Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eating in Siem Reap, Cambodia

One of the things that will either make or break your trip is food, and whether it's fit for your conmsumption. Food poisoning can be a nightmare, and can ruin your whole holiday. In Siem Reap, apart from Khmer food, there's also western food. You certainly won't starve in Siem Reap.

If you keep counting your riel (Cambodian money) every night, then you should eat at the market at rock bottom prices. The market is very close to "Shadow of Angkor Guesthouse" in Siem Reap. But make sure you've a strong stomach. Speak English here, and you'll be the star attraction.

This is a Chinese restaurant where I  had my dinner a few times. Friendly staff. As bees to honey, Chinese people get excited whenever they see the word "Beijing".

Feeling rich, and want to splurge a bit? Cafe Indo Chine will lay the red carpet for you, especially if wads of US $ are sticking out from every part of you. This is one of the nicest cafes in Siem Reap.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mid-range and top end hotels in Siem Reap

I might have given the wrong impression that Siem Reap has only budget accommodation. Far from it as these two pictures show. But this blogger is a poor man so understandably I'm more enthusiastic about budget places. So those with extra disposable income don't despair. I was surprised to see many mid-range and top end hotels in such a remote place as Siem Reap. There's even one called Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor.

Siem Reap - street life

Street Life of Siem Reap

The market area is near "Shadow of Angkor Guesthouse".
You name it, he has it. Hey, only household goods, OK?

Hawker with baskets slung on a pole. Her shoulder and leg muscles given a daily workout. But a tough life no doubt.

Monks also need daily neccessities. No meter, just hop onto the motor-bike taxi.

Mussels (hope I'm right) are obviously a local delicacy. If you like to crunch on them, then you'll go crazy over the dirt cheap price.

Shadow of Angkor Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia

People ask"What's your guesthouse in Siem Reap like?" Well, "The Shadow of Angkor" is very clean and safe, and recommended by LP.
Nice cosy place for that much needed drink after exploring the town.
Upstairs: Internet access (paid)

Balcony: great for catching up on your reading. Overlooks the river.

Scene from the balcony. Can you see the river? Overhead wires make for an ugly picture.

Monday, September 28, 2009

How to get from Miri to Niah Caves.

Someone asked how to get to Niah Caves. I couldn't find his comment so I'll respond here.

How to get to Niah Caves

  1. A travel agent provides a bus service directly to Niah Caves. Be at Miri Bus Station by 8am (behind Park Hotel at southern end of town) RM60 per person
  2. Take a cab, also from the same place, for the same amount.
  3. Take a "pawangchia' or pirate taxi for the same amount. You can see them milling around Park Hotel.
  4. Take a bus from the long-distance bus station outside town at Pujut to the little town of Niah, and from there take a cab to the Park HQ (cheapest but full of hassles)

I took a pirate taxi, an old junk of a car. I left at 9 am reaching Niah Park HQ at about 1015am. The driver returned at 4 pm, as instructed, to pick me up for the return trip to Miri.

Hope that helps.

Note: The canteen at Park Hq sells food and drinks. Reasonable prices.

Siem Reap, Cambodia - accommodation

It says it all.
Tut-tut driver brought me to see two guesthouses but I finally settled on my original one: the weirdly named "Shadow of Angkor Guesthouse" for US$15. Everything here is richly "wooden". Housed in an old French building, it overlooks a sluggish river. Has paid internet access.
There's a nice restaurant below the Guesthouse, and with tempting prices like these my customary high tea was replaced by "high beer". US prices notwithstanding.

I rented a bike at US$3 and cycled around town and to Angkor Wat.

Looking down from my balcony I watched these Cambodian ladies laughing and gossiping. At this point all my fears about residual Khmer Rouge fighters still lurking in the shadows vanished. I breathed easy from then on.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

MASswings' Twin Otter Plane Landing In Bario, Kelabit Highlands

Sorry this is a belated post I know but now that my Realplayer has been fixed I can post this.

Video shows MASwings Twin Otter plane arriving at Bario airport in the Kelabit Highlands. Watch carefully as the tiny plane swoops over the mountains and valley. What sort of airport would you expect in this "ulu" (remote) area?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Take off from Miri Airport for Kelabit Highlands - video clip

I'd wanted to post this video clip but my realplayer was problematic. This is a belated post.

Video clip shows MASwings Twin Otter taking off from Miri airport bound for the Kelabit Highlands. I kept a close watch on the propellers, fearing they'd suddenly stop and...

Quiz: How many passengers do you think this plane can take?

(A)19 (B) 25 (C) 30 (D) 37

Siem Reap, Cambodia - from airport to town

Mention about travelling to Cambodia, and most people are a bit nervous when they think of the atrocities during the Khmer Rouge regime when millions of Cambodians were murdered. And the clashes with Thailand over the ancient temple of Preah Vihar serve only to strengthen these fears. However, I think Siem Reap can serve as a gentle introduction to the country.

The quiet Siem Reap airport. I took my time to leave the airport as I was going around snapping pictures. All the passengers having left, the airport was deserted. I acted cool as if I had been here a hundred times.

When I finally got out of the airport, I spotted this tut-tut driver. He accepted US$2 for the 8km ride to town.

I sat at the back, and then I noticed his registration number. Good number for 4-D I thought.

Along the way to town, I became increasingly impressed as many luxurious hotels flashed past. I relaxed. Not bad at all. Nobody was going to put a bullet into my head!

Loi Krathong Festival, Thailand

The Loi Krathong Festival in Thailand (or the Lantern Festival to Singaporeans) is held every year. This year it's from Oct 31 to Nov 2. The Thais still hold dear to their cultural practices, and this is a good thing. They say the grandest show is in Chiengmai.

Kids with their offerings gathered excitedly by the river in Satun.
The little floats of flowers "sail" away to symbolise that their sins have been got rid of, and a new start is being made.

The festival is also to honour the goddess of the rivers and waterways. I noticed how seriously they regarded the festival.

Each float, topped with joss sticks, costs from 20 to 40 baht, depending on how elaborate it is. Little boys waded into the shallow river to help push the floats further in the middle of the river to catch the current. The greedy ones grabbed floats which got stuck by the side of the river to look for coins inside.

An elaborate float.

It was fascinating to see the little floats twinkling in the darkness, floating away.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Satun, Thailand

Chicken rice stall in Satun

Hadyai in southern Thailand is popular with most Singaporeans and Malaysians. However, there's another southern town about two hours from Hadyai (on the way to Phuket) which is worth a visit. It's Satun in the provinve of the same name.

I've visited it twice, the last was with the purpose of enjoying their "loi kratong" festival, held annually in November.

Satun has some nice places like this for a drink.

For those into caving, this may prove a challenge.

Satun River where the "loi kratong" was held (more in subsequent posts).

Slow-moving Satun River.

Muslims are a common sight but they're different from those in the strife-torn areas of Yala and Patani.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mir, Sarawak

When people heard I was going to Miri they gave me such a look as if to suggest the sun had got to me. Their reactions ranged from "Why go to such an ulu place?" "What's there to see there?" to "Haha, they're headhunters, right?"

These pictures will dispel such notions. You may not be aware but Air Asia now flies to Miri from Singapore (haha, no, Air Asia is not giving me free seats for this publicity)

Is this ulu? Broad streets and pavements.
Imperial Mall and Hotel. Ulu?

The seahorse: mascot of Miri

Miri also has its smaller version of "kampung ayer" (water village)

A bus stop: Good bus services connect even remote villages and towns. For long distance travel e.g. to Bintulu, Sibu and Kuching go to Pujut bus terminal outside town.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Air Asia to Miri, Sarawak

Air Asia now flies to Miri, gateway to the famed Niah and Mulu caves, from Singapore (no, Air Asia is not giving me free seats for this publicity).

Free wifi with your murah-murah (cheap) kopi-O!
Malaysia Boleh (lit: Malaysia Can)

Bario's Homestays, Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak

Bariew Backpackers Lodge and Homestay: very popular. About 2 km from Bario airport. Owner is a Mr Reddish. Free ride to the homestay from the airport.
Relatives and friends of Homestay's owner. Mrs Reddish is on extreme right.She goes to the airport to look for guests. The guy (second from left) is all set to trek 8 hours over the mountains to his kampung in Indonesian Kalimantan.

Ngimat Ayu Homestay. 3.5 km from airport. Near art gallery and school. Has fantastic views of padi fields and mountains. With a good book and a coffee I can sit on its balcony all day!

This is the view from Ngimat Ayu Homestay.
Useful tips and info:
1. Homestay rate is RM$60 per person, and includes 3 meals and free flow of drinks.
2. Electricity comes on from 6PM to 11PM
3. Bring a torchlight for that visit to the toilet in the middle of the night. Or else you might stumble in the dark, crash into the flimsy toilet walls and bring the house down!
4. It's chilly at night.
5. Bring insect repellent or go mad with itchy insect bites.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Transport in the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak

4-wheel drives are the way to go in the highlands. Ordinary cars won't survive the mountainous terrain.
Chickens will keep you company if you cycle.

SMK Bario, Kelabit Highlands

Bario Secondary School. Teachers live in the quarters provided.
Polite and well-behaved students doing their English homework.

An ideal spot for a school.

Whenever I've the chance I'd visit the local schools. SMK Bario is a secondary school situated at a scenic part of Bario. Thanks to the hospitality of the principal and teachers we could roam around the school premises. Terima kasih.