My Say

No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth. - Robert Southey

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Cambodia Trip: Pearl of Asia

Landed at Phnom Penh International Airport at 4pm local time, my adventure on the Khmer Land commenced the moment I walked out from the terminal with my 70 litre Slazenger backpack. I only have 7 pieces of 100 USD notes at the time and the friendly lady at the customer service counter advised me to buy something at the stores nearby in order to have small changes in KHR for using public bus (which cost 1500 Riel). Bought my first coffee and waited for bus just right outside the airport in which there was then I first experienced the heat of Cambodia, which is much hotter than Malaysia. There was this cute baby boy with his mother sitting opposite of me during my way to the city. It was about 40 minutes bus ride.

My first coffee once touched down in Phnom Penh

Checking in at Panorama Mekong Hostel, it was already close to dinner time. The hostel is strategically located at the street of eateries and bars. Be warned that you need to walk up four flights of stairs to reach the place. The place cost 13.50 dollars for 3 nights stay. The rate doesn't include breakfast but can be ordered over the counter. The common lounge is essentially a bar where you can order drinks. The hostel is run by a foreigner.

The view from my hostel at night towards Mekong River

Have heard my friends talking about "Happy Pizza" when they travelled to Cambodia. Coincidentally one of the famous eateries for it is located right below my hostel, unplanned. The pizza costs 6.50 dollars and I had it all by myself. Back in Amsterdam I could smell the weed on the street though I never know how did it taste like. The pizza tasted rather usual for me. I didn't think I was "high" after the pizza, neither "happy". After a full dinner, I called it a day after whole day of travelling.

"Happy Pizza" - ordinary pizza that infused with weed

Waking up the next morning, I was feeling dizzy when I stood up. Unsure if it was due to the tiredness of travelling or it was the post effect of the weed pizza that I had. At one point, I did feel want to vomit. I rested for most of the morning before getting some snacks at the convenience store to execute the itinerary of Day 1 in Cambodia.

My first stop is the National Museum of Cambodia, which is just right behind my hostel. With 10 dollar entrance fee, the museum features mostly statues from the pre and post Angkorian era. It was a rather small museum which can be sufficiently covered in one hour. If you are not really familiar with history, this can be skipped (considering the steep entrance fee).

The centre of the museum. Liking this landscape

Next in my agenda is the Royal Palace. However, the palace is not open during lunch hour. Rested at the hostel (to fully recover from morning dizziness) and lunched. The palace is accessible at 10.25 dollars. No shorts is allowed (3-quarter pants is acceptable) and shoulder-revealing top is forbidden. Plain shirt is available at the site for purchase in case your outfits don't fit the regulations.

Jade Buddha is housed within this building. No photos is allowed inside

Silver Pagoda at Royal Palace

After 2 hours at the palace, I walked towards the Independence Monument which is around 20 minutes. Had a quick shot of the structure, I proceed to my next destination which is the Genocide Museum. Point to note that these sites are walkable from one place to another (except for Killing Fields), in which the furthest is around 30 minutes walk. However, one can always opt for "tuk tuk" which can only cost for few dollars for each journey. It's relatively safe to cross the road, in my opinion as the cars on the road will slow down letting you to pass, somewhat.

Independence Monument during daytime

Independence Monument during night time

I initially planned this place to be on Day 2 but looking at the remaining time that I have, I made it in time  for an hour visit. The museum (also known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) entrance fee is 8 dollars which inclusive of audio guide. Formerly a high school, the site is one of the prominent sites to be used as prison (S-21) during Khmer Rouge where the accused were being interrogated mercilessly. Photos and stories of the prisoners are exhibited in some of the rooms and I couldn't imagine the life they are going through, waiting for sentences. It's just the matter of time. Some of the buildings are even wired on the exterior to prevent the prisoners from committing suicide. They couldn't even decide their own death.

One of the torturing rooms
Mugshots of the prisoners

The torturing site

The wired building, preventing the prisoners from committing suicide (instead of escaping)

Some of the cells on the second level. Can't imagine how to live in such conditions. The thought of it gives me chills.

Khmer Rouge may have ended in 1979 but the remnants are still felt till these days. The stories of the survivors continue to inspire

I saw Aeon Mall appeared on my map and decided to drop by on my way back to the hostel. I would think this is one of the few modern malls they have in Cambodia which as the common retail shops that we have in Malaysia. Bought myself a Chatime drink and I'm getting ready for Day 2.

There's Padini at Phnom Penh!

The very next day started with a trip to Killing Fields, a complementary experience after Genocide Museum. Return trip of "tuk tuk" cost 15 dollar and the entrance of the killing fields cost 6 dollars, inclusive of audio guide as well. This site is the infamous site where the prisoners from the museum were being prosecuted. Take a moment and listen to every story at certain stops. The one with the killing tree is particularly disturbing.

It's gruesome to visualise that babies were hit against this tree

I saw this lady with another guy was setting this up when I was there. There's chinese grave within this compound, which was there way before this place was turned to killing sites

The skulls of the prosecuted recovered from the site, with cause of death labelled within the cabinet

Heading back to the city after 2 hours at the site and lunched at the Central Market. The market sells wide range of things; from daily groceries to souvenirs. There are both dry and wet markets too.

The central of the Central Market. Stalls of jewellery in sight

My lunch: they call it Cambodia Pasta. Cost me 5000 Riel.

This mall is rather small and this Hard Rock cafe is newly open, which is around 4 months during the time of my visit

Have been seeing this cafe around so I thought to give it a try

As I was approaching my hostel, I decided to stop by one of the wats at the capital. Knowing that Angkot Wat will be my ultimate stop for this whole trip so I didn't really prioritise wats in my PP itinerary. Since it is on the way, so I might as well have a quick visit. This particular wat is Ounalom Wat and is accessible with 1 dollar for tourist. It is said that the hill where the wat is on is man-made.

Wat Ounalom

It was only around 3pm when I was done for the day. Rested at the hostel and I decided to go for an evening jog by the Mekong River. I could see there are many locals and tourists did the same at the river front. I even saw some of them playing football at one of the areas.

The riverfront is lit at night. (and I am a proud Malaysian!)

I had my last dinner at Phnom Penh at Friends the Restaurant, one of the restaurants under TREE Alliance which supports the development of local youths. The price may be on the high side but the dishes are commendable. This particular restaurant is just located within walking distance from my hostel.

Khmer Banana Blossom Salad with Chicken, Pork Belly and Crispy Wonton. The taste reminded me of "Umai" back home. Nyummy.

Banana and Cashew Nuts Milkshake

2 days are adequate for me to cover the must-sees in Phnom Penh. That is even with rather relaxing pace for me to cover the places mentioned in this entry. Since I am in it for another 10 days, some places I crossed them out in PP list as I am anticipating more from the upcoming city.

My last sunrise in Phnom Penh before heading to the next city
Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville - Koh Rong Island - Battambang - Siem Reap (in the works)

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Cambodia Trip: Choum Reap Sor

Angkor Wat is definitely the very first thing that comes to our mind when talking about Cambodia. The Khmer nation is more than just about the temples that were built around the 12th Century. More disturbingly are the remnants of Cambodian Genocide which ended just only 40 years ago during Khmer Rouge. Some of the prominent leaders and survivors of the cruel regime are still alive today, which are now of advanced age of course. I'm not really familiar with Cambodian food scenes, except hearing the stories of my friends attempted roaches, tarantula or even snakes. Booked my return tickets flying from Kuala Lumpur for less than MYR 200, I have had more than a year to plan for the 12 days trip.

View of Mekong River from my stay in Phnom Penh
No visa is required for Malaysians to visit Cambodia less than 30 days. I visited the country in the end of March until early of April which is rather a dry season. If one of your dreams is to see the floating villages with high rising water, you may need to opt for monsoon season which is around quarter three or four of the year. It was cloudy (I missed few sunsets) and yet sunny and hence, it would be advisable to bring sunblock. Regardless, you still need to wear modestly for visiting some  of the sites especially the temples so do remember pack some pants that cover at least down to the knees or shirts that cover the shoulders.

The official currency of Cambodia is Riel (KHR) in which the domination can be as small as 50 to the biggest of 100, 000 which is not available to be changed in Malaysia. However, United States Dollar (USD) is widely accepted in the country with the exchange rate of 1 USD to 4000 or 4100 KHR. Most of the shops in Cambodia have prices in USD along with KHR on their tags. I won't say it is necessary to change to local currency as the change will usually be given back to you in KHR which is easily disposable for small purchases on the street.

Tip: Do check your changes in USD notes are in pristine conditions and better to be of latest series or otherwise won't be accepted by other shops. My badly folded 1 USD note and 50 USD of 2006 series but still in good condition were rejected. Do note that these changes were the ones I received from local merchants who gave them away to naive travellers. This does not apply for KHR notes. However KHR doesn't carry any value outside of Cambodia (you can't change them back to MYR in Malaysia unless you plan to return) so do spend all  you have when you can.

One of the sunset views in Cambodia
Time in Cambodia is one hour later than that in Malaysia (GMT+7). Started off my trip in the capital of Phnom Penh and ended in Siem Reap, both cities are about two hours flight from Kuala Lumpur. My trip spanned for 12 days which inclusive of another 3 stopovers at the coast of Sihanoukville, the island of Koh Rong and the tranquil city of Battambang. I opted for bus for the intercity travels in which you can buy the tickets online. "Tuk tuk" is the common way to commute within the cities. The traffic in Cambodia is still rather manageable tho one still needs to be cautious while crossing the road. More details shall unfold in the next chapters.

Shall we begin our journey?

Let get started!
Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville - Koh Rong Island - Battambang - Siem Reap (in the works)

Saturday, 3 December 2016

India Trip: Alvida

Reaching New Delhi in the evening, our driver dropped us at Akshardham Complex. Entry to the complex are absolutely free but some sites (like the magical fountain) would need minimal fee in which we skipped. The detailed carvings at the major dome, be it the wall or ceiling, are overwhelming and from our observation, they seem to be hand-made which make them more amazing. The complex is just like the Hindu's version of Fo Guang Shan that I visited back in Kaohsiung, Taiwan last year. Oh, one point to note that the photography is not allowed within the complex.

We visited a tea shop before checking back in at Treebo Natraj Yes Please. The shop owner showed different types of teas that are being produced from different regions of India. My knowledge on tea now is slightly better than before, beyond than just Darjeeling Tea. Mango tea left the deepest impression in my mind for its strong prominent flavour. India is the largest mango producer in the world.

Red Fort was our first stop on the next day. Due to the traffic condition around the area which makes it hard to find parking, we were asked to take trishaw, and it wasn't free. Hesitated, we hopped on and explored New Delhi like typical tourists for first half of the day. This is our third fort for this trip after Amber Fort in Jaipur and Agra Fort in Agra. The resemblance is observable: made up of sandstone and hence, bright red structure. Entrance fee is 250 Rupee.

On the street of New Delhi 

Red Fort

Okay, I have an unpleasant experience prior entering to the fort as I accidentally stepped on seem-to-be cow dumps. I thought the day wouldn't get any worse after that.

To tell you the truth, I never thought I would see people wearing saree on the street. Just like how I don't expect the chinese wear cheongsam and Japanese wear kimono, on the streets (exception for tourists). Okay, come to think of it, maybe they are tourists. I don't know.

Birds are flocking in the sky

We made a trip to Old Delhi after exiting from the fort. Our driver (I'm not sure what's the guy called who ride the trishaw) told us some of the buildings at the street has been there for more than 130 years at least. The wiring at the street was far more unimaginable than that I saw in Krabi, Thailand. As we passed by the street, I noticed the patterns of the shops in seems to go section by section. A stretch of shops will be selling saree and the next will be books and spices come after that and eventually cards too.

Jama Masjid at the end of the road

We returned to our car and we made a quick visit to Gandhi Smriti, which showcases the life and death of Mahatma Ghandi. This was the place where Ghandi spent his last moment before he was assassinated. There's a section at the site that showed the last steps that he took before coming to the fateful spot. Free entrance.

Rest in peace, Ghandi. 

We were brought by our driver around to have a glimpse of India Parliament building and the famous Indian Gate. We spent the evening at Connaught Place which is basically a shopping street in New Delhi. For a while, we felt like we are back in urban civilization after all those days we visited heritage sites. It comes to my realization the books sold in India are rather cheap. Those books that you see being sold on the street walk are legitimate. I didn't manage to locate kama sutra though.

Section of Indian Parliament Building

View of Indian Gate from our car

Connaught Place

We thought our adventure was yet to end as we still have one day to explore before our flight late night on the next day. We were wrong.

Prior to our dinner, I had Ayurveda Massage in which is located just right next to our hotel. The cost was 2000 Rupee. It was heavily oiled full body massage. Rejuvenated after an hour session, we were off to dinner. Never thought this would be my last dinner (proper dinner) for this trip.

As we returned to our hotel, one of us started to feel discomfort in her stomach. We thought it was only her. As the clock struck 1am, I remembered it vividly, I was awaken from my sleep and went to toilet and vomited. Apparently all of us experienced the same symptoms. Had the herbal pills that I brought from Malaysia for precaution and I went toilet for second time. By that time, I was yet to experience any bowel movement. We were too weak to travel on the next day and stayed in for the whole day at hotel, barely eating anything other than banana and ORS drinks. Our flight was 1am (exactly 24 hours after the initiation of my sickness) and the waiting was quite a torture. I even skipped the inflight meal that I have ordered as I decided to sleep away. Not to mention I was too cautious with my bowel movement as little consumption (even if it's just water) spelled almost immediate toilet trip. I only get to fully recovered after a month returning from the trip. Until today, I still haven't any sort of Indian food.

This trip was an eye opening for me in every aspect that I could imagine. It may not be a conventional touristy kind of places that people will usually seek for during holidays but being a traveller, this is one of the countries that I would recommend to visit to experience the cultures from different parts of the world, minus the diarrhea (my diarrhea persisted long enough that I could spell it correctly now at first attempt). This trip definitely will make you to appreciate your country better. There are more to offer from this country and how my trip concluded shall not stop me from revisiting India.

Till next time.

Recap our India Journey:
Jaipur - Agra - NEW DELHI

India Trip: The City of Love

Concluded our trip in Jaipur by bidding farewell to City Palace, we continued our journey to another state in India, Uttar Pradesh in which the capital is Agra. 200km distance means another 4 hours of journey. I remembered clearly that during this trip, I was the front seat passenger and dozed off. The driver put on sudden brake and I woke up, thought there was something on the road. Apparently, there was none. Subsequently, I was trying hard to stay awake for the rest of the journey or pretending to be awake by wearing my sunglasses and with a book in my hand (I was really reading it at first until a point that I stopped flipping pages as I couldn’t even finish a paragraph, or sentence even). The latter can be a good tip to avoid unnecessary nuisance during a road trip.

Before reaching the city of Agra, we dropped by Fatehpuh Sikri, UNESCO listed site since 1986. “Fateh” which means victorious in Arabic with Persian origin, the site is basically a walled city. The whole site is made up of standstone hence the monuments are in red, pretty much similar to most historical sites that I visited throughout India (not the one after this, though). The driver won’t be able to bring you right to entrance of the site as there are buses provided (with a minimal fee) to enter the walled city. I would say I have a fair share of Indian bus experience as the bus was overloaded with passengers and some were standing at the door before the drivers decided to make his move. Thankfully the journey to the site wasn’t that long so it was bearable. The site is accessible with a fee of 500 Rupee (and 10 Rupee tax which can be levied if you keep entrance tickets for other sites. More on this later). 10 Rupee is like, 60 Malaysian cents?

It’s not something new for me that kids approached you while you are on a trip. The memory of Greek kids came to scratch our table back in Athens, 2012 is still vivid in my mind. I have more of that in this country, not the table scratching but the kids approaching. As much as you wish to sympathize them, it may not be a wise move. Exiting from the complex, we were being followed by a group of kids who didn’t ask for money but for the entrance tickets. One of the kids said they need it to make a calendar or something. I remembered clearly there was one kid was telling his friend (or not) that he has this one (us). Ignorance is bliss to save ourselves from unwanted trouble. While waiting for bus to take us back to our driver, I heard a Japanese lady saying that she is fond of travelling in India.

We continued our journey to Agra which is around 40km away. Checking in at Treebo White Inn and had our dinner at Tea’se Me, an eatery that located at the rooftop of a hotel. No, there was no view of Taj Mahal from there despite its vicinity to the East Gate. I wasn’t sure whether our driver was lazy or it was not part of the package but, after dropping us off at the restaurant, he gave us money to use “tuk tuk” back to hotel. All the “tuk tuk” that we have hopped on didn’t seem to be reliable as almost of them didn’t know where we are heading. Never mind that, after a fine dinner, we were all excited for the agenda of following day. It was the prime reason for this trip anyway. Our stay is strategically located at East Gate road hence for a budget hotel, it is recommendable (though not so much on the breakfast).

We headed as early as 6.00am towards the ticket office which is within walking distance. The entrance fee is 1000 Rupee and this is inclusive of buggy service bringing you to East Gate. You are not allowed to bring any bag to the site and hence they are to be stored at the lockers at the office. Camera bag is acceptable. You will be provided with a bottle of mineral water and shoes cover. Reaching the gate there would be security check, just like any other sites. Lines for males and females are segregated whereby the ladies would be checked within a tiny curtained room. Tripod isn’t allowed at the site as the officer asked me to remove the tripod from my GoPro stick and deposit at one of the souvenir shops. Hesitantly and reluctantly, I went on with it. Slowly, we took our step towards the wonder. We were greeted by the magnificent gate and slowly, we walked pass it. Slowly, the sight of it is becoming clear.

Slowly stepping in..

Since we were early, the crowd was pretty decent though you would still need to wait for photo taking at your favourite spot (same goes for everyone else, really). The place is surrounded by 4-sided wall with green landscape. As you approached the mausoleum, this is where you would need to put on the shoes cover, or you could go barefoot stepping on the white marble. Photos taking is only permissible up to entrance. Being this close to the monument, it gives me the perspectives of Taj Mahal from different angle. It was so whitely grand and to think of the effort to build the site for 17 years, can only imagine how much was the love of the king towards his wife (though the ending was rather sad for the king). I just can’t help to take photos of Taj Mahal whenever I have a glimpse of it. Was captivated and to remind myself that I was seeing the actual thing. I bet the percentage of its photos is highest than anything else in my gallery.

The cliche photo of Taj Mahal with its reflection

Close up

Me trying "Tree Pose", or so I thought

View from Taj Mahal towards East Gate

Taj Mahal, ticked. Remember to keep your ticket for tax levitation at other sites. Claimed my tripod and bought a little overpriced souvenir from the shop, we returned to our hotel for our breakfast before checking out.

Next site that we visited was the Agra Fort, the former residence of Mughal Dynasty. Like Amber Fort in Jaipur, most of the monuments were made of sandstone and hence, the bright brick red colour. It was believed that Shah Jahan, the king who built Taj Mahal, was confined by his son at the fort, in which he could see Taj Mahal from a distance from his lockout before his life ended there. The fee is 500 Rupee.

Can imagine the King had his last moment looking at his wife's tomb

Agra Fort and some ruins are noticeable on the right

We visited the Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, which is also called "Baby Taj". This mini white marble maosoleum is accesible with 200 Rupee, with 10 Rupee levied by showing Taj Mahal ticket.

A kid was seens swimming at Yamuna river.

We were towards the end of our journey as we headed back to New Delhi right after.

Jaipur - AGRA - New Delhi