheaper than the $9 I paid in Korea and probably cheaper than passport pictures in most countries. They instead just make you take a picture with a digital camera they have.

Skeezy Tip #2: This applies to all of Cambodia. The US dollar and the Riel are used interchangeably with no problem at a street rate of 4000 Riel to 1 USD. If you are American, dont bother trading for Riel as you can consider the dollar  the actual official currency, and the Riel as coins or change.

Story: The temples at Angkor were build from the 9th-15th centuries by the Khmer Empire, with all the main ones mentioned here built in the 12th-13th centuries. They were build to be the capital city of the empire, which moved between the Angkor locations depending on the time period and belief system.

Angkor Wat: Built in the 12th century, it is the largest of all the temples in Siem Reap. What is interesting to note, is that on the walls, there are many Hindu inspired drawings, while the rest of the temple has many Buddhas all over. This is because when the ruler of the Khmer died, sometimes, his successor was of the opposite religion. Angkor Wat served as a temple to the corresponding gods, thus a constant switch between Buddhist and Hindu influence. Angkor Wat was built during Hindu rule, thus the lower level walls are dominanted by Hindu legend, while the upper levels have many Buddhist statues. Not often shown in pictures is the existence of 2 libraries on the courtyard of the site, as Angkor Wat was also a place of learning.

The lower part of Angkor Wat, shows the story of a great battle in Hindu myth.

Ankor Thom (Bayon Wat): Is the famous temple with faces sculpted all around the towering spires. The area is massive and includes many smaller ruins, but the main attraction is Bayon, sometimes called Bayon Wat (Wat means temple). Bayon is the main central temple where on all four sides of almost every tower, there is a carved face. This was historically the last capital city of the Khmer, and a testament to Khmer art. Make sure not to miss the giant Buddha sculpture before entering the Bayon temple.

Ta Prohm: If you saw the Tomb Raider movie, you definitely are familiar with this temple. Personally, it was my favorite, as it has a more rugged look than the rest, with wilderness surrounding not just the outside of the temple, but growing as part of it too. This temple, is known for having many trees growing within the temple, giving it an other worldly look. This site has the distinction, like Angkor Wat, of being a university as well as a monastery.

 

Skeezy Tip #1: [For Angkor Wat] “Official Tour Guides” can only be reserved before you arrive at the site for about $25 for a single temple, and in high season, this can go up to $40. When you enter the gates at Angkor Wat (past the moat), you will see some shops on the (very) far left, selling anything you want, food, souvenirs, and if you ask, even tour guides. They aren’t the “trained professionals” the state sells, however, I purchased one for $10 (need to bargain) and he did quite a good job explaining the site. While $10 is a lot of money in Cambodia, the story is well worth the investment (and you came all this way!), as there are almost no plaques explaining anything in the site (or any of the sites for that matter). Quality can not be absolutely guaranteed, but everything he told me checked out once I got home and did my homework.
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Skeezy Tip #2: The Tuk-Tuk driver I recommend below, Barang, has a surprising knowledge on the Angkor temples, and his English is better than most (including the official tour guides). Although drivers are forbidden from acting as tour guides, you can easily say he is your Cambodian friend who invited you to Cambodia and is showing you around. While I can’t guarantee that Barang will agree (as he is risking getting fined) it could be easily pulled off, as I noticed many foreigners in the sites with their Cambodian friends explaining the history. It would save you the $10 of the first skeezy tip.
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Other places to go/ things to see:
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The Floating Village of Konpong Phluk (~$12 plus tip): There is a large lake adjacent to Siem Reap, the largest in the country. You can get a half day tour to the floating villages, which is pretty much a city in the lake. There are two villages, one Cambodian, and one Vietnamese. The tour takes you around the village, and stops a while in the villages school.

A school on a boat. Sadly they didn't know the "I'm on a boat" song.

Students learning Vietnamese.

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Skeezy Tip: There is what I believe to be a scam while heading to the school. The people giving you the tour will tell you that it is customary and it would be nice to bring the children of the school food and school supplies. Naturally, he knows a shop. The shop is, you guessed it, grossly overpriced, selling notebooks you find in the city for 25 cents, for $1 a piece. Same goes for the food. Oh and they only sell by the box (of 20) of both food and notebooks. Do yourself a favor and if you don’t want to feel duped, nor cheap, buy a few notebooks in the city before doing this tour.
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The War Museum: While this is just a rag tag collection of Civil War weaponry tossed into a big empty lot and charging $3 to see it, how often do you get to take pictures holding rocket launchers (with the rocket on it) and all kinds of other weapons? There are just 2 guys in the front door and no one telling you to please “put that down”.
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Street 63 (Not sure if I got the number right…its 60 something): This is a street where many Cambodians come and rent a spot (literally a square) to just have a beer and chill. This spans for a good 2-3 kilometers, and even has a fair in it. The food is also quite different from what you get in the city, and pretty cheap. You know you are in a place where not many tourists go when you are charged in Riel, and not dollars.
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Night Clubs: There are 2 clubs everyone and their mother will recommend, “Temple Club” and “Angkor What?” which are in the downtown area. While they aren’t bad, and the music is generally American pop, and don’t expect to get a feel of a real “Cambodian club” in either of these. They are filled with foreigners, prostitutes, transvestites, and con artists.
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1) Temple Club: Drinks are 2 for 1 (at $4 each) and is a lively place with traditional ‘Apsara’ dances on the second floor for free, and pretty good food. However, if you decide to dance with the locals, expect to be asked if you want to “boom boom” for $20 within minutes. The walls also have big screen TVs which show important sporting events.
On Pub Street (should have no problem finding it)
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2) Angkor What?: Across the street of Temple club, and besides its darker venue, very similar too. Also has American pop, and similarly priced drinks. This club however doesn’t have the dining capacities of Temple club. One thing which makes it different is that anyone is allowed to write on the walls, which gives it a graffiti wall look.
On Pub Street (should have no problem finding it)
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3) Zone One: In my attempt to find a more “Cambodian club” Barang (see below) showed me this place. A new, enormous club, some distance away from the downtown “pub street”. By the size of this place, I assume that electronica and house are more popular than pop amongst your average Cambodian. With lasers flying everywhere, you will not see many foreigners here, as most don’t venture this far from “pub street”. While a foreigner will be given the royal treatment, sadly your Cambodian friend(s) will be frisked like if this was an airport. This club also has an (expensive) Kareoke bar on the second level.
517 Tep Vong Street
Tel: 855 63 965 251
Logistics:
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Airplane: Fly into either Phnom Penh, or Siem Reap. Use sites such as AirAsia.com, Kayak.com, Ctrip.com (chinese airlines only) or Cheapoair.com, as they consistently give the best rates.
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Skeezy Tip #1: If you will visit more than just one city, you might want to consider buying a one way flight to one city, and flying out of your final destination. For example, you can buy a flight into Siem Reap, and out of Phnom Penh.
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Skeezy Tip #2: Airasia.com offers extremely cheap one way flights within South East Asia. Sometimes as low as $10 for a flight.
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Lodging:
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1) Golden Temple Villa, as low as $13 a night for a single person.
This is a recommended spot because, while cheaper do exist, this comes in a very established place, with all the services (including free pick up), free internet access, and a complimentary 20 minute Khmer Massage. The massage room also offers additional massages at $3 an hour. Furthermore, there is a decent restaurant attached to the villa, with a complimentary pool table.  The place is pretty central, and the rooms are quite beautiful and clean too (not something you want to risk here).
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2) Hostels as cheap as 2USD a night
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Transportation and Guides:
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Tuk Tuk: A tuk tuk is a camper like cabin attached to a motorcycle, and the most common taxi type in Siem Reap, and other cities in South East Asia.
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While transportation is usually not required in other tourist areas, as buses drop you off in front of sites, it is highly recommended here. Furthermore, none of the temples have any signs telling you about them, so a guide would be nice. I got just the guy for you:
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1) Barang Hang (hangbarang@yahoo.com , http://www.facebook.com/pages/Barang-Hang-Cambodia-TukTuk-Driver/155971414415325http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001575593984) is a student (22 yrs old) who yearns to be a professional in tourism and hospitality. Furthermore, he is a young guy who will not only show you the temples, and other things around Siem Reap but if you so desire (totally up to you) he will go clubbing, drink and party with you too. He even took me to see his house, but again, the level of comfort and closeness is up to you. He also takes payment as a “whatever you think is fair” however, given he has become a personal friend, please dont rip him off. Take note that most tuk tuk drivers ask for $8-$15 a day (8 hours) and he usually does a lot more than 8 hours. This guy hung out with me, one day, until 4am, and was ready to take me to the next place at 9am the next morning!!! That kind of service is just phenomenal (pun not intended). Also, if you come with more than one person, the load on a tuk-tuk is heavier, thus more gas is spent (which isnt cheap in Cambodia). Keep that in mind when paying him.
All you have to do, is email him and ask if he and his tuk-tuk are available to show you around, and give him your dates, and hotel, he will pick you up! If he is unavailable for your date, he will surely have friends who will be available.
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2) If for what ever reason, you dont trust my guy (shame on you) you could either ask your hotel to get one for you, or many tuk-tuk drivers hang out near the down town area.
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Skeezy Tip #1: Many tuk-tuk drivers will quote you something, then try to charge you per person at the end of the trip. Make the cost clear before agreeing. (This isnt an issue with Barang)
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Skeezy Tip #2: Some tuk-tuk drivers will agree for a rate, but change their mind and add more if you want to go to more distant temples, make clear where you want to go before agreeing (again this isnt an issue with Barang).
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Skeezy Tip #3: The time in a “full day” is often just 8 hours, which really isnt a lot in Siem Reap, as the temples are huge. Make sure to start your day early, and make clear how long he is willing to stay up with you. (again, with Barang, dont worry about time).
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3) To get an “official guide” for the temples, you must have your hotel make reservations with anticipation. Keep in mind, this is not necessary if you follow the Skeezy Tip on Angkor Wat above (or just ask Barang!)
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Map:

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By: Julio Moreno (Lodging as low as $15 a night, Flight from Saigon $65 roundtrip)

This is near the hotels where it's clean

Long Beach on Phu Quoc. The shore is only clean in front of hotels.

 

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Take a flight from where ever you are to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City International Airport. From there, take a flight to Phu Quoc (flies out once an hour). Once at the Phu Quoc Airport, take a taxi to Long Beach or to wherever you reserved your hotel. Most cheap ones are along Long Beach.
Visa to get into Vietnam:
1) If you live in the US: You can do it yourself by following the instructions on the embassy website. If you live near Washington DC, you can go in person, or you can also do it by mail. Another option is looking for a Vietnam Visa service site like “Same day Passport” with many locations around the US. Try to avoid websites that don’t have physical locations, as its harder to get your money back if you get scammed.[$70-$200, but call if you do it directly as they only take money orders.]
2) If in Korea: Almost any travel agency like SOHO travel (email:soho@sohotravel.kr) in Seoul can do it. For those of you in Daejeon, theres also Mode tour, in the 9th floor of TimeWorld.You can also do it yourself by going to the Vietnamese Embassy in Seoul [Starting from 70,000 Won].
Skeezy Tip: Some places like Soho will give you a discount if you buy your flight ticket from them. You can save about 20,000 won ($18) and their flight ticket prices are usually comparative to Kayak.com.

Story:

This place is totally worth a stop if you have a few days to spare in South Vietnam. While they try to promote it as “the next Phuket” once you get there, you will see that the charm is in it not being very touristy at all. There is a sad sense of a failure with lots of closed hotels all over the Long Beach Coast and trash everywhere there isn’t a hotel. But other than that, it is great to motorcycle around, and bathe in the beach. The interior of the island has many jungles and there aren’t many dirt roads inside, so travel with caution.

Things to do:

1) Motorcycle/Scooter ride around the Island ($5 for semi-manual, $7 automatic per 24 hrs to rent):

Nerdy glasses highly recommended

We tried to do this in about 3 and a half hours, and grossly underestimated the size of the island. You would take about 10-12 hours, so it is suggested you wake up early and spend all day on this. It is TOTALLY worth it, as you will find many market places where it seems they have never seen a foreigner. Also those glasses (on the picture) which seem nerdy are STRONGLY recommended, as there are many dirt roads and it will get into your eyes. You can buy a pair at the night market for $2 (40,000 VND) if you bargain.

Skeezy Tip1: If you rent a motorcycle from somewhere that is NOT your hotel, expect to be asked for your passport as collateral. This is common practice in Vietnam, Cambodia and Mexico from my experience and so far, haven’t had any problems getting it back. They just want to make sure you don’t ruin it. Many places rent bikes, but your best bet is to go with one through your hotel.

Skeezy Tip2: Get a free map from your hotel! or print out the one I posted below as it will be your lifeline if you get lost.

2) Long Beach, and Sao Beach

This is a natural pool, with the waters being extremely shallow for almost a kilometer

When we arrived, it was infested with Jellyfish the first day. However, they went away by the second day and the waters were very clear. The best is Sao beach, as the shallow waters are the clearest. However if privacy is what you want, rent a motorcycle and find your own secluded island.

3) Fine Fresh Seafood Dining (price varies on size of belly ~$5-7)


One of the great things about islands, is that they usually have super fresh seafood. If you’re a gastronomic enthusiast like myself, you know seafood taste varies greatly on freshness. Here you pick for the most part, food that is still alive, whether it be lobster, crayfish, or this strange looking shell thing I ate. The Night Market is Between #2 and Duong Dong on the map below. If in doubt, anyone you ask would know.

4) Snorkling and fishing tour ($15-$20)

$15 bucks gets you fishing and snorkeling in 2 spots, plus a visit to Sao Beach

This is actually really cheap to do. One of the most recommended and established places was “John’s Tours” (0919-107-086/0982-107-086). As the island itself is not a tourist hot spot, you will probably not see other boats out there fishing where you are nor snorkeling. The coral is surprisingly amazing, with lots of wish, and sea urchins about half a meter long (20 inches). Oh and you get to eat the fish you catch (everyone shares if you didn’t catch anything) and you can also try sea urchins for an additional 50 cents a piece.

Logistics:

Airplane: Vietnam Airlines is so far the only airline that flies to Phu Quoc.

Might have been low season (Sept) but the flights are hourly and they didnt seem full. Just to make sure, book ahead.

Lodging: (NOTE COUNTRY CODE FOR VIETNAM IS 84)

Beach Club: 84-077-3-980998, info@beachclubvietnam.com, beachclubvietnam.com

$12, $15 and $20 rooms depending on location. But all are literally feet from the beach, and they only have like 10 rooms, so I’d go with the cheaper option.

2) Freedomland (homestay resort) $20-$32;  84-01-226-586-802, freedomlandphuquoc.com

Skeezy Tip #1: Although more cheap lodging exsits along Long Beach, most dont have websites, so Beach Club is your best bet. They also have motorcycles.

Skeezy Tip #2: There is a baller hotel at the north end of Long beach, before reaching the night market. They have a giant chess set (which was sadly incomplete at the time). You can use it and no one would really know you’re not from the hotel. They also have ping pong, a nice restaurant, and a luxurious pool. If you are feeling like spending a bunch for this luxurious hotel, its $72 a night.

Tours:

1) John’s Tours $15-$20; 84-0919-107-086/84-0982-107-086,

2) Rainbow Divers: (Seasonal Scuba diving), From $75 (go to the website for complete rates on all services)

http://www.divevietnam.com/phuquoc

Maps:

#3 is Beach Club, #14 is John's Tours, #9 is Freedomland

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