Posts filed under ‘travels’
The Siem Reap Trip Series
A couple of minutes northwest of the Bayon, we saw an imposing stone mountain, called the Baphuon. This temple predates its more famous neighbor, the Bayon, as it was said to have been built at around middle of the 11th century.
The temple was quite imposing but what struck me the most was the long elevated causeway leading to the temple. It looked ordinary from afar, when in fact, the columns were almost as tall as an adult person.
To be able to climb up and enter the temple, one has to be appropriately dressed. No short sleeves nor shorts are allowed.
The steps going up were steep so our mother decided to just stay behind while we (siblings and I) explored the temple.
This was the what we saw after the first landing.
West side of the pyramid is a reclining Buddha. I really didn’t make out the Buddha. I just took a picture of it when later, I found out it was a reclining Buddha after I read the book I brought home. When I look at it now, I think I can make out the face.
Aside from the usual “templ-y” photos, here are couple of interesting things I saw around the temple.
(1) A lady sitting quietly among the stone rubbles.
(2) Weird tree with vertical roots.
Moving along, we stopped by Phimeanakas and the Royal Palace Grounds. We did not explore the temple anymore since we felt a little bit templed out at this point. Nevertheless, here were some photos of the place.
The restored side of the temple where the entrance is.
An unrestored side of the temple. I liked this side better.
Some tourists opt to bike around the Angkor Complex so they can take in history and the feel of the place at their own pace. Here’s one tourist biking along the banks of one of the Royal Palace ponds.
We ordered lunch as soon as we arrived at Simon’s Inn. While the food was being prepared, we were taken to our room assignments and settled in. I slept for a bit so I will have energy for our trek to the village.
Lunch was simple – chicken, mixed vegetables and rice- but filling.
Around 2:30 pm, everyone was ready. The group had 2 guides, ours was Kuya Vicente.
Just below the inns in Batad is the only school in the village, Batad Elementary school. I asked our guide where the children take their high school classes. He said, you have to go to Banaue if you want to study high school.
Here are some of the pictures I took.
View of the terraces from the trail.
Mini falls along the trail. Falls such as these gives continuous water supply to the rice terraces below.
Rooster in one of the village homes.
Another community on top of a small hill.
Yellow wildflower along the terrace walls. Kuya Vicente said they use this as fertilizers for the rice.
This is Kuya Vicente, our local guide. I told him I will be posting his picture in the internet. He gamely posed for me.
Sadly, our rice terraces succumbed to the forces of nature. This part of the Batad rice terraces collapsed during typhoon Juaning in July 2011. Forty-three rice paddies owned by thirty owners were destroyed.
Our first pit stop was this hut in the middle of the ampitheater. Notice the dog.
Kuya Vicente pointed out an interesting fact about this hut. Look at the foundation.
The whole structure sits delicately on top of the rice terraces’ stone wall.
Grave of a rice terrace owner.
We finally arrived at the village.
Huts were built on stilts. The lower part serves as the owner’s workshop of some sort.
I am amazed by this mortar. It is completely carved out of stone.
Cute kid with his mother. I asked permission first before taking their picture.
The village walkway.
Kuya Vicente pointed at this pile of stones (covered by weeds) beside our trail. He said it is actually a grave about 20-feet deep into the mountain.
Almost two hours of walking and we were tired. We needed some rest and a beautiful view.
Remember the dog at the hut earlier? He followed us throughout our trek, acting as our second guide.
See our canine friend climbing up the steep trail?
At the end of our trek, we were rewarded by this view of the mountains.
Given the chance, I’d go back here and enjoy some more of the community, the history, and the view.
Next up is Part 4 – The morning in Batad.
The Siem Reap Trip Series
Angkor Thom, literally translated as ‘big city’ or ‘great city’, is the capital city of the Khmer Empire during the reign of Jayavarman VII.
From the South Gate of Angkor Thom, we drove on to the next temple. From the road, we saw what seemed to be a majestic stone mountain.
The Bayon Temple.
Heang said it was the Bayon Temple, the state temple of Jayavarman VII. He told us there were originally 54 peaks on the Bayon, now there are only 37. If there’s one thing I regret not doing before this trip, it is me not reading more about the Angkor temples. I only knew Bayon as the temple with a lot of face towers. I didn’t know it has a number of important bas reliefs, which I unfortunately didn’t find and take pictures of during our trip!
The good thing about this, though, is that I now have one reason to go back to Angkor.
Bayon face towers.
Smiling face. Bayon.
Reclining Buddha. Bayon.
Going inside the Bayon Temple.
Dancing apsaras carved on one of the pillars in Bayon.
Side view of one of the galleries in Bayon.
What remains of what was once, probably, a hallway. Bayon.
One advise. Read before you visit. The bas reliefs, as I’ve seen from the book I bought after my visit, are amazing.
The Siem Reap Trip Series
I woke up at 5:30am and was greeted by this.
Heang was picking us up at 7:00am so we could transfer and deposit our things to MotherHome Inn before hitting the temples at 8:00am.
We drove to towards Angkor Archeological Park and got our 3-days in a week temple passes for 40USD each. After we paid, our pictures were taken then waited for our tickets to be printed. We were told not to misplace it as tickets will be checked before we can enter any of the temples.
Our tickets were checked by the APSARA staff before we got in the car. Then, we were off to see the temples.
We passed by Angkor Wat’s moat. I took out my camera and hastily took a picture of it from the car window.
The hastily taken picture of the moat from the car window.
Over the distance, I saw a glimpse of it’s famous spires. The feeling was great. It felt almost surreal that I was finally going to see the temples of Angkor.
The South Gate of Angkor Thom
We reached the South Gate of Angkor Thom where numerous of other tourists are already ahead of us. Despite that, I still marveled at the sight of the gate. Fifty-four Devas (gods) lined the causeway to the left with the same number of Asuras (demons) to the right.
We asked Heang why didn’t the ancient Khmers just line it with the gods on both sides instead. He explained that the good and the evil balanced the creation of the world.
The South Gate of Angkor Thom, lots of tourists.
View of Angkor Thom’s moat.
As I’ve learned later on, each row is holding a naga as if tugging at each other. This may have been taken from a popular Hindu myth, Churning of the Sea of Milk.
The gate itself is adorned by a stone tower carved with faces facing N,S,E and W. Inside, the gate is flanked by a three-headed elephant. Free roaming monkeys are everywhere.
Faces of the gate.
A monkey going about with his own business.
There are actually 5 gates to the city: the North, South, East, West and an additional gate on the eastern side named Victory Gate, where soldiers would enter after winning a war.
Though each of these gates would seemingly be identical, the South Gate is arguably the most popular and photographed as it is the first gate that would greet tourists upon entering to the Angkor Thom complex. Being so, it follows that it is also the most restored.
The gate was already breathtaking, what more could it be inside? This was the start of an exciting (and exhausting) day in Angkor.
The Siem Reap Trip Series
I was so excited that I was not able to sleep until 2:00am.
Our family left our house at 4:00am to catch the first Philippine Airlines flight to Manila.
While we were packing up the night before, we agreed to have everything handcarried so we won’t be wasting time at the baggage claim in Vietnam. We only had 2 hours in between our arrival from Manila to Ho Chi Minh and our Vietnam Airlines departure from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap not counting plane taxiing, immigration, customs, transfers and check-in. While it took a while for the plane to get to its assigned tube, immigration up to the Vietnam Airlines check-in procedures were a breeze. Among all my out of the country travels, Vietnam was the first country not to require filling-out of arrival/departure cards nor customs questionnaires.
Our flight for Siem Reap was delayed for about 30 minutes which was somewhat a good thing since we had ample time to unwind in the business class lounge (free food!).
Vietnam airlines airport lounge
Plane snacks which served as our dinner already
It only took an hour from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap.
We arrived at sunset. Siem Reap International Airport with its traditional Khmer architecture was beautiful. I was physically tired, but excitement suddenly rushed in as soon as I stepped out of the plane.
Immigration was a breeze. Filipinos didn’t have to pay for the Visa fee, so we were told to go to the “Cambodian passports” line. I was pleased to find out that they have the same finger printing and picture taking facilities as that of Japan and the USA. Impressive.
Mr. Kim Leang of MotherHome Inn was waiting for us outside the airport. Unfortunately, though, they had some problems with our reservation and they had to look for another hotel where we could temporarily stay for the night before transferring to MotherHome Inn the next day. We spent the night in Monoreach Angkor Hotel and slept soundly, recharging our energy for the full day ahead.
The Siem Reap Trip Series
Angkor Wat had been one of our family’s goals for 2011.
The idea initially came to us after our family trip in Bangkok the previous year when we learned from your Thai guide, Mr. Anurak, that the Cambodian town of Poipet on the Thai-Cambodian border, is just about 3 hours drive from Bangkok, if we hire a taxi.
However, 2011 did major changes to our family.
In January, our father passed away.
In February, I got engaged.
In July, my brother got married, albeit the “sukob” superstition of the Filipino culture.
It was an emotional roller coaster ride for everyone in the family.
In August 2011, we decided on pushing through with the originally planned Cambodia trip so I started to do some research.
We initially wanted to include Bangkok-Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh-Siem Reap (not in any order) in our trip but since we only have 5 days from 26-Dec-2011 to 31-Dec-2011, we decided to just concentrate our itinerary on Siem Reap and include an overnight stopover at Ho Chi Minh City.
At first, I thought of getting a customized package tour so we won’t have to worry with anything. It was a bit expensive since our dates were within the peak season, so we scrapped the idea. We decided I should just plan the trip myself.
The major factors I worked with during my planning were the following:
1) We were not going with any package tour groups since we wanted to have our own pace.
2) We had to get most out of the days we have so have so travel time was to be at the minimum.
3) I need to find a hotel with at least an AC and a clean bathroom.
4) I would need to find an airconditioned car with a trustworthy, English-speaking driver/guide to get us to the places around Siem Reap.
I wanted our mother to be comfortable.
With these four major factors in mind, I started putting together our DIY trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I read countless of travel blogs along with some Wikipedia facts/factoids to put together a DIY trip. Since overland travel will not be an option this time (factor # 2 above), I searched airlines that would get us from Bacolod to Siem Reap within a day.
After several mock-up flight itineraries, I booked our flights from Bacolod to Siem Reap, Siem Reap to Bacolod as follows:
(all times are local times)
UPDATE (Feb 2012): Finally! We now have direct flights from Manila to Siem Reap via Cebu Pacific! Yay!
Date: 26-Dec, Bacolod to Siem Reap
1) 06:20 – 07:25 – Philippine Airlines PR 132 – Bacolod To Manila
2) 12:40 – 14:30 – Philippine Airlines PR 597 – Manila to Ho Chi Minh (Tan Son Nhat Airport)
3) 16:30 – 17:30 – Vietnam Airlines VN 813 – Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap
Date: 30-Dec, Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh
1) 10:30 – 11:50 – Cambodia Angkor Air VN 3818 – Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh
Date: 31-Dec, Ho Chi Minh to Bacolod
1) 10:00 – 13:40 – Philippine Airlines PR 592 – Ho Chi Minh to Manila
2) 17:00 – 18:15 – Philippine Airlines PR 135 – Manila to Bacolod
With Factor # 2 out of the way, I started looking for places to stay in Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh. After a string of email inquiries, I finally booked the following hotels as early as the 1st week of September.
1) Siem Reap – MotherHome Inn
Address: Taphul Village, Sangkat Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap
Contact Number: +855-12-963-438 (if calling outside Cambodia), 012-963-438 (if calling within Cambodia)
Contact Person: Mr. Kim Leang (a Cambodian)
Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: 40/27 Bui Vien St., Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Contact Number: +84-839-204-874
With accommodations already out of the way, I would then have to find Factor #4: The trustworthy driver guide.
I had a hard time looking for this since, at first, I didn’t know where to look. I emailed several tourist guide services outfits to no avail. Either they were too “commercial” for my taste, too expensive, or too hard to communicate.
I was googling away one night and luckily found a list of recommended guides made by Andy Brouwer (see his website link below). Out of that list, I emailed Heang. He has a Camry that can fit our family (4), he speaks English, and he knows Siem Reap (and beyond) like the back of his hand.
A day after I emailed Heang, I received an enthusiastic reply. After a couple of email exchanges, I knew he was the one so I booked him. (I am glad I did. He’s such a nice, kindhearted, honest guy with lots and lots of stories to tell.) That was November, about a month before our trip.
I had a rough idea of what I wanted us to see and do in Siem Reap, so I informed Heang about this. He happily offered me a better itinerary to maximize our stay. Great! Now, we were all set to go.
For our Ho Chi Minh overnight stopover, I just got the airport pick up service offered by our hotel, a little bit steep for $20, but I thought, by then, we would have had additional carry-on weight from Cambodia (as I’ve expected, Mama bought a coffee-table book weighing a ton!) and I didn’t want us lugging around all the extra stuff while trying to find our hotel.
We explored a little bit of Ho Chi Minh’s District 1 by just walking and taking the cabs (VinaSun or Mai Linh only).
Taxi at far left is Mai Linh, taxi at far right is VinaSun.
Again, we just took the hotel taxi to the airport the next day. It cost us 10USD. Expensive, I know, but we were just too tired to worry about looking for a Mai Linh or VinaSun taxi.
That’s it. A long entry, yes, but hope you get the idea of how this trip came to be.
I would like to give my sincere thanks to some very helpful websites some travel blogs I’ve lurked in while gathering information for this trip.
2) Canby Publications – Siem Reap
A web version of a series of print guides on major locations in Cambodia.
His list of recommended guides with a short profile of each.
6) Heang’s Website
Contact Number: 855-12-701-478 (if calling from outside Cambodia)
012 701 478 (if calling within Cambodia)
In my previous post, I talked about our journey from Manila up to the Batad saddle. Now, I will tell you about our trek to Batad.
I got this feeling of a different kind of excitement, the moment I got out of the jeepney in the saddle. The feeling was like “This is it!”. You know how that feels like, in some way or another, right?
In the saddle, there was this little store, selling all sorts of essentials (and trinkets) for visitors like me.
I figured the trek will not be that easy since they were renting these sticks out for 10 pesos each. You return them when you get back. I was considering getting one, however I decided not to since I don’t want the extra weight with me. I figured, I can just pick up some lightweight sticks along the way (which I did).
The trail started out rocky. Then, there were fallen trees, landslides, spring water, cement… I didn’t take any pictures since I was concentrating on not falling down the cliff. Hehe.
On our group’s first stop, I took in this view. It was enough to let me forget the long walk ahead.
After more than hour walking downhill, we finally saw welcome signs of different accommodations. This could just mean one thing. We are nearing our destination!
A few minutes after the signages, I looked up to see how far we have walked down. Dom pointed up and said, “That’s the saddle. That’s where we have left off earlier.” I was like, “Where there?”
I zoomed my camera and voila. I saw the little store! I thought, “So we have walked THAT far?! I think have never walked that far down a mountain in my entire life.” Then suddenly, a wave of “Oh-No-We’re-Going-Back-Up-There-Tommorrow!” feeling engulfed me.
We turned another bend a few minutes later, and this view greeted us. I felt rejuvenated once again! This is my first glimpse of our wonderful rice terraces.
Magnificent isn’t it?
After that beautiful welcoming sight and after about an hour and a half of trekking, we finally arrived in Batad. First things first, we have to register at the Tourist Information Center.
After registration we went straight to our accommodation, Simon’s Inn.
Our weary bodies were rewarded by this sight from the inn’s balcony.
The Batad Rice Terraces, the ampitheater style rice terraces were carved from the Ifugao mountains around 2000 years ago.
Next up (Part 3), will be about our walk to the village below.
When the year turned 2011, I made a mental list of what I wanted to do.
1) Travel solo
2) See the rice terraces (may it be in Sagada, Batad, Banaue… basta rice terraces)
3) Go to Angkor Wat
I didn’t know how I can do these during that time. Heck, I even didn’t think I’d have the chance in 2011, but somehow, I held on to the thought.
In July, I accomplished No. 1 by traveling to the US alone. Well, up to Dallas-Fortworth Airport anyway, but still. I counted it as it is. Hahaha!
In August, I knew I was going to accomplish No. 3 since this year’s family trip happened to be there. (Hooray!)
When October hit, I knew I’d have to postpone No. 2 some other time. That was until Theo invited us to Batad (in Ifugao province) on the 19th to 20th of November! Yes! (Amo na ni!)
Friday night (8pm), we headed to the Florida Bus Terminal in Sampaloc to meet with Dom (www.escapeislands.com).
Hindi kami doon sasakay but as Dom explained, mas maliwanag daw kasi doon.
We proceeded on to the Ohayami Bus Terminal, one block away from the Florida Bus Terminal. As soon as we placed ourselves in our spot, we got ready to get some sleep. We needed energy for the next day as it just won’t be fun trekking to Batad, sleepy. By 10:30pm, the bus left for Banaue passing by Solano, Nueva Viscaya first.
The bus air conditioning was insane! It was so cold, my shoulders were tensing on their own. If I was to imagine sleeping inside an icebox, I think our situation there would have been very close.
I woke up at around 7am. By this time we were already in Lagawe, the capital town.
Minutes later, I peeked outside the bus window and saw this!
Half-complete na ang umaga ko.
Half-complete just because the other half would be breakfast! I was starving at this point. Finally, at around 8am, we arrived in Banaue. There were plenty of fixers waiting for tourists at the bus stop. We didn’t have to deal with them since Dom already prearranged a jeepney for us.
There were 19 of us travel mates and we quickly squeezed ourselves inside the jeepney so we could go down the town proper. I guess everybody was eager to have breakfast.
We stopped at Halfway Lodge to have our breakfast with a view.
Ahhh, hot choco to warm the tummy!
Good old Filipino breakfast to start my day! (Rice, hotdog, scrambled eggs, banana)
Our breakfast was made extra special with these views of Banaue town.
I am just amazed at how much load from the structures this mountain cliff can hold.
After breakfast we were about to set out to Batad. I saw this map inside Halfway Lodge. The plan would be an hour jeepney ride from Banaue to the Batad Saddle. Then from the Saddle, it will be about an hour to an hour and a half trekking to Batad Village, where we’ll be staying overnight.
The jeepney ride will be a combination of…
Patches of cemented road,
Dry dirt (look at the normal jeepney capacity),
One pine trees-lined section,
Some sections of the road were just within some scary distance from the edge of the mountain!
Finally, we arrived at the Junction. There was a bit of a problem at this point, since the dirt road from the Junction was impassable for our jeepney. By consensus, we were resigned to just trek going to the Saddle. It will be an additional hour of trekking.
About 10 minutes into the trek, we already felt exhausted. Hahaha! City dwellers. Good thing though, almost miraculously really, a half empty jeepney arrived and we managed to hitch a ride going up the Saddle. Woohoo! Our jelly legs were saved.
(2 minutes into the trek, nadikitan na agad ako ng halaman.)
Minutes of rough roads later, we finally arrived at the Saddle.
Part-2 will be the Trek to Batad.