Archive for January, 2014

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Costs, Travel

Siem reap -> Phnom Penh
Cost: S$12.80
Time spent traveling: 8 hours (normal 5 hours)

The pickup was at the hostel directly. A tuktuk came at 630 in the morning before transferring me to the main minibus. The proposed duration was 5 hours and it costs $10 USD.

20140129-211617.jpg

The 13 seater was relatively comfortable. However, the driver made it a whole new experience. He was honking at 5hps (honks per second) at 30 second intervals throughout the 8 hour trip. What’s more, he was driving at close to 120kmph on the wrong side of the road. Add in potholes and crazy motorists, you get a one helluva ride.

20140129-212413.jpg

Mind you, it was a two lane road. At times the oncoming traffic were lorries…

20140129-213301.jpg

Nonetheless the view was great!

20140129-213426.jpg

The normal ride would have taken 5 hours but we were stuck in a ‘source unknown’ jam. Even the locals who sat with us claimed that they have never seen such a gridlock before. And I finally understood what a gridlock is, where cars from all direction are stuck and no one can move at all. Epic. 2.5 hours of jam and we were on our way. A short detour and another tuktuk ride later, I’m at the hostel.

Phnom Penh felt more like Taipei as compared to its closer cousin Siem Reap. Here’s a view of the independence monument at sunset to end the day!

20140129-214700.jpg

Siem Reap – the stopover town

Posted: January 28, 2014 in Travel

Known widely as the Angkor Wat town, Siem Reap is probably one of Cambodia’s most famous tourist destination. To me, Siem Reap is a stopover town – hundreds of tourists stopover for a couple of days before heading to Thailand or Vietnam. Be prepared for cheap hostels and expensive transport (as compared to other parts of SE Asia). The tuktuk ride to and fro the hostel costs $12USD, the same as 2 nights stay in the hostel. Weird enough, it is one of the only country I know of that uses a foreign currency more frequently than its own. The USD is widely circulated and the Riel is usually used as a substitute for USD cents.

A must try cuisine is the Amok Fish/Chicken/Veg, a mix of veg, local spices and even curry in some places. All in all, I tried 3 different Amok in 2 days.

20140128-205301.jpg

They do have their local street food as well, with servings of spiders and worms. Being the adventurous me, I kept to banana pancakes instead.

20140128-205510.jpg

There is a fair serving of food that is catered for Caucasians. The mass array and choices of western food is cheap in comparison to what you can get in Europe. You can find the perennial Caucasian reading a book and sipping his latte at every other corner. This place has its charms, but is seem to be driven solely by tourists. Well, anything beats poverty so I have no issues with that.

Siem Reap seems to have a high level of foreign professional help and sponsorship. The eye hospital is funded by the Australians, the local hospital aided by Koreans, the west bridge of the Angkor Wat by the Japanese and so on. The foreign aid that I can relate to would be this shop that sells cupcakes. They employ women from NGO (non government organizations) to run the shop. Training is provided and their mission is simply to create more jobs for women and empower them. Do visit Blossom when you are in Siem Reap!

20140128-211030.jpg

20140128-211100.jpg

And of course, what would Siem Reap be without the sunrise at Angkor Wat? Here’s one to enjoy!

20140128-211212.jpg

Bangkok to Siem Reap

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Costs, Travel

Bangkok -> Siem Reap
Cost: S$25
Time spent traveling: 13 hours

I left the hostel in Bangkok at 530 in the morning to catch the 555am train ride to the Thai border city of Aranyaprethet. The journey took 6 hours, 255km but costs only S$1.80! The taxi from my hostel costs me twice that amount.

20140127-223501.jpg

20140127-223838.jpg

There’s only a 3rd class seating for this route and is taken by many locals as well.

20140127-224157.jpg

20140127-224249.jpg

More than half the locals were in a makeshift head scarf and they all had their mouths covered. It took me a while to realize that we were going through slash and burn territory. There was a short portion of the ride when we went across the dandelion field and it was just heavenly. And in a couple of minutes it all turned to flying ashes instead.

20140127-224601.jpg

Once at the train station, I had to transit to a tuktuk which took 10mins and 100baht to get me to the Cambodian border. The border crossing itself was quite seamless, but the bottleneck was at the Cambodian immigration. Out of the 50 mins in that area, 40 mins was for the arrival immigration into Cambodia.

20140127-224942.jpg

20140127-225008.jpg

20140127-225047.jpg

20140127-225205.jpg

A free bus ride to the bus terminal took about 10 minutes and after another 20 minutes of waiting, I boarded the bus to Siem Reap. The journey took 3 hours and I felt kinda scammed at the end of it. The bus dropped us off at the edge of town and we had to transit on a tuktuk again. 13 hours of traveling later, I’m finally in the hostel. Definitely not a trip that I would take again!

20140127-225723.jpg

The accidental live reporter

Posted: January 24, 2014 in Travel

And so I arrived in Bangkok one day after the emergency has been declared.

20140124-231056.jpg

I didn’t know what to expect, especially since the first thing I saw outside my hostel was a group of loud protesters bearing the stupid yingluck sign.

20140124-231241.jpg

But I soon came to realize that it’s more of a carnival. The entire street around Siam paragon has turned into a huge chatuchak.

20140124-231520.jpg

20140124-231701.jpg

There was even a serving of ‘get out yingluck’…

20140124-231849.jpg

In the evening, the protesters (and bystanders like me) came out in full force.

20140124-231958.jpg

20140124-232146.jpg

And of course the main reason for all the protests. The speakers took turn and it was half political rallying, half carnival like. When the speaker was done, there were song and dance on stage.

20140124-232410.jpg

20140124-232447.jpg

It seems all peaceful and nice, with kids running around and whole families gathering to listen to the speeches. The event even made for a good date! As peaceful as it may seem, I always have this fear that a bomb would go off at anytime whenever I’m near the stage. Maybe all the media has hyped up his false sense of danger in us. Maybe it’s really dangerous. Maybe I’ll never know.

Penang to Bangkok

Posted: January 23, 2014 in Costs, Travel

Penang (Butterworth) -> Bangkok
Cost: S$40
Time spent traveling: 22 hours

I thought it would be the most gruesome 22 hours on train but it turned out pretty well.

20140123-224124.jpg

Came across this cute lil Russian girl and made a dog balloon sculpture for her! She was so excited that she couldn’t say thank you in Russian…

20140123-224418.jpg

And the dog unfolded into something much longer in a few minutes…

20140123-224528.jpg

The trip at the Thai border was quick and hassle free but there was a sign that got me really intrigued…..

20140123-224638.jpg

And a whole new meaning to planking.

20140123-225032.jpg

The train ride was pretty awesome, something you wouldn’t expect for the price. After all it’s the price of a cheap motel.

20140123-230007.jpg

20140123-230121.jpg

20140123-230211.jpg

The beds are of the same size as the Malaysian ones. However, the trip seems to cater mainly to tourists, with more than half Caucasians. Oh, and the bed light is slightly more classic.

20140123-230513.jpg

20140123-230547.jpg

22 hours later and the first step onto Thai ground.

20140123-231008.jpg

The station is not made for foreigners so be prepared to get a little lost if you are arriving from the train station.

20140123-231152.jpg

And the first thing I see in Bangkok is…

20140123-231322.jpg

#YOLO

The accidental Penang food blogger

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Food, Travel

One of the objectives of my trip is to explore how the locals live. And when in Penang, eat like the locals. What better way to spend your time other than eating! An hour of research later I managed to list the closest ones to my hostel and plan out a route.

Food: Penang laksa and chendol
Location: Jalan Penang, Beside Ai Goh hotel
Cost: 4RM for laksa and 2.60RM for chendol
Verdict: the queue for the food was pretty crazy by the time I arrived in the late afternoon. The coffee shop itself is rather small and you can even see customers having their chendol by the roadside while eating (think Taipei ah zhong mian xian).

The laksa is unlike the Singapore version where it’s savory with a fair bit of curry. The Penang laksa has a darker base with onions, mint leaves and even a tinge of lemon grass. The pineapple and the other spices gave it a unique flavor, but wasn’t my cup of tea. The noodles were soft and nice, but somehow I expected more meat in it.

On the other hand, the chendol is to die for. The generous serving of red beans and chendol served in ice certainly tasted better in the hot weather. It has just enough sweetness and I can almost taste a little salt from the beans (or something else). All in all, the best chendol I’ve ever eaten anywhere. At 2.6RM, it’s probably only S$1 and is totally worth it!

20140120-181544.jpg

20140120-181623.jpg

20140120-181709.jpg

Food: Hot chocolate and stout marshmallow
Location: Quay side
Cost: 6.50RM
Verdict: as a marshmallow fan, this is a shoo-in for my list of food. The quay side is quite off the main area in town. I walked an hour from gurney drive to quay side although a bus would probably take you there in 10mins or less.

The hot chocolate was great to begin with. The addition of the stout (read: beer) marshmallow made the taste stronger. Kinda sugar overload but who cares. I had my first marshmallow with the chocolate and waited for the second to melt into the drink. Imagine chocolate with rainbows. That’s how it felt.

20140120-221518.jpg

Food: Char Kway Teow, Wanton Mee, Spring rolls and Satay. Basically all street food.
Location: Lebuh Chulia
Cost: I lost count after the 3.50RM Char Kway Teow… Not too exp for all.
Verdict: There’s nothing like local street food. The food stalls were friendly and English speaking unless you speak to them in another language. They were very professional about what they do as I think they encounter a fair bit of foreigners in the area. I stay a couple of minutes away but didn’t know that this area would turn into a night market from 7pm onwards.
The Char Kway Teow is probably the most outstanding among the lot. A fair share of see ham (unfortunately I don’t eat them) seems to be a draw for most. It’s all freshly cooked and served on the spot. Oh and if you haven’t tried freshly friend spring rolls, do try it when you are here too!

20140120-222305.jpg

20140120-222355.jpg

20140120-222502.jpg

20140121-003533.jpg

20140121-003816.jpg

Food: Char Kway Teow and Chendol
Location: Gurney drive
Cost: 5RM for Char Kway Teow, 3RM for Chendol
Verdict: Not as good as the ones from the Lebuh Chulia or Ai Goh Hotel. Opens only after 6ish. Nonetheless, still has a certain quality to it. Might have other gems in the area waiting to be uncovered at Gurney drive!

20140121-004210.jpg

20140121-004309.jpg

I’ve only covered what I can that is within my range. I’m sure that there are more food out there waiting to be explored!

Singapore to Penang

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Costs, Travel

Woodlands -> Penang (George town)
Cost: S$31
Time spent traveling: 18 hours

And so the journey began. Anti-climax-ly, it was my dad who sent me to woodlands for me to begin my journey.

20140119-202717.jpg
Everytime I take the bus to JB, I’m reminded how good public transport is! The queue for cars is horrigible.
Woodlands -> JB
Cost: S$1.50 (estimate)
Time: 15 mins

20140119-202933.jpg
The crossing of the causeway took less than 20mins and before long I’m ready to board the train at JB Sentral.

20140119-203559.jpg
Tickets are rather hassle free(and cheap too).

20140119-204101.jpg

20140119-204147.jpg
The seats are pretty comfy. It’s clean and tidy, considering the price I paid for it.
JB -> KL
Cost: S$12.80
Time: 7hr 45 mins

20140119-204448.jpg
I transited in KL, an estimated 6 hour wait before heading to Penang on an overnight sleeper train cabin.

20140119-204637.jpg
To have a perspective of how small the cabins were, that is my bag on the bed. Sleeper trains are clearly made for Asians. GG angmo.
KL -> Penang (Butterworth)
Cost: S$16.70
Time: 9 hours

20140119-204829.jpg
Finally in Butterworth after the harrowing sleeper train experience. The cabin was clean and totally not what you would expect, but is definitely made for petite dwarves. A short ferry later and I’m at George Town!
Penang (Butterworth) -> Penang (George town)
Cost: S$1
Time: 1 hour (rides in the day are more frequent. I took the 530am ferry)

20140119-205236.jpg

20140119-205314.jpg
And viola! Welcome to the land of laksa, char kway teow and goreng _______ (whatever you can think of)

20140119-205702.jpg
The trip to Penang was quite humbling. No matter how I try to glorify it, this route is probably taken by thousands everyday as a means of living and not leisure.