A Travellerspoint blog

4 countries within the Indochina region adventure

Phnom Penh to Banlung with overland crossing to Vietnam, from Pleiku to Pakse, Pakse to Ubon

sunny 36 °C

This time of my backpacking travel took me to 4 countries in the Indochina region. My starting point was in Phnom Penh city, Cambodia which ended in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. All in, the travel adventures took 7 days to be completed. So, how was this trip being done? It begins with arrival in Phnom Penh city by flight, then purchasing a bus ticket to Banlung in Rattanakiri province in Cambodia, followed by a minivan ticket onwards to cross the border from Cambodia to Pleiku in Vietnam. From Pleiku city in the Gia Lai (pronounced Ya Lai) province in Vietnam, then through minibus from Pleiku city to Pakse in Laos which then followed by a international bus from Pakse, Laos to Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. Cost of bus ticket from Phnom Penh to Banlung is USD12, where the journey took about 11 hours, from 8am in Phnom Penh and ends in Banlung bus station around 7.30pm. The cost of minivan from Banlung to Pleiku city in Gia Lai province, Vietnam cost USD15, where the journey took about 5 hours, starting from 8am and reached Duc Long bus station in Pleiku around 1pm. The Cambodian immigration border checkpoint is Oyadaw while on the Vietnamese side is Le Thanh. Nevertheless, take note that though it was mentioned that the destination is Pleiku, the minivan from Banlung, Cambodia would not be continuing the journey direct to Pleiku as I was brought to another minivan from Gia Lai, Vietnam where I was required to changed to the minivan from Gia Lai province, Vietnam to continue to Pleiku city. This was after I had cleared the Vietnamese Immigration Border Checkpoint of Le Thanh. The minivan from Banlung would continue up to the point where minivans from Gia Lai wait for passengers from Oyadaw, Cambodia to tranport passengers to various part of Gia Lai province, including Du Long bus station and within Pleiku city. There was no any problem crossing from Oyadao immigration checkpoint but over at Le Thanh checkpoint, take note that you may be subjected to some form of strict luggage check by some immigration officers. Minibus from Pleiku city at Duc Long bus station in Gia Lai province, Vietnam to Pakse in Laos took about 10 hours, starting from 8am reaching Pakse at 5.30pm and cost of ticket is VND350,000, However, I noted that the cost of ticket on display should be VND300,000, so it is unclear on why additional VND50,000 was imposed though I paid the taxi cost by myself. This border crossing is through Bo Y in Vietnam and Phoukeua in Laos. This minibus would stop within the Attapeu province in Laos for lunch at the Lao-Viet restaurant cum guesthouse Du Loc. Though this province is in Laos, there are many shops and restaurants owned by Vietnamese people, where in general they could not speak Lao or Thai language. Almost all Lao national could speak dual language of Lao and Thai due to the thai tv channels influence in Laos. International bus from Pakse, Laos to Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand took 3 hours and cost of ticket is THB200, inclusive of taxi service, guesthouse or travel agent around Pakse will charged additional THB100 to THB150 depending on the mode of transport provided to the the Pakse bus station. The border checkpoint between Pakse, Laos and Ubon Ratchathani, Vietnam is Vangtao, Laos and Chongmek, Thailand.

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Let me share a little bit of the journey experience travelling from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos to Thailand on the road. Overall, I could summed up that the travel on road through mix of bus, minivan and minibus was rather a tough one in particular the section between Bo Y immigration in Vietnam to Phoukeua immigration in Laos. The road after Phoukeua border is one of the most challenging part of the border crossing within the Indochina region that I had come across thus far. This road cuts through the heavily mountainous landscape between the Laos and Vietnam border within the vietnamese central region. All along the way to Attapeu, the roads are gravely criss-crossed with some of them being very steep, so the driver needs to be very courteous and being alert all time to ensure a safe trip for everyone. The journey from Phnom Penh city was with the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Company where the bus station was located near the Central Market. If you purchased the ticket directly from its bus station, the cost is USD12. You would pay additional USD1 for tuk-tuk service from the guesthouse to the bus station. Anyhow, you would still pay for the cost of tuk-tuk when you leave for the bus station, so, there should not be any fuss about this and also take note that the guesthouse did not charged any fee if you book the bus ticket from them. But your choice may also be limited. I stayed over at the 11 Happy Backpackers Guesthouse and it is the only option is to purchase the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Company bus ticket. This bus company in fact is not new to me as I had travelled with this bus company back in 2006 when I travelled from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh city. Also, I had done some research on the bus transport from Phnom Penh to Banlung in Rattanakiri province and I thought Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Co. would be the best option. It caught me by off guard that the bus was about 90% full at the bus station in Phnom Penh and by the time it reached Kampong Cham and Kratie, the bus was 100% loaded with passengers comprising locals as well as travellers alike. The road within Phnom Penh city was considerably satisfactory with even toll gates in place to collect toll fees getting out from Phnom Penh city. Out from Phnom Penh city, the roads were a mix of underconstruction to partly damaged, bumpy and satisfactory conditions. Most of the scenes were filled with houses as well as ricefields and parts of the Mekong river. The journey was generally satisfactory if not good. The hot weather in Cambodia and the faulty air-condition system of the bus may caused the journey to be unpleasant but overall, it was fine. So it took 11 hours to reached Banlung from Phnom Penh and I would say the ticket of USD12 was inexpensive as compared to some parts of the South East Asia transport cost. Take note however that Cambodia is still a developing country and yet they could charged such a fee in managing a transport company.

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The journey from Banlung to the Oyadaw Immigration Border Checkpoint was great with beautiful landscape and the road condition was in good shape. Throughout the journey, the landscape was a scene of a big valley filled with a massive greenfields and the fact that I travelled early in the morning, the crisp and the cool air added to the feel of being in europe or ocenia region of the world. At the Oyadaw border checkpoint, the crossing to Vietnam was rather smooth and easy. As there is no any concrete immigration building and the only immigration post is a semi-large wooden hut right at the left hand side of the dusty 2 lanes road, I just need to get down from the minivan and walk over to the immigration post to get my passport stamped. The road was blocked with a mobile steel gate with a rope being attached to this gate to block the way for checking purpose. The minivan would wait across the gate while waiting for passengers to have their passport stamped. There were only handful of people who crossed through the checkpoint and the waiting queue was not long, so expect to be cleared here at Oyadaw very quickly. Between Oyadaw border checkpoint to Vietnam is the Le Thanh border checkpoint and the road in between is a red laterite road and a welcome arch before reaching the more advance immigration building over at Le Thanh border checkpoint Vietnam. Prior to reaching the immigration building, there would be a vietnamese immigration officer waited at a border checkpost to screen through the passport before allowing to walk over to the immigration building. Most of the people seen crossing over were vietnamese who probably returning from work in Cambodia to their hometown for holiday. It must be noted that though the Le Thanh immigration is kind of an advance immigration checkpoint with scanner machine, the immigration officer would not bother to have your luggage scanned but instead would ask you to open up your luggage, unpacked the whole items inside it and asked to open up all sections of the luggage where there are zipped pouch. This is however quite regrettable but not a turn off to me to travel Vietnam. Hopefully, there would be some changes that would take place sometime in the future. However, the most dangerous and scarry part of crossing overland such as this is the safety of the luggage itself as I think it should be secured in a proper manner to avoid of it being tampered with. Though some of the action of officer at Le Thanh immigration was regrettable, I must also give credits to others who has been very polite, pleasant and friendly. Upon noted that there were foreigners going through the checkpoint, the officer in fact had his official cap being put on over his head and he even gave a greet and also a welcome wish once he stamped the passport. This should be some of the good example that hopefully would be a trend among immigration officers whereever it is in the South East Asia region.

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Crossing over from Le Thanh immigration checkpoint, the minivan would wait until passengers have cleared the immigration process and to transport to the waiting vietnamese minivan from Gia Lai province. Here, you would be asked to change to the Gia Lai minivan destined for Pleiku city. This minivan would actually carry passengers mostly or as a matter of fact, they are all vietnamese to various part of Gia Lai province including the Duc Long bus station in Pleiku city. Apart from passengers, the minivan driver would also transport goods on behalf of traders between the border and Pleiku city with a fee surely. It would also wait until the seats are full before departing for Pleiku. As I reached the vietnamese border early morning from Banlung, there were still lack of passengers. As such, the driver invited me for drinks over at the makeshift stall near the immigration checkpoint while waiting for passengers who would crossed over from Oyadaw in Cambodia. After about 30 minutes wait, the minivan then moved to pick up more passengers before stopping at various points to pick up goods and more passengers. The journey all in took 5 hours from Banlung in Cambodia to Pleiku city. The road condition was generally in good shape, which is a narrow 2 laned roads and the scene was filled with greenfields and mountains with houses in between. I was dropped off at the Duc Long bus station in Pleiku city and what comes after this was extremely challenging due to the language barrier. The people here in Pleiku city basically do not speak english and don't be suprise even the motorbike taximen cannot understand even simple english. And do not expect the bus company staff or ticket staff would be able to speak english either. After some hand gesturing, shouts of guesthouse/hotel and vietnamese note-showing exercises, I went with one of the motorbike taximan to get to the Pleiku city in search for a guesthouse or hotel. We went through a few guesthouse and hotels, some within city area while some were slightly away from the city. The cost of guesthouse and hotels ranging fron VND200,000 to VND350,000 depending on location of the accomodation facilities. As I went on the journey looking for guesthouse, I bumped into Pleiku tourist agent and I asked the motorbike taxi to stop there to get some information about the tour within Pleiku and Kontum. The agent office was closed as it was a Sunday but the occupants of the shop were more than happy to extend their help by contacting Mr Nguyen Minh Dinh Tuan, the owner if the tour company. It was great to know after reaching Mr Nguyen on the phone that he could speak good english. I told Mr Nguyen that I would like to book a tour to Kontum to catch the traditional Rong House of the hilltribesmen in the central highland of Vietnam and to see the wooden church there as well. He was willing to arrange a tour on the next day but he needed to know where I stay and room number. I took his business card with me and told him I would be in touch with him again once I settled down in a guesthouse or hotel.

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These were some of the challenges that I faced when in Vietnam. Seriously, language has been a very grave issue for backpackers here in the central highland of Vietnam in particular Pleiku, Kontum, Buon Ma Thout and Quy Nhon. When I was in Hue, there wasn't a language problem as most of the hotel or guesthouse staffs and owners could speak between moderate to good english, just like their counterparts in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. Really, this was one of the most shocking discovery that I experienced. It must also be noted that over at Kontum, I believe this city has one of the most churches than anywhere else in Vietnam but yet the people do not seemed to speak english. However, it must also be noted that this is also the unique part of Pleiku and Kontum where generally, the 2 cities are still not overcrowdedly populated, the roads are small with low traffic volume, even motorbikes are not being noticed on the road and the atmosphere is quiet, peaceful with fresh air, great number of trees, awesome sceneries and best of all you could still cycle to anywhere within Kontum. Pleiku city is a big city as compared to Kontum but all in all, the road condition and traffic system in both cities are good and should be safe for bicycle travelling. The weather in Pleiku city can get rather cold in the early morning and late evening during end and early of the year season. While I was touring Kontum however, I noted the weather at Kontum was extremely hot during the afternoon but turned slightly cool towards the late afternoon. Pleiku is the capital city of Gia Lai province and is in fact a city full of traders and wholesalers as this town is a strategic crossings between 3 countries, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Goods can be transported overland from Vietnam to the 2 countries mentioned and onwards to even Thailand and China. And I think due to the language barrier, most foreign travellers would opt to travel to Pleiku, Kontum, Buon Ma Thout or Quy Nhon from Hue or Danang through a travel agent from the 2 big cities. That would be much easier and basically the agent there would also provide a driver who could understand and speak english.

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Travelling out of Pleiku city to Pakse in Laos, I purchased a bus ticket from Duc Long Bus Station which is a considerably huge station for a city such as Pleiku. One of the most notable bus company is the Mai Linh Express where the corporate colour of this transport company is an iconic green colour. Apart from bus services, it also provide other services through minibus as well as taxis. Most of the taxis plying the road in Pleiku city are Mai Linh. Over at Duc Long Bus Station, Mai Linh Express provide services from Pleiku city to Quy Nhon, Buon Ma Thout, Nha Trang, Danang, Ho Chi Minh city and Pakse. From Duc Long bus station in Pleiku, the bus or minibus to Pakse would move on to Kontum, onwards to Ngoc Hoi to pick up or drop off passengers/goods along the way. This can be termed as a norm over here in Indochina region, where apart from transporting passengers, the bus or transport company would also provide trasportation of goods for a fee. Crossing over the border between Vietnam and Laos is over at the Bo Y Border Checkpoint in Vietnam over at Ngoc Hoi and Phoukeua Border Checkpoint over at Attapeu province in Lao PDR. The road travel from Pleiku to Bo Y Border Checkpoint has been smooth mostly on a 2 laned roads where conditions are satisfactory. Crossing over from Bo Y to Phoukeua, there has been no problem over at the immigration checkpoint with officers over at Phoukeua being very friendly and pleasant. After the immigration clearance over at Phoukeua, what comes after was one of the most challenging border crossing I ever experienced thus far. As the road from Attapeu province in Lao PDR cuts through a massive mountainous valley, the roads are steep and bends are very sharp at some points. But, the driver has been courteous and driving on a very careful manner and he seemed to be familiar with the road conditions. So, credit should also be given to Mai Linh Express bus drivers for their good driving attitude for this trip. The minibus stopped at one of the Lao-Viet restaurant cum guesthouse in Attapeu for lunch. There is also a money exchange shop next to this restaurant cum accomodation facility. Most Vietnamese enterpreneurs would set up businesses within the border area in particular Laos and Cambodia and Attapeu province is without exception. Even as far as Pakse, there are Vietnamese restaurants and guesthouse that could be located. These vietnamese traders and their workers do not seemed to understand Lao or Thai language while the Lao people could on the other hand speak dual language of Lao and Thai due to the Thai tv influence. However, due to the fact that they receive mostly vietnamese customers travelling out from Vietnam to Laos and Cambodia, language is no barrier to them. The sceneries in Attapeu province are beautiful and awesome as along the road to Pakse in Champasak province, the landscapes are massively covered with large mountains and hills, parts of Mekong river as well as rice fields. The minibus would stop at various points in Attapeu province to pick up or drop off passengers and goods along the checkpoints that has the transport company signboards. The final stop in Pakse is not for near the city and tuk-tuk to anywhere else within the city area cost between 10,000 to 15,000 kip. From Pakse city, the international bus leave for Ubon Ratchathani at the Pakse International Bus Station and takes about 3 hours to reach the Ubon Ratchathani bus station. The border crossing between Laos and Thailand from Pakse is the Vangtao border checkpoint in Lao PDR and Chongmek border checkpoint in Thailand. Cost of bus ticket cost THB200 if purchased from the bus station. However, you would be charged additional THB100-150 depending on the mode of transport from the guesthouse of hotel you stay where you purchase ticket from. If you purchase the ticket by yourself, you would still need to pay for the tuk-tuk to get to to bus station to purchase it and then hire the tuk-tuk yet again to transport you to the bus station to board the bus. So, actually the additional cost adds up to the same amount whether you buy it yourself or through the guesthouse. I had been travelling many times along the Vangtao/Chongmek border crossings, so I'm rather familiar with that crossings. However, some changes noted over at this border crossings where travellers no longer walking through the uncovered and unpaved walkways surrounded by trees. An underground tunnel has been completed and travellers would now walk under this tunnel to cross over to the immigration office of both the Lao PDR and Thailand.

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Posted by kidd27 14.11.2012 21:53 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

From Cambodia to Thailand

Crossing over 4 countries through Banlung, Pleiku, Pakse and Ubon

I'm back in Phnom Penh after 6 years, where at that time, I had just started to venture out on a backpacking adventure over the South East Asia countries. My way of travel is not through a one time travel basis, where the trip would be completed throughout the travel period by hopping from one country to another at one go. My preference would be to travel to one or two or even few countries within the Indochina region if I had made up my mind that such is my travel destination for that particular time. My previous travel to Phnom Penh was aimed at travelling between 2 countries overland at one go, which was Cambodia and Vietnam. Of course it is not just about road travel to experience both countries as going out to explore the countries that one travelled to is as interesting and important to get to know the specific country much better. Much has changed over the years in Phnom Penh since my last visit. I remember travelling from Phnom Penh International Airport to the city with a motobike taxi cost only USD1 6 years ago but now, the price has gone up to USD3. Also, I witnessed more cars now as compared to years ago, where motorbikes outnumbered the former. The road from the airport to the city of Phnom Penh is also considerably less dusty as compared to 6 years ago. Surely, the road condition has also improved tremendously in tandem with the less dustiness of it years ago. At least, these are some of the changes that I could see happened in Phnom Penh, which is good for the people of Cambodia. Tourists and travellers visiting Phnom Penh and Cambodia in general would have contributed much to what can be seen today in Cambodia. International banks are also opening up due to the increasing needs by businesses within the country which reflect on how apart from travel industry, the trade or commerce industry have also developed rapidly. There are now more tuk-tuks than back in 2006 which also mirror on increasing number of people from out of Cambodia visiting the country.

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Arriving in Phnom Penh this time around, I took the tuk-tuk to the city to look for a guesthouse to stay. There are taxi service available from the airport as well as tuk-tuk but should be costlier. I did not bother to ask as I know there are motorbikes or tuk-tuks available outside the airport from past experience. Nevertheless, if safety is a priority, then I would say one should pay more to compensate for such security. Why am I saying this? As I walked out to get a motorbike taxi or tuk-tuk, I felt that security could be a threat. One of the tuk tuk driver even warned me to keep away the gold necklace I worn to aviod being victim of snatch theft, which I obliged. Some of the motorbike or tuk-tuk drivers could speak and understand english while some could not. I never felt that safety could be so much a threat few years back when I landed in Phnom Penh but this time for some unexplained reasons, I felt so. According to one of the tuk-tuk driver, he told me that they go through a system of first in, first out, where the 1st driver who arrived at the airport would have the passenger go with him 1st. Maybe this applied to the tuk-tuks but not the motorbike taxi or motodups outside the airport. How true this is? I wouldn't be sure. As I chatted with the tuk-tuk driver, he told me that motorbike taxi cost USD3, the tuk-tuk cost USD5 and if I took the tuk-tuk inside the airport it costs USD7. He said I can go with him on his tuk-tuk but as we walked to his vehicle, a group of other tuk-tuk drivers came to him and spoke in Khmer. He then said, no, I cannot go with him as he was not the one who arrived at the airport 1st, so I need to get on another tuk-tuk which came later from elsewhere. So, if this tuk-tuk driver from elsewhere is the 1st tuk-tuk to have arrived at the airport, why was he from elsewhere to pick up passengers? This is some of the confusion that I experience on landing in Phnom Penh airport. But let me just say that the cost of taxi, tuk-tuk or motodup in Phnom Penh is still cheap in comparison to those in Lao PDR. It costs around USD20 to USD25 for probably less than 15km to the city of Vientiane from the airport. So, I thought since its just additional USD2 (USD5 for tuk-tuk compared to USD3 for motodup), I would have lost nothing with that since the seat of the tuk-tuk is much wider and comfortable with a covered compartment. It was also drizzling slightly as the tuk-tuk moved on to the city. The road was much more congested as compared to my last visit indicated heavy traffic due to more cars on the road in Phnom Penh. The congestion can be rather bad coupled with traffic lights along the road leading to the Phnom Penh city from the airport. This is a sign of development in Phnom Penh in comparison to years ago.

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The tuk-tuk driver stop at the area near Sisowath Quay or the Riverside where there are many pubs available on this section of Phnom Penh city. As metioned earlier, there was a slight confusion about the fare of transport from the airport. When I reached the city area, I was told that the fare was only USD3 and I was stunned. As I thought it should be USD5 and USD3 is for a motodup. But I am more than glad that the tuk-tuk driver has been so honest and I thanked him for being such a nice man. As I looked around for a guesthouse to stay, I noticed 11 Happy Backpackers Guesthouse which looked quite nice from the outside with some creative interior on the ground floor of the lobby area, which also runs as a bar. The lobby itself is a good place to hang out withfellow backpackers alike as the theme colour is dark and it made the whole area in the lobby section with an atmosphere of a pub. In fact, this guesthouse has a nice bar at the rooftop level where guests could enjoy beers and food there. The road fronting the guesthouse is not busy and is quite a distance away from the pubs which located near the section of the road fronting Sisowath Quay. The room with window and without air-cond cost USD12. The guesthouse also provide sale of bus ticket for Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Company, where I booked a ticket from Phnom Penh to Banlung. The interior of the room and bathroom may look much worn out without any nice or modern decoration while the bed and the room accessories are very basic and simple. This is the place to stay for backpackers for probably a night or 2 before departing elsewhere in Cambodia for onwards travel. I had the opportunity to had few conversations with the staffs and some of them appeared to be very friendly and helpful while some were less so. I asked one of the staff about the Banlung border crossing to Vietnam when I bought the bus ticket from Phnom Penh to Banlung but she appeared to be lost on this. She even helped to telephoned the bus company to check on the information but that did not help too as they too did not have much information about this overland crossing. The information that I had is that this was somewhat like a new crossing and not many foreigners in particular know or used this border or overland crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam or vice versa. So, I was kind of worried about the transportation and the immigration process going through this route but I was much confident that things would be rather fine when it comes to the time of the crossings.

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My reason for this trip to Phnom Penh is to be my starting point for backpacking adventure through 4 Indochina countries, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Of course having already landed in Phnom Penh, my travel plan is not just to get away from this capital of Cambodia right away. It is good to also explore instead of just travel. My last visit to Phnom Penh, I had visited some of the interesting places including the Silver Pagoda, Royal Palace, Wat Phnom and the Tuol Sleng Prison. I did not spent enough of my time in fact the last visit because my ultimate travel plan was to head to Ho Chi Minh city overland through the Bavet/Moc Bai border crossing. And for this time, I did not spent much of my to explore the capital yet again as I need to leave for Banlung the next day. With one day at hand, I decided to go with the motodup to check out the Independent Monument which I missed on my previous visit. During my visit, the monument was undergoing some construction and visitors were not allowed to get into the area of the monument. This monument is located in a good location and the area covered the monument is a huge roundabout facing a square in front. Adjacent to this monument is a huge Buddhist wat with multiple temples inside. And this is the symbol of the independence of Cambodia in 1953 from the colonialism of French. The monument was completed in 1958.

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From Independent Monument, I then moved on to Wat Phnom, which I had visited before during my previous visit to Phnom Penh. But, a good tourist place would worth a second or third, forth, fifth visit or perhaps infinity. This wat during my visit is also undergoing construction and an entrance fee would cost USD1. There are now no longer child beggars seen around the area on the base of Wat Phnom as compared to my last visit where these poor children would run to you in a group and asked for some donations. Perhaps, the authorities are taking strern actions now that resulted in the arrest of such begging activities among children. To recapture my memory of my last visit at Wat Phnom, the wat is located on top of a small hill and the wiharn, surrounded by few chedis is located at the centre of the hill. There is multiple steps staircase leading up to Wat Phnom. The wall on the top of the staircase is beautifully crafted with Khmer arts and panitings. The walls in fornt of the wiharn are also decorated with great Khmer art, craft and designs. The wiharn may look small from the outside but the interior looks spacious and the wiharn building is quite tall. Inside the wiharn building, a massive Golden Buddha statue sitting on a tall big golden lotus flower placed in the middle of the wiharn. Below this huge golden Buddha statue is another 3 smaller golden Buddha statues surrounded by few other Buddha statues with robe as well as a reclining Buddha statue at the foremost front of all the Buddha statues. The walls of the wiharn are fully decorated with paintings of the Buddha and Buddhism teachings & spirituals. The wiharn building is surrounded by a few large and small chedis and covered with lush trees around the boundary of the Wat Phnom.

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Another tourist sights that I missed during my previous visit to Phnom Penh is the National Museum. This museum is another icon of Phnom Penh with its unique and distinctive building. The architecture of the building is desiged to look like a wat and the bright red colour further adds to the attractiveness of this museum. The museum displays various historical items ranging from during the pre-Angkor to the Angkor period which include sandstones, bronze, Khmer arts, Khner sculptures, paintings, textiles and Buddhism, ceramics and the daily accessories used during the 16-20th century. This red building has 5 main front towers, each with a tall black coloured door. The main entrance to the museum being the middle tower of these 5 towers. At the rear of the main building is an open courtyard with a garden, with another 2 towers on the left and right of these garden. This place is worth a visit to appreciate the great Khmer architechture and to see how the Khmer empire and its people had developed into a civilised country from 16th to 20 century. Taking a tour around the city for a day by the motodup cost quite reasonable at USD10 and the driver would wait for you while you take a tour at those place of interests. While I was on such motodup tour, in within it was lunch hour so I thought the driver would have been hungry after few hours of tour around Phnom Penh city. He introduced me to a restaurant downtown that serve barbeque meat including the buffalo meat and stewed pork. The price was reasonable with half carton cans of Angkor beer, 2 plates of buffalo barbeque meat and a plate of stew pork with pickled salad, it cost a total of USD12. Not bad I thought and it was a great dining experience as I never tasted buffalo meat before and the beers are also cheap. In all the places I travelled, I enjoy drinking the local beer and Angkor beer is one of the famous local beer in Phnom Penh. I think most beer lovers would not want to miss a taste of it. Over at Phnom Penh, you would not need to scratch your head to look for beer bars. There are in fact loads of them in particular the Sisowath Quay as well as along the side streets of Sisowath Quay. I took a stroll along Street 136 and this is a street which has good number of beer bars. Along the Sisowath Quay which faced the stunning Mekong river, its also a place to take a good night walk when weather is not scorching hot to enjoy the beautiful night scenes along this riverside area where most shops, bars, restaurants and gueshouses and hotels are light up with colourful lights .

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Early the next morning, I left the guesthouse at 7am by tuk-tuk to catch the bus to Banlung at 8am. So, I was back to where I was 6 years ago at the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Co bus station. I think this place did not changed much with the big and noisy crowd still being seen over at this small bus station. One thing that I fondly remember about Phnom Penh is the french bread stuff with ham and cold salad which is being sole at one of corner of this station. I remember 6 years ago, I could see many such mobile traders on the road while travelling from airport to the city but this time around, these were hardly seen. I hope Subway would not have taken away this french bread business from the local as I believe the locals depend on their living from such business to have 3 meals a day and to support their family financial needs. The bus departed quite on time at 8am and I was caught by surprise that the bus load was almost 90% full. And most of the passengers are locals. The journey on the road out of Phnom Penh city is a combination of poor and satisfactory road condition with some parts of the road undergoing construction. While some parts of the road can get very bumpy and dusty, the overall road condition has been acceptable. Along the way, the bus stops at Kompong Thom and Kratie, a port town to drop and pick up passengers as well as goods. The bus continue its journey to Banlung from Kratie and arrived in Banlung bus station at 6.30pm. All in the journey took approximately 11 hours from Phnom Penh to Banlung, which is located in the northeast of Phnom Penh in the Rattanakiri province. Upon reaching Banlung bus station, there are many tuk-tul and motodup drivers waiting for the passengers to get down from the bus. So, there is no worry about the transport to downtown. The fee from the bus station to downtown cost USD3 for the entire tuk-tuk, which could accomodate few passengers. I went with one of the tuk-tuk driver to get to banlung town and then settled down at Mean Heng guesthouse located near the wet market of Banlung. The cost of fan with twin bed is as low as USD7 with windows. I asked the driver about the transport to the border to Pleiku in Vietnam. The tuk-tuk driver offers a trip to the Oyadaw border checkpoint from Banlung for USD15 with a motodup driven by his son the next morning. He mentioned that, after crossing the Oyadaw border, I could get a ride from the vehicles that pick up goods at the border to Pleiku city. I was not too convinced about this. I thought it would be good to look around the town in Banlung to check if there is any bus or minivan that offers transport service to Oyadaw border or even Pleiku city. As I walked around the town I found a guesthouse which has a signboard that offer various transport services within Cambodia and out of Cambodia to Laos and Vietnam including Pleiku. The cost of ticket is USD15 and it mentioned Pleiku. At night, the Banlung town appears quite with some street traders seen selling thier goods in particular fruits, consumer goods as well as food. I found a restaurant that sells french bread. Since I was interested to try it yet again, I bought it to get a taste of it and it taste as good as ever. It costs someting like 5,000 riel for half size bread. It also to be noted that the weather at night gets rather cool in Banlung. The minivan departs the next morning at 8am from the guesthouse where ticket was booked. It came on time and I was the only passenger on board. The scenes along the way from Banlung to Oyadaw border was stunning where the road cuts through what seemed to be like a valley of a large greenfields. The cool crisp morning air adds to the feel of being like in Europe or Ocenia region during winter.

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The road from Banlung to Oyadaw was basically in good condition, not dusty nor bumpy at all. Reaching the Oyadaw border, this is a very small border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam. The main immigration building is a mid-sized red wooden hut. There is a mobile gate with a rope tied on the worn-out mobile metal door to block the crossing of vehicles and for checking purposes. The road is rather dusty due to the fact that after the immigration border checpoint, the roads are in laterite conditions as it is not being covered with tar all the way to the Le Thanh border checpoint in Vietnam. The area between Oyadaw and Le Thanh border crossing is also surrounded with thick jungle. After having my passport stamped, it was auld lang syne to Cambodia and welcome to Vietnam.

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Posted by kidd27 21:35 Comments (0)

Sabaidee Ubon Ratchathani, Korb Chai Lai Lai

sunny 33 °C

I was recently in Cha Am, Thailand over Songkran Festival which is an increasingly popular beach holiday destination not only for locals but also foreign travellers and tourists. I was here in Cha Am about 2 years ago and during that time, it was still much unknown or less attractive to holidaymakers. But since then, the number of people visiting Cha Am has jumped markedly. The structure of the beach in Cha Am as in any others within Thailand are rather similar if not the same, with hostels, guesthouses, resorts and hotels, restaurants and cafes lined up the roads bordering the beaches. You can see these in popular beach resort cities including Krabi, Phuket, Hua Hin and Pattaya and Cha Am is no different. But still, Cha Am maintains the less commercialised status in comparison to its peers in Thailand, mainly because Hua Hin, the nearest neighbour in the beach resort town category being more popular with foreigners as well as locals. Hua Hin became popular due to the access to more choices of bars, pubs, seafood outlets, night markets as well as quality accomodations that suit the expectations of travellers and tourists there.

At Cha Am, 3 most important "things to do" will be sampling the roast pork & grilled chicken, try out the fresh seafood and swimming of course. There are many roast pork and grilled chicken (kai yaang in Thai) shops dotting the road leading to Cha Am beach and these shops can easily be identified because large roasted pork sometimes the whole pig ready to be cut into pieces for consumption as well as the grilled chickens were being displayed on display case on the entrance to these shops. And in Thailand, when dining out at roadside food shops and seaside restaurants, you will see that all dining tables are equipped with large bottle of drinking water and either large glass bottle or Pepsi or Coke. All you need is to ask for a glass and bucket of ice cubes and these beverage are ready to quench your thirst. Seafood is also a must try when in Cha Am, where you can get very fresh ones which are still alive chosen from the varieties of seafood choices including fish, crabs, prawns, squids, clamps and cockles. Once chosen, you can get the shop to cook the preferred style and served to you while relaxing at the beach side. Just as in Pattaya, there are many sunshades umbrellas with tables and beach relaxing chair for rent at affordable rates. Seafood restaurants are also available at the port where fishermen unload their catch of the day to be sold to seafood wholesalers, restaurants and seafood traders. The port is located towards the end of of Cha Am beach on the left side of the beach town. All seafood in Cha Am were fresh as they were chosen alive from the prupose-built small tubs placed in between the main entrances. And if you want to freshened up yourself on a hot, sticky sunny beach day out, swimming will be the best thing to do. After all, Cha Am is a beach resort town. There are still many affordable guesthouses and hostels available along the beach front establishment as there are currently less classy hotels being built, so a holiday in Cha Am is still a much attractive destination for those who seek to save on accomodations. In the morning, many mobille traders set up their stalls on the roadside along the beach including those who sell food, souveniers and dry seafood items as well as fruits. At night, the best thing to chill out would be a dine out at some of the restaurants with live band or singers. Some also featured live football games over the weekend. You can enjoy food, have couple of nice Singha, Leo or Chang beers while enjoying the songs from the band/singer and watching live football match.

I was back in Ubon Ratchathani for the Songkran or Water Festival and had the opportunity to travel to some places which I had been to and not been to during my last travel here to this northeastern city of Thailand. Songkran Festival has seen tremendous evolution since it began where what started as flower water pouring to ask for forgiveness on the elderly by the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren had been turned into water fights between the children and young adults. Of course the tradition still stays but the way Thais celebrating their new year has diverted to a dangerous affair, at least this was what I thought. The convoys of 4-wheel pick-ups with children and young adults equipped with water buckets and water barrels ready to be splashed on whoever they can targeted on while their vehicles move on the road. Not only did this act caused heavy traffic congestions due to vehicles need to stop or slowdown to make ways for these convoys of water splashers to get their job done, the number of people that filled up the rear of the pick-ups could well be overloaded. This means the vehicles may not be on a stable condition which may resulted in the vehicles overturned unexpectedly or the rear passengers fell to the ground of the road due to slippery base on the vehicles or pushing. I am not against such festivities spririt among Thais or foreigners whom have seen increasing participation not only in Bangkok's Silom, Khao San or Central World but elsewhere in Thailand but such celebrations will need to incorporate precautionary measures or restricted only on certain hours of the day of the celebration. The number of people on the rear of the pick-ups will also need to be restricted and the water barrels or buckets will required to comply with the max weight of the items the vehicles could carry. Aside from these, other dangers noted including people who stand in the middle of the road who stop vehicles at their own whims and fancy, may caused them to knock down by speeding vehicles while those who stand on the roadside with water barrels waiting to splash on-coming vehicles may also resulted in the same fate. Thus, only several spots identified as safe should be allowed for such activity with metal barriers set up at these spots to preven the party doers from breaching the lines. Drinking of alcohol for those on vehicles while making their rounds should also be restricted while those who are on the ground with barricades maybe allowed as long as they are not drunk. These are some of the suggestions but whether or not they are to be implemented will be on the hands of the authorities to decide. Some of the good practices noticed on Songkran Festival will be the set-up of small Buddha sculptures in wats, shopping malls and hypermarkets where the people could sprinkle/pour water on the sculptures and pray for their wishes as they do so. Also can be witnessed on the Songkran Festival were the many funny faces of the people on the streets participating the water splashing activities where there were impersonators of women, nerds, hogs and katoeys (transvestites). Having mentioned about the dangerous Songkran celebrations, I took this opportunity to participate for half a day water splashing do but maintained precautionary measures from the kerbs of shophouses. It was fun day out on an auspicious festival but even half day will already be too much for me.

Ubon Ratchathani (Ubon) province is a unique place because this is the Thai province where you can access to the most Vietnamese food within Thailand. Due to its close distance to southern Laos, which has good road connections to central Vietnam, vietnamese food can be found easily in certain part of Ubon. Some of the famous vietnamese cuisines which are favourites among the Ubon people and widely available are salad rolls or Goi Cuon in vietnamese where this food include a mix of fresh green salads and mint leaves with accompaniments consisting of grilled porks in sticks or without, unripe mangoes sliced into small pieces as well as garlics and chillies both chopped into small pieces wrapped with softened rice paper roll (dipped into water 1st to soften it) with some peanut sauce spread over them and wrapped them up with the green salad before eaten. Very nice, simple and healthy food and this can be found in most restaurants serving Thai/Vietnamese food in Ubon. Another popular vietnamese dish is the fresh and deep fried spring rolls. The fresh spring rolls consists mainly of green salads with mint leaves and eaten with a dip into sweet clear chilly sauce. The deep fried spring rolls is filled with sweet turnip as the fillings and also dipped into sweet clear chilly sauce. You will ask for more of these as it never fullfill your appetites because they were fresh and tasty. Banh xeo, a southern vietnamese cuisine of HCM city, which I had a good try while there sometime end of 2006, is also popular among Ubon folks but not as good as those available in HCM city. Banh Xeo is made of stir fry of egg mix wrapped with the minced pork and sliced onions, cut into smaller pieces to be eaten with green salads. A dip into sweet chilly sauce will add the flavour to it. Other vietnamese food also found in Ubon is banh cuon a rice flour stuffed with minced pork and mushroom and dip into sweet chilly sauce, banh mi, a french bread spread with butter and stuffed with sliced cucumber and celery, minced pork with choice of fried egg or sliced moo yor (grounded prok mix with flour and black pepper wrapped in banana leaves). Vietnamese noodles such as bun bo in Hue is also widely found in Ubon but has been integrated into the Thai style. Bun bo is a type soup noodle where the soup is boiled with beef bones mix with shrimp paste, lemon grass and dried chillies which give the soup a special flavour. The soup noodle is served with mint leaves to be mix into the noodle before eaten. Another good food to note when in Ubon is the mouth-watering suckling pig. These baby piglets were readily marinated and ready to be grilled once chosen by customers. There are not many such shops around in town. Only locals know where to buy them as the famous shop was located in secluded area near the river opposite Ubon Buri Hotel & Resort.

I had previously been to Ubon and witnessed the distinct culture unique only to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, which was the Candle Festival, a festival that marks the start of the rainny season where monks will be staying in the wats for 3 months where they will focused intensively on meditations. I had been written about this in my past blog with pictures of the parade of candle floats. This festival usually takes place in the early week of July. Apart from this unique festival that drew thousands of tourists to this northeastern province of Thailand, it is also a gateway to Laos, through the Champasak province's town of Pakse. Thais also travel to Ubon to cross over the Vang Tao, a border town in Laos which connects thereon to Pakse from Chong Mek in Thailand. Vang Tao is a popular small border town that attracts many Thai visitors mainly to shop for value for money consumer items made in Vietnam, China and also Lao PDR. Some great changes had taken place since my last visits in Chong Mek (Thailand)/Vang Tao (Lao PDR) as well as in Phibun Mangsahan which is the connecting town between Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand to Pakse in Lao PDR. The road connecting Phibun Mangsahan to Chong Mek is currently undergoing significant improvements where works are being carried out to widened both sides of the road. It used to be a lush green lung with trees lining both sides of the roads but has now those trees and bushes had been cut down and clear off to make way for the road widening works. Over at Chong Mek, the front for the Thai immigration border checkpoint to get in and out of Thailand from and to Lao PDR, the pedestrian walkways on the Thai side is also currently undergoing improvement works. What used to a small walking lanes for both in and out will now see major changes. While on the Vang Tao side, the major changes that had been taken place were the street before the trades bazaar are now lined up with more mobile traders on both sides of the street. Previously, only a handful of them were seen trading with their humble setup on the street displaying their goods mainly on the grounds. A new duty free mall has also been up over at Vang Tao where visitors can shop comfortably for duty free items including coffee, liquors, chocolates, cigrattes and also to enjoy some food and drinks over at a small cafe within the small mall. The traders over the main bazaars remained unchanged which still attracts many visitors from Thailand with inexpensive value for money items but I forsee that this will soon changed with the traders relocated to a much comfortable building structures. As of now, these has yet to be seen but with the improvement in the road networks and immigration structures, both governments are putting efforts to accomodate the increasing visitors to both countries. The current bazaar will not be able to cater if the number of vistors are to be increased each year. Not only that, the current bazaar conditions are not condusive with rundown structures while the pathways were uneven and not properly paved with tiles, which is basically a natural outdoor ground.

Over at Chong Mek, on thai ground, there is a large bazaar just before the immigration checkpoint with many consumer goods available at affordable prices can be found here but not as attractive as those over at Vang Tao, mainly because these proprietors over here sell what you could usually get within Thailand, while over at Vang Tao, the goods are from elsewhere including China, Vietnam and Laos, so items there were rather diversified. In Chong Mek, some of the restaurants here served some good and nice food to deal with ones hunger before and after a long day shopping. Prior to arriving at Chong Mek, I visited the Wat Phu Khao Kaew in Phibun Mangsahan. This wat was located in a secluded spot surrounded by lush trees. The wat is brown in colour with the main building sits on the upper level seperated from the ground level, which is the viharn/meditation hall for the monks of the wat. There were 2 stairs leading up to the main wat/ubosot, one at the front entrance while the other at the rear of the main wat. However, the is only 1 entrance into the main wat. The side doors decorations reflected the skillfully crafted designs which focus on the Thai theme. The doors were made of wood which were also crafted with Thai architecture design. Inside the main wat, there are 3 Buddha sculptures which sit on the upper level from the other 3 monk sculptures which were displayed at the far end of the wat building. The floor of the wat is made of wooden planks. The upper walls were decorated with various theme of wats and pagodas in the Indochina region. The main entrance of the wat facing a water fountain with a garden on the front area of the main entrance on the lower ground. At the main entrance a Buddha sculpture was also on display. There are also 4 salas (open sided small pavillions) on 4 sides of the lower ground of the temple.

In Thailand, in particular south of Ubon Ratchathani province, Surin province and Sisaket province, there were various khmer ruins still in existance. The on-going disputes between Thailand and Cambodia on the Phrea Vihear temple, is an example of how important are these khmer or hindu ruins in thi modern days playing major role in the tourism industry. Phrea Vihear temple was listed in the Unesco World Heritage Site and belongs to Cambodia, while Thailand claim that it actually located on its soil in the Kantharalak districk of the Sisaket province. Such ruins were so unique and distinctive that attract keen interests of visitors to visit the sites to have closer view and to snap as many pictures possible for their own keep or various other purposes that may include personal interests, arts and advertising. In south of Ubon, in Det Udom province, I visited 2 such ruins, namely Phrasat Ban Ben and Phrasat Thong Lang with the former being the larger site while the latter a smaller one. In fact there are various such Khemer ruins within the southern North Eastern Thailand including Sisaket and Surin province bordering Cambodia. Phrasat Ban Ben is one of the larger khmer ruins still remained and located within secluded location of open space of villages or Baan. This ruin has a rectangular bricks border dated since its constructions with 3 ruins tower. The middle one being the largest among the 3 and the most well-preserved while the other 2 with parts of the tower already been damaged. Nothing was seen inside these ruins apart from some prying items inside the middle ruins, On the rectangular fence border, there are 3 entrances with the mid entrance being the main among them. However, one of the 3 entrances had already been damaged and not visible. The ruins are surrounded with tall tree with and administration office adjacent to the ruins. On the front or opposite of this ruins was a small flat square with various holes which already been filled-up noticed on the side of the square. Over at Phrasat Thong Lang, these ruins did not have a border fence like Phrasat Ban Ben, but also have 3 ruins which were larger than those at Phrasat Ban Ben. One of the 3 has most of its structure collapsed. The ruins are surrounded by open space without trees within its location. Inside the ruins, there were nothing visible. However, upon inspection, it was noticed that one of the tower with an opening at its top enclosure. So, with the ongoing border clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops, you can still get to see such khmer historic ruins within peaceful north eastern Thailand provinces.

I had been to Ubon for several festivals including the Khao Phansa (Candle Festival) and over Songkran holiday and visited some of the most notable wats in the province. Recently, I went over to Wat Nong Bua, which is a distinctive wat with a tall "prang" or pyramid shape tower surrounded by a well maintained garden within its compound. The prang with overall structure in white with interval of gold colour on the side and flowery decorations on the wall of the prang. Inside the wat is another smaller prang which was gold in colour on overall structure surrounded by 4 Golden Buddha statues for devotees/visitors to pray. This is a very nice wat which also display the ever creative artwork skills of Thai people. Another wat that I visited here in Ubon during this 2011 Songkran Festival is Wat Sa Prasansuk, which is built on the boat like concrete structure surrounded by a lake. Before reaching the main wat area, the entrance compound has another wooden temple structure which also built on a boat like stucture. The whole architecture skills of the builders of this replica wat is much to be admired about. On the main gate, visitors are greeted with a large white coloured chang (elephant). The wat of Wat Sa Prasansuk is very similar to the design of Wat Phra Keaw but not as grand as the one in Bangkok and the one which has been converted to musuem in Vieng Jan (Vientiane). Inside the wat is a large Golden Buddha in the middle of the wat on the altar section with several windows on its left and right side. The entrance door structures have beautiful outer layer decorations similar to Bangkok's Wat Phra Keaw. The last temple I visited was the lesser know wat in Ubon town, named, Wat Ong Teu. This wat have several decorative structures within its compound and has a distinctive large white Buddha sculptures on the left of the main wat. Upon entrance to its compound, there is a small bridge heavily decorated. Before the main entrance is aBuddha sulpture on display for visitors to pray. Inside the temple is a large Golden Buddha and also the upper walls decorated with the pictures of Buddha with multiple windows on the left and right side of the wat building.

Posted by kidd27 07.05.2011 22:39 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Hanoi & Halong Bay

City of the rising dragon and marvelous limestone

sunny 24 °C
View Phnom Penh on kidd27's travel map.

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is rapidly catching up with its southern counterpart, Ho Chi Minh (HCM) city. This city was just as chaotic as HCM city with the endless traffic filling up the streets almost every parts of the city at least until the end of the office rush hour on daily basis. To cross the road from one end to the other, it can be very challenging and stressful, so get ready to be bold when doing this in Hanoi. Arriving at Noi Bai Airport around 1 in the afternoon, the weather was hot with temperature as high as 30 degrees though it was the spring season. Travelling from the airport to the city centre was surprisingly without much hassle. There were many transport options available in which the easiest would be with the airport taxis, which are white in colour costing anything no less than USD15. The less costly options would be through the airport shuttle bus which cost around VND30,000 or less than USD2 for one way trip. The bus stops very near to the Old Quarter or the backpackers' street as well as the landmark of Hanoi, the Hoan Kiem Lake. The journey from airport to the city was only about 50 minutes. It left the airport with more than half the seats empty, which could sit up to 40 passengers or so. When the bus reached the city, I got down just at the centre of the Old Quarter near the Red River area. Being first time in Hanoi and second in Vietnam, it was a challenge to get to the right place to settle down, what's more with the language barrier. My first encounter was with a motorbike taximan. As I opened up the conversation by asking him on the directions to the Hoan Kiem Lake, it was evident that he couldn't speak english. The only words that were uttered by him that could be understood by me were "moto" and "hotel" with some hand gestures and short writings on a small piece of paper on how much it costs. After a quick thinking (it would be better to walk and explore a little bit), I thanked him and continue to walk to ask the people around for directions to my intended destination hoping that I will encounter someone who can understand simple english. I have some ideas on where I should head to, to book the room through some research on the net, so I hope I could get to the place I want to. As I walked on, I noted a coffeeshop with a sign board reads "Trung Nguyen" on top of the entrance to the shop. Having done some research on coffee, the name "Trung Nguyen" was never a stranger to me. This is the place for a cup or two of vietnamese coffee when you travel to Hanoi or Vietnam. The franchise of this brand name which originated from the central highland of Buon Ma Tuot has been so significant that almost all coffeeshops in Hanoi are the franchisee of this coffee. It is also widely available in prepacked boxes at shops along the streets around Hanoi. This shop I went to was operated by a family of 3, husband and wife and the mother-in-law and was located just opposite Boss Hotel. I initially ordered a cup of coffee with milk from the in-law but she couldn't quite well understood me, then, the daughter appeared from the 1st floor repeating my "order" and that was when I was relieved that I have finally got the right person that could lend a helping hand in giving the right directions and get my coffee prepared correctly. We had a brief chat while I was sipping off the coffe. Though she could only converse limited english, she was very friendly and tried hard to understand each and every word uttered. I told her that I would like to go the specific street. She got up and while she walked out, she told me she was getting the help from her "network" who later was known as the owner of the Boss Hotel. This guy was only in probably his mid 30s but is an owner of a 3 star hotel. Impressive I thought. So, there he was bringing along a copy of simplified city map ready to offer his help. He asked me what was the price range of accomodation I have in mind. I told him what I had wanted. He gave a thought and then shown me on how to get to Ngo Huyen. It was already about 4 and I decided that it was time to leave and head to the place suggested. I thanked the both of them after paying VND15,000 for the coffee. Quite costly considering the fact that it was half filled in a small glass cup, which I noticed later that this has been the norm where all coffees are only half-filled instead of full. Weird?

Just a short walk accross two streets, Ly Thai To and Dinh Tien Hoang from Lo Su, where I came from, I reached Hoan Kiem Lake just in front of me. The atmosphere around the lake was busy, with people sitting on benches chatting with friends, tourists walking about looking for best spots to snap pictures, locals and tourists walking in pairs, groups and single heading to their respective directions while traffic on the streets was decribed earlier as "mad" with endless honking. Bangkok was notorious for its massive traffic congestions while here in Hanoi, its large number of motorbikes on the streets. On the right side of the lake, was where the white HSBC building located with trendy cafes on the ground floor of the building catering to the travellers. In front of this building there was a roundabout and as I walked further down to the left of HSBC, this was where the Bao Viet Bank building is, along Le Thai To St. Further down on the side lane of Bao Viet was the Bao Khanh lane, which was a L shape lane where the inner lane has some Australian style cafes and restaurants as well as hostels available. On the main lane, most vietnamese restaurants are found. I continued my walk up to Hang Trong, where here were the 3 stars hotels located mostly refurbished to attract mid range travellers. At the intersection was Hang Gai, where you could noticed some jewellery retailers and a vietnamese traditional "greenbean cakes" bakery were located. At another intersection was Ly Quoc Su St, where the St Joseph Cathedral was located. Ngo Huyen was located at one of the side lanes here. This lane was filled up with mostly 2 stars hotels, budget hotels, backpackers hostels, travel agents, sundry shop and a coffeeshop selling "pho". In my opinion, this is the backpackers' street of Hanoi with many foreigners in particular westerners, europeans and australians holed up to stay, mingle with fellow travellers, enjoy bottles of beers and to party all night long. The original buidlings here were 2 storey shops for private dwelling but most had been converted into hotels and hostels as well as travel agents with extension of up to 6 storeys. The infamous Hanoi Backpackers Hostel was located here and was known to be the busiest hostel at this area with its premise extended to a 2nd building on the opposite direction. The dorm bed costs as little as USD5 or 7. There was also a Sinh Cafe travel agent here but I noticed that Sinh Cafe travel were found almost every place around Hanoi city centre in particular the Old Quarters and it seemed to me that the main owner of this travel company has franchised its name to the others. Therefore, the quality may not be of the same standard as the original one.

The hostel I stayed was towards the end on the lane which was much quiet, as this was slightly far from Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. For the amount paid, about VND300,000 a night, with breakfast and internet service provided, this was a good bargain coupled with its clean room and bathroom. Ground floor with 2 rooms, 1st and 2nd with 3 each and 3rd floor with another 3 but 1 reserved for hostel's staffs. Not too many rooms available, so more relax and peaceful. Immediately after checking in, I had already booked for the tour to Tam Coc and Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh province, south of Hanoi for the next day. This hostel do not doubled as travel agent but it does provide tour bookings in which it collaborates with established travel agent to serve the needs of the guests who stay here. This was an added value service provided by the management and also provide the convenience for hostel's guests. As such, it is fully recommend place to stay for the complete range of service provided including free city map. Dinner at one of the pho restaurant in Ly Quoc Su street was full with many locals as well as travellers during dinner time. For VND22,000 a bowl of beef pho, that was something with good value with generous portion of pho as well as well prepared beef briskets, which has plenty of it.

The next day, after breakfast at around 8, the tour guide arrived at the doorsteps of the hostel. He was all ready to greet me as I have been waited at the entrance for his arrival for the last 20 minutes. After some short introduction, I was ushered to the tour van with some of the tour members already seated inside. There were a few more others needed to be picked up from here, so, it took about additional 30 minutes time to get all in before the departure to Tam Coc and Hoa Lu. The journey took about 2 hours before reaching the 1st destination Tam Coc. The traffic along the way was brutal to say the least with many vehicles cutting its way notoriously, drivers driving impatiently and the constant honking by drivers of these vehicles as if there were no traffic rules. Traffic was rather slow due to slow moving vehicles just as the van got out from the city, where it was rather busy but it managed to reached Hoa Lu on time. Hoa Lu (pronounced Hoa Ler) is an ancient capital during the rule of King Ding Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty and later, King Le Dai Hanh. This ancient city is surrounded by mountains of limestone hills as well as rice fields scattered all over the old city on the base of the limestone hills as well as open land. There was a temple in rememberance of King Dinh which has a main entrance arch, a small garden, an open compound and a main temple with the structure of the king placed inside for the visitors to worship. Most visitors will placed some monetory notes while they pray in the hope that their wishes may come true. At the time of visit, there was construction works being carried out to built an impressive large main gate to the King Dinh's temple. While the main gate has been 90% or fully completed, the road leading to the temple has yet to be. On the opposite direction of the temple across the road that leads to Tam Coc, there was a small restaurant which also provide bicycles which were neatly parked on the side of the restaurant. An additional USD5 will be added on should you chose to cycle from Hoa Lu to Tam Coc. Out of the 14 tour members, 8 including me decided to venture out with the bicycle. It would take approximately 1.5 hours to reach Tam Coc from Hoa Lu with the bicycle. It was a great and exciting adventure though the weather that day was hot with temperature hovering around 30 degrees. The sceneries along the journey was marvelous due to the fact of the whole area was covered with limestone hills and rice fields, thus, the entire journey was well worth it though it was equally tiring due to the heat and long journey. The journey mostly covered on small untarred and uneven and some muddy terrain which made the tour very safe because it was not done on busy roads. It also gives opportunity to get close to the nature and a good view of the hills and the fields where pictures can be taken clearly and closely making the pictures look good and authentic. Lunch was provided and the final destination of the cycle tour would be the restaurant serving our lunch. After 1.5 hours of cycling, we reached the restaurant at the Long Hotel, Retaurant and Bar in Tam Coc for lunch. This hotel was fronting the pier of Tam Coc where all the small boats or sampans will take visitors for a river tour around Tam Coc to witness the magnificent limestone mountains along the river, also dubbed as the inland Halong Bay. Buffet lunch was served with varieties of nice vietnamese and asian food, including fresh and deep fry spring rolls, vietnamese noodles, rice, fried chicken, grilled muttons, salad, desserts and fruits. After lunch, its time to set on the small boat with 2 people serve as the rowers while up to 3 visitors allowed to get into the boat. Ideally, it caters for 2 persons each boat, including the rowers, 4. I was in the boat with another 2 Australian girls. The journey was very pleasant as the sun was not too hot while the scenery was amazing. Many boats were seen going up and down the rivers with some moving up while some returned from their trips. On the left and right side of the river, along the limestone hills are many the rice fields. This explains why Vietnam can be one of the major exporter of rice apart from Thailand. In fact Hoa Lu and Tam Coc itself already have such huge rice fields covering its land, what more with the other areas of the provinces around Vietnam. The journey took about 2 hours. On the turning point of the kayak tour, there were some floating traders where these traders will pursuade visitors to purchase drinks, fruits and snacks for the rowers as they were tired with their work and that the drinks will help to reduce their tiredness. The 3 of us decided to contribute VND30,000 (each with VND10,000) with drinks and fruits. The drink was given to the lady rower while the Australian girls enjoyed the fruits. This river kayak provides another opportunity to photographed the nice and marvelous limestone hills which were very picturesque. The journey back to Hanoi took another 2 hours and when the bus reach Nanoi, it was already 6.30pm. Dinner was a vietnamese style hamburger that came with a frnech loaf with fresh lettuce and tomato with choice of omelette or chicken or beef chunk. This was at the intersection of Ly Quoc Su and Ngo Huyen where a vietnamese lady set a stall just by the side of the lane and was popular among the foreign travellers. It costs only VND10,000 for a piece.

The next morning, I was all geared for another trip. This time it was the Halong Bay cruise for a day tour. Here we have the Vietnamese boasting about the UNESCOS's World Heritage award to be proud of. As usual, after breakfast, the guy from the tour agent came. This was another guy, in his early 20s, young and baby faced look. As he came and introduced himself, we immediately proceeded to the tour bus, as there were still other members to be picked up. There were about 16 of us but not all were included in the tour as some had chosen to just booked for the transport and self-arranged for the cruise as well as other sort of tour services arrangement upon arrival at the pier in Halong Bay. The journey to Halong Bay was much pleasant with nice views along the way, while traffic was less hectic, though the ugly incidents of drivers' behaviour were still evident. There were many rice fields all around the places while houses and shophouses were all equipped with the Vietnamese national flag. The red cloth with the bright shining yellow star were all flagging nicely as the weather was cool with light winds blowing which made the atmosphere such a patriotic feel. I thought , this has got very close association with how nationalistic the vietnamese were in fighting against the US dominance led by Vietnam's independence hero, Nguyen Sinh Cung. It took about 4 hours of travel from Hanoi to reach Halong. Upon arrival at the pier, it was so busy with many travellers alike including locals from all other provinces withing Vietnam. Many of the junks and boats were docked at the pier awaiting for their passengers to board them. Some had returned from the island such as Cat Ba and ready to pick up new passengers for the day. These boats were indentified by unique names including Ha Noi 8, Ha Noi 10, Viet Anh 28 and all sorts of others. After we got the boat ticket ready, it was all set to board the boat and begin the Halong Bay journey. The journey started slowly with the boat sailing quietly out from the pier that would take those on board to witnessed the many pictureque limestone hills and the Thien Cung cave tour. Legend has it that, many years ago, the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon down to earth to protect Vietnam from the invasion of its enemies. The place the Mother Dragon landed was Halong Bay. The Mother Dragon in her conquest to arrest the invasion, brought along her children dragons, where Bai Tu Long was where these smallers dragons landed. They decided to stay on and not returned to Heaven when they had completed their duties and that was how Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long were formed. There was also a visit to the floating fishing village where visitors could buy varieties of seafoods and get the cook in the boat to prepare them just in time for lunch. The seafood were fresh as they were just captured freshly from the water but the price can be costly. Lunch was served on the lower deck of the boat with dining tables and chairs. There were several dishes served such as cabbage, steamed fish, fried beancurd with sweet and sour sauce and deep fry spring rolls with hot steam rice. However, the portion served were liitle too small for a table of 5 people, some tables with more people while no drinks were served, unless you pay for it. After lunch, the boat continue its journey with many opportunities to snap photos on the nice background of karst hills. We then reached the Thien Cung cave. This cave has been carefully preserved by the authorities with steps leading to the cave constructed to the upper level of the karst hill. The interior of the cave was lit with neon lights to brightened up the cave. Some of the staglagmites and staglatites resembled some animals can be seen here. Upon getting out from the cave, there was a viewpoint overlooking the bay from the cave and the scene was beautiful. The cruise, lunch and the cave adventure were completed in about 5 hours which were nevertheless satisfactory for me. By the time the bus reached Hanoi, it was already 830pm.

There were plenty of shopping for everyone to get something in Hanoi. Along the Hang Dao-Hang Ngang St, there was a weekend night market set up along the 2 streets right up to Dong Xuan Market. You can get variety of shopping goodies and with good bargaining skills, you should get something really on good price. During the day time, Hang Dau and Hang Ngang, there were many shops selling tshirts, clothes and other consumer goods perfect for gifts or souveniers for family and friends. Over at Dong Xuan Market, this is the place for the ladies as there were loads of such accessories suitable for them found here, while over at Hang Buom, this is the place to get vietnamese coffee.

Hoan Kiem Lake is the landmark of Hanoi, which was true if you stay around the Old Quarter area. You will most likely encounter this lake on daily basis throughout your stay. And the attraction of Hoan Kiem Lake is not only its scenery, but also the Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple in the middle of the lake surrounded by a people's park in which it has a bright red bridge across the lake to allow people to access to the main temple. This temple was built in honour of military heros and famous vietnamese scholars, such as the army general Tran Hung Dao and scholar Van Xuong. Confucian artist, Nguyen Van Sieu helped to restore the temple and constructed a Thap But (a big stone with brush look alike shape) and Dai Nghien (a rock resembles a writing pad). There was also a 6ft long tortoise in a special room dedicated to this structure in the compound of the temple. Entrance fee was VND10,000. Ho CHi Minh Museum was built in rememberance of the independence fighter, Nguyen Sinh Cung or Ho Chi Minh together with his comrades who had relentlessly unified the people of Vietnam to gain victory against external forces. It was a 2 storey building and inside, there were many photographs of Uncle Ho as well as his colleagues dsiplayed inside the museum ranging from the house he lived-in in various countries such as Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, Guangzhou and Guangxi, China, Hong Kong and France. The photos included those of which he engaged the people through a very personal approach including addressing the people thorough small group meetings and village visits to explain the struggle of Viet Minh force to gain independence. There were also original copies of the vietnamese first newspaper productions, the memorandums of independence under the communism, photos of conventions against foreign invasions and many others photos collections on the fight of Viet Minh and Viet Cong against the US and the southern Vietnam government. Entrance fee was VND15,000.

The One Pillar Pagoda was located adjacent to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. This pagoda was built by King Ly Thai Thong. The king who was childless dreamt of the Buddha giving him a baby boy while seated on a lotus flower. The king then married a young girl who gave birth to the king's first child. Then a monk advised the king to build a temple with a pillar in the middle of the pond which was same as the one he dreamt of. It was built of wood with single pillar resembling a lotus which is a symbol of purity in Buddhism. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a huge memorial building in whom the late Vietnamese independence fighter and chu tic (president) Ho Chi Minh's preserved body was being placed in for visitors to get a closer look at the late Vietnamese president. There were guards manning the main entrance of the mausoleum. The mausoleum has a very large open square for military marching purpose as well as to cater for other official ceremonies with a giant flag pole standing graciously on one side of the square. Van Miieu or Temple of Literature is another important historical sites that should not be missed out when in Hanoi. This is actually a Confucious Temple in which the 1st national university of Vietnam that produced the doctorates during the Ly and Tran Dynasties. Due to the difficulty of the exam's nature, only few of such doctorates were able to get through the exam and names of such successful scholars were being crafted on the stone steles. The architecture of the temple had been inspired by the chinese influence of the Confucious birthplace of Shandong province, China. It has several courtyards with the 1st and second having gardens filled with trees and ponds on the left and right side of it. The 3rd courtyard has a large pond in the middle of it with the left side where the stone steles were located. The 4th couryard was an open space with the main Confucious Temple towards the end of the Van Mieu boundary, which has a small concourse are for to offer prayers before entering the main temple. This was one of the most important historical buildings that was most visited by travellers or visitors around the globe. Over at the West Lake (Tay Ho), this is where the Tran Quoc Pagoda being located. This is one of the most beutiful pagoda in Hanoi due to its location which was sited in the middle of the romantic and nice landscape of West Lake. It was constructed during the Ly Dynasties of King Ly Nam De. It is the most important symbol of Vietnamese Buddhism and being one of the oldest pagoda in Hanoi. Inside the pagoda, there were many statue of Buddha trimmed with gold which represents the Vietnamese sculptural art masterpiece.

Hanoi is a city that has many faces, a combination of old and modern living experience. Its has a very strong connection with its northern neighbour though the language has a wide distinction between them. Still, it offers plenty of travel adventure that get travellers alike close to nature with its wonderful limestone hills, large ricefields, great lakes and spectacular landscapes in the countrside. The people on the overall, were friendly and down to earth, though in comparison to Thailand, there is still something lacking among the Vietnamese. Traffic was as chaotic as ever but this will not be a major point that should erode anyone's liking of Hanoi.

Posted by kidd27 13.03.2010 19:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Don Wai Market & The Thai Pupettry Show

A unique market with cruise service and the award winning performance

sunny 32 °C

Travelling Thailand is never boring. Apart from its unique cultures, food, endless inexpensive shopping options and interesting sights and beaches, the tag "Unseen Thailand" seems to be a very suitable theme for this Land of Smile that also have variety of activties that are distinct from its counterparts within South East Asia. One of the example are the floating markets. Nevertheless, floating markets are not just unique to Thailand as these can also be found in Ho Chi Minh City in the Mekong Delta though they are less popular if compared to the ones found in Thailand. Recently, I was in Nakhon Pathom, Bangkok and went to the Don Wai Market. My last visit to Nakhon Pathom was a visit to the Phra Pathom Chedi, one of the oldest and biggest wat in Thailand. To get to Don Wai Market, it takes about 1 hours journey from Bangkok city by car. This market specialty is the sale of steamed marinated ducks and also the deep fried pork knuckles. You will find many stalls within the market that sell such food which can be mouth-watering if you are still deprived of your breakfast or lunch. The market are divided into 2 sections, the one on the left which have vendors involve in the sale of ready cooked, fresh, delicious thai/chinese varieties including desserts while on the right side of the market, there are vendors who sell fruits and also piers for a river cruise along Nakhon Chaise river. There are several cruise services available and its cost THB60 per person for a 1 hour 30 minutes cruise. Many floating restaurants were also set up along the river which go in tandem with the market. The place have been designed in such a way where all the food stalls are being placed fronting the walkways and the restaurants at the rear of these stalls so that the people can buy or order their food from these stalls and get to enjoy them from the restaurants facing the river. Also, the river cruise not only for your to enjoy the sights of the different style thai houses found along the river banks and vegetable farms, you can also buy the food from the market and bring it along to the boat during the cruise to eat them for breakfast or lunch depending on the time of your visit and cruise. Don't worry about having difficulty in eating the food you buy on the boat. There are table and chairs available on board and you can enjoy your food and the good snenaries along the river. The cruise will take the passengers all the way up to a wat, The Wai Rai King where the Buddhists can pay homage here. There is a fishing pond at the dock getting down to the temple where you can buy some dried bread to feed the abundant of cat fish. This wat signals the turning point back to the pier in Don Wai Market. Go early to Don Wai Market to avoid the busy crowd which can get you down and extermely exhausted coupled with the mid day heat, you would swear you had been here early in the morning. Its worth a visit to experience good food, pleasant cruise and a unique thai culture.

Another distinct Thai culture is the Theatrical Pupettry show or Lakorn. You can have access to this at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. The show shocases the story of the Birth of Ganesha. To sum up the show, there are several personae involved:

1. Isuan, Brahma and Indra - the senior gods
2. Taraka - the senior demon
3. Kamathep - god of love
4. Kongka - godess of water
5. Visukam - the god
6. Warrior - deity and demons
7. Uma - a deity, reincarnation of Satee, Isuan's late wife
8. Kalee - a frightening, monstrous woman with 4 arms Uma, transformed by anger
9. Kumarn - a deity child who later becomes Ganesha
10. Ganesha - son of Isuan and Uma
11. Buangbuat - a giant serpent also known as Naga
12. Vichaya - Lady in waiting

The story starts with Isuan mourning for the death of his wife Satee. He has been down and loses his strength in governing the universe. Taraka, the demon seeing Isuan's grief situation, trying to overpower Isuan to overthrow him from his position. He engaged Brahma to turned him invincible. Brahma then thought that the only person who can kill Taraka is Isuan's son, but he is currently childless with the death of Satee. Brahma meanwhile granted Taraka his wishes.

With the powers obtained from Brahma, Taraka invaded heaven with his troop of demons and defeated Indra, the senior god. Indra then went to see Brahma and told him what happened. Brahma upon hearing the situation, instructed Kamathep to make Isuan fell for Uma, the reincarnation of Satee so that Isuan will have a child from the reunion.

Isuan went for a retreat and provided Uma with a spear. Knowing the absence of Isuan, the demons invaded heaven once again. Vichaya, Uma's lady in waiting informed Uma to have her doors guarded. Uma quickly gets Kongka, the water goddess to bless her with a child from the water. This was when Kumarn, a large child was born. Uma gave Kumarn the spear from Isuan and ask the child to guard the palace.

When reaching the palace door with Visukam after his retreat, they met with Kumarn who stopped them from entering the palace. Isuan was furious and instructed Visukam to send the child away but Visukam failed in doing so. Isuan who gets very angry kills Kumarn after spearing his head off. Uma who witnessed the incident was shocked and grieving in pain for the loss of her child. She turned very angry and changed into Kalee, a frightening, monstrous 4 arms woman. Isuan was shocked with this and consoles her by promising to bring Kurmarn back to life. Isuan instructed Visukam to go to the north and brought home the 1st living thing he encounters.

Visukam returns with a severed head of an elephant. Isuan then connects the elephant head to Kumarn's body and Kumarn's returned to life and was renamed Ganesha. Indra tells Isuan to get Ganesha to go and fight off the demons who were invading the heaven.

While the gods and demons were battling, Indra and Ganesha arrived at the scene of the battlefield and joined the fight. When the demons were defeated, Taraka, arrived with both Taraka and Ganesha engaged in war of words Taraka would like to know who Ganesha was and so Ganesha told Taraka that he is the son of Isuan and Uma. Taraka wouldn't believe it because Uma couldn't be possible given birth due to her being an ascetic. They continue with the battle and Ganesha instructed Buangbuat to surround Taraka who then kills Taraka with the spear.

Finally, the secene of the show ends with Ganesha sits on the great serpent with all gather around him to pay homage to his success in defeating the demons.

Posted by kidd27 21.12.2009 20:47 Archived in Thailand Tagged events Comments (0)

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