I have been a fan of Jjimjilbang since I experienced one in South Korea a few years back. Since then, I have frequented Lasema in Makati being the closest that offers a true Korean experience. Thinking about breaking the monotony though, I thought of Escaping The Metro To Gong Hang Spa Clark.
Gong Hang Spa is located inside Clark Freeport Zone, about a little over 90 km away from Manila. It offers a Jjimjilbang where you can spend 12 hours rest, a wet area with a barbershop, a gym, a cafe, a food store, massage, and other spa services.
I drove about 40 minutes from San Fernando, Pampanga where I went to church that day. It was a Sunday so the roads were pretty much free from traffic, so I used the city roads instead of the expressways.
They have enough parking spaces around the building so you do not have to worry about where to park. Their reception is on the side and it was so easy to check in. Upon approaching their front desk, I was given a locker key and number. They asked me if I wanted some uniform, which I did and it was of no extra charge.
The male lockers and wet area were on the right side, but before you enter you will have to leave your shoes in their separate shoe lockers.
Entering their wet area, I undressed and went to clean myself first before soaking in their hot tubs. Yes, you will have to be in the nude to enjoy the wet area. If it is your first time, it may feel weird at first, but you’ll feel comfortable eventually.
They have two hot tubs, two cold tubs, a dry, and a wet sauna, and their shower area where you can thoroughly clean your selves. They also have beds where you can lie down and get a good body scrub.
I soaked in their hot tub for a while before going to the massage area. Their massage is also reasonably priced given that it is inside a spa.
The massage area is inside the lounge area. I approached the lady at the desk where it seemed like where they take orders for massages. She then led me to a room where I waited. I took off my shirt when the therapist arrived and then lay down. He prompted me to take off my shorts as well. But I had nothing under so I was in the nude again. I am not sure though if they normally ask everyone to undress or if it was just because I was their lone customer at that time in a two-person room.
The massage was great. I asked the therapist to give it his best because I like it hard. I find it relaxing to feel the relief after that painful massage session.
After my massage, I headed back to the lounge area. I was just lying on the floor mats. It is how I actually typically spend my time in a jjimjilbang. Just doing nothing, as Julia Roberts said, “Dulce Far Niente!” I think I slept for about an hour or two. I woke up feeling a bit hot. I found that none of the air conditioning units were on. I don’t know why though, I did not ask, or maybe there was one but it was not enough.
Feeling a bit hungry, I approached the cafe counter and noticed they have one kimbap ready. I asked for the kimbap and order a sikhye to pair it up with. I took my time enjoying the dish, it was savory and I really appreciate every bite of it.
The prices of their food and services are very affordable yet the service is really excellent. I might be just one not-so-demanding kid but for real, comparing my experience from Seoul and this place is very much close!
I hanged out a bit more in the lounge area for the next couple of hours. It was awesome to find that the wall sockets have USB ports where I could charge, so no need to bring your portable chargers.
I checked out at about 5:30 PM as I had dinner plans that day at Patches Thai Restaurant. Overall the experience at Gong Hang Spa Clark was okay. If you want to experience authenticity, like how Koreans would experience it on a usual day, and not the touristy luxury type, come here! The food is great, the staffs are wonderful and the service is great! I had no regrets spending my birthday here!
It has been a year since I arrived back here in Manila from the US. Unfortunately, I can’t go back there yet since the embassy in Manila still is closed for B1/B2 applications. Yes, my visa expired already. It was such a bummer that my trip didn’t go as planned because of this whole Covid thing, which I cannot stress enough to be taken seriously. Hence, I am not moving from my home.
Remembering all the hoops and uncertainties that I had to go through that time made me think, should I write something about it? I actually thought of writing about that process as a waste of time and would be of no value to anyone since it was constantly changing every, single, day.
I was hoping that time that the government will come up with a clear, easy-to-follow process. That way everyone can be compliant and avoid confusion, especially in the airports where most of the action is.
Unluckily, the situation in the country has not gotten any better. Don’t ask why. So here I am a year later thinking maybe I should write about it. Maybe I should share `how I manage to stay on top of everything and come home in one piece.
My plan for the trip last 2020 was to land in Los Angeles, see a few sights then go visit my Aunt in North Carolina. After spending a couple of weeks, I intended to go to New York for a weekend. From New York, I wanted to fly to Mexico for the rest of my trip before flying back to Los Angeles and fly back to Manila.
Obviously, that didn’t happen since Covid did.
From The East Coast The West Coast
My plans for this trip only went as far as visiting my Aunt on the East Coast. New York was the epicenter of Covid in the US at that time. It was just plain stupid to push through.
From North Carolina, I flew back to Los Angeles. I chose to fly from OAJ rather than driving for hours going to Raleigh. The fares were dirt cheap as the number of passengers dwindled down because of the situation. Flight fares from OAJ or the Albert J Ellis Airport usually are expensive that a lot of people choose to drive to Raleigh instead. But like I said, the fares were so low that I just had to take advantage and save my relatives from the stressful drive.
Given the situation, I was expecting that my flight won’t be full especially that it is a small aircraft and that social distancing needs to be observed. The flight was full! I was a bit concerned but thank God my aunt gave me a bunch of face masks that she made! Amazingly, it seems that many passengers weren’t concerned about what’s going on. A lot of them weren’t even wearing masks.
I had a layover in Charlotte, N.C. It is a bigger airport where they aggregate passengers who then Fly out on another plane. Since it was a hub airport, it was filled more than the OAJ Airport. It was a bit uncomfortable seeing a crowd in the airport. I was also surprised that the plane taking me to Washington DC seemed to be full also.
Yes, it was a two-layover flight. But most of the flights were since there were not many people traveling at that time. So they had to shuttle and aggregate their passengers. It does make sense. From Washington DC it was a 6-hour flight to Los Angeles. It was tiring, honestly. Well at least I am already in LA, just a few days more and I will be back home. Or will I?
The Unexpected Angelino
I booked a hostel bed for a week near Hollywood Blvd at Hollywood Budget BnB GuestHome. I wanted to take photos of the nearby areas and the blvd. itself at night. I thought that it would be a nice addition to my portfolio. To my dismay when I arrived at the hostel, the manager told me that he was trying to contact me. To cut the story short (I’ll make another post for this) I think I was a victim of the bait and switch.
Anyways a few days before my scheduled flight, Philippine Airlines informed me that my flight is canceled. I had to decide quickly where to transfer. It was a no-brainer, I didn’t want to stay at that hostel. So I checked out my options using Booking.com, Airbnb, and Agoda. Booking.com and Airbnb gave me the best options.
I chose to book with Airbnb, though they failed me numerous times already. They had the best rates.
I tried to book the soonest available flight going back home. The soonest bookable flight though was a month later. So secretly with a happy heart, I booked my accommodation via Airbnb for a month! ^_^. I later thought that maybe it’s the universe telling me, “hey! you deserve to enjoy this trip even just for a bit! Stay for a while!”. Well, universe Thank You so much!
I honestly enjoyed living in Los Angeles. However, the reality is that it is not sustainable for me. I mean, my savings can support me for about a month or maybe two. Or maybe even rent out a cheap room. I know I can actually afford to live there, but of course, I have bills to pay in Manila and saving to build up. If I stay there, it’s just gonna go negative instead of saving.
Trying To Get Back
EVA Air was really good at communicating the status of my flight. However, because of the constantly changing and worsening situation at that time, I keep on getting bumped off my flight. I kept on rescheduling to the soonest flights but it got to a point where I couldn’t afford it anymore. Taiwan, where I was supposed to transit, was scheduled to lift the transit restrictions for foreigners way beyond my authorized stay in the US. I could apply to extend my stay, but that would cost me $500 and another month in the hostel is about $400. It was way beyond practical.
Since staying in Los Angeles and buying a new ticket cost the same, I decided to book a new one. I thought that since it is based in The Philippines, I won’t have any issues with transiting in case of changes arise. So I booked one for about the same price as the round trip ticket I initially bought.
I was extremely vigilant in making sure that my flight was going through. I always check my airline’s Facebook page and my email for any announcements.
On the eve of my scheduled flight, uncertainty was prevalent within our Facebook group. There’s this announcement on the airline’s page that all flights will be diverted to Cebu, but no communication has been sent. Most of us were speculating that our flight will be canceled. True enough, it was. Still no email from Philippine Airlines.
I tried calling customer service but they couldn’t give an answer.
Just Keep Trying
Several hours after speaking with the airline representative, I received an email that night. It said that my flight for June 20th is canceled! I was honestly confused about what to feel. Thank God I was able to put myself together. I called Philippine Airlines really early in the morning. It felt inconvenient since they should have just rescheduled us automatically rather than having us call them.
Anyways, I easily got through their lines. I think I was this guy’s first call. I asked about the scheduled flight that night for Cebu that I saw on their site. I was so ecstatic as he informed me that I got a slot for that night’s slot!
I quickly went back to my room and to fix my luggage. I also informed one of the house managers that I am no longer extending my stay.
Pre Flight Drama
I spent my last few hours in Los Angeles buying some stuff that I can bring back home. I thought that with everything that has been going on, it’s gonna be a while before I can come back.
With my bags locked, I booked an Uber to the airport around 5 PM. My flight was not until 10, but I am not taking any chances.
I thought that I am really early. Then I remembered that I am flying with fellow Filipinos. That means, getting to the airport hours before your flight is normal. Yeah, knowing how Filipinos are with their appointments; your know, Filipino time? We are extremely cautious with airports and flights. Needles to say, there was a long line of people trying to check-in already when I arrived.
Checking in was fine. The only struggle was staying in the line for more than an hour. It was awesome to be in the Facebook group. There was a lot of support from people in the same flight and for those who are still waiting to get their new slots.
As I reached the check-in counter, I placed my carefully balanced luggage on the scale. They asked me about my quarantine hotel reservation in Cebu and my ticket. It was easy, except for the long wait.
Flying Back To The Philippines
My flight boarded a bit later than scheduled. It was expected though. Having all these new protocols obviously can create confusion. So I try to stay patient.
Everyone was cooperative, no one trying to create drama.
Upon boarding the plane, I learned that it was a full flight. There was no social distancing. Well, unless you want to pay extra for it. I wasn’t complaining at that point. I just wanted to get home. So I kept my mask on as I have been.
The flight went as usual. They serve meals and drinks while on protective gear. Though hidden behind the new uniform they are wearing, you still feel the warmth of the PAL flight crew. It was such a comfort being taken cared of by Filipino Hospitality.
After a few hours of sleep and wake cycle, I finally heard the pilot announcing that we are about to arrive. The flight crew then prepared everyone for the touchdown. My heart was racing in excitement.
Quarantine In Cebu
Since we were one of the few first Non-Expats (Overseas Filipino Workers) arriving in the country, we were fortunate that our quarantine wasn’t really full-blown isolation. We just had to take a swab test and contain ourselves in our rooms until we receive the result of the test.
The initial batches of results came in just a few hours after we checked in. Mine didn’t arrive until the following day. The good thing about booking a quarantine-hotel is that they provide all meals.
It was quite nerve-racking when I was one of the few left without our results. I had to email and call people just to get my certificates. I do not understand why it was so disorganized. But that is how it was.
It was almost lunchtime when I received my certificates. The people at Eloisa Hotel were just awesome. They offered, without me asking, to print my certificates.
The only problem now is that my flight to Manila is not confirmed yet. As I said, nothing was clear with the procedures. They didn’t tell us if we have to book it ourselves or they’d (quarantine officers/PAL) be booking it for us. There was just not enough instruction given. Some of my co-passengers said that we can go to the airport and they will just let us in even without reservations. I doubted that. I also have huge luggage so I didn’t want to risk going there only to be turned away.
Some of the people who did go to the airport were accommodated as chance passengers, some just were not fortunate enough. Since I was already in Cebu, I thought of staying for maybe a week. But watching the news on the TV wasn’t sounding a bit optimistic. So I just stayed a couple of days more and flew back to Manila on a weekend.
Way Back Home
Finally, the day came. I stayed in an Airbnb just right off the airport for convenience. Believe me, though, it was not easy to find a hotel or Airbnb. Most of them were shut off or are asking for a minimum of one month’s stay. My bookings were canceled one after another. It was just frustrating because Airbnb didn’t do their part in making sure that their listings are actually active and accepting just like how it shows on their website.
Anyways, my flight back to Manila came and everything went smoothly at the airport. Everyone wore masks and face shields (which I still disapprove of). I also bought some chocolates at the Mactan Airport, cause I ate many of the ones I bought at Ralph’s in LA! lol!
My brother picked me up, he was way too late. I was the only one at the airport that seem to be ghost town-like. But then I am grateful. This is the first time someone is picking me up. No one ever offered and I don’t want to be an imposition.
So there, that was how challenging getting home at that time was. I was just thankful that I got home before my authorized stay expired. Getting stuck in Los Angeles was also bearable because of the people I met in the hostel. I hope I get to meet them again in the future.
As of this writing, things have been complicated already. The government seems not to know how to go with their quarantine policies. Vaccines are already rolling out, albeit, not enough for everyone. At least though we are moving. I also hope that traveling across provinces, regions or localities would be standardized. They do allow movement for the most part. However, learning how complicated it gets to visit other places makes you just want to give up your plans.
Till the next time, we actually get to travel. I hope soon before I go insane.
So I am writing this during the time of the Corona Virus Pandemic that originated from China. Whew, that sounds biblical! Anyways it is those times and almost no one is reading about travel. Why? coz no one is able to travel leisurely at the moment as borders of countries closed up because of the virus. So I thought to share a quick tour we did around Siem Reap a couple of years back when I kidnapped my dad on a 14 day Indochina Trip.
Anyways I just want to share with you some places that you can go around Siem Reap on days that you are not raiding the Angkor Wat complex. These are pretty much free locations that you can spend time and wander.
1. Prom Rath Pagoda
One of the important pagodas in Siem Reap, the Wat Prom Rath Pagoda features a sculpture garden that depicts Buddha’s journey to nirvana. Inside the temple, the inner side of the walls exhibits a mural of Buddha’s life from birth to death. A very interesting place to learn more about Buddhism.
2. Pub Street
Siem Reaps most famous street. Drown yourselves to 50 cent beers and dance the entire night with wonderful people (well mostly white lol) from all over the world!
3. Angkor Arts Market
Cambodia is just full of talented people, especially with visual arts. Just look at the Angkor Wat. The Angkor Night Art Market is one place that you can visit, just right across the Siem Reap river to find authentic Cambodian arts and handicrafts.
4. Apsara Dancers
There are quite a few restaurants in Siem Reap that have shows showing traditional Cambodian culture. We dined at Koulen Restaurant. They charge $12 for adults and $6 for children. It includes a buffet and a cultural show. The show consists of some traditional dances and Apsara Dancers. Apsara is the ancient ballet dance of the Khmer empire. The buffet at this restaurant isn’t really the best. However, since we came there for the show it wasn’t so bad at all. There are other restaurants that offer the same, with good food selection and great deserts. For sure you can find one that would fit your budget.
5. Preach Ang Chek
A small temple by the Royal Independence gardens. Preach Ang Chek is said to be a shrine for 2 Angkorian princess. The statues were moved around the city until it found it’s current place in 1990. I like the open layout of the shrine where people can freely walk in and out. You can also see the statues from the outside. The trees at the adjacent parking lot also houses a cool group of animals. If you look up and stare just long enough, you will notice that the black things hanging at the top are not part of the trees but are actually huge flying foxes!
Los Angeles is one of my favorite cities in the world. I’ve always thought of spending a lot of time in LA meeting new friends and just enjoying the city by the sea. It may be because of too much TV but Los Angeles really has never lost its charm to me. So, let me share with you 7 things I really love about Los Angeles I realized on my last visit to the city.
Eons ago, lol, when I was a kid I used to always watch Baywatch. Yes, that bikini running, David Hasselhoff starring hot hot hot show shot in California. I’ve always fantasized about having an amazing body with six-pack abs and just walk shirtless at Venice Beach. Spoiler alert: didn’t happen. LOL. But that fantasy also has given me the fondness of living near the beach. A few years back, I even attempted relocating at Subic Bay, though I horribly failed, at least I tried. I also just bought a plot of land near the beach in Batangas! Anyways, I am getting a bit off the topic. L.A.’s beaches is absolutely #1 on my list because of that.
LA’s (and its nearby Orange County) beaches are absolutely picturesque. Not just Venice, Dockweiler and Manhattan beaches, but if you go down south at Huntington Beach it just gets better. I absolutely love the beach culture of LA. How people respect other people’s rift with their beach thing. It’s just awesome. The sand may not be as fine as Boracay but it’s just the culture that makes it so different and beautiful.
Everything Has Labels
Way back in early 2019 I weighed about 70kg, I’m 5’6″ so I was pretty thin. I’ll put a photo below for those who can’t imagine how thin I was. I gained weight towards the end of that year and through 2020 due to many factors. It was really a struggle to watch what I was eating when I was staying with my aunt in North Carolina. I mean, how can I say no to the awesome food my aunt and uncle cook every single day!
When I moved to Los Angeles after a couple of months with them, I was able to watch what I eat since I buy my own food. I buy my food good for a few days from the neighborhood grocery, Ralph’s. The best thing about doing grocery is that there are labels on how many calories each serving of food there is. I can just mix and match without worrying about exceeding my daily caloric intake targets!
Amen to ZERO Calories!
Mix and matchin’ my proteins for dinner.
The first time I was in Los Angeles, was ages ago. At that time, we were pretty much confined to the house and hotel where we were staying at. I was too young, didn’t had a car, and didn’t know how to drive. Public transportation at that time was next to inexistent. Don’t even ask about Uber or Lyft when computers back then, were still running on WindowsXp. Today, Los Angeles may not have a metro system as fancy as the big cities but their buses do run 24 hours. Paying the fare is also really easy, just get yourself one of the metro cards that you tap in and out. The local train-bus network even reaches as far as Huntington Beach, Anaheim and New Port or even farther. They will get you to where you need to be. A bit of warning though, they don’t smell that good especially the train. LOL.
Many of us are under the impression that the US is an expensive country to travel to. That’s somewhat true. However, if you try to be a thrifty traveler and focus on the things that really matter to you grocery stores are a great place to get your supplies! I was stranded lived in LA’s Korea Town for a little over a month. And a couple of blocks off from my hostel is Ralph’s. This grocery store, which I think is owned by Kroger, has almost anything that you need, including a bank! I could always go to Ralph’s at any time of the day (it is open 24 hours) and pick up one of the zero-calorie iced teas whenever I am craving for it. They have baked goods, flowers, a pharmacy, eye clinic, meat, and poultry section, it was a really well round-off store. So next time especially when you are on long-term travel in California or anywhere, do not forget to give the groceries in your neighborhood a visit. my local Ralph’s store in Korea Town. (screenshot from google maps)
Los Angeles is just overflowing with great talent. This city will truly change you and affect you especially if you are a creative person. I myself, though not a truly creative person, felt this effect when I lived there for a short while. Since I was living in a hostel, I met so many people trying to make it out there in Hollywood. There were actors, musicians, and visual artists. I especially got involved in a creative project with a rap artist called LateAfter. I was honestly reluctant and doubtful to say yes. I only had a cheap Sony A5000 camera and a gimbal for my travel Vlog. But yeah he saw so insistent that I just said yes to it. I tell you it was something that I could have not experienced if I did not meet people that are artists like LateAfter8. Here’s the video we shot that night.
If you are someone from a country who, like The Philippines, taxes two to three times the price from the country that Export it. So buying straight from the source and bringing it back to your home country as personal property (as it actually is) saves you a lot of money. Imagine I got a Surface Pro 4 from Amazon for just about bought my dad a cool soundbox for $99!
With its population made up of at least 59% Latino, Los Angeles is an awesome place to taste authentic Mexican food. I lived in Korea Town for a little over a month. My favorite place to go to for some late snacking was at W 8th and Irolo. I discovered the area on one of my few exploration walks in the neighborhood. I found a bunch of small Mexican food stalls that set up late in the afternoon, just in time for the workers going home to buy food. Oblivious if the prices were cheap considering that this is Los Angeles, I asked one of my hostel friends. She said that $5 for street food was pretty cheap already. Throughout Los Angeles, you will find many places with trucks and stalls that offer Mexican food. If you, however, are the restaurant type; expect to pay more for your food plus tips!
Real taquitos baby!
One of the Mexican Food Trucks in my neighborhood.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 →