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Posts Tagged ‘Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:’

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 “El Pipila” monument 50 cents [5 MXN] for cable cart to the top, $2 (20 MXN) for a round trip cable cart trip; Entrance to “Alhondiga de Granaditas”: $4 [43 MXN])

Sky view of the entire Historical Guanajuato City from "El Pipila" Monument.

 

Note: Info on how to get to Guanajuato city was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1, it will be assumed you already read that article and can get from your country, into Mexico, and into Guanajuato City’s bus depot OR to the Guanajuato/Leon Airport (BJX).

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

Assuming you took the Guanajuato Part 1 advice and stayed very close to the Mercado [Marketplace] follow this simple google map. A= The tram to go up to the Pipila Monument, B= The “Alhondiga de Granaditas” (Popular Granary) and C= The marketplace.

Skeezy Tip #1: If you speak Spanish, try to bring your student ID everywhere in Mexico. Although they only offer discounts to Mexican students, they often don’t check where the ID is from and you will slide with a 50%-75% discount on entrances to museums, etc. If you get caught, claim ignorance and just acknowledge “OH! only NATIONAL students”.

Skeezy Tip #2: Bring cash as credit cards are rarely accepted anywhere in Mexico except for high end department stores and hotels.

Story:

La Alhondiga de Granaditas [The Popular Granary]: Granaries are nowadays where excess grains are stored in farm towns. However it is important in Mexican history as the last stand of the Spanish Army in Guanajuato. The Spanish Army was overconfident that the Granary was too well protected and that the rebellion army was too small and poorly armed. Their assumption almost proved true as the rebels were having a hard time penetrating the wall of the fortress. It wasn’t until an unusually strong miner named Juan José de los Reyes Martínez, nicknamed “El Pipila” mounted a flat stone on his back as a shield and made it to the front door of the Granary to set the door on fire. This allowed the rebels to finally enter, capture the granary, and conquer Guanajuato City. It marks an important victory and confidence booster for the independence movement.

Inside the "Alhondiga de Granaditas"

“El Pipila” Monument: This is the monument to the brave miner who risked his live and used his incredible strength to give the rebels a fighting chance. He later joined the rebels himself and was captured a year later by the Spanish army. He was executed but lives forever as a martyr and hero of Guanajuato. The monument is also situated on a nice hill that oversees most of the city. A panoramic picture from this point is the banner for this site.

The Giant Monument to the Hero of the Independence movement, "El Pipila"

Other Things to See:

1) “La Callejoneada” [The Alley-Walk]: What started as a pass time, has turned into a tradition and fund raiser of the students at the University of Guanajuato. They meet with a large group of people and take you along the alleys of Guanajuato, telling you stories and cracking many jokes along the way. Granted, none of this is funny if you don’t speak Spanish, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. (100 MXN; Although its in the street, they do check by taking you though a small alley and checking your ticket [a complimentary jar you get when you pay] You can buy tickets along Juarez street, or at the bus depot just like any other tour, or directly, as they hang out near Juarez Theater (map below) from the afternoon, until the beginning of the event at 9PM)


2) “Callejon del Beso” [Alley of the Kiss]: One of the legends of the city if of a couple who loved each other but had a forbidden love as he was a commoner and she was a Spanish princess. The legend says they lived across the alley from each other and would meet on the balcony, until her enraged father killed her. Now, every couple who goes here must kiss or suffer bad luck.

Couple Kissing in the Alley of the Kiss

Museum of Don Quixote: Don Quixote is possibly the most famous of stories in the Spanish Language. Writer Miguel de Cervantes is to Spanish Language literature, what Shakespeare is to its English counterpart. Since the University of Guanajuato is famous for the arts, this museum has been erected maintained to house not only original paintings of Don Quixote by famous painters, but many other art pieces in a 4 floor building. (20 MXN, 5 MXN for students)

http://museoiconografico.guanajuato.gob.mx/

Statue of "Don Quixote"

Teatro Juarez: Juarez Theater is a world class performance theater a little over 100 years old. The architecture is notable because its authentic Mexican architecture, using no non-Mexican architects. It is beautiful inside and if youre lucky, can still catch a play. (50 MXN for a tour)

”]”]

Where the magic happens

Diego Rivera House: Diego Rivera is widely considered, along with his wife Frida Kahlo, amongst the best paintors in Mexican history. Rivera lived in Guanajuato for some time, and his house is preserved as a museum with many authentic original paintings. Like is the case in most art houses, you cant take pictures. (20 MXN, 5 MXN for students)

Map: A=Teatro Juarez, B= Diego Rivera House

Torture Museum, Inquisition Machines: While a very small museum, they have many torture devices used during the holy inquisition. Some are just simple hanging devices while some get…creative for lack of a better term. The Inquisition was the Catholic Church’s attempt to weed out all impurities within its ranks, often leading to accusations very similar to the Salem Witch Trials. Sadly however, the Inquisition lasted more than 3 centuries and spanned the entire Catholic Domain, which at one point was 1/4 of the world’s population. (This along with the “Church of Murals” are in the higher levels of the city. It is however one of the offered tours [along with some useless museums] as the morning “tour of Guanajuato City” and is your most economical bet at 100 MXN. A round trip cab to just one of these could cost you just as much. You can find a tour with any tour company found along Juarez street, or at the bus depot, as noted before.)

I know what youre thinking. There are a lot of nails so it wont actually poke anyone. Thats why they put scorching hot coals to heat up the nails.

 

Church of Murals: This church, like many in Mexico, is just beautiful to see. What makes this one unique however is inside, massive canvas paintings decorating the interior of the church. Such artwork, religious or not, must be appreciated. (see above paragraph for info on how to get here)

Two of the four huge murals in this very unique church.

The huge murals in this church make it quite unique

 

Skeezy Tip: Apparently, everyone works free in this city as every small museum claims to have volunteers to guilt trip you into a tip. If you want to save face instead of flat out not tipping, its a good idea to bring 5 MXN peso coins with you

Tourist Traps to Avoid!!!:

The Museum of Leyends “Museo de Legendas”: is located at the told of the cable cart ride and is sold for a discount price with the cable ticket. It is under no circumstances worth it! The museum includes about 10 rooms of very backward 1950s mechanics of barely moving figures trying to tell a story over the squeaky and old voice over microphone. It explains the leyends of Guanajuato city, but does so in the most boring and corny way possible (wind moves a red sheet to show fire, a blue one to show water). What worse, even though you will be so bored by the 4th one, the doors seal in front of you and behing you so you have to wait through the whole thing.

Mummies Museum “Las Momias”: While this is one of the biggest things Guanajuato is known for, it is one of the least impressive. These are mummified bodies, however once you see one you’ve seen them all. Also, if you come late, there will be an enormous wait for something that would barely be worth it free. It is also the most expensive museum for this reason.

The Haunted House: One of the first stops in the “Guanajuato City” tour is this haunted house. It is not scary and the mechanics remind you of 1980s Disney, or worse! You can try it if you like, or you could skip it and say you already did it, and just wait outside. It only takes about 20 minutes to go through. (20 MXN)

Authentic Candy Stores: If you go on all tours, you will more than once be told to avoid the “fake candy” in the street and wait until they take you to the real thing. However, this is just another tourist trap as the tour guides are paid off to make that stop, and the candy is grossly over priced.

Wax Museum: A tiny museum with only a handful of wax people, and while it starts with Mexican icons, it progresses to US movie stars and nonsensical objects.

Logistics:

Airplane info, lodging, and everything else was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1 article.

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Monument: Free; Transportation up the mountain: $9 (100 MXN); )

"Christ King" at the top of Cubilete Mountain.

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

NOTE: Guanajuato is the capital city of the state of Guanajuato within Mexico. “Leon” is the largest city in Guanajuato state. Unless otherwise specified, when referring to Guanajuato, we mean the CITY.

1) By Plane:

Take a flight from where ever you are to Leon/Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) [The 2 cities share an International Airport]. From here, sadly, there is no option (as there are no buses) than to take a taxi, which will run you $33 (400 MXN) from the airport to downtown Guanajuato. Ask them to leave at whatever hotel you reserved (suggestion on a cheap one below). If you stayed in our recommended hotel (below), it is next to the marketplace, the center of the entire “historic downtown” area. While you COULD drive to the Cubilete mountain yourself, it is about a 90-120 minute drive through mountains and not really worth the gas, the rental, or the risk. The more economical and sensible thing to do is go with a tour, which charges 100 pesos to take you up there. There are many competing companies that go up every day (info below).

Skeezy Tip #1: Some of these, including the one I went on, take this trip rather late in the day in order to maximize their profits. They run a tour of the city in the morning, and then this tour in the evening. If you want to take decent pictures, it is best to go in the summer when there is more sunlight, OR demand that you go as early as possible or you wont pay. As the city is moving from arts and crafts to a tourism economy, competition is tough, so they will budge. It really helps your case however if you have a large enough group to make it worth their while.

Skeezy Tip #2: Apparently everyone in Guanajuato works for free. This is mentioned because at the end of any tour, any museum, or any insignificant walk thorough, they will mention this “fact” and ask for a tip. Don’t feel obligated if you don’t think the service was worth it as it is not a widespread custom in Mexico as it is in the US. However, most people will tip, so to show your appreciation / save face, you might want to carry some 10 Peso coins (short things), or some 20 peso bills (long tours).

Skeezy Tip #3: As a result of this being a relatively new industry, none of the services I came across had English Guides. While it is possible they exist, it is likely you will be stuck paying 2-3 times the cost of a normal tour. For this one, you really don’t learn anything too important besides the fact that the monument has been rebuilt 5 times. However, you might want to invite a bilingual CouchSurfer and get a free translator.

2) By Bus:

Take a bus from anywhere in Mexico to the Guanajuato Bus depot (the default of anyplace that says Guanajuato). As you get off the bus, there will be people selling tours to this monument, as well as hotels. The tours are identical in price to the ones found in the city, and the hotels are surprisingly amongst the most economical. Once you purchase / skip the tour to the monument, go outside and take a cab to your hotel/hostel for about $4 (40MXN). If you scheduled a tour, just wait for the bus to pick you up on time. If not, find a tour service (you can find them walking around the single main street of the city) that takes you there. They are all 100 pesos (you can get a deal if they are desperate, and departing immediately).

Skeezy Tip: It is recommended that (if they have a convenient schedule) you buy the tour when you get to the city (or at least get their info), so you don’t have to worry about finding a tour company as they are all the same price.

Golden Crown on the inside of the Pedestal

Story:

Almost everyone has heard of “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which is one of the 7 new world wonders. While that is a larger site, this one comes pretty close. Counting the mount, this monument is about 33 meters (108 ft) and is claimed (by the people of the city) to be the second biggest in the world. It is a testament to human architecture and the Mexican faith in the Catholic Religion. It stands on a huge mountain called “El Cubilete” making people often ask if you are going to see “El Cubilete” but really asking about the monument. It has been rebuilt 5 times on the same mountain, making constant upgrades, and additions. The current one has 2 angels next to him. One is smiling, giving him the crown of the king, while the other one looks away in shame as he is giving him the crown with spines. Unlike some other monuments to Jesus Christ around the world, the pedestal of this one is not solid. You can enter it, to view quite an impressive temple shrine, with a large golden colored crown on the top, an even larger spines crown surrounding the entire room, and a solid gold star which is only shown on special occasions.

Skeezy Tip: Plan to stay at least a few days in Guanajuato, as it has a lot to offer, at a surprisingly economical price which is not common anymore in Mexico. The food is also really cheap here, especially in the marketplace with 6 Peso (50 cent) Tostadas!

From the back of the monument.

Logistics:

Airplane: Fly into Leon/Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) and follow the instructions above. Use Kayak.com, or if possible vivaaerobus.com as they give you the best rates.

Lodging:

1) Posada San Francisco: 011-473-732-2084 (No Website)

We got this one as we entered the city. No reservations were needed at the time, but we did notice other people getting turned away because they didn’t have any more rooms.

2) Hostelworld Rooms as low as $10 Shared (120 MXN) $18 Private room (220 MXN)

You could move to this one night, then more to option 1 the following nights. While this is cheaper, Posada San Francisco is where tour buses drop off people, and the exact center of town.

3) Hostelbookers Rooms as low as $7 Shared (80 MXN) $8 Private room (100 MXN)

4) Couch Surfing FREE

While the couch surfing community does exist in Guanajuato, don’t be fooled. Most people life in “new Guanajuato” which is a 20-40 MXN ($2-$4) cab ride from the historic downtown. Just be advised you will be a bit far from most things to do in the city.

Tours:

Sadly, most don’t have set offices beyond the tour company in the bus depot. Go with that if you arrived by bus. You will see them (since they crowd around you) as you exit the bus (but still inside the bus depot). If you arrived by plane (or missed this company), follow the map below, as it is centered where many Tour Company Kiosks are. Many other Kiosks exist if you walk along Juarez Street towards the market place (and past it) from where the map is centered below.

MAP: Centered at Posada San Francisco, which is also the exact center of the city and where many TOUR service kiosks are.

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to the Olympics area: FREE to view from the outside; Birds Nest Entrance:$8-$28 (50-180 Yuan); Entrance to Water Cube: $5-$31 (30-200 Yuan))

National Stadium ( AKA: The Bird's Nest)

 

Visa information on entering China was covered in the Beijing Part 1 article.

(I am going to assume you already read the Beijing Part 1 article’s first paragraph and now know how to get from the airport, to your hostel and can find your way to the Beijing subway network.)

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

Find your way to the Beijing Subway Network, and get off on the Green #8 Line “Olympics Sports Center Station” (奥体中心站). You could also get off on “Olympic Green” and its closer to the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, but we suggest you get off on “Olympics Sports Center” to see everything. Take Exit C. ( A compass would be useful right about here) To your East is the Gymnasium. Walk North and you will see the Water Cube to your left, and the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) directly in front of you. Use the map below.

Beijing is quickly trying to find use for these stadiums. Currently, the Bird’s Nest is a ski resort (prices below), and the Water Cube is a recently opened water park (prices below).

Story:

The 2008 Olympics Complex, also known as the “Olympic Green” is, obviously, where the 2008 Olympics were held, the most recent ones to date. The Olympics, besides the competitions in the stadiums, is also a place were cities try to out-preform the last Olympics host. This was no exception, as Beijing tried and succeeded in out-preforming Athens, the host of the 2004 Olympics in both the opening/closing ceremonies, as well as the architectural marvels that are The National Stadium (AKA: The Bird’s Nest) and The National Aquatics Center (AKA: The Water Cube). The Complex also holds a place in history, as the place were Usain Bolt destroyed cross country records in a ridiculous 9.69 sec 100m dash, and Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian ever with 8 additional golds in Beijing including a .01 sec come from behind win in his 7th gold.

The National Aquatics Center (The Water Cube). Named for obvious reasons, even though its not a cube!

Logistics:

Price Brackets:

Getting into the Olympic General area: Free

National Stadium (Bird’s Nest): (9AM-6PM weekdays, 9AM-9:30PM weekends)

Tour the Inside of the Stadium: $8 (50 Yuan)

Skiing on weekdays: $13 (80 Yuan)

Skiing on weekends/holidays: $21 (140 Yuan)

Tour and skiing on Weekdays: $18 (120 Yuan)

Tour and skiing on Weekends/holidays: $28 (180 Yuan)

National Aquatics Center (The Water Cube): (9AM-7PM Mon-Thurs; 9AM-5PM Fri-Sun)

Tour of Facility: $5 (30 Yuan)

Swimming in Training pool: $8 (50 Yuan) [for every 2 Hrs, 2PM-7PM only Tues-Sun]

Admission to Waterpark: $30/$25 (200 Yuan/160 Yuan) [adults/children 1.2-1.4 meters tall]

Combined Stadiums Tour: $21 (140 Yuan)

You can tour both stadiums, plus the Center of performing Arts, and the CCTV tower. This only includes the entrance to the areas, not the skiing or the water park/swimming.

Useful Links:

Travel China Guide Birds Nest

Travel China Guide Water Cube

Lodging/Airplane/Visa info/Maps:

All of this info is found in our Beijing Part 1 section.

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By: Julio Moreno ( Tour to all 3 sites, $25 per person [includes buffet, and entrance to all sites, and personal driver] varies depending on your hotel)

The Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

 

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

1) By Plane:

Take a plane from wherever you live to Phnom Penh international Airport. 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] (you do not need to pay or prepare or pay for ANYTHING else before arrival). When you leave, you will have to pay another $25 as an “exit visa”. If you arranged somewhere to stay (look below) they might be able to pick you up from the airport, ask. Otherwise, there are many taxis right outside the airport. You should arrange ahead of time with your hotel as to a tour including these places (if your hotel doesn’t provide this, call the “Indochine 2” hotel, they do, info below). Often if the hotel is unable to provide tours themselves, they know someone who does, just ask (or take a taxi). Cambodia tends to be very hospitable to tourists and can accommodate your interests. The tours usually start very early, and the one in the hotel listed below, includes a buffet. Our hotel was also able to combine the tour with bus tickets to Siem Reap (for an additional $7).

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: Some websites promote an “on-arrival” visa verification for $10. This is a SCAM! The sites look very official, but was told upon arriving that the “verification form” they sold me for $10 was useless. When I confronted the website on this and told them I would report them, they refunded my $10.

2) By Bus:

There are many direct bus routes from Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, Vietnam, or Thailand. Ask your hotel and they will most likely know. Keep in mind, you will have to pay some sort of fee if you enter by land. Just like by plane, your hotel might be able to pick you up from the bus depot, or you could easily get a cab.

Skeezy Tip #1: If you arent carrying a heavy load and are alone, motorcycles are about half the price of other taxis.

Skeezy Tip #2: You will also likely get swarmed with many taxi drivers trying to get you. Walk where more than one driver can see you, they will try to haggle with you for the best price.

Skeezy Tip #3: 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:

Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields): This is one of the over 20,000 mass graves found all over Cambodia where Pol Pot (ruler of Cambodia 1975-1979) ordered the genocide of the Cambodian people. Anyone who spoke up against the government was eradicated, along with any family they may have had. As seen from the picture below, no one was spared. This truly remarkable and obscene era in recent world history is largely unknown and the museum at the entrance tells part of the tale. From 1975-1979 anywhere from 1.7 – 3.5 million Cambodians were killed as a result of direct murder or massive famine. Given the population of Cambodia was around 7 million at the time, this is around 21%-50% of the population destroyed in 4 years. Pol Pot sought to bring a radical form of Communism called “Agrarian Socialism” where many forms of technology, most formal education, and city live would be abandoned to allow for mass farm cultivation. He effectively reduced the population of Phnom Penh in 1975 from 2 million, to virtually ZERO.

A testament to the brutality of the Pol Pot Regime. The sign on the right really says "Juvenile Female Kampuchean (Cambodian) 15-20 yrs old".

The center of the memorial, where the skulls found have been collected.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison): This was a high school which was converted into a prison during the era of Pol Pot. Tens of thousands of prisoners were held, tortured and eventually killed. Prisoners were often sent from here, to the killing field (mentioned above) to be buried or killed. As seen from the pictures below, age wasn’t a factor for determining an enemy of the state, as even children were murdered. In this prison, it is said that a little over 20,000 prisoners were held during its tenure, of which only 6 survived. The killing didn’t end until 1979 where another Communist nation (this is why you don’t see it too much in American taught history), Vietnam, invaded Cambodia and ousted Pol Pot, ending his Khmer Rouge regime.

The interior of S-21 shows the pictures taken of all the prisoners. This gets sadder as you move along the museum and see the prisoners get younger and younger.

The upper levels of S-21 have barbed wire to prevent prisoners from attempting suicide.

One of the larger individual rooms. They were however, only large for the comfort of the torturing guard as the prisoner was bounded to this chair at all times.

The Royal Palace: This is where the King of Cambodia resides. However, much like the queen of England, he doesn’t have any real administrative power. However, UNLIKE the queen of England, you are required to respect the king at all times as he is highly esteemed by the Cambodian people and badmouthing the king can result in negative repercussions. Rumor has it, one particularly unfortunately drunk foreigner forgot this rule and was send to prison for 3 months for cursing at a picture of the king.

One of the towers of the Royal Palace. The architecture is unique of Cambodian style.

Skeezy Tip #1: Many of the tourist spots around Phnom Penh are very sad to see, however keep your guard up. As the country relies heavily in the tourism of these spots, people will be out trying to make an extra buck on your lowered guard. In all 3 sites, you will see people selling books on a number of things including the S21 prison, Pol Pot, or a lonely Planet of numerous countries. However the price for these re-sellers is around $6-$10 a book. In the market place, you can get them for less than half. Furthermore, don’t make the mistake I did and carry books your whole trip, they actually sell the same books almost everywhere.

Skeezy Tip #2: At first glance, 4000 Riel (or $1 which is the equivalent) for 1/2 liter of water seems like a fair deal. However, this is an enormously inflated price, as they charge 500 Riel to a Cambodian. While it is unlikely that you can bargain them down to 500 Riel (which is 12 cents) it is very easy to get them to sell it for 2000 Riel. While this seems minor, trust me, you will be buying a LOT of water.

Skeezy Tip #3: The poverty in Cambodia is obvious. With that, come a lot of beggars. While seasoned travelers might now have a problem saying no to people asking for money (as parents often send their children to beg instead of to school) Cambodia’s begging can be different. You will often see children beg for some of what you are eating, chips, or even something as basic as water. This will break your heart, especially if you don’t have anything to give them and might be tempted to give them money. Do yourself a favor, pack plenty of snacks, or food and don’t hesitate to share with them. It is a lot better than giving them money, and cheaper too. They also get very talkative if you’re sharing snacks.

Skeezy Tip #4: Tour guides are available for these 3 places, but in reality, it is most worth it at the S21 prison. Like Siem Reap, there are no plaques or signs telling you the story of the prison. Furthermore, most guides inside are middle aged, who actually lived during that era. They have insider information and their own story to tell if you ask (as politely and delicately as possible of course).

Other places to go to / things to see:

The Central Marketplace: Cheap place to buy memorabilia, books, souvenirs, and jewelery.

Skeezy Tip #1: Tours, like the one I took are more time based than location based and are very flexible. With that said, it is possible for you to ask the driver for a detour to the market place. While you could always go yourself, you save yourself the taxi to and from the marketplace.

Skeezy Tip #2: This applied to more than just Cambodia. Jewelery is a huge scam here, in Thailand, and in Vietnam. Jewelers will try to show you how authentic and high quality their jewelery is using some “stone detection tools”. While they might have authentic stones, they are hardly the bargain they claim. It is a huge business to try to sell mass amounts of jewelery at very inflated prices, and fact of the matter is, unless you are an expert, you really cant tell the difference between high and low quality stones with the naked eye OR with tools. If you just must have jewelery, don’t buy too much.

Logistics:

Airplane: Fly into Phnom Penh International airport, and follow the instructions in the intro. Use sites like Kayak.com Airasia.com, Cheapoair.com, or Ctrip.com as they consistently give the cheapest rates (over sites like cheaptickets, and expedia.com).

Lodging:

1) Indochine 2 Hotel, as low as $17 a night for a single person.

http://www.indochine2hotel.com/accommodation.php

This is a recommended hotel because of the location, cleanliness, and services. They can make a tour package with a driver to take you to all three (or 4 including the marketplace) listed above, which includes a buffet for $25 a person, or $32 with bus to Siem Reap. The hotel has computers with internet in the lobby, and complimentary water bottles in your rooms.

2) Hostelbookers.com has private rooms as low as $4 a room/night.

3) Hostelworld.com has private rooms as low as $3 a room/night.

4) Couchsurfing.org is free, if you find someone who is willing to host you.

In addition to a free room, couchsurfing hosts might also show you around their city for free, as an exchange of cultures. Beware of creepers and do at your own risk.

Map:


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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Site: $10 (116 MXN), Bus from Merida,Yucatan $6 (65 MXN one way, 130 MXN round trip))

The main Pyramid of Chichen Itza, The old Mayan Capital

 

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

Take a flight from where ever to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico (see 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. They drop you off literally in front of the site. Go in, take your pics, absorb the culture. Buy a bus ticket back to Merida from the counter in the official gift shop. Go to the exact point you were dropped off (a little courtyard) to wait for the bus (dont panic, its ALWAYS late).

Skeezy Tip#1: What many people usually do is fly to Cancun, then take a bus to Chichen Itza. However, Cancun (as seen by the map) is farther than Merida. Also, if coming from N. America, Merida is closer and flights are usually cheaper. In addition hotels in Cancun are considerably more expensive than those in Merida. If you also want to see cancun in this trip, it is Easy to continue from Chichen Itza to Cancun  by bus. Just bring all your luggage, there is storage for a fee at most bus depots (Merida’s included) and its free storage at Chichen Itza.

Skeezy Tip #2: There are 2 bus depots. All prices stated are for the 2nd class bus depot (“central de segunda clase”) and not CAME which is the 1st class bus depot. They are also confusingly in front of each other. See the map at the very end of this article to see where they both are.

Story:

Chichen Itza is the most well preserved Mayan site and one of the 7 new wonders of the world. The most famous  artifact is “El Castillo” (the castle), a pyramid that triggers an interesting shadow effect that resembles the diamond back snake on its side. HOWEVER, this effect only happens on the equinoxes, twice a year on March 21st, and Sept 21st. It happens a few days before and after too. Regardless, its still an amazing site to visit any day. Mayan civilization was known for advanced knowledge of astronomy and natural phenomenon (unlike the Aztecs) and predicted events such as eclipses and planetary wobbles. However, despite popular belief, it does NOT predict the end of the world on Dec 21st 2012. The date does mark an important new era, but nothing so drastic.

An ancient stadium of the "ball game" which only used your hips and other joints to hit the ball. The hoops on the sides are where you score.

Skeezy Tip#1: See everything first before trying to buy anything. While many arts and crafts are impressive, and hand made, the site is large so you dont want to carry things for hours before you leave.

Skeezy Tip #2: Bargain, hard! Rule of thumb, as a Mexican, I find that the lowest someone will go, in general is about 20-45% below the initial asking price. If you get the full 45%, great job. Its a bigger difference on the higher priced items of course. I also noticed the asking price is bigger for foreigners( maybe 10-20% more), who are usually too shy to bargain. Claim to be a poor exchange student and that you know you are being high balled. Never be rude however, as bargaining is a fine art and they appreciate a good bargainer.

Skeezy Tip#3: Some items, especially T-shirts wont be bargained for. However, keep shopping around. I asked about shirts to about 5 vendors before one said he would sell them for 40 instead of the asked for 50 MXN.

This is where the Mayans sacrificed people. Although it is dirty now due to dirt clogging the porous bottom, it is part of a massive network of sinkholes all over the Yucatan Peninsula.

Logistics:

Airplane ride: Use cheap websites like Kayak.com, cheapoair.com, or directly from Aeromexico,com, volaris.com, or vivaaer0bus.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.

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)

Bus Depot to Chichen Itza:

This is a bit tricky. There are two bus depots and are across the street from each other. There is the Second class Depot (just called “central de autobuses”) 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. Also 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, 50% more. They are both on the intersections of 70

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)


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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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