Monday, January 28, 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
This is a very recent trip with a group of friends. Below is the 10 days itinerary which begins on Thursday 8th Nov 2007. I engaged the service of Yongo (an aternative travel organizer) to help me tailor out this 10 days itinerary. It's a win-win partnership and it turn out to be one of the best organized trip.
Day 1 Thu 08 Nov KL to Hanoi –Assemble at Penang international airport at 06.30 hr and board the Air Asia AK6313 from Penang to KL(LCCT) at 0810 hr arriving 0900 hr. Will continue our flight to Hanoi with Air Asia AK762 t500 hr arriving 1725 hr. When reach Hanoi, we will transfer directly to Hanoi Railway Station for night train to Lao Cai at 21.30 hr (Lao Cai,310km northwest of Hanoi) . Overnight on the train.
Day 5 Mon 12 Nov: Hanoi - Hoa Lu - Tam Coc - Arrive in Hanoi about 6.00 am. Transfer to the hotel for check-in and relax till 8.30 AM, tour guide come back for welcoming the group to Hoa Lu - Tam Coc. A 90km drive south of Hanoi will lead you to Ninh Binh, the site of the one capital city of ancient Vietnam before Hanoi took its leading role in 11th century. The area is featured by lots of well-known sceneries, which include Tam Coc Caves and Hoa Lu ancient capital with the old temples dedicated to King Dinh & King Le reigned in 10th century. The visit in Ninh Binh starts by a boat trip in Tam Coc where spectacular limestone karsts jut out from the green paddy fields reminding about Guilin (China) and Halong Bay of Vietnam, which gives this scenery the name “Halong-bay-on-land”. Further discovery in Ninh Binh will be continued in the site that used to be the kings’ palace in 10th century and now famous for the wooden relieves of the shady Dinh and Le temples. O/N in Hanoi.
Day 10 Sat 17 Nov: Hanoi - home - We fly home on AK761 at 0915 hr arriving in KL(LCCT) at 1330PM. Will wait until 21.30 hr for AK6316 flight from LCCT arriving Penang at 22.20 hr.
I don’t travel all that often and I normally look for slightly different traveling experiences when I do, which is why I snapped up Master Wong’s offer to join him to Vietnam on a Yongo trip. Most travel operators offer sightseeing, shopping, eating, entertainment, business or health, but with Yongo’s reputation for non-commercialism, I hoped the niche for odd ball travelers like me might be satisfied.
One’s memories of experiences much depends on how adventurous one’s behaviour is. Unfortunately, I was not adventurous enough to risk what Thiem our Vietnamese guide called “eruption inside”, but this was my own entire fault. I talk of the myriad of tiny “benches” selling hawker food whose fare sometimes looked worrying, but often temptingly delicious. Nor did I take up the numerous offers of motorcycle taxis to tour the city of Hanoi, not even when some of them offered “bang bang” as a last resort in persuasion. But then I don’t usually take up what I don’t know (ahem, anyone knows what it is?)
I guess I am a little conservative stick in the mud after all. Still, the trip proved rich and rewarding in terms of experience – from the rustic dirt tracks of Sapa hills to the mad cacophony of Hanoi’s traffic and on to the olive green glassy sea of Halong Bay. I hope our Vietnamese hosts got something rewarding in return too for all the trouble they take in opening their country up to demanding and self-interested foreign tourists like me and if they are still open, I think it is worthwhile to make a second and hopefully braver and more intimate repeat trip."
Highland Sapa has a lot to offer for those who love nature and cultural life style of ethnic minorities. A home stay in one of the many villages is highly recommended.
A river cruise on Tam Coc is another nice experience. The misty limestone islands as back drop is just simply picture perfect.
Ha Long bay is no doubt a very beautiful place. Relaxing on the deck of a Junk boat surrounded by small exotic islands, floating on calm green water, with blue sky and red orange setting sun is unforgettable. One may choose to star glazing on the deck at night with a cup of warm aromatic Vietnamese coffee or join the karaoke session at the dining area. I’m afraid that this beautiful place is not sustainable with the current large numbers of boat operators. The pollution in the form of refuse and wastes that are dumped into this bay are quite evident. I can see plastic bags, bottles, wrappers and occasionally oil floating on the water surface.
Hanoi is a busting city and the historic Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake is filled with tourist and travelers like us. One uniqueness of this narrow streets and allies of Old Quarter is that most shops on the same street sell the same merchandise. This makes your shopping so much easier. You want to buy shoes, go to shoe street, like wise you need bags look up at bag street. Crossing the streets of Hanoi requires real courage. You are advised to move at a constant pace and they will know how to weave around and avoid you. Any sudden move or stop can mean disaster. The Water Puppet show near Hoan Kiem Lake is recommended but you have to book your ticket early to avoid disappointment.
Boating at TamCoc
Water Puppet show
Friday, January 25, 2008
> 1.5 kg or 3 kati of pork belly.
> 1 table spoon of salt
> 3 table spoon of vinegar
> 3 cups of water
> 1 tea spoon of white pepper powder
> 1 tablespoon of 'five spice powder' (Ngo hiang hoon)
> 1 teaspoon of sugar
> Wash and dry the pork
> Use a sharp knife and make a few cuts on the meat side.
> Boil 3 cups of water and add 3 tablespoon of vinegar.
> Bath the boiling water with vinegar on the pork skin.
> Let the pork cool down and rub some salt on the skin.
> Rub the remaining salt, white pepper powder, five spice powder and sugar on the meat.
> Leave the marinaded pork for a few hours (best over night)
> Place the pork with meat side up in pre heated oven.
> Set oven temperature to 200 C and roast the meat for about 30 minutes.
> Remove from oven, turn the meat up and prick the skin with skewer or folk.
> Put the meat back to oven with the skin facing up.
> Continue to roast for about 30 minutes or until the skin turn crispy brown in color.
> Remove from oven, let the meat cool for a while and serve.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
This is my second post and again I would like to share a trip experience. With Air Asia everyone can fly especially with direct flights from Penang to KK. Our group of 17 is made up of close friends and their immediate family.
Day 1 - Sunday 17th, 2007 (Penang – KK)
Our Air Asia flight AK852 arrived at KK on time at 12.35 pm. Rachel, our guide was there waiting for us. After checking in to our rooms, we went for lunch at one of the food court in a shopping complex. We took the whole afternoon checking out the Filipino market which is just 10 minutes walk from our hotel.
We had a grand seafood dinner at the Ocean Seafood Village. We also had a surprised birthday party for 4 of the members whose birthday fall in June. Thanks to Rachel for ordering the birthday cake in advance. We continue the party at our tiny hotel room with sweet rice wine which I bought at the Filipino market early in the afternoon. The wine was so good that everyone decided to buy more for the next few days.
Pick your lobster.
Group with birthday girl and boys.
Day 2 - Monday 18th, 2007 (KK – Poring)
After an early breakfast we hopped on to our vans and headed for Kinabalu National Park. We took a guided tour on one of the trails in the National Park. We also had a glimpse of the highest peak in south east Asia.
Our lunch at Kundasang is mainly vegetables that we bought at near-by market. After lunch we headed to Poring. It was raining quite heavy when we arrived at Poring and we have to wait for the rain to stop before we can hike up to the canopy walk. It was quite a strenuous hike for some and a disappointment at the end of the hike. Most part of the canopy walk was closed for maintenance. We end the hike with a soak at the hot spring. We had a simple dinner across the road just outside the park.
After dinner we gathered at one of the chalet for party. We had more rice wine tonight. I bought ten bottles at the Filipino market early in the morning before breakfast.
Day 3 - Tuesday 19th, 2007 (Poring – Sandakan)
Not a good start today. There were no water supplies to our chalets. All of us had to use the dormitory’s facilities. At the time we left Poring at around 7.30 am there was not a single restaurant or shop opened. We had to travel almost 2 hours to the nearest restaurant for breakfast. We continue our journey for about 3 hours to Sandakan. We had a brief visit at the Australian War Memorial Park before we checked into our hotel. After a good lunch at the hotel lobby, we walked about 20 minutes to Agnes Keith House located on a small hill top overseeing Sandakan bay. Next to Agnes Keith House is a typical English Tea house where we had our afternoon tea break. We spend the afternoon at this place playing lawn polo. In the evening we had another splendid seafood dinner at Ocean King Seafood Restaurant.
Day 4 - Wednesday 20th, 2007 (Sandakan – Sepilok – Batu Putih)
We visited Sandakan’s biggest fish market in the early morning. We checked out after breakfast and proceed to Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. We were just in time for the morning feeding session. After seeing the feeding of Orang Utan, we decided to do the 1 hour trek up to the water hole at this park. We had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant and move on to our next activity, river cruise on Sungai Kinabatangan. We saw a lot of Proboscis monkeys and Hornbills on this river cruise.
After the river cruise, the group is divided according to their assigned Orang Sungai homes in Batu Putih village. This home-stay program is aliened to all of us and a cultural shock. There is no pipe-in water supply and fresh water is precious. I thought my assigned home was bad. I had to wait for about 10 minutes to fill up a 5 gallon pail for a bath. The 2 ladies assigned to another home were even worst. Their toilet is without door and no water tap inside. They were given only 3 water containers of about a gallon each to do their washing and bathing. The night seems very long at Batu Putih. The experience of staying with Sabah’s Orang Sungai reminds us not to take things for granted especially food, water and the conveniences we have in our present homes.
Batu Putih Home-stay
Orang Utan at Sepilok
Day 5 - Thursday 21st, 2007 (Batu Putih – Semporna)
After a long night every one woke up very early. We had a simple home cooked breakfast and followed by a short visit to the grave museum inside lime stone caves. It was amazing how ancient people carried the coffins 30 meters up a near vertical lime stone hill into these caves.
Our 1.00 pm bus to Semporna only shows up at 3.30 pm. It was late evening when we arrived at Semporna and we have to cancel our visit to one of the factory making jelly. After checking in at the nice Dragon Inn water chalet, we gathered for dinner. Guess what? More seafood again.
Day 6 - Friday 22nd, 2007 (Semporna – Mabul/Sipadan)
The breakfast given by Dragon Inn was extremely little, only 2 slices of bread and a cup of coffee. We had to supplement with a packet of nasi lemak each. Our speed boat to Mabul island arrived at 9.00 am. It was still drizzling and the sea was a little choppy. We left our luggage at Mabul water chalet and went straight to Sipadan island. The weather turned fine when we arrived at Sipadan. The old abandoned Sipadan Resort still standing and now used as rest area. This island and Kapalai is now guarded by Police and Army. We spend the whole morning snorkeling off Sipadan. The water was crystal clear and the corals were the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. We had packed lunch and short break before we head back to Mabul for more snorkeling. A few of us spend the late afternoon walking around the small Mabul Island and enjoy the sunset. That night, we had good Bar-B-Q fish for supper provided by John the Master Diver.
Sunset at Mabul
Day 7 - Saturday 23rd, 2007 (Mabul/Kapalai – Semporna – KK)
It was raining heavy, the sea was rough and our morning trip to Kapalai looks doubtful. The rain stopped at about 8.30 am but the sea was still rough so we decided to take another walk around the island. We were lucky, the weather improved later in the morning and off we go to Kapalai. Kapalai is a small beautiful Atoll with only one resort, built on stilts. It was an ideal place for snorkeling. The water is shallow, crystal clear and abundant sea lives. We left this beautiful Atoll at 1.00 pm and back to our ‘little resort’ at Mabul for lunch. Our boat picked us up at 4.00 pm and we arrived at Semporna just before 5.00 pm. We had an early dinner at Semporna before we head to Tawau for our 9.25 pm flight to KK. Every one of us cursed and swears at MAS when they announced that our flight to KK is delayed 2 hours to 11.30 pm. It was almost 1.00 am in the morning when we reached our hotel in KK.
Beautiful Kapalai Resort
Day 8 - Sunday 24th, 2007 (KK – Home)
We slept about 3 hours and left the hotel at 4.30 am to catch our 6.30 am morning flight to Penang. We arrived at Penang 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
This trip was well executed and the itinerary was planned to suit all the participants. The close friendly relationship of group is also the major factor for the success of this trip. Everyone had their shares of fun, joy, experience and unforgettable memories to bring home.
Recorded by WH Wong
Monday, January 21, 2008
This is my first post and I would like to start by sharing a trip I took last April with a group of friends. There were 6 of us together with my wife on this self organized trip. Though the timing was not right, (April being the hottest time of the year) there was no rain to spoil the trip. Day time temperature in Cambodia soars above 37 C and we get exhausted and dehydrated fast. Our 7 days in Cambodia cover Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, and Phnom Penh, the capital. First 3 nights at Siem Reap, then bus to Phnom Penh for 2 nights and back to Siem Reap for last night. Should have saved one night and took the direct flight out of Phnom Penh.
Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Archeological Complex is a small blooming town with lots of hotels and guest houses to cope with increasing visitors. The small little airport is just 6 KM from town. Cambodia has 3 seasons weather, the cool and dry from October to January, hot and dry from Feb to May and hot and wet from Jun to September. Angkor Archeological Complex is a huge site of a ruin city and temples. A truly magnificent wonder of the world and an UNESCO Heritage Site. The entrance fee to Angkor though expensive (US$20 for single day pass. US$40 for a 3 days pass and US$60 for a week pass) is worth the money spent. We opted for the 3 days pass and that is the minimum to me. You’ll be cheating yourself and done no justice for the trip if it’s just a single day visit to this site. Angkor Wat, the biggest temple ruin is well restored and maintained. The panoramic view during sunrise and sunset is simply spectacular. No wonder it attracts so many visitors every day. The Bayon inside Angkor Thom is another magnificent site. Other must see spectacular sites include Baphoun, Elephant Terrace, Thommanon, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Preah Khan, East Mebon, Ta Phrom, Banteay Srei, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Phnom Bakheng. The best way to explore this vast site is either by Tuk-tuk (motorized trishaw) or hired van.
Another worth while place to visit is Tonle Sap, the biggest inland fresh water lake in South East Asia. Though it’s dry season and water level is low, the boat cruise on Tonle Sap is still rewarding. The sight of Vietnamese refugee life on floating villages in this lake is intriguing and unforgettable. The reflections on the water, the color of the sky and distant sun set makes a perfect picture.
Ruins of Bantey Kdei.
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia is now a busy town but still bears the horror images of Pol Pot’s reign of terror. I guess it will take many more years to recover from the damage done by this mad man and his ruthless army. Nearly half of the seven million people in Cambodia were tortured and brutally executed during his 4 years in power for reasons that is still unknown today. The Toul Sleng Genocide museum and the Cheoung Ek Killing Field are very eerie places and one must be mentally prepared before visiting. Other places of interest in Phnom Penh are the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Russian Market and National museum. The best way to visit all these places is take a day trip package with guide. It’s relatively cheap at US$6.00 per person and readily available at the Capitol Guest House.
Lodging in Cambodia is not an issue. There are plenty of Hotels and Guest Houses to suit all kinds of visitors. Dormitory bed from US$1.00 to 5 star hotel suites more than US$1000.00 per night is available. Our first 3 nights is at Red Lodge Guest House, a highly recommended place by friends who has visited Siem Reap. For US$12.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this place a 5 out of scale of 10. Pros are coffee / tea, bread and some fruits on the house whole day, relatively clean and close proximity to market and town. The cons are room is hot, the old air cond takes ages to cool down the room, water pressure low and that makes cooling off with a shower is not possible, and got a couple of cockerels next door waking you up at 4.30 every morning.
Our 2 nights at Phnom Penh is at Hoong Pien Guest House, same owner as Capitol Guest House. At US$10.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this place 6, slightly better than Red Lodge. At least the room is bigger, air cond cooler but still not up to my expectation, water pressure is good, has got a small 14 inch color TV, and much quiet. The cons are my room is on the 3rd floor with no elevator and 3 fleet of long steep staircase, window with no view – just a plane un-plaster wall of next building, and has no save fire escape route.
Last 1 night before departing was at Tasom Guest House. Original plan was to stay some where on the east side of the river around Wat Bo but was taken to Tasom by the same bus owner, Capitol. At also US$10.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this 6.5 the best among the 3 Guest House we stayed. It has the pros of the above 2 guest houses and the air cond is cool. The only cons is the toilet is a bit small and toilet wall partition is not full height to ceiling. All 3 guest houses’ water supply is yellowish in color and has a distinct foul odor of organic decay in stagnant water. Obviously it’s not safe to drink.
Cambodia food is very much like the Thai food minus the chili. A lot of coconut milk and spices are use in their cooking. Amok is a non hot green curry in coconut milk, a favorite and famous Cambodia food. It can cook with fish, chicken or pork. Palm sugar made from Sea Coconut palm, is sold as candies. The variety and quality of food in Siem Reap is much better but more expensive than Phnom Penh. The cost of living in Siem Reap is also higher than the capital Phnom Penh, mainly due to the higher number of foreigners. There are also the exotic delicacies for the more adventure gourmet eater. Duck egg embryo, preserved animal internal organs, deep fried inserts and retiles are sold on the side walks and market places. Surprisingly the deep fried inserts taste good and goes very well with beer.
Deep fried cicadas
Cambodia has a population of about 12 million and 95% are Buddhist. Physical feature of Cambodian is like the Thai, even the language also sounds alike. The country is still very poor and is now on the road to recovery from the civil war. Life is simple, very basic with bare necessity. Most residences don’t have the basic electricity and pipe in water. Many are in the poverty class and are concentrated in town areas. From my observation, those living in Siem Reap are much better than Phnom Penh mainly because of the revenue generated from tourist visiting Angkor.
Young Apsara dancer
Despite having Angkor Archeological Complex, a world heritage site and wonder of the world, I wouldn’t make a second trip to this place. Once is good enough for me. I couldn’t deny that this trip is a good experience and worth every cents. I would even recommend it to my friend. I felt very lucky and fortunate to be a Malaysian after this trip. The only regret I have in this trip is not able to see the Apsara cultural dance that comes together with the buffet dinner for US$12.00 per person. I should have used my influence power on the group.