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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 5 - Siem Reap - Singapore: Lea Cambodia, Selamat Datang Singapura

Siem Reap - Singapore: Day 5 - 31.3.2015:

Our flight from Siem Reap to Singapore, via a discounter airline, Jetstar, departed at 3.45 p.m., so we still had some time left. However, our Three-Day-Pass for the temples of the Angkor Wat area had expired and it seemed to be too little time to visit the Rolous temples and Tonle Sap south of Siem Reap. So we just slept a little longer and started packing after breakfast at the Mid City Hotel.

We had asked at the hotel, if we could just check-out at 1 p.m. and they granted us that (the usual check out would have been at noon). It was another pleasant gesture from the hotel, which was especially excellent in its  service. At 1 p.m. our driver Ngoy brought us and our luggage with his tuk-tuk from the hotel to the relatively nearby Siem Reap International Airport. 

Everything went smoothly there. We were in the right lane (the quick one!) at the check-in and were happy that we had booked additional baggage, as we were well above the allowed 20 kilograms. The two older women at the line next to us weren´t that happy and had to start repacking, much to the growing dismay of a long qeue behind them. Disembarking was a quick process and soon we were sitting in the plane to Singapore. They only opened my friend´s bag, where I had deposited lots of sweets ("Gummib√§rchen") - from Germany as presents for my family in the Philippines - they must look a bit strange, when they are x-rayed...

Singapore actually wasn´t that high on our list of travel destinations, but there are many cheap flights from Singapore to other destinations in Asia, including Siem Reap. When we had seen while planning the journey, that the cheapest way from Cambodia to our next destination - Taiwan - comes with a stop in Singapore, we decided to stay there for a few days. We didn´t regret that, as Singapore proved to be interesting and fun. It was also a huge contrast, coming from Cambodia, where a lot is developing, but which is still relatively poor, to come to a ultra-modern city and country like Singapore, that is obviously rich.

First we were pleasantly surprised that immigration at the airport in Singapore was well organized and quick. Given how huge the airport is and considering our experiences from Manila, we were prepared for it to be quite a nuisance. The airport is well connected with the city by the MRT. So we just bought tickets at a machine and took the modern and clean MRT to Outram Park Station, where our hotel was located. It took about half an hour. When we exited the station we were kind of lost - there were many exits and we didn´t really know which one is the right one. Outside we couldn´t initially locate north and south. After first going in the wrong direction, we finally made sense of our map and then soon reached the hotel.

We had booked three nights at the Keong Saik Hotel, which is located nearby the Chinatown district. Finding a hotel in Singapore wasn´t that easy when we planned the journey - most hotels are ridiculously expensive and the cheaper ones often have horrible reviews on tripadvisor. The Keong Saik Hotel proved to be a good choice, especially location-wise. It´s nearby a lot of food stalls and the vibrant Chinatown and also the Outram Park MRT Station. The hotel itself was clean and modern. While the room was small, it was okay for a few nights. It was a bit strange, that we had to ask for and borrow the remote for the aircon at the reception. The flatscreen TV just had a handful of channels and the breakfast was a bit meager. But besides that everything was adequate. Considering the reviews of the other hotels in that price range in Singapore we were quite happy.

It was already evening and we were hungry, knowing my friends aversion to "food" (lol), I know I would have to fight a little to get what I wanted to eat. We walked past the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple to the nearby Maxwell Food Center

The Maxwell Food Center has an abundance of stalls, where we found a lot of food offerings, mostly of the Chinese variety. Even better were the drinks. We especially enjoyed the fruit drinks and had a Banana-Mango-Juice as well as Dragonfruit-Kiwi-Juice. At the walk home we stopped at a 7-Eleven to stock up our supplies and soon were sleeping at the hotel.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 4 - The Heat Is On In Siem Reap

Siem Reap: Day 4 - 30.3.2015:  

Our third-day tour in Siem Reap started a bit later than the days before. We enjoyed another breakfast buffet at the Mid City Hotel, including pancakes, and had asked our nice driver Ngoy with his tuk-tuk to meet at 7.30 a.m. in front of the hotel. We had planned to see more of the temples around Angkor Wat and knew Ngoy already, as he had accompanied us on our first-day tour.

We soon drove past Angkor Wat and through Angkor Thom and made a short stop at the beautiful North Gate of Angkor Thom.

Our first "real" stop was Preah Khan, a temple just north of Angkor Thom. It is a beautiful and big temple complex in the forest with beautiful reliefs. There weren´t many people at the time, so it was pretty relaxed aside from one very determined vendor, who really wanted me to buy a scarf, she even followed me around a bit.


From Preah Khan, we drove further to Neak Pean. This temple is located on an artificial island, and we walked on a wooden ramp through the vast swamp area surrounding the temple. The temple itself is relatively small and sitting inside a pool of water. What I didn't like there was, other tourists giving little Cambodian children, who were waiting at the temple, money for photos. At many temple areas, there had been signs from the authorities to advise tourists not to encourage begging, especially not if children beg, by giving them money or to buy something from them. As long as they earn (relatively) much money from tourists, they will not be sent to school by their parents. But this tourist group we saw was like "oh they are so cute", and one after another made a photo of the little girls and gave them a dollar. 

After avoiding buying clothes or drinks from the vendors in the area, we came to another highlight, the Ta Som Temple. The mid-sized temple complex is beautifully located inside the forest, and you can see the woods claiming it back, as the trees grow on the stones. Ta Som offers fabulous photo opportunities.  

Our next stop, the East Mebon Temple, was utterly different to the Ta Som Temple, as it looks a bit like an impressive ancient fortress. We climbed up steep stairs to the top of the temple and enjoyed the view as well as the statues and reliefs. We also enjoyed to sit up there hiding in shadows from the burning sun, as we were close to a heatstroke after climbing up the stairs. The stairs may not look like much, but they are much steeper and huge when you´re there. So the walk downwards was a little challenge, given my acrophobia, but also exciting.

We were ready for a break and an aircon at this point, so Ngoy (our ever reliable driver and eventually became a friend) brought us to a restaurant, where we had late lunch and considered what to do next.

We had seen the major temples of the area and therefore opted for something else - the Cambodian Cultural Village. While this park has some scathing reviews on online portals, we still wanted to give it a try, as walking through a park, having cold drinks and maybe see some cultural show seemed like a good idea.

When we arrived at the Cultural Village, there was some kind of official celebration in front of it with many schoolchildren. We didn´t really understand what it was about and soon entered the large, well-tended park. There weren't many people, but the Cultural Village turned out to be a pleasant diversion. I especially enjoyed walking along the lake, the Khmer Village, the Wax Museum, the miniatures and a cultural show we attended. 

There are actually several shows you can attend, but after a while, we were ready to go to the hotel to spend some time at the pool! Later we again visited one of the restaurants in the street of our hotel, had pizza and cold drinks.

Siem Reap really turned out to be a great travel destination - the temples from a different time are spectacular, the people are nice, and the city feels safe. You can easily combine it with other tourist destination, as there are - among others - cheap direct flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) with Jetstar and also to Manila (Philippines) with Cebu Pacific.