Category: Traveler memoirs

Life in Saigon

All about Expat Life in Saigon

Posted on: September 6th, 2017

Freshly arrived in Saigon 2 months ago, we already fell in love with this city! 🙂
First surprise : the traffic. As French, we usually do not see so many motobikes on the road. We were especially shocked by the fact that they don’t stop at every red light or overtake the bus at less than 20 centimeter.
After 40 min spent in the cooling and connected bus, I arrived in district 1, here I met my friend in a little hidden guesthouse. After he packed, we went by Uber (lucky us!) to our new house, that we found easily on Facebook. Finding a place to live it’s not a big deal as there is a big network of expats in the city.Life in Saigon

On our way to go, we discovered this amazing city with all thoses little shops selling everything that can be sold, the typical architecture with the contrast of narrow houses and brand new big buildings, the basic restaurants filled with little tables and chairs, filled themselves with foods and beers, all of thoses motobikes that an entire family drives, holding sometimes a baby or a fridge.
Once at the house at 7am, the good smelling barbecue made by a vietnamese man for breakfast welcomed us!

After we met a french expat who is working here as landlord since 6 months. Thanks to him, we learnt many basic informations that we needed for living in this city: where to exhange money, how to behave (the hand shaking movement to say “no/I don’t know”),  how to drive in this crazy traffic and the cost of life.

Life in Saigon

Finally on week-end, my roomate and I decided to go discovering our new place, it was time to drive inside that traffic jungle, find out where to buy food and home stuffs and having parties in the famous Bui Vien street. For food, there is nothing easier, street foods and little restaurants are here to provide you a range of dishes from basic rice with meat to famous vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi Thit ) and the typical noodles soup (Pho).  The good news: you can take away everything!
For driving, it might look difficult because of the impressive number of motobikes, but all actually drive in the same way : just adjusting your speed to the one in front of you and don’t give any care of the one behind you. After being aware of that rule, we are now enjoying the city much more than if we hadn’t learnt how to drive because motobike is just life here!

Life in Saigon

Last but not least, partying in Saigon. Night life is just crazy and fun: you can drink for cheap, the city has a lot of different kind of bars and people from everywhere in the world ! Most of the big parties are in Bui vien street but thanks to its diversity, you can just find your own spot and enjoy the night life!

Finally, if I have to resume my life in Saigon in one word, it could be FREEDOM

Tip : You are by yourself and don’t know what to do tonight ? Go to the TnR // 57 Do Quang Dau,District 1, Hô-Chi-Minh-Ville 700000

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Areng Valley

The Areng Valley – adventure in the Cardamoms mountains

Posted on: September 1st, 2017

An hidden gem in the south of Cambodia

Areng Valley

Photo by Anthony Risse

To join the Areng Valley is already an adventure: after a few hours by bus, you must ask to the driver to stop… nowhere! It is just an intersection, with a sandy road going into the jungle.

Our motorbike drivers are already waiting for us, one motorbike per person. Then we drive across the mountains, the slippery road and the stunning landscapes of Areng Valley for almost two hours.

Areng Valley

Photo by Anthony Risse

The night is coming and we stop in the Areng riverside for our first camp: nothing luxurious, just a hammock under a plastic sheeting. Because of the rainy season, the level of the river is high, but it is still possible to take a natural shower inside.

The day after, we go again behind our motorbike drivers and stop in a local family house for breakfast. Since the foreigners are rare here the family is more than welcoming and the breakfast is transformed in a memorable exchange.

We finally say good bye to our brave motorbike drivers and start to trek. It is like entering a new world, with giant trees and wild sounds all around. After a few hours of hiking, we arrive at the camp on a big rock on the top of the mountain. The view on the valley in astonishing! We can see kilometers and kilometers of primary forest with a good chance to see wildlife in the canopy.

Areng Valley

Photo by Anthony Risse

In the morning, we are waken up by the gibbon’s call. We decide to follow the sound to have a chance to observe them. After one hour, we have a unique chance to meet two gibbons!

Later on, coming back in the valley, we walk until the riverside, where kayaks are waiting for us. One more time, the immersion is total, and we try to meet the famous Siam crocodile, until two flights of great hornbills.

Areng Valley

Photo by Anthony Risse

The Areng valley exploration is definitely one of the best adventure to do in south Cambodia!

Don’t hesitate to contact the Cambodian NGO ”Mother Nature Cambodia” and their project ”Wild Koh Kong” to organize your trip. Thanks to their work, the Areng Valley survived to a dam project.

Anthony Risse

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Ratanakiri

Going north, on the road to Ratanakiri

Posted on: July 31st, 2017

07.00. Time to start leaving Siem Reap after a great night which included a culinary midnight snack: Tarantula with Garlic. It has been a great pleasure. We booked a ticket to BanLung with Camboticket. With our (way too heavy) backpacks we left our hostel to the bus station.  One of their drivers was waiting at the corner to guide us into the small street where the pick-up was located, very handy!

Before we entered the bus, the driver shared his ‘special not bumpy route’ with us and got us a bottle of cold water. What a service. Despite a Chinese woman constantly hugging us, the trip was quite good and to, our surprise, not bumpy at all. We had a great view from the bus, driving past the river and some rice fields was a nice switch from the usual bus ride.

After a cuddly and cosy 8-hour bus drive we arrived in Ban Lung, the capital of Ratanakiri. Our bus dropped everyone at the hostel they were staying, except for us. Trying to get him to bring us to D.T. Guesthouse by pointing out its place on the map, the driver just smiled awkwardly and shoke his head. “No, no”. Aah, No, no? Amazing. Right when the rain caught us. Literally one second of rain was enough to get soaked. First thing we saw was some kind of stairs going down into the bush. Seemed like a great idea to just ran down. And hella sure it was!

The hostel we found at the bottom of the stairs had some super helpful employees who immeadiatley offered to bring us to our hostel with their car (for 1$ of course). However, cheaper than every tuktuk and better than walking for 30 minutes. Actually, there is like one tuktuk in this whole town! Tourist paradise as the only people screaming at you are young children that only want you to wave back. No people trying to get you into their tuktuk or jewelry shop. First impression of BanLung: great people and fairly calm!

Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri

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Mum in Cambodia

Tips from a Travelling Mum

Posted on: July 18th, 2017

When traveling there are so many things that come to my mind. Will I enjoy it there? What currency will they accept? How will it be the food? What if I use up all my cash on hand? How will I be able to replenish it? How will I communicate to the locals? Will they understand me?

It’s my first time to travel abroad and already I get the jitters.

Let me bring you to Cambodia, a place where travelers enjoy their vacation with the convenience of home!

Entering Cambodia I was welcomed with this beautiful site. Beautiful!

Traveller Mum

In the midst of a busy street I already see beauty, I think I am going to like it here!

It was only 7:00 am, while walking from immigration to get to the bus that will take us to Siem Reap, we heard a song, to our surprise, everyone stopped. They were like statue, they all stood still. Even the vehicles on the street halted. Amazing! I have never seen such sight before! I just spent almost an hour in Cambodia and I was already smiling!

We were welcomed by a friendly conductor who made sure that we were comfortable and told us that there will be “Tuktuks” to bring us to our hotel at our drop off.

Tuktuk or “Remork” as what it should be called in Cambodia, is one of the popular means of transportation there. A carriage pulled by a motorcycle and used like a taxi. My daughter rented a Tuktuk service through as online application before we even reached Cambodia.

Travelling Mum

This was our ride around Cambodia and our Tuktuk driver Kim Phearum. A very respectful and funny young man who provides free water when we get back from our Temple Tour.

We arrived at Lotus Blanc Hotel, which my daughter found and booked online. A cold lemongrass tea and a warm face towel was a welcome treat to refresh us from our trip. My daughter said it wasn’t expensive, but it sure was worth it a million dollar in service and accommodation.

At dinner we met my daughters’ childhood best friend from the Philippines in Pub Street (a nightspot in Siem Reap). You can use your USD to pay and that was very convenient as we weren’t able to have our money changed yet. We bought a sim card for only $5 and it already had free data. Uploading pictures via Facebook was a breeze 🙂

Travelling Mum

We had our dinner at Sky Lounge. They had great service and great food and even served crocodile. The ambiance was great! Who else can find peace in the midst of a nightlife spot?

The next day we were off to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We were supposed to have a free buffet breakfast at the hotel, but since we would have not been able to enjoy that, the Hotel arranged a meal-to-go with coffee, bread, noodles, a yogurt, fruits and juice.

It was tiring, fun and amazing. Amazing not just from the temple view but also the people. The vendors who came to sell souvenirs, from ref magnets to nail cutters to sarong skirts. They recognized our race right away and sold their merchandise in Filipino (our language). They said they learned up to 16 languages mostly taught by the tourists and the guides.

Travelling Mum

Tired from walking up and down the stairs of the temples, I stayed at the Tuktuk where I enjoyed different refreshments. Fresh sugarcane and coconut juice, pizza like bread and frog barbeque.

Never felt as comfortable before and in one of the most beautiful places in the world!

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We often forget how much our moms have taken care of us and don’t give them the attention they deserve. What better way to pamper them, than going on a trip together to see the City of temples – Angkor Wat!

Here are 10 things you can do to make the trip even more special!

Siem Reap with mum

 

  1. Ride a Bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap or vice versa and visit 2 countries at once.

It was my mom’s first time abroad and she was able to see 2 different countries in one go. Passport stamps are always nice! And we saved paying for one night in a hotel by travelling. We went on the bus at 1 am and when we woke up at around 6 am, we were already at the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia’s immigration was a breeze too.

We travelled for 2-3 more hours after reaching the border. We spent that time talking, sightseeing and taking short naps before we reached the bus station in Siem Reap.

Tuktuk drivers will be waiting there to offer you their services, tours and hotels. I already talked to a tuktuk driver online before we arrived so we just waited for him to take us to our hotel.

  1. Get a nice hotel with a pool.

Make your mom feel extra special by staying in a nice hotel room with a pool so she can relax there after a tiring tour day. Hotel rooms in Siem Reap are really affordable. You can get rooms for as low as $10 or less, but if you look for deals, you can get really nice ones at the $20 range.

I decided to go the extra mile (and penny) and looked for a 5 star hotel.

I was able to get a room in a 5 star hotel (Lotus Blanc Hotel) for less than $50 with one way airport transfer, a complimentary welcome drink, coffee and tea, and breakfast buffet! The room was HUGE!

My mom was so EXCITED once she saw the room! I promise it was so worth it!

  1. Ride a Tuktuk to tour you around the temples

Tuktuks are everywhere in Cambodia and it’s something you definitely don’t see everyday, unless you live in Thailand.  It’s like a cross between a Chinese Rickshaw and a Motorcycle. My mom and I had fun riding this as we toured around the temples. Our driver was very warm and provided us with cold bottled water everytime we went back from the temples.

Siem Reap with mum

  1. Eat Breakfast at Angkor Wat

One of the most memorable things my mom and I did was to eat in one of the temples while waiting for sunrise at Angkor Wat. The sun didn’t show up, but we enjoyed the food and pictures we took while we were there. So it didn’t matter even if we didn’t see the sun.

There are hotels who offer a Private breakfast service at Angkor Wat for a price. But I just asked our hotel the night before if they could pack us some breakfast from the breakfast buffet so we could take it to the temples, and they agreed. The next day at around 4:30 am, our breakfast was all ready to go with us to the temples. Yogurt, bread, coffee, juice, fruits and stir fried noodles were some of the treats they prepared for us.

  1. Bargain for Souvenirs with the Locals in different languages and currencies.

We were so amazed by the locals as they always seemed to know what our Nationality was. We were even more amazed when a girl started selling to us in the Filipino language complete with Filipino expressions, they even accepted Philippine Pesos, Baht and US Dollars.

Our own tuktuk driver spoke Chinese too. He said that Cambodians typically aim to speak 15 different languages. And learn it in a Pagoda with monks and sometimes other volunteer travelers. How awesome is that!

  1. Eat Khmer food.

In our 3 days in Cambodia, my mom and I ate in the 5 star way and the normal way without breaking the bank.

We ate Beef lok lak and Fish Amok in the Hotel Restaurant and were treated like queens. The meal cost around $35.

We also ate in the local restaurants with 5 star ratings on TripAdvisor such us LUV U restaurant and TRY ME restaurant (Both are a ways off of pubstreet) But the food was superb! Here we paid at around $8 for 2 dishes and 2 drinks!

We also tried Barbecued Frog, chicken soup and fish curry while touring around the temples. Yum!

  1. Explore Pubstreet.

Pubstreet is the loud touristy area where foreigners come to eat, shop and drink. It’s also where you can find edible insects such as scorpions which is a must try, it’s actually yummy.

Souvenir shops, money changers, massage parlors and loads of restaurants and tuktuks everywhere! We ate our first dinner here and took pictures, exchanged money and bought a sim card.

Siem Reap with mum

  1. Do a mini Photoshoot in the Tomb raider temple- Ta Prohm.

We were lucky enough to be approached by a local and he took us around and took pictures for us. He only asked for a tip once I asked him how much he would charge us. I gave him $10, but the pictures he took of us were definitely worth more. We would never have thought of doing it the same way he did.

Siem Reap with mum

  1. Ride or Take Photos with an Elephant in Phnom Bakheng

It was our first time to see Elephants up close and personal and had I just brought more money (Which I didn’t think to bring) I would have rode the Elephant up the hill. It cost $20 per person. So I just took photos beside them. J It was still AWESOME!

 

  1. Sunset in Phnom Bakheng

Choose to ride an Elephant up, or just trek up, but be there by 3:30 or 4pm to catch the sunset as they only allow a specific number of people. Earlier would be better as a lot of people go up to catch the sunset. Bring a tripod to take self portraits too, the view is really nice up there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Train to Kampot

The train to Kampot – a different way to travel Cambodia

Posted on: July 11th, 2017

“There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.”

Paul Simon

Train to Kampot

I have always loved the train journey. The rhythm, the sound, the languor… It’s an ode to laziness. The train is the perfect place to travel outside and inside yourself.

I was feeling stuck in Phnom Penh for a while, therefore I decided to take a break out of the city.

I live in Phnom Penh and I like this energetic city, I like to ride my bicycle in the middle of the traffic jam, to be lost in the market, to drink a banana-coffee shake on riverside and watch people doing exercises, to share a drink with my friends after work. However, I also like the nature and it’s difficult in Phnom Penh to find a green place!

Kampot it’s, for me, the best place to have a break. This town is the perfect balance between the city and the wild. There are very nice places to stay along the river where you can chill the whole weekend with an amazing view on the mountain. You just need to have a good book, friends to play board game and share a good dinner with.

Last weekend was my first train trip to Kampot, but for surely not the last. That was a refreshing experience, something different, another way to travel.

The journey starts a few days ago, when I was purchasing my train ticket. I sometimes passed in front of the train station, but never entered inside the big hall. It’s a huge building in Art Deco style like the central market. It was built in 1932, and the train stopped circulating in 2002. They reopened last year the railroad for passengers, you can now enjoy a trip to Sihanoukville by train every weekend. The central hall is very big and… empty. I choose the train of Saturday morning, leaving at 7am. Rendez-vous with my friends at 6.45am. Outch!

Train to Kampot

The train was on time, and I discover than you can travel with your bicycle or your motorbike! Very convenient for a future trip.

There are 4 cars very comfy, our car was the second (they give you a seat number with the ticket), the seats are 2 long benches, you turn your back to the windows. There are aircon (don’t forget a scarf, the temperature is very low!), bathroom and you can buy coffee or instant noodle in the first car.

What I love in travelling by train is that you aren’t stuck in the same place. So after the train controller passed, I change my place to stay between 2 cars, close to the door to have a better view. After leaving the city, you can open the door (the train is slow, if you don’t do anything crazy there is no risk) and enjoy your trip!

Train to Kampot

The first 30 minutes, you cross Phnom Penh. There is a huge community who is leaving on the rail. I had the feeling to be inside the houses and shops. It’s like they open the railroad when the train is coming and continue their lives on the rails after. It’s another view of Phnom Penh with a lot of small lifetime’s pictures. After the city, you cross some nenuphar’s field with their beautiful pink flower. The only town you will cross is Takeo the first and only stop on the railroad to Kampot. There are 10-15 minutes of break, just time to buy some fruits, sweet rice and nenuphar’s seed.

Train to Kampot

During this journey, most of the landscape is made of rice’s field, buffalos, small farms and coconut trees. The road with this view is perfect to let you dream, imagine a different life, make crazy projects.

After four hours, we arrived in Kampot’s train station. The end of the journey. The small train station with its coconut trees is just the perfect end of this lovely trip.

Train to Kampot

I recommend to all train’s lovers and dreamer to try the train in Cambodia. That was for me a lovely time!

Train to Kampot

 

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Ream National Park

Ream National Park – a retreat from the world not far from Sihanoukville

Posted on: July 7th, 2017

When we arrived in Cambodia, we were at the end of our fifth month in Asia. We thought we saw it all, in the means of chaotic cities with surprisingly beautiful twists. And we’re coming from Istanbul so tell me about chaos on the street! But Cambodia managed to surprise us once more. It’s safe to say that, it started with our” airport pick-up”. Well, the hostel said they arranged a car to pick us up, an airport shuttle. How naive we were to expect an actual car! OF COURSE it was a tuk-tuk. It was our first of many jolly surprises of the country. Trying to prevent our bags from falling out of the vehicle on the bumpy back roads to our homestay once again we told ourselves, never have assumptions on Asia. And that’s the real beauty of travelling unknown places isn’t it, destroying assumptions!

After a few days in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, we had to make our way to the small village of Ream. Because you see, we’re travelling via volunteering. We’re exchanging a few hours of work for accommodation, food, laughter, new friends and a chance to see the country in the most precious way. Sounds neat, right?

So this time our way was to this small fishing village of Sihanouk Ville. But before heading there we had a small problem on our plate in Phnom Penh. We needed to get visa for our next stop, Laos.

You see, Turkey is an amazing country, with weird connections all around the world. And not necessarily good connections. When we read online that Laos, is giving a hard time for Turkish people on visa process, we didn’t want to believe. I mean, what bad history we could possibly have with a country we basically had no interaction with, am I right? But obviously, world politics is more complicated than that.

Anyway, we knew it would be a little tricky on the embassy so we wanted to go there prepared, with our bus tickets and everything. But of course for that, we needed refundable tickets, because we weren’t sure about the visas. That’s where Camboticket gets wonderfully involved in this story.

When we were searching for online tickets to Laos from Phnom Penh, the name Camboticket caught our eyes more than once. And we found stories about how extremely helpful these people are. So we said, let’s go stalk them with our questions!

The stories were true. They were so helpful and friendly that; although it’s actually an online business, customers kept coming to their offices to handle things. They helped us to find the perfect ticket to Laos and told us about the refund options. We left the office so happy and relieved, that we wanted to have excuses to go back! And Laos embassy gladly gave us the excuse we needed! Yes, you guessed it right, no Laos visa for us!

Well, we did the exact thing that experienced travellers do in times like these: changed the plans! We changed our next stop from Laos to Myanmar and Camboticket changed our tickets from Laos to Thailand + Ream. (unfortunately they don’t have direct tickets to Myanmar. We’ll get there they said, and I believe them my eyes wide shut.) Everything solved seamlessly and we were on our way to Ream, peaceful we can ever be!

Sihanouk Ville is a popular summer spot for both locals and foreign tourists who endeavoured Cambodia’s inland treasures. It’s numerous cafes, easily accessible beaches and pier to the near by islands, make it a perfect stop! Whereas Ream is the silent, peaceful small brother of Sihanouk Ville. Right between Ream National Park and Sihanouk Ville airport, it seems almost stuck.

We didn’t prefer to visit the national park. First of all the reviews we read online were not really appealing. And when our host Roy mentioned you needed to pay for a ranger to wander around in the park, our enthusiasm for national parks were gone instantly. But the curious traveller, with a huge apetite for trees, can gladly combine his/her day with a small Ream Village tour.

Ream National Park

It has two virgin beaches. So you can make sure no unwanted tourists will be photo-bombing with your sunset capture. Prek Chak Beach, the long one, has smooth white sand and a magnificent forest background thanks to the unvisitable-national-park-by-low-budget-traveller. A perfect mixture of earthly palette, green, yellow and blue.

On your way to the beach, you’ll see the hammock restaurants with wonderful views of Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Sramauch. Nothing’s better than laying down in a hammock, with the sea extending in front of you. Oh and I forgot to mention the fresh coconut juice.

But before finishing up your day, remember to take a look at Wat Ream, up at the hill. Impressing with a breath taking view, this temple also hosts the most unusual Buddhist sculptures, you’ll ever see.

Our host is a little bit out of village, right on Toek Sab river, a perfect spot for kayaking. We definitely recommend renting a kayak and make a peaceful trip on the river with only wild surrounding you. End of the river is Kbal Chhay Waterfall. It’s a nice complex of waterfalls. A must-see, if you’re around the area. If you trust your level of athletism, going there by kayak would be a nice rewarding experience after three hours of rowing. We did trust ourselves but somewhere on the road laziness overcome and we thought that “maybe we can go there with motorbikes later”.  We went there with motorbikes the other day.

Ream National Park

We’re coming to the end of our days here in Ream, and missing it already. If you prefer the small villages to the big cities like us, then Ream might be your alternative option against Sihanouk Ville. Or with it’s extensive fruit market, hammock restaurants, scenic beaches it might be a nice combination for your trip!

Safe travels everyone!

 

 

 

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Koh Kong

Koh Kong: a natural hidden gem by the Thai border

Posted on: May 31st, 2017

Koh Kong is the nearest province to Thai border, surrounded by the sea on one side and by the magnificent Cardamoms mountains on the other side. It is an amazing place with intact natural beauty and far away from the main touristic routes.

The main city of the province is Koh Kong city, where you can start most of the excursions. Koh Kong is 5 to 7 hours away from Phnom Penh and the only way to get there is taking the road from Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. Two bus companies are operating: Virak Buntham (which has an office in Koh Kong city) and Olong Pich, which pass by Sihanoukville first. If you want to fully discover this part of Cambodia you need 3 to 4 days, depending on where you come from and head after.

We arrived there on a Friday night, taking a taxi from Phnom Penh, and we went directly to Rithy guesthouse, where I had booked a room. I choose to book at Rithy’s because he is also organizing a lot of tours in the province.

Koh Kong Island & Mangrove Forest

On the first day, we did the Koh Kong island tour: it is a one-day excursion to discover Koh Kong Island. This island is still preserved from tourism and genuinely natural. At first I wanted to spend a night there but none of the hotels answered me on time. There are two hotels on the island: Koh Kong Island Resort and White Sand Villa. If you still want to spend a night on the island, Rithy tour is organizing a 2 days tour on the island where you either sleep in a hammock on the beach or in the only village of the island with the local community.

Coming back to my trip, we spend 2 or 3 hours on the island chilling and eating an excellent grilled BBQ fish, well prepared by our guides! Our group was really nice, which made the day even better! It was even more appreciated when we had to support each other trying to get back on the boat because of the very wavy sea. I almost lost my shoes!!

On the way back, we stopped at the mangrove forest which was really nice especially with the sunset.

Talking about that, be very careful with the sun: it is really hard in this region, especially if you are on the sea and my friend got some blisters because of it. In order to visit the mangrove, you stop at some point with the boat and you walk for around 10 minutes, then the boat is taking you back on another side. At the end of the day, coming back to the pier, we watched the sunset there with a beer. What else do you need?

Koh Kong

Koh Konh Island

Trekking, a night in the jungle & Tatai Waterfall

On the second day we went for a 2 days jungle trek. Don’t worry it is not difficult, everyone that is not 80 years old or hasn’t done sport for ages can do it!

You start at 8am and they bring you by car to the starting point (there is another option for these 2 days: you can a boat in the mangrove and do the hike up to a really good viewpoint). From the starting point we walked 4 to 5 hours with frequent stops all near a river where you can refresh yourself. We ate on the way and we arrived to the camp around 3pm leaving us plenty of time to enjoy this amazing experience. Then it was a great pleasure and a unique experience to swim in the natural swimming pool in front of the camp after this tough day! The camp is just near the river and in the middle on the nature, cutting you out from the rest of the world (also because you don’t have any network!).

Koh Kong

Our Jungle Camp

In the evening we did a fire camp with our guides and spent a really good time trying to understand their card game, which was at the end a Cambodian version of my French game card « the President ». At the end of the evening, we were watching the stars exactly as we were in an astronomy observatory.

Koh Kong

Delicious food and our natural swimming pool

The day after we woke up after the night in the hammock, which were quite comfortable for me and I was not even cold (on the contrary, my friends were freezing, probably also because I brought my sleeping bag). Then, we took our breakfast, did a quick dive in the swimming pool and started walking back. There, a car brought us to the Tatai waterfall, which were pretty nice. You can access by paying 4000 riels the entrance.

Koh Kong

Tatai Waterfall

For our last night, I had booked at Neptune bungalow, along the Tatai River. It was the cheapest one because the other hotels are resorts so a little too expensive. Even Neptune was not so cheap because the bungalow for 2 was 40$ for the night (but you can be 4 if you want). The owner is a very sweet German guy, he cooks for you really good meals and organize excursions like Tatai waterfall or tours on the river. To get there you have to go to the Tatai Bridge, call him and an old Khmer man is taking you there. In the morning we did a little kayaking (you can go up to a small waterfall just within 30m which is really nice!) and swam in the river. This day was really unique and nice because we were totally alone!

Koh Kong

Small waterfall near the river

In the end it was time to go back to Phnom Penh, to real life and to work after this great experience.

Going to Koh Kong is really doing something different than the traditional places everyone is visiting in Cambodia. It is a great preserved natural place, that everyone should experience having some time in Cambodia.

 

This travel memoir has been written by Marie, French expat living in Phnom Penh. Thank you for your precious tips on Koh Kong! 

< Original version in French below! >

 

Koh Kong est la province située en bordure de la Thaïlande. Elle est bordée par  la mer tout en étant entourée par la gigantesque et impressionnante chaine de montagnes des Cardamones. C’est un endroit fantastique qui a gardé tout son charme naturel et reste encore préservé du tourisme

La ville principale de la province est Koh Kong city à partir de laquelle vous pouvez commencer la plupart des excursions à travers la province. Elle se situe à 5 à 7 heures de bus depuis Phnom Penh. En effet, les seules routes pour y accéder viennent de Sihanoukville et Phnom Penh. Deux compagnies de bus desservent cette destination : Virak Buntham (qui possède un bureau à Koh Kong ce qui est plutôt pratique) et Olong Pich, qui passe par Sihanoukville avant. Si vous voulez profiter pleinement de cette partie du Cambodge vous aurez besoin de 3 à 4 jours en fonction de l’endroit d’où vous venez et de l’endroit où vous allez.

Nous sommes arrivés là bas vendredi soir après avoir pris un taxi privé depuis Phnom Penh. Arrivant tard, nous sommes directement allé à Rithy Guesthouse où j’avais réservé une chambre. J’avais choisi cette guesthouse parce que Rithy organise aussi diffèrent type d’excursion à travers la province de Koh Kong.

Le premier jour, nous avons l’excursion en 1 jour sur l’ile de Koh Kong. C’est une ile encore très naturelle qui reste prĂ©servĂ©e du tourisme. Au dĂ©but je voulais y dormir mais quand j’ai essayĂ©, aucun des hĂ´tels de l’ile ne m’a rĂ©pondu. Il y a deux hĂ´tels sur l’ile : Koh Kong Island Resort et White Sand Villa. Si vous voulez tout de mĂŞme dormir sur l’ile, Ritchie tour propose des excursions de 2 jours sur l’ile oĂą vous dormez soit dans des hamacs sur la plage soit chez l’habitant dans le seul village de l’ile.

Revenons Ă  nos moutons et Ă  notre journĂ©e d’excursion! Nous avons passĂ© 2 Ă  3 heures sur l’ile Ă  discuter, se baigner et manger un excellent poisson au barbecue prĂ©parĂ© par nos deux guides. Notre groupe Ă©tait très sympa ce qui a rendu la journĂ©e encore meilleure! Cela a Ă©tĂ© d’autant plus vrai quand nous avons dĂ» nous soutenir pour rĂ©ussir Ă  remonter sur le bateau alors que la mer Ă©tait dĂ©chainĂ©e! J’ai mĂŞme faille perdre mes chaussures!

Sur le chemin du retour, nous nous sommes arrĂŞtĂ©e pour visiter la mangrove. C’était vraiment exceptionnel cette entrĂ©e dans la mangrove avec la lumière de la fin d’après-midi ! Faites d’ailleurs très attention au soleil dans cette rĂ©gion et spĂ©cialement sur l’eau, mon amie a eu des cloques Ă  cause du soleil! Pour visiter la mangrove le bateau nous a laissĂ© Ă  un certain point, nous avons marchĂ© environ 10 minutes dans la mangrove et le bateau nous a rĂ©cupĂ©rĂ© Ă  un autre point.

A la fin de la journée en revenant au ponton, nous nous sommes offerts une bière en regardant le couchée de soleil. Que demandez d’autre?!

Le deuxième jour nous sommes partis pour un trek de 2 jours dans la jungle. Ne vous inquiétez pas ce n’est pas impossible à faire, à part si vous avez 80 ans ou que vous n’avez pas fait de sport depuis des siècles. Vous partez à 8h du matin et ils vous emmènent en jeep jusqu’au point de départ (il y a une autre option pour cette excursion où vous prenez un bateau à travers la mangrove et vous marchez jusqu’à un très beau point de vue). Depuis le point de départ nous avons marché pendant 4 à 5 heures avec des arrêts fréquents, tous près d’une rivière afin de se rafraichir. Nous avons mangé pendant un de ces stops et nous sommes arrivés au camp vers 3h de l’après-midi nous laissant plein de temps pour profiter de cette expérience.

Là cela a été une superbe et unique expérience de se baigner dans la piscine naturelle en face du camp après cette dure journée! Le camp est juste à côté de la rivière et au milieu de la nature nous coupant du reste du monde (en grande partie aussi a cause du manqué de réseau!)

Le soir nous avons fait un feu de camp avec nos guides et nous avons passé un super moment en essayant de comprendre leur jeu de cartes qui au final n’était qu’une version différente du jeu de cartes français “Le Président”. Nous avons terminée la soirée en regardant les étoiles comme si nous étions dans un observatoire astronomique.

Après avoir passĂ© la nuit dans nos hamacs, ce qui Ă©tait plutĂ´t confortable au final (peut ĂŞtre aussi parce que j’avais mon sac de couchage ce qui m’a Ă©vitĂ©e d’avoir froid contrairement Ă  mes amis), nous avons pris notre petit dĂ©jeuner, fait un dernier petit plongeon dans la piscine naturelle et recommencez Ă  marcher jusque notre point de dĂ©part. De lĂ -bas une voiture nous a emmenĂ© jusqu’au chutes d’eau de la Tâtai qui sont très sympa! Vous pouvez y accĂ©der par vos propres moyens moyennant 4000 riels pour l’entrĂ©e.

Pour notre dernière nuit, j’avais rĂ©servĂ© une nuit le long de la rivière Tatai au Neptune Bungalow. C’est le moins cher des hĂ´tels situĂ©s le long de la rivière car tous les autres sont des ressorts donc hors de prix. Et mĂŞme le Neptune n’était pas si peu cher car nous avons payĂ© le bungalow 40 dollars la nuit pour 2 (mais vous pouvez y dormir Ă  4). Le propriĂ©taire est un Allemand très sympathique qui cuisine pour vous des plats rĂ©ellement bons. Il peut aussi organiser des excursions  comme les chutes d’eau de la Tatai ou des tours sur la rivière. Pour se rendre lĂ -bas nous sommes allĂ©s jusqu’au pont Tatai, nous l’avons appelĂ© et un vieux monsieur khmer est venu nous chercher pour nous emmener au Neptune bungalow.

Le matin, nous avons fait un peu de kayak (vous pouvez aller jusqu’Ă  une petite chute d’eau qui est Ă  30 minutes en kayak) et nous nous sommes baignĂ©es dans la rivière. Ces deux jours Ă©taient vraiment super car nous Ă©tions juste toutes les deux sans personne d’autre dans la guesthouse ni mĂŞme le long de la rivière.

Et le temps est venu de rentrer à Phnom Penh pour retrouver la vie réelle et le travail après cette expérience super! Aller à Koh Kong est vraiment faire quelque chose de diffèrent au Cambodge en dehors des circuits traditionnels. C’est un superbe endroit préservé où chacun devrait se rendre si il a du temps à consacrer au Cambodge.

 

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Nattakan

From Phnom Penh to Bangkok with Nattakan Bus

Posted on: February 20th, 2017

Being such a long journey, and with so many rumours of being a bumpy and troubled one (especially while crossing the border), going from Cambodia to Thailand by bus can be an itchy experience. How surprised were we to actually go through it without any hassles and in a quite comfortable way! This is our experience of travelling with Nattakan bus from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, a company that provides a direct journey without having to change transport on the border.

 

Nattakan

A modern and comfy bus for a more than twelve hours trip can be a way better option than traveling by minivan.

 

The journey starts at 6 AM so better to arrive at least half hour before to the departure point. In this case we went to Rithy Mony Bus Station on street 102, quite near to Wat Phnom, the Night Market and the beautiful old colonial building that now functions as the main post office of Phnom Penh. There weren’t so many travellers so the bus left on time and the smooth ride and the conditions of the bus itself were more than an invitation to spend most of the journey sleeping. The seats are wide and soft, with a lot of space for legs and with the possibility of changing the inclination to almost becoming beds. The staff, even if not speaking much English, were helpful and provided a small box with a wet towel, a bottle of water, a packet of juice and a small cake (in the street of the bus station you also can find a couple of noodle soup restaurants, in case you want to eat your breakfast before getting into the bus). Anyway, next stop is already on the border so better to eat and sleep, Thailand is awaiting us!

 

Nattakan

What a sleeping beauty nest!

 

In case you need to use the toilet there’s actually one on the bus, so no time to waste, very soon we will arrive to the border. The journey was really smooth, despite the typical bumpiness of Cambodian roads, so a long nap was actually not a difficult thing to achieve. As soon as we arrive to the border the staff asked us to leave to take care of the visa, not before giving some name cards to hang on the neck in order to identify us on the border and let people now we belong to the same bus after taking care of the paperwork. The first step is the Cambodian immigration office on the right of the road, where they will give you the stamp out of the country. From there you just have to walk straight through a kind of white tunnel, as shown below…

 

Nattakan

… then cross a sort of gate imitating Angkor Wat style…

 

Nattakan

 

… and arrive to the Thai side where you will find a building on the left of the road to take care of the visa on arrival. Depending on your country of origin you can get from fifteen days to several months free of charge, and depending on your luck and the amount of people in line, the process can be quite straightforward. We end up not spending more than fifteen minutes waiting in line, then a quick two or three minutes process with the immigration officer before getting out of the building and seeing one member of the Nattakan staff waiting to lead us back to the bus.

 

 

Nattakan

Almost there!

After waiting for everyone else to arrive to the bus as well, we drove for a couple of kilometres where we stopped again and the staff gave us a box of fried rice and more bottles of water. Then straight again to Bangkok with no more stops, reaching there a few minutes later than 6 PM. The place of arrival was Mo Chit Bus Terminal, quite a central hub in terms of transportation to the rest of the city: there’s a BTS station nearby (the Bangkokian fancy skytrain!), plenty of buses and also lot of cabs available (make sure you take one that follows the taxi meter otherwise you will probably be ripped off!). If you are going to Khao San Road you actually have free bus from the station, ask in the information office for the bus numbers.

The return journey was pretty much the same, starting on Mo Chit at 5 AM and arriving Phnom Penh between 5 and 6 PM. Again quite smooth and with no troubles at the border.

 

Nattakan

On the Thai side…

 

Nattakan

… and on the Cambodian side.

The only care you need to have is, while there, not paying attention to random guys trying to convince you there is some kind of problem regarding the visa and that they have the solution for you (of course, they always have). If they start the conversation asking you some kind of payment don’t believe them, even if they are from the police (actually, especially if they are from the police). With us, we had the funny situation of a Cambodian police officer randomly asking on the street for 300 bahts to get us the visa (it’s mandatory, he said!) and with us insisting we don’t want and that we prefer to go to the immigration office itself, he ended up saying it was just to facilitate the process and get us the visa faster, for us not having to wait in line… no thank you! (There was almost no one in line at the moment, by the way). So be always aware, only believe in people inside the immigration offices themselves, both on the Thai and on the Cambodian side, no matter what uniform some random dude appears to you on the street.

And after that, just enjoy the ride through the sleepy Cambodian landscapes…

Nattakan

In case you are planning to go from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, or the other way around, Nattakan is an interesting choice to explore, with a high level of comfort and with the advantage of not having to change bus on the border – it’s direct from one capital to another in just around twelve hours. Have a look on Camboticket website for this or other options of traveling between the two cities and enjoy your trip!

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Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh by bus

From Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh by bus

Posted on: December 9th, 2016

Living in Phnom Penh, me and my roommate decided to take a weekend off and go to Ho Chi Minh for Water Festival. We both never had the chance to go to Vietnam so the 4-day weekend was for us, a perfect occasion. Also, we learnt that the trip from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh by bus was only 9$ so it was an easy decision!

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