Cavemen Backpackers

My mom had left for Manila already and we’ve checked out of Ximen Wow Hostel. I wanted to extend my stay there but they were fully booked that night. Again I am off to find a new place to stay before I check in to the Airbnb room I booked.

I searched for good cheap hostels near Ximending, I thought that it was a good opportunity to hostel hop and experience other places. There were a few hostels that came up while filtering through good prices. In the end, though, there were two that peaked my list. They were Cavemen Backpacker Hostel and NEOSOHO. Their price really just differed for about $1-$2, so it was up to the reviews for me to decide. Reading through, Cavemen Backpackers appears to be better as it is newer than the latter. I also read some issues about how the hostel smells old so I thought, heck it’s just a dollar more so I went with Cavemen Backpackers.

Location

It was kinda difficult to find the actual building at first. The sign was small so it was easy to miss. I actually passed by the building on my first attempt to find it. I consulted google maps and it shows that I was actually standing right off the building. So I asked the doorman on the building in front of me. I was directed to the next building where a small signage was.

Cavemen Backpackers is just about 200 meters from the nearest Taipei Main Station entrance. It is also near Coffee Alley where you can find good restaurants and coffee shops to hang out.  If you are a Museum geek, this will also work for you as it is just walking distance from the Taiwan Nation Museum. Other attractions near the hostel are the Peace Park and the Presidential Palace. Ximending, if you are up to walking, can be reached at just about 900 meters from the hostel.

If you are arriving late at night via bus at Taipei Main Station from the airport, you can just walk up to the hostel, no need to take a cab. If you are a night owl, I am not quite sure that you’ll like the night scene in this area. Also, though it is near a Taipei Main Station entrance, keep in mind that Taipei Main is huge and that you have lots of walking to do inside the station to get to the platforms itself.

Facilities

Cavemen Backpackers has a central bathroom with multiple toilets and shower stalls. One for each gender. It really feels like a big college dorm if you will. I find it clean and airy as it is located at the end of the hostel. The hostel also has a laundry room that you can operate with Taiwan dollar coins just a room away from the shower area.

The reception area is well lit and open as you get off the elevator and on to the glass doors. Adjacent to the reception is a huge working and lounge area. There are tables and chairs that are comfortable enough to work on for hours.

 

 

 

 

Common Areas

The hostel has a spacious area where you can lounge. They had tables where you can work or eat food. The entire area is well lit and the temperature was just right.

I arrived earlier than my check-in time so I comfortably lounge at the common area. I actually fell asleep while waiting for my bed to be ready.

 

 

Overall I feel that Cavemen Backpackers hostel is a good buy. The facilities are clean and the location is not that far from the Taipei Main Station. There are good places to eat and hang out. The only thing that I think is a low for the hostel is that it feels a little too sterile. I didn’t feel the right energy of a youth hostel. I’d say that its a good place to stay for a night or two. If you are planning to stay long term, you might want to reconsider another place somewhere like in Ximending.

 

Mekong Delta Tour

I’ve always wanted to see the Mekong Delta way back during my first Indochina Backpacking Trip. The thing is I have always been put off by the price that I see online. But that has changed thank God to apps like Klook! This year I went back to Vietnam with my dad and I made sure that I visit so I booked my Mekong Delta Tour at just $14. (Get extra HKD 25 discount when you sign up using this link)

For those who are not familiar, The Mekong Delta is where the great Mekong River expands before it meets the ocean. This area is  70 kilometers away from District 1 of Ho Chi Minh city. Travel to our jump off point was about 2 hours given that travel was great going south.

I normally do not like joining organized group tours, but this is an exception. I tried planning doing this DIY, but it was just to toxic and expensive. Just the travel alone was so daunting that I thought it wasn’t worth doing just a day trip.  I just gave up back then. Having the opportunity to visit this area of Vietnam this convenient is something not to pass up.

Our Mekong Delta tour started at De Tham street near Bui Vien, where we waited for our tour bus. We waited along with a throng of people, waiting for their own tour buses. I was so anxious at this time thinking that we’re just gonna go through some crowded tourist spot.

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

Bee Farming and Traditional Viet Music

Our first stop was some sort of rural residence turned tourist spot. We tasted royal jelly honey tea while listening to traditional Vietnamese songs. They showed us how they farm the bees and let us hold a colony of bees.

 

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

 

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

 

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

Of course after tasting for free they will go around and sell you some honey. Don’t let that turn you off though. They will just go around and ask if you want to buy and not really push for it, which is kind of nice. The performers will also try to sell their CDs for about $5 if I am not mistaken. That too wasn’t pushed to us guests. A tip box though was passed around, which I think is just right. I mean, the performers were awesome and the cultural experience was superb!

Row Boats

Next stop was the one I was really looking forward to, the paddle boat ride. I wanted to experience how tranquil it is while paddling through the canals of the delta. We were grouped into fours, the maximum capacity of the boat. The boat ride was quite short but it felt like it was the best part of the tour. The canals were surrounded by nipa trees, they were narrow, just enough for two boats to pass by each other. It was what I was expecting it should be.

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

 

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

The row boats took us across to our next destination, a coconut candy factory along the canals. There we sampled candies that are freshly made and liquor made out of coconut water. They showed us the process from start to finish on how to make products out of coconut meat and it was quite interesting. Who am I kidding? Hahahaha, well maybe at least for the westerners who have no idea on how to cook something out of coconuts. We Asians dude! Lol!

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

 

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

 

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

Lunch was next on the agenda. we boarded a bigger boat that crossed the river to Pomelo Island for lunch. The eyot is filled with Pomelo trees, hence the name. We waited I think for about five or seven minutes to be served of our set lunch. Each plate is made up of an egg, rice some veggies and pork. There is an option to upgrade your meal to a full course lunch. Upgraded lunch sets includes a whole Elephant Ear fish (Giant Gourami), grilled shrimps and a fresh spring roll set. There also needs to be two of you upgrading so you can get the Elephant Ear Fish. We didn’t upgrade, we thought it was excessively expensive to pay for an extra $16 for the two of us for upgraded meal. But like I said, you pay for the experience.

Temple Visit

Back at the boat after the eating, we were ready to come back to Ho Chi Minh. We have one last stop though, the Chua Vinh Trang. The temple was adorned with big statues of Buddha in different poses reminding of his teachings. We didn’t visit any temple in Vietnam on this trip aside from this  so it was awesome to see one before we head off to our next destination the following day.

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

 

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

MEKONG DELTA TOUR

Back at the bus, we comfortable sat on our seats as the driver navigates back to the city. I didn’t see much of the sights I was dead tired sleeping. I woke up when we were almost back in District 1. For $14 (plus $3 – my card was charged less than Php 600) a person, I’d say this is worth the trip. Saving your self from the hardship of commuting and coordinating the activities plus saving money because you guys are doing it in a group is a no brainer decision that you can do. So if you have plans of taking this trip, go ahead book that seat and enjoy your day!

 

 

 

Cu Chi Tunnels: Viet Cong’s Secret Weapon

It’s my second time in Ho Chi Minh city, it’s my chance to do things I’ve missed out the first time I traveled there. One of them that I really wanted to do that time was to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels .

There are many tour companies that offer organized trips to the tunnels like the ones offered by Klook. They cost a bit more but it’s pretty convenient. You signup, pay and show up on your tour date. Easy! I am actually booking one for my up coming trip with my Dad, you know, senior…. Hahaha!

But I was alone on this trip and yes still on a budget. So nervous as I am, I told my self heck yeah, I’ll just wing it and do it DIY!

How To Get To Cu Chi Tunnels

Before we go into putting our selves in a bus, let me just clarify that I’ll be visiting the Ben Duoc site. This is the original and authentic tunnels that was built way back during the French and Vietnam war. The other site Ben Dinh as research tells me is reconstructed or replica tunnel system made for tourists. Ben Dinh is also where most of the group tourist buses are taken.

You want to find your selves at Ben Duoc. To get there take a Ho Chi Minh – Cu Chi bus (Bus 13) departing at Park 9/23 for ₫10,000. Make sure you have comfortable clothes on (specially when it’s hot) as it takes about 1.5-2 hours to get to Cu Chi bus terminal. Hold on tight, you are not yet at your destination. You have to take another bus (Bus 79) that will get you to the tunnels.

When you get on bus 79, make sure to tell the conductor that you are going to the Cu Chi tunnels, they’ll let your know when you have arrived to your destination. travel time from the bus station to Ben Duoc is about 45 minutes to an hour.

Google Maps Direction: https://goo.gl/Hsjfsa

The Tunnels

From the gate welcoming with an arch, you will have to walk about 1 kilometer to the forested part of the park. If you are doing this DIY, you will be directed to start at the orientation area, where you will be ask (with pretty much no option to opt out) to watch north Vietnam’s version of the “American War”.

After the “Introduction” A tour guide will be showing you around the park explaining each site’s significance to the war. One of the interesting yet cringe inducing part of the tour are the human traps that the VietCong have devised to fight off the enemies.

The highlight of the tour, of course are the tunnels them selves. Your tour guide will tell you how long the entire system is and when they started building the tunnels which is pretty amazing. You will get to experience going through a few of the original tunnels. This is what sets Ben Duoc apart from Ben Dinh, as the later is just a replica of the tunnels found in Ben Duoc to accommodate big sized foreigners.

The tour ends with a taste of the boiled cassava dipped into sugar. Pretty common snack for Asians but it could be exotic for westerners. Honestly love it, but I wont blame you if you don’t. It tastes bland and sugary.

You may not agree with the stories of the tour guides but just keep an open mind and always remember that they are telling their side of the story. The Cu Chi tunnel though really far from the city center I can say is a must do to be able to learn more of Vietnam’s culture and history.

 

BOOK YOUR CU CHI TUNNEL TOURS WITH KLOOK

 

Cu Chi Tunnel Ben Duoc
Address:Phú Hiệp, Phú Mỹ Hưng, Củ Chi, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Phone: +84 28 3794 8830
Opening Hours: Daily 7AM – 5PM
Entrance Fee: VND 90,000

Phnom Penh Transit Itinerary

Many travelers ignore Cambodia’s capital city when traveling to or from Saigon to Siem Reap. Most would say that there’s nothing to see in Phnom Penh so they just skip it on their itineraries not even doing a pit stop for a night!

Unknown to many, Phnom Penh actually holds a lot of Cambodia’s history, specially its most recent events. So I’ve came up with most information that I can so can get to see a bit of Phnom Penh when you decide to stop for a night or two.

 

What To See In Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom

They say that this is where the entire city of Phnom Penh was founded when a temple was erected by madame Phnom. There’s actually an interesting story about it and how it became the heart of the city.

 

 

Phnom Penh Post Office

One of the buildings left built during the colonial French times. Mail your post cards  from here to your friends and love ones back to your home country!

source

 

Riverside Walk

Walk along the promenade leading to where the Grand Palace is and where the Tonle Sap river and Mekong River meets. There’s  a couple of shrines right across the Grand Palace and if you are lucky, you can catch local musicians indigenous instruments. You can also stand in front of your country’s flag flying proud along the river walk along with all the nations.

 

 

 

Russian Market

Looking for souvenirs? The Tuol Tom Pong or more popularly known as Russian Market is the best place to find them. While you are at it, you might want to eat authentic Cambodian food at their cooked food section.source

 

 

Central Market

Find street foods and snacks while looking at Central Market’s awesome architechture. While it is nice to visit, prices here are quite jacked up for the common tourist.

source

 

S21: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

One of the many former concentration camps established by the Khmer Rouge, this former high school is now a museum that serves as a reminder of the dark past of Cambodia. When visiting, it is best to rent an audio guide that will walk you through the halls of the museum with stories from the Khmer Rouge era.

 

Read More: S21 Cambodia’s Concentration Camp

 

 

 

 

Killing Fields

A few kilometers off of Phnom Penh, a grave site was found where people have been murdered and buried during the Khmer Rouge era. The Killing Fields is a huge place with a tower housing some of the bones discovered. It is believed that there are more remains that is to discovered in this place. I do not strongly recommend visiting both (S21 being the other) in a day as they have really dark stories. For me visiting one is enough (with S21 as my choice since it is in the city proper). However, if you choose to visit this make sure to rent an audio guide to help you walk through the site.

 

 

Grand Palace

Known for the Silver Pagoda, the Grand Palace is Cambodia’s current monarch’s residence. The entrance fee for this is reportedly at $10 ( yes you can pay in USD). I decided not to go inside anymore because…. honestly, I didn’t think it was worth it specially that its price is as much as the Royal Palace in Bangkok which is far more extravagant. Not bashing the the Cambodian Palace here, I just want to spend my money where I see more value. I am not that rich.

 

Where To Stay In Phnom Penh

The Billabong Hostel

Probably my favorite hostel in Phnom Penh. This hostel has a hotel feel. The pool is perfect for when you travel in a hot summer’s day. The hostel is also located near food options that open really early in the morning and closes late at night. The best part of it is that their dorm rooms only cost $5 when I booked them!

Read More: The Billabong Hostel Review

 

Book The Billabong Hostel Here

Base Villa 

Another hostel that I think is worth considering is Base Villa. I found this hostel while looking for a different hostel on my upcoming trip to the Indochina region. The hostel has a swimming pool (value added amenity I always look for) and cheap beds at $5 per person. They also have good reviews in Booking.com which I trust mostly when it comes to backpacker experiences.

Book Base Villa Hotel Here

Itinerary

Here’s a quick Itinerary to give you a glimpse of Cambodia’s capital city. You may notice that I didn’t include some of the places/activities here. I think these are the bare essentials that you must try if you have a really short time to spend in Phnom Penh. I’d rather go to the S21 than spend more time traveling to the Killing Fields. I also wouldn’t do both s21 and the Killing Fields in the same day coz it’s just too depressing.

Getting to Phnom Penh

You can also see that I included Giant Ibis on the itinerary. No this is not a paid post. I’ve experienced both Mekong Express and Giant Ibis going to the from Ho Chi Minh or Phnom Pneh and I was disappointed with Mekong Delta. I don’t care what western people say about how good Mekong Express is, for me as an Asian I’d rather be with Giant Ibis. It’s a bit more expensive but it’s worth it. Now if you are coming from Bangkok, you can take either Virak Buntham if you are on a budget (they’re not bad at all) or if you have some more cash to burn take Giant Ibis.

Book Your Tickets Here
Bangkok – Siem Reap
Siem Reap – Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh – Phnom Penh 
Siem Reap – Bangkok (Khao San)

 

Departure time from Phnom Penh to Ho Siem Reap is actually at your own disposal. There are buses leaving later during the day. I personally prefer using Virak Buntham when traveling around Cambodia. But for times that you want to travel and there are no scheduled departures, there’s always Larytta. If you are bound to Ho Chi Minh, take the early morning bus, you’d have to go through immigration so you have limited options here.

 

When I get the opportunity, I always tell people who ask for advise to make a stop in Phnom Penh. This city isn’t something that you would go out of your way just to visit like Siem Reap, Bangkok or Saigon. That is why you should at least give it a day or two to see the city. Make it a pit stop on your way in between countries.

 

 

 

 

48 Hours In Manila

Manila has the infamous reputation of just being a stop over. Foreign tourists who has no business in Manila opt to stay for a night to rest and fly out first thing the following day. Most traveler thinks that Manila is some sterile place where you got nothing to do, nothing to see and nothing to taste or experience. Continue reading

Beach Days In Pattaya

Knowing that I’ll be travelling mostly inland during my Indochina solo backpacking trip, I made it a point that I’ll see the sea. At least once. It was kinda difficult finding a way to put Pattaya on the route to Cambodia without going back to Bangkok. There was little information about transportation  from there to the border town of Aranyaprathet. The backpacker instinct in me though said there must be some form of transport going from there to the border. So I said, heck yeah I’ll just wing it! Continue reading

S21: Cambodia’s Concentration Camp

Most backpackers when doing the Indochina trail either from Vietnam or Thailand would jut breeze through Phnom Penh.  Cambodia’s capital can be a bit boring if you would think about it. Yeah there are Museums, temples and food places that you can visit but there are such as well in Siem Reap right?

Before you dismiss and take Phonm Penh off of your list even just for a stop over, try to consider this. Phnom Penh actually holds a lot about what Cambodia is today. The city hosts a couple of Museums that you will not find in Siem Reap. Though emotionally bothering, these museums are important to Cambodia as a reminder of what the past has thought them.

phnom penh

History

One of these Museums is located right at the heart of the city is called S21. Formally known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the museum got its name as it was concentration camp #21.

The property was a former high school for the city with several buildings to educate the children of Phnom Penh. As the Khmer Rouge took over the country, it’s idealist leader wanted to “reborn” the country. This rebirth means realigning the country’s priorities and goals. Pol Pot, Cambodia’s defacto leader at that time decided that the country should strengthen their agricultural productivity. He sent every one to  the country side forcing them to become farmers .

But these people whom he sent from the city do not know how to farm and use the tools. While it should increase agricultural productivity, Cambodia’s population starve instead as real farmers were killed and replaced by city dwellers. Intellectuals and educators on the other hand were also purged out of the population as the Khmer Rouge’s Pol Pot see them as a threat to his reign.

I know I could never summarize the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. This is why you should visit Phnom Penh even just for a stop over. I firmly believe that as part of traveling, be it for leisure or backpacking, should include understanding a bit of a place’s history. This allows us to know how to respect each place that we visit.

What You Need To Know

Entrance fee : $5
Audio Guide: $3
Adddress: St 113, Phnom Penh 12304, Cambodia
Dress code: None

So next time you visit Cambodia traveling to or from it’s neighboring countries, check out their historical sites. They can be as recent as a few decades ago but it surely have shaped the nation as it is right now.

 

Adventure: Tinipak River Trekking and Caving

It was suppose to be a day hike when two of my co-workers invited to go. But some set backs and an hour of waiting later begged us to down step our planned adventure for the day. We didn’t want to waste our day, I mean I’ve already waited for hours for one of them! Hahaha!

Daraitan, more over, the province of Rizal is famous for its mountainous topography. This part of Luzon is often visited by adventurous mountaineers who seeks the challenges of scaling a mountain over the weekend. Its proximity to the metro is its main draw for nature lovers.

How To Get to Daraitan

Commuting to Daraitan is relatively easy. First off, you have to get your self to Tanay, Rizal. There are a couple of ways to get there. Most popular option is by taking a jeep or a van from Cubao. The other option is by taking the same mode of transportation this time from Shaw Blvd. in Mandaluyong city. From those places, both transport options will take you to the Tanay Public Market.

This is the tricky part and where having friends with you be best. From the public market you will need to take a jeep that will drop you off at Sampaloc where you will need to take a tricycle all the way to Daraitan. However, it could be a better and more convenient option to just hire a tricycle from the public market to Daraitan.

Hiring a tricycle costs 400 pesos one way. We haggled a bit with the driver and got to lower it down to 300 pesos. But once we arrived at the registration area, we actually paid him 100 pesos more on top of the original 400 pesos he was originally asking for. Nope he didn’t scam us at all. It was from our own conscience. The road leading to Daraitan is horrendous! We felt that we are short changing the driver given the incredibly bad situation of the road that his tricycle endured if we pay him just 400 pesos.

The River Experience

Arriving late in the morning and knowing that we need to leave early in the afternoon, we decided to bail out of trekking up Mt. Daraitan. But we did not go home disappointed what happened next was one of the most memorable things I’ve done with nature.

We got a proper guide (which is a requirement) to take us around for a river trekking adventure. The guide gave us a few minutes of orientation about the river and the natural park before heading out. He also gave us some equipment that we will later be using in our adventure.

Our trek started along the pebble road beside a rocky river. The boulders were incredibly big and white and the farther we walk along the trail the bigger they get. The river though was almost dry until we reach to a point where the rocks seem to merge together and become the river bed it self. Crevices allow the water to flow smoothly creating this soothing sound.

After about 30 minutes we arrived at our first stop, the Tinipak cave. Honestly I would skip this one. I didn’t like the atmospher inside as the air was a bit too heavy to breath. We also felt some entities watching us so we were very cautious. I don’t know if all of us were just naturally sensitive to those or maybe they just liked us.

Inside the cave is a pool of cool water, but since we were not feeling comfortable that time we opted to just wade on the side of the pool.

 

We told our guide about what we felt inside the cave and he denied it, of course he would. But when we bumped into another guide, we think he told him about the incident, only in codes.

The best part still of this adventure is tracing the river. We were taken to magical landscapes that I never though existed. It was like the set of a Okay ka Fairy ko (a local tv show) and that Ina Magenta would come out of nowhere.

 

 

 

We spent a couple of hours just swimming and looking at the landscape. It was very hard to move on from one spot to another as our guide suggested because we wanted to stay more. But each and every stop was just as beautiful as the last one, we didn’t want it to end.

Our quick adventure in Daraitan turned from a fail to a huge surprise. Nature really has its own ways of showing you how beautiful God’s creation is. I highly suggest you bring friends with you to split the cost of transportation. They also have camping ground perfect for over night activities. I’m sure mornings by the river will be amazing!

If you have any question or suggestion about this post, you can leave on the comment section below!

Ningxia Night Market Eat Out

On my last couple of days in Taipei on my last trip there. I hanged out with a local friend checking out the area I was staying at all the way to the underground Taipei City Mall. To my surprise he actually planned to bring me to one of the best food night markets there is in Taipei, the Ningxia Night Market. Continue reading