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Posts Tagged ‘Travel Tips’

When arriving in Siem Reap, tourists are greeted with tons of options for exploring the temples.  We decided before we arrived that we were going to purchase the three day pass and  take our time exploring the many temples around the area.  I loved the way we did it and have no regrets, but we easily could have gotten the week long pass and had no problem filling the time.

We decided to hire a tuk tuk for the three days.  Basically, we paid a tuk tuk driver a certain amount of money to drive us around from temple to temple all day long.  If going to Angkor, you can do it any way you want.  We didn’t want to see the biggest, Angkor Wat itself, until we had explored some of the smaller surrounding temples, so we read and researched and talked to our driver and got a plan together.

The temples were spread out across a huge distance (if you take a look at the map, you can see the many temples around–sometimes it was several kilometers in between each, plus close to 20 kilometers from Siem Reap to the entrance), and I’m really glad we decided against renting bikes one of the days.  It would have been a long, hot, and tiring day.

The first day we spent exploring many of the smaller temples around Angkor Wat.  We set off a little after 8am and returned about 3:30 after visiting seven different temples.  One has to remember that the temples are in the middle of a jungle in SE Asia.  That means it’s incredibly hot and humid.  We were thoroughly exhausted by the end of the first day (a night out with Dave and Tina the previous night didn’t help matters any), and we were quite glad we decided to take a day off before going at it again (when purchasing the 3 day pass, you have the option of going three days in a row or 3 days in one week; curiously they are both the same price, making one wonder why anyone would bother with the three consecutive days pass).

East Mebon

East Mebon

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

So after an off day of relaxing and resting, we went back out for  day two, this time leaving at 7am.  There are more temples not on this map, and in the morning we decided to check out Banteay Srei, which was about 40 kilometers away before going back to our guest house in the afternoon.  It was a nice hour drive, and we thought that since we were venturing out further, we would miss some of the ridiculous crowds.  Boy were we wrong.  This was probably the most crowded temple we visited.  It was spectacular (as they all were, really), and I am glad we went,  but the crowds took a bit away from it.  Damn tourbuses.

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

We split the day up and went back to Siem Reap to eat lunch and rest for a few hours before heading back out to watch the sun set at Angkor Wat.  We went back out again at around 4:30 and headed to the big one, Angkor Wat itself.  We had driven past it and saw it from a distance first thing on our first day, but it was pretty exhilerating driving up to it again knowing we were going to see it up close.  We expected tons of people everywhere, and that’s what greeted us as we arrived (along with the hordes of children relentlessly trying to sell anything one can imagine-which is just part of visiting Angkor and something that has to be dealt with-just put on a smile and be ready to say “No Thank you” about four thousand times, and that’s not an exaggeration).

We went through the main gates to see Angkor a little closer, and we were greeted with throngs of people unsurprisingly.  We decided to go into the temple itself and explore a little bit, and when we got to the tall towers themselves, we were quite disappointed to learn that you can no longer climb to the top of them (for conservation purposes, I suppose).  There weren’t nearly as many people inside, so we decided to explore more around the sides of the temple.  We found several spots for some fantastic pictures, and we walked around the outside of it in what used to be the residential areas.

We were enjoying the fact that there was no one around, so explored some more until the sun was starting to set.  We had walked down a road away from the temple itself, and when we approached the side of Angkor Wat we were greeted by a guard hurrying us out as it was closing time.  As we walked back through, we noticed we were the only ones around, and when we walked out the main door, we noticed that we were literally the last ones inside Angkor Wat.  There were still a handful of people on the long walkway out to the surrounding walls of the temple, but as we turned around, we realized that we were able to get pictures of Angkor itself with no one else in it.  Our wanderlust provided us with a fantastic opportunity that not many people get, and we took full advantage of it, much to the chagrin of the guards shooing us away so they could go home.

Our thoughts of not being able to climb the steps to the tower at Angkor

Our thoughts of not being able to climb the steps to the tower at Angkor

Angkor Wat when walking in

Angkor Wat when walking in

Angkor Wat when walking out

Angkor Wat when walking out

We were giddy upon leaving Angkor Wat, despite the fact that the day was very long and the plan was to get up really early the following day for sunrise at Angkor.  Since we have been gone for so long and travel has become our lives over this past year, I sometimes take what we’re doing for granted.  But this time I was able to take a step back and realize how fortunate and how absolutely incredible these past ten months have been, and I was ecstatic after being one of the last ones to leave Angkor Wat and get some great photos before arising and doing it all over again the following day.

As you can imagine, it was not difficult to wake up the next day.  Sure, we were tired, but we were heading out to watch the sun come up behind one of the most spectacular sites on Earth.  We left our guesthouse in the dark at 5am and were at Angkor at the perfect time to get a great spot for sunrise.  Again, we were blessed with good weather, and the morning was quite magical.

After watching the sun come up, most people got back in their tuk tuks or buses and left for some strange reason.  We decided to go to the second biggest complex, Angkor Thom, and we found ourselves completely alone there for about an hour.  Amazing considering the absurd amounts of people everywhere the previous two days.  As it got later, it got more and more crowded as we explored Angkor Thom.  We spent several hours there and at a few more temples (including Ta Prohm, where Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb Raider) before heading back to Angkor Wat one more time to check out the vast and intricate carvings on the inner walls of the temple.  After that, it was time to head back.  We were thoroughly exhausted yet felt like kids at an amusement park who didn’t want to leave.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat (possibly one of my favorite pictures of this trip--good job, Megan!!)

Sunrise at Angkor Wat (possibly one of my favorite pictures of this trip--good job, Megan!!)

Bayon (in Angkor Thom)

Bayon (in Angkor Thom)

There are many ways to tackle Angkor Wat, one day, three days, a week, tuk tuk, tour bus, bicycle, some even walk.  While I’m not  going to say ours was the best, I am very satisfied with how we spent our time at the temples.  We saw tons of temples, took our time, and never felt rushed.  For any traveler who ever plans on coming to Angkor  Wat, I have three main tips:

1.  See both the sunset and sunrise at Angkor Wat itself.  Words can’t begin to describe the magic and elation we felt afterwards.

2.  Get up early to beat the heat.  It’s a killer.

3.  Stay after the sunrise because inexplicably everyone leaves.  You’ll have the place to yourself, which is awesome because once 8am rolls around, there are people everywhere.

We will have one more post that will be mainly a picture post.  We took about 950 pictures in our three days there and have managed to narrow them down to about 100, so we’ll have many more to post in a few days.

Until then…

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Madness in Hanoi

A quick glimpse of our first day in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Honestly, I was a bit nervous coming to Vietnam.  Travelers we’ve met over the past 8.5 months and everything we’ve read on blogs and message boards tends to elicit the same varied respnoses.  People either love it or hate it.  The people who claim the latter responses always cite the same reasons: the people aren’t friendly, there’s too many touts, everyone’s trying to rip you off, and it’s just too intense.

It didn’t take long for us to form an opinion ourselves about Vietnam after spending just a day in Hanoi.  And while some may say that a day certainly isn’t long enough to form an opinion on a country, I say bollocks.  I am pretty confident in our instincts, and our first instinct told us we love it here.

As you can see by the videos, yes, it’s pretty crazy here.  The traffic is chaotic pretty much everywhere in Hanoi, and crossing the street is an adventure.  Sure, there are plenty of touts hassling tourists, but hey, that’s just how it is when traveling in countries with a lot of poverty.  It’s really not much different than Lima or La Paz or Bangkok or New York or any other huge city that draws lots of tourists.  That’s just how it is, and the sooner tourists realize that, the better time they’ll have.  A simple “No, thank you” and a smile usually does the trick, although it might have to be said anywhere between 1 and 10 times.

As far as friendliness goes, I just don’t see the basis for all the complaints we’ve heard.  We’ve gotten countless huge smiles from locals when walking down the street, including several emphatic waves from small children who I’m sure are quite curious about us.  The workers in our hostel our great as well.  Sure, we’ve gotten a little iciness from a server or two, and we’ve gotten some annoyed looks from a few touts after being stern with them after being hassled, but honestly, those were few and far between so far.

As with any kind of traveling in a foreign country, it pays to do your homework.  We knew going in that touts could be relentless and that there were countless scams in Hanoi.  All it took was  a little bit of research before going to a new place, which is invaluable (in my eyes) and is something that I’m starting to learn many travelers don’t do, which would obviously factor in to the fact that someone may not like a place.

So when we were on the minibus coming from the airport and a “friendly” local got on the bus when we got into the city to offer his services to help us find our accommodations, we knew he was most likely full of shit and just wanted to get us to go to a different hotel so he could collect a commission.

While  it sucks sometimes to be so negative and think that someone’s always trying to scam you, that probably explains why we really haven’t been taken for anything on this trip.  We paid attention to where we were and where our hotel was located,  and while we were stopped close to where we thought our place was, we asked to get off.  Our friendly local told us that our place was still up further and insisted that we were wrong even though we were holding a map, pointing to the street signs evident from inside the bus, and showing hiim exactly where our hotel was.  He was pretty animated about telling us we were wrong, but we trusted our instinct, got our bags, and got off the bus.  We were right, and our hotel was right around the corner.

So while there are little headaches that one has to deal with in cities like Hanoi, just simple awareness can have a major effect on how people like a certain place.  For us, the energy, excitement, great variety and quality of food, drinking, and shopping, and beautiful sites of Hanoi completely make up for any touts or scammers that we have to deal with.

Our first day here consisted of just wandering, getting to know the city (which is something we always tend to do on our first day in a big city) and researching and booking a trip to Halong Bay.

Today we started off the day with a run in the park that surrounds a huge lake in the middle of the city.  Because of the heat here, the park was absolutely packed at 7 in the morning with runners, walkers, vendors, and groups of elderly Chinese women doing Tai Chi.  After that we ate a typical Vietnamese breakfast of Pho (beef and noodle soup) before heading to the Temple of Literature, one of the most famous sites in Hanoi.

Mmmmm, Breakfast--on a side note, go to Pho Grand for dinner tonight; they do a great job of cooking authentic Vietnamese cuisine

Mmmmm, Breakfast--on a side note, go to Pho Grand for dinner tonight; they do a great job of cooking authentic Vietnamese cuisine

The  Temple of Literature was the city’s first university, founded in 1076 and educating students for over 800 years until 1919 (side note:  It’s pretty astounding to be in a country and city with so much history; for example, Hanoi will celebrate it’s one THOUSANDTH anniversary as a city next year in 2010.  ONE THOUSAND YEARS!!!!  Sorry, I just think that’s amazing and feel pretty blessed to be in a place so historic).  It’s a 14 acre complex of temples, pavilions, and courtyards that now serves as a tourist attraction and place of worship.  Despite the heat and crowds, it was a beautiful place to visit.

Entrance gate to the Temple of Literature

Entrance gate to the Temple of Literature

Courtyard of Sages (in the Temple of Literature complex)

Courtyard of Sages (in the Temple of Literature complex)

Detail Shot

Detail Shot

Constellation of Literature

Constellation of Literature

Well of Heavenly Clarity

Well of Heavenly Clarity

Place of Offering inside the Great House of Ceremonies

Place of Offering inside the Great House of Ceremonies

Statue of Confucius

Statue of Confucius

We went to a local restaurant and ate the local seafood  dish for lunch, and now are just resting during the middle and hottest part of the day.  Tomorrow we take off for a 3 day trip through Ha Long Bay, one of the supposed highlights of not only Vietnam but all of Southeast Asia.  We are extremely excited to see such a unique and beautiful place and hope that our instincts served us well in picking a tour operator, as scams and shadiness abound for Ha Long Bay trips.

Wish us luck, we’ll be off the grid for the next few days, and we’ll be back soon with tons of pictures and stories from our trip.  Until next time…

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