r. Kim fetched us before lunch so that we could eat (again) in IL FORNO.
When we got there, we decided to eat in the same spot where we dined 3 days ago. One of the servers and Marzio, the owner, recognized us and smiled at us. Was it too obvious that we love their food?
FEBRUARY 23, 2016
Our last day in Siem Reap was just spent shopping and eating. We woke up quite late since we did not have anything important in our itinerary then Mr. Kim fetched us before lunch so that we could eat (again) in IL FORNO.
When we got there, we decided to eat in the same spot where we dined 3 days ago. One of the servers and Marzio, the owner, recognized us and smiled at us. Was it too obvious that we love their food? 🙂
We ordered pesto (for pasta), cheese platter, and pizza al funghi. I am semi lactose intolerant so I don’t know why I initiated ordering the cheese platter. Everything in our plate (taleggio, spicy primo sale, gorgonzola, mozzarella, honey, nuts, pears) tasted good, although I ended up regretting a little bit why I ate too much of them.
The home-made tagliolini al pesto was excellent! Not too oily and you could really taste that fresh herbs were used for this. Serving was just good for one (hungry) person though so good thing we still ordered a pizza.
We were supposed to order one main dish but the waiter (who was familiar to us) told us that we would not be able to finish our food if we ordered a main dish. At first we were skeptical but turned out that he was right.
It was good that they were consistent with how they made their pizza — a tiny hint of burnt crust, thin and chewy, and generous with the toppings. We enjoyed our pizza al funghi and even if we already finished the cheese platter and pasta, we were able to eat all pizza slices. *oink?*
While eating, we were trying to plan having an early dinner before we go to the airport. But when we finished our lunch at past 2PM, we were too full already and we could feel that we would not yet be hungry by 5:30PM.
We walked around the area and did some last minute shopping after lunch. After that, we walked to BLOSSOM CAFE AND TRAINING CENTRE for desserts.
The place is best known for cupcakes that are “too beautiful to eat, too delicious to resist”, as their tagline says. Indeed, their cupcakes looked really pretty! Plus they offer a lot of flavors so if you have a sweet tooth, it will be difficult to choose which one to eat. But, what is more interesting about Blossom Cafe is that this is also run by an NGO that provides assistance to Cambodian women through vocational training. Similar to Marum Restaurant. 🙂
We stayed there until 5PM, and Mr. Kim fetched us so that we could pack the items we bought that afternoon. Before we bid goodbye, we had an obligatory picture taking. Yay! Let me give you a quick rundown why we deem Mr. Kim (of Kim Cambodia Driver) as one of the best tuktuk drivers in Siem Reap:
Responds promptly in e-mails
Can negotiate rates, even volunteers discount — case in point, his rates do not include sunrise & sunset viewing in Angkor Park but he gave these for free for our 2 days in the main Angkor Park complex (i.e. those days not in Banteay Srei/Kbal Spean)
Unlimited COLD water! Very much appreciated especially during our temple run days. He had a small cooler in his tuktuk and even during the afternoon, water bottles were still cold.
Very flexible in terms of pick-up/drop-off arrangements — initially we only booked him for Angkor Park trips but we ended up getting him as our tuktuk driver for the WHOLE TRIP, including non-temple run days; there were also a few occasions when we changed our mind on pick-up/drop-off time and he was okay with the changes
Punctual, already waiting in front of the house even before call time
Recommends activities in case you have free time and no itinerary yet. I remember he showed us brochure for Flight of the Gibbon and Phare, the Cambodian Circus. We did not avail any of the activities since we felt that our itinerary was already enough, but in case interested, he can buy the tickets since he knows locals working there.
Very caring as he bought us free unripe mangoes and a local snack (sticky rice inside a bamboo shoot)
Cheerful guy, he likes to laugh and smile during conversations
After having our photos with him, we also had one taken with our Airbnb host, Bunthai. As I mentioned in my first post for Siem Reap travel series, you won’t regret booking with her. I provided a review for her listing as well (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5140353).
Mr. Kim, our tuktuk driver
Bunthai, our Airbnb host
At around 6PM, Mr. Somnang fetched us and drove us to the airport. Ride was about 20 minutes and we got there, we found out that check-in would still be 8:30 or 9PM. There was only one restaurant outside the airport — not in the mood for the food they offer, no Wi-Fi so Kim and I kept on regretting out loud how we were not able to eat in Il Forno for dinner…
aThen, Kim had a bright idea — call Mr. Kim to pick us up at the airport and bring us to Il Forno. And so we did. Good thing Mr. Kim was available at that time so after about 30 minutes of waiting, he arrived at the airport and we rode his tuktuk again. Hooray to spontaneity?!
When we reached Il Forno, the place was jam-packed! Good thing there were 2 seats left and it was amazing because it was “our” spot, the table where we ate for the past 2 occasions. Marzio approached us and we told him that we wanted gnocchi and a main dish. Unfortunately, he told us that we would have to wait for 40 minutes because the orders ahead of us were for big groups. I think we were unable to hold back our sad + disappointed looks since he suddenly said that if he could give us pizza quickly, especially because we had a flight to catch. We were already happy with that since we absolutely loved the pizza at this place so we ordered Pizza Ricca.
It usually takes 10-15 minutes for the pizza to arrive so we kept ourselves busy with chatting. We were surprised though that 5 minutes after ordering, the pizza was already served to us. We looked if they brought the wrong order but it was Pizza Ricca. We were deeply moved by their concern and service for us, which made the pizza taste even better. The pizza was still cooked perfectly, not undercooked, so we kind of thought if this was an order for another table and they just gave it to us since we were in a hurry. Now that kind of concern and service is something that you won’t be able to experience in all dining places. Before we left, we just had to give our biggest thanks to Marzio for the impeccable service they provided us.
After our wonderful dinner at Il Forno, Mr. Kim drove us back to the airport and this time, for real, we bid farewell to each other. Flight back to Manila was not delayed, thankfully. Kim had an awesome foreigner seatmate who is working here in MNL. We exchanged some stories of our Siem Reap trip and he gave me advice for my BKK trip for March. Even until the end, we still got to talk to a fellow traveler which was really cool for me. 🙂
Despite the intense heat, Siem Reap will be a majestic place for me and the kindness of the people is something that I will never forget. Til the next time we see each other again, Siem Reap!
Before I end this post, a big shout out to my best friend, Kim, who made this trip very memorable! Even if we are total opposites when it comes to traveling — I’m a planner, she is more spontaneous — we really had good chemistry. No bickering, no negative feelings, just pure fun and kulitan. Cheers to our first awesome travel… and cheers to more travels together in the future! ❤
After about an hour of traveling, we arrived at BANTEAY SREI before 5:30AM. It was still dark so we stayed in our tuktuk. When the sky was starting to light up, we got off the tuktuk and went inside.
FEBRUARY 22, 2016
We started our day even earlier than the previous 2 days spent in Angkor Archaeological Park. We were going to Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean, which are at least 30km away from the popular area of Angkor Park. Mr. Kim fetched us promptly as usual. We were thinking if we would bring a long scarf or jacket since the tuktuk ride would definitely be cold. We decided not to since the rest of the day would be hot. We sort of regretted that decision because it was really cold. I don’t know how I managed to do it but I was able to sleep despite the cold and bumpy ride.
After about an hour of traveling, we arrived at BANTEAY SREI before 5:30AM. It was still dark so we stayed in our tuktuk. When the sky was starting to light up, we got off the tuktuk and went inside. There was only one person in the entrance area, sweeping the ground. We walked into an open area then encountered a fork road. We did not know which to take so we went back to the entrance and asked the guy for correct directions. I was a bit jumpy while walking because it was not yet that bright. T.T
Eventually we saw the outermost structure of Banteay Srei. We passed by the ticket checking area since there was no one around. We were the only tourists there, and we were able to keep the temple to ourselves for about an hour. When the sun started to illuminate the temple and ground, I was able to witness what other travelers say about the place — the structures seem to have some color of pink (even if originally they don’t).
I read that Banteay Srei stands for “Temple/Citadel of Women”, and that the carvings of the temple was done by women. Indeed, women might have done the carvings because this was the only temple we visited that had flowers and very detailed icons/drawings.
After an hour of being the lone tourists there, Kim and I went back to the entrance and we saw a few tourists had already arrived too. I checked if the sun was already up — it was but not yet that high to be able to see it above the trees…
Kim told me that she absolutely loved this temple, and that this was probably her favorite among all the temples we visited. The place also reminded her of one of the areas in Diablo…
We revisited the other spots we saw earlier to admire the intricate carvings. I also saw beautiful lotuses growing in a murky pond near the innermost structure.
When more tourists started pouring in, we decided to leave and have breakfast first before proceeding to Kbal Spean. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant where Mr. Kim brought us but it was a total rip-off. Not blaming him though as he might not have any idea — we noticed locals eating there and they do not look that well-off. The menu handed to us had prices in USD. For just one order of noodles, we were charged USD 8 already. The other food items were of the same price or even more expensive. Ridiculous! We just ate quickly so that we can already leave the place.
After almost an hour of travel, we reached KBAL SPEAN. In the parking area, there were lots of vans so we thought that there might be lots of tourists already. It was already 9AM so some might have chosen this as their first destination instead of Banteay Srei.
Guard checked our ticket and then we entered the area. We were not sure what to expect because the area looked like a forest so we walked a bit… After a few steps, we saw a sign that indicated “1500m”. We told each other it was not that bad since walking around acad oval in UP would be longer (2200m).
How was our walk? Uhh, it became a HIKE! If you plan to go here, wear your most comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes.
We walked and walked and walked but the ground was a bit uneven…
We also climbed rocks and went up long flights of stairs…
Good thing that the area was quiet, peaceful, and scenic…
After sweating buckets, we finally saw a person who was selling drinks then another person who seemed like an employee or guide there. Apparently, we were the only tourists there contrary to what we initially thought. A few more steps from where we saw the two locals, we finally saw the carvings! I was surprised to see that there was no waterfalls though so I thought I incorrectly remembered the travel stories I read about this place… When I asked the guide(?) why there was no water, he replied that it was because of the dry season. Here are the pictures of Kbal Spean when we visited…
…versus the pictures I saw online
Credits to MonsoonAdventure.com
Credits to Nsteck
A few hundred meters from the stone carvings (without water), we found a big pond although there were no stone carvings at that part anymore.
We decided to go back after making sure that we saw everything. A few tourists arrived just as we were about to leave. We had another perfect timing here, similar to Banteay Srei, because while walking on our way back to the parking area, we passed by a lot of tourists. Some of them asked if Kbal Spean was still far, a few asked if the hike was worth it — my answer was yes. Even without the water, the carvings were still grand and mesmerizing to look at.
My most memorable encounter on our way back was with the monks. The monk below in the picture passed by me but the other monk behind him stopped to have a small chat with me. He asked, “How do you find this place?”. I told him that I loved the place because it was peaceful and unique. Unique in the sense that among all the places we visited in Angkor Park, this was the only one that was inside a forest. The rock carvings were also cool to because it makes you think what kind of tools did they use back then to be able to put those details there. The monk also asked what country we would go next but I told him that we were not backpackers and we will fly back to MNL the next night.
I bid my farewell to the cheerful monks then I saw Kim talking to a tourist. Turns out he was a Thai citizen and Kim told him that I would be going to BKK the next month. He said that he noticed an interesting trait Thai and Filipinos share — we always smile whenever someone talks to us, even if it is a stranger (of course with the exception of shady people).
We continued our hike after our conversations with them, and we still loved our trip going back because we saw the surroundings from a different perspective (mostly climbing up before, now mostly going down stairs and rocks).
When we got back to our tuktuk, we told Mr. Kim to take us back to the town proper so that we could have our lunch. We fell asleep along the way and I was surprised to learn that the travel time was about 2 hours. I showed a picture of an eatery to Mr. Kim. I was not particular in eating in that eatery but more of going to the place since there were lots of eateries there that sell dishes at USD 1.50 only. The stretch of eateries can be found in SIVATHA BOULEVARD. A blogger recommended Chae Ngek Restaurant but it was closed when we were there. Good thing Mr. Kim knows someone who owns an eatery there. We loved the fried spring rolls and grilled squid; we did not like the flat noodles (too saucy plus it tasted like pork & beans) and pad thai (did not resemble the taste of authentic pad thai).
We were supposed to go to the Roluos group of temples (Bakong, Lolei, and Preah Ko) after lunch but when we got back from Kbal Spean, we told Mr. Kim that we would cancel it. After having our lunch, Mr. Kim asked where we would be going next and Kim answered, “Back home”. But before we headed home, Kim requested Mr. Kim to stop if he sees a vendor selling unripe mangoes. We were able to find one then we were off to go back home… or so we thought.
Kim and I were chatting the whole trip, and when I finished discussing something to her, I was puzzled why we were not yet at home. I called this out to Kim and she said that we might be passing through another exit of Angkor Park, probably a shortcut going home. We continued chatting and at one point, I instinctively looked at a sign and saw “Preah Ko”. My eyes got wide and I thought to myself if I was dreaming since Mr. Kim confirmed our cancellation to Roluos. When we passed by another sign and it read “Lolei”, I already nudged Kim and told her we were in the area of Roluos and I was not sure why. Mr. Kim eventually stopped in front of a sign that read “Bakong” and he told us that Bakong is just straight ahead. We told him we were not sure why he drove us all the way here when we just wanted to go home… And that was when I realized that he misheard Kim’s “back home” as “Bakong”… T.T He apologized on this error but we told him that it was okay. So finally, we were really going home after that.
We swam again in the pool to cool off and took a short nap to re-energize ourselves. Kim found out that there are exotic snacks in Siem Reap and she found BUGS CAFE. Since it was the only dining place she requested and I saw that most dishes do not resemble insects and reptiles, I agreed to eat here.
We saw the owner going around tables, recommending dishes and explaining how they cook the food. He did the same when we were already settled in our seats. He recommended the Small Discovery Platter so that we could sample different dishes. We ordered that then Kim saw crocodile meat. We were supposed to order that but it was not available. We settled for Snake Soup after getting assurance that we won’t see the actual snake in the soup.
We freaked out with the insects in the Small Discovery Platter because you could really see the actual insect or its actual shape (in the case of the tarantula tempura). I was already crying inside when I thought about eating all of them, but since the owner assured us that it would not taste yucky, I told myself to just get over this dining experience.
I ate the silkworm first because we had eaten it a few days ago (in Marum). Still tasted good so yay, including the crickets mixed in this particular dish.
I decided to eat the water bug on the stick next — its shell was quite hard and when I was able to get a small piece to bite, ugh it was quite difficult to chew and had a really weird taste.
Surprisingly, the grasshopper tasted like danggit na pusit, which is my favorite so I definitely loved this.
Our next problem was how to eat the spider because it was a whole spider. I took my spoon and fork, then chopped the legs and then its body. With this, we did not get to see a whole spider anymore so it was bearable to eat. The spider tasted good too! What kind of flavoring do they use here??
The bigger problem was eating the Tarantula Donut or what Kim and I called tarantula tempura… Even if the tarantula was fully covered in tempura batter, it was still a whole tarantula and the thought of eating tarantula… So I decided to do the same as the one I did with the small spider — split the body in half then chopped each leg. After a bite, Kim and I were both shocked why it was delicious. No icky yucky weird taste. Much, much better than the water bug.
The last dish in the platter involved ants. It was the “safest” there but I did not want to see the ants because it would make me feel itchy + I was imagining the ants coming back to life and biting my throat. UGH. We took a bite of the Mediterranean Feuilletés and it tasted good. No weird taste from the ants. I think the extra pesto at the side also helped overcome our fear of eating the bread with ants. We spread this on the bread to convince us to eat it. The wild spring rolls tasted, well… like ordinary spring rolls so I think that is a positive comment?
As for the Snake Soup, it tasted like beef noodle soup with an aftertaste, as Kim puts it. The snake meat was not tough. It had a unique taste which I could not describe but this is more of a positive comment rather than a negative one.
In fairness to what we ate, we felt full after eating here in Bugs Cafe. We decided to have fried ice cream as dessert so we walked to Pub Street from here. I was just disappointed that the staff there let a newbie prepare our fried ice cream. Kim’s ice cream looked okay with a few rolls crumbling a bit but still intact. Mine was a disaster!!! He left the liquid for too long so when he was rolling it, everything crumbled. What made me feel even more devastated was the passion fruit they used was too sour. My fried ice cream was totally inedible that I had to throw it away. Good thing, Kim shared hers with me. T.T It was really disappointing because during our first visit here, we both had an excellent experience.
We walked to LEMONGRASS GARDEN MASSAGE & BEAUTY SPA afterwards. This time, I already booked a reservation online. We were attended to promptly, and we were given free tea before the massage. We both chose Cosmic Connection (lemongrass oil) — no regrets because we were able to have a full body massage. We both ended up sleeping because it was really relaxing, and the massage helped alleviate fatigue and some muscle pain.
Mr. Kim fetched us here after to bring us back to our home. Already the last night in Siem Reap… Time really flies so fast!
Similar to our first day, Mr. Kim fetched us from our home before 5AM so that we can do our 1st activity, which is to watch sunrise at ANGKOR WAT. We decided to enter Angkor Wat using the popular West Gate since the route using East Gate was way longer than this one.
FEBRUARY 21, 2016
Similar to our first day, Mr. Kim fetched us from our home before 5AM so that we can do our 1st activity, which is to watch sunrise at ANGKOR WAT. We decided to enter Angkor Wat using the popular West Gate since the route using East Gate was way longer than this one. We could not imagine making our way through the darkness using East Gate — need to pass through the land with monkeys, enter numerous areas, and climb multiple flights of stairs before we reach the pond where people await for the sunrise.
Once we got off our tuktuk, we ran from the West Gate entrance until we reached the pond. Ideally, I wanted the spot right in front of the water but I did not have high hopes for this. I was right because by the time we got there, lots of people were already standing near the water. I spotted a rock in front of the pond where Kim and I would fit. It was as if the universe conspired to enable us to watch the sunrise with an excellent view!
One of the best things during downtime period of exploring is being able to talk to other tourists and share stories. A small group of French tourists who were sitting beside us asked if we knew the time for sunrise. After that, we talked a bit about where we were from then their near travel to the Philippines.
A few minutes after 6AM, I looked behind my back to check out the crowd gathered… To say that there was a large crowd is a total understatement. If I were to estimate the number of people there, it was at least 200 people.
Good thing we were able to secure good sitting spots for the sunrise. We were able to see the sun rising behind Angkor Wat, and it was one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen in this lifetime. When we exited the temple, Mr. Kim stopped our tuktuk after less than a minute of ride. He pointed to where Angkor Wat was and even the view outside was also awesome.
The best thing though that I saw when we were at that spot was Mr. Kim and other locals taking out their phones to capture the sunrise. It made me realize that even if they see the sunrise there frequently, they still get mesmerize by its beauty.
Our 2nd destination for the day was TA PROHM, which is very famous as one of the location sets for the Tomb Raider film. While on the way to Ta Prohm, we passed by the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Mr. Kim stopped the tuktuk and asked us if we wanted to take pictures there. Of course, we said yes!
We were at Ta Prohm a few minutes after 7AM and we were surprised it was closed. Mr. Kim told us that opening time is at 7:30AM and when we looked at our ticket, yeah it was indicated there. We decided to have breakfast in the only eatery near Ta Prohm. Ugh, food was not good so we just drank lots of water to feel full. T.T After eating, we rushed inside Ta Prohm since tourists were starting to pour in.
Ta Prohm is famous structures that are being ran over by humongous roots of trees. It looked fascinating as you see the struggle of a historical piece versus nature… But, we do hope that there is a way that the buildings will not crumble or get destroy because of the roots. We saw some supports inside the structure so this is most likely one step of preserving the buildings there.
This is another place with a huge space, probably bigger than Pre Rup. One can easily get lost here because there are numerous doorways, hallways, and structures. Good thing that there are arrows that point towards the exit so if you feel like you are lost, just follow the directions.
We got lost at one point and when we were about to start retracing our steps, an employee asked us if we were looking for the Tomb Raider spot. We already found one and took pictures there so we were not that interested anymore. Despite that, we still answered yes. He gave us directions since the spot was near. We thought that it was the same spot we went to earlier… apparently not. There were a few tourists lining up to take their pictures so we followed them.
When it was our turn, I asked the kind old man behind me to take pictures. Funny because when he saw the picture he took, he jokingly said that he should probably start taking up photography. Here’s the picture he took of us…
After this, we retraced our steps to the main entrance since Mr. Kim was waiting for us there instead of the exit side. When we were on our way to Ta Keo, turns out that the exit side was crazy — full of vans, mini buses, and loooots of tuktuk so it would be difficult to spot ours if he waited there.
Our 3rd stop that day was TA KEO. Relatively smaller than Pre Rup, probably similar area size as East Mebon. The stairs leading to the main area of Ta Keo was steep even if there was just less than 10 steps. Right after entering, we saw a couple going down this flight of stairs which has big and steep steps. Uhh, my first thought was to take a pass because going down at that side seemed dangerous (we found out later that exit should not be done there since that part was more of an entrance…).
As usual, Kim bravely climbed the steep steps. She stopped halfway and I took her pictures. After she got down, I told myself to overcome my fear so I climbed halfway too. I was right that getting down was hard because one wrong step could make you fall. After I got down, Kim climbed again up to the very top. This woman loves challenges and it seems like she does not fear anything. 😉
We went around the temple and we found a set of wooden stairs. We climbed it and we thought there would be more wooden stairs that would take us to the very top… Wrong! What lied ahead of us were pure rock steps that were big and steep. What else to do but be brave and climb it.
Climbing all those steep steps was worth it since the view above was rewarding. I told myself to just worry about going down if it was already time to go down. Phew. Even if it was just about 10AM, the heat was starting to become unbearable so it was a good thing there were parts there with shade.
After resting a bit, there was another long flight of rock stairs to be able to get to the topmost tower. I already passed on this one because my knees were starting to shake a bit so I was not confident if I could go down properly once we finished seeing the topmost tower. We decided to go down and even if the steps were steep, I realized that there is enough space for my small feet to go down without any worry.
When we returned to our tuktuk, we were surprised when Mr. Kim handed us a plastic of sliced unripe mangoes with salt + crushed chili as dip. We were familiar with salt as dip since this is also done in the Philippines (bagoong is another kind of dip which I prefer more), but seeing the crushed chili mixed in it was new to us. I was happy that the unripe mango was not that sour and dipping it in the salt + chili was a perfect combo. If it wasn’t for my low tolerance for spiciness, I would have eaten more. Kim finished about 2/3 of what Mr. Kim bought. 🙂
Our next stop was ANGKOR THOM, which is a huuuge complex that where you can a number of temples to explore. There are 4 gates here, but South and East are the more popular ones. If the temperature was more bearable, we would have done the “Wall Walk” where you start your adventure at one gate then walk by following the walls of Angkor Thom. I read some travelers doing this, and they said that it was a unique and different experience compared to just visiting tempeles. It would probably take about 2 hours since Angkor Thom complex is way bigger than Angkor Wat.
Our first destination inside Angkor Thom was the Terraces. Mr. Kim dropped us off here and told us that we can walk to visit the different areas we wanted to see in Angkor Thom so our meet-up would be in the West Gate of Bayon. We visited TERRACES OF THE ELEPHANTS and TERRACES OF THE LEPER KING but since these were out in the open, we did not last for 10 minutes. It was too hot already even if it was just 10:30AM.
PHIMEANAKAS was our next stop in Angkor Thom. We only spent a few minutes here then moved on to walk to our next stop…
We followed the trail going to BAPHUON and when we saw the open space, we just laughed weakly since we were not sure how we would last under the heat. However, when we saw from afar that people were climbing stairs to get to the topmost part, this was enough to revive our spirits. We had a goal to accomplish in Baphuon!
I initially thought that we were going to climb using rock stairs again but they had wooden stairs with railing instead. Yay because I do not need to make big steps! The climb was still quite scary though because the railing was too thin. A lot of people were holding it for support so whenever one of them accidentally shook the railing, we could feel it and the vibrations. I was just doing a silent prayer that the stairs would keep its hold.
Upon reaching the top, the climb was worth it! Well at that point, I felt that all climbs we did in temples were all worth it especially when we see the view from our vantage point. We spent around 15 minutes in the area before descending. Heat was already unbearable at that point.
Our last stop before exiting Angkor Thom and having our lunch was BAYON. Famous for the numerous stone carvings of faces, it was not surprising to see tourists flock this place.
We did not mind the crowd at this point as a lot of travelers shared online that Bayon is eternally crowded. Only downtime would be during opening time, lunch time, and closing time. Our only problem was that we were out in the open so the heat was really a killer. At some point, Kim already sat down under a shade to rest. I roamed around some more to admire the faces and take pictures, then decided to sit beside Kim.
That was the time when we saw a solo traveler who was really good-looking. *-* We eventually made small talk with him by asking him to take a picture of us using my Instax then in return, Kim took his picture. We jokingly told each other that this guy became the main highlight of the trip instead of the Angkor Wat sunrise.
We made our way back to our tuktuk, and Mr. Kim brought us to back to the restaurants near Angkor Wat. He chose a different restaurant since we told him we were not happy with our lunch at Angkor Reach Restaurant before. We ordered fried spring rolls, squid with peppercorn, and a noodle dish. This time around, we were happy kids because everything tasted good.
We went back to our Airbnb lodging after lunch so that we can rest. During our official first day in Siem Reap, we saw that the pool was not that clean so we asked Bunthai if the pool can be cleaned over the weekend. When we returned, we saw her near the gate and told us that the pool was newly cleaned. We rushed to our rooms so that we can change swimwear and took our time in the pool. Definitely a must do to beat the heat!
After swimming then resting, Mr. Kim fetched us so that we can return to Angkor Park. Our 9th stop inside the park was PHNOM BAKHENG, which is a famous spot for watching sunset. We had to be there before 4PM since the temple only allows maximum of 300 people at the topmost part. We thought that the walk to the temple was just short but we were surprised that it turned into a short hike. Walk was between 8-10 minutes and when we reached the line, an employee approached us and told us we cannot enter because of our sleeveless tops. A few travelers mentioned that women can enter with sleeveless tops as long as the shoulders are covered. Mine was a short-sleeved top while Kim had a vest on top of her top that covers her shoulders. Since we were not permitted, we had to go back to our tuktuk and find another place to watch the sunset.
I think this one is worth mentioning before I move on to where we eventually watched sunset — near the starting point of the short hike to Phnom Bakheng, I saw an attraction where people can ride an elephant for a certain fee. PLEASE, DO NOT RIDE ELEPHANTS especially in Thailand and Cambodia where their spirits are broken through torture and isolation. BE A RESPONSIBLE TOURIST! Here are a few articles to help convince you:
When we reached the parking lot, I already had Pre Rup in mind as a place for sunset since other travelers recommended this as an alternative to Phnom Bakheng. Still, I asked Mr. Kim just to check a local’s perspective. He recommended PRE RUP so I was fully convinced that this would be our 10th and final stop in the park.
We climbed to the topmost part of Pre Rup and took a rest under a shade since it was just 4PM. A few minutes before 5PM, we sat on one part of the edge so that no one would block our view as we watch the sunset.
After the sunset, I asked Mr. Kim to take us to TOUICH RESTAURANT for dinner. He asked us if we made any reservation since it was a popular place, and I said yes. Good thing there were travelers who shared online that while the place accepts walk-ins, reservation is still recommended to ensure seats. You can shoot them an e-mail here for reservation: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When we got there, we were the first customers to arrive. We thought that that night might probably be an off-peak day but we were wrong since after an hour, the place was already full. A friendly reminder when going to this place — bring a mosquito repellant since there were quite a lot of mosquitoes around. That will save you from all the annoying bites.
We ordered Banana Flower Salad with Chicken, Sand and Salt Grilled Red Snapper, and “Loc Lac” Beef Stir-fried with Fried Rice. Similar to Marum, their prices are not dirt cheap. Our total bill was about USD 20 but we did not mind since every penny was worth it.
The banana flower salad was good for 2 people. We loved the hint of citrus flavor in the vinaigrette they used plus puso ng saging is a favorite of mine.
When the snapper dish arrived, we stared at it with a puzzled look. We looked at the server and she asked us if it was our first time to order this. We nodded our heads and she proceeded with opening the leaf. She expertly removed most of the fish bones using just utensils, leaving the meat part only. Amazing! The meat was soft, flavorful but not too salty. Initially we wanted grilled squid but we changed our mind when the server recommended this when we were ordering.
Remember when we had a bad experience on beef loc lac 2 days ago? We were expecting that Touich’s version would be 5x better… and it did not disappoint! The beef had the right amount of saltiness, not overpowering. It tasted like the salty beef tapa here in MNL. The sauce that came with the dish was also a perfect pair with the loc lac. The kick of spicy flavor was a good welcome to our palate, not sure if it was ground peppercorn.
After our dinner, we went to Pub Street to have a massage at Lemongrass Garden Massage & Beauty Spa but we had to wait more than an hour before being entertained. Mr. Kim took us to a massage place that his friend manages. We had to wait for more than 30 minutes before getting a massage. We took a pass and decided to just go home since we had to wake up very early the next day.
We walked to Il Forno (located in the alley beside Red Piano) for lunch, and we were both excited to eat since we love Italian food.
Also excited for our ATV ride with QUAD ADVENTURE CAMBODIA.
FEBRUARY 20, 2016
Kim and I started our 2nd day quite late since it was a day off for us for Angkor Park. Mr. Kim, our tuktuk driver, picked us up from our house at past 9AM and dropped us at Pub Street. Since we had not yet eaten breakfast, we went around the area and found Father’s Restaurant. I told Kim that I saw a few blogs recommending the place but I could not recall what dishes were recommended. We decided to go inside and just order what we feel like eating…
We were lucky that both food items we ordered tasted good. I had to remove a few herbs from the fresh spring rolls since these made the food cloying to me. After our late breakfast, we visited every stall in the market near Pub Street so that we could shop for souvenirs.
We walked to Il Forno (located in the alley beside Red Piano) for lunch afterwards, and we were both excited to eat since we love Italian food.
The pizza was so good and we ended up finishing all slices. Both Kim and I do not eat crust but Il Forno’s pizza crust was thin and chewy so we also got to eat this part. Of course, we did not pass up the chance to order ravioli as this is another favorite of ours. After our excellent lunch, we found out that there were a few more stalls nearby so we shopped for pasalubong clothes.
We also visited the Day Market which was a few blocks away. I was able to buy a small legit leather bag for my mom. The kind vendor gave me a discount of USD 15 (from USD 35 to 20) so yay for that!
Even if it was just early afternoon, the heat was already unbearable so we decided to eat ice cream in Blue Pumpkin. I saw a lot of people raving about it so I had high expectations. Well, the ice cream was good but not really something that I would hype about. The air-conditioned store was heaven though because it kept us safe from the heat. T.T
After finishing our ice cream, we asked Mr. Kim to take us back home so that we could rest before our ATV ride scheduled for late afternoon. We asked him to pick us up again at 4PM then drop us off near Red Piano since that was our meeting place with an employee from QUAD ADVENTURE CAMBODIA.
We found Nico (the employee) and his tuktuk near Red Piano, and he drove us to a part of Siem Reap that already resembled countryside. Once there, we were given orientation on the sunset ATV ride we availed (USD 32). Since Kim and I do not drive a car and have never tried riding an ATV, we were given an ATV drive test. We both failed so we ended up with a guide riding behind us so that they could maneuver the ATV if it was already difficult for us.
The whole ride took about an hour. The best part with the ATV ride was we can stop whenever we want to, if we wanted to take pictures or just admire the view.
We also passed by a lot of locals and most of the kids we encountered happily waved to us. Hopefully, they were not too disturbed by the loud noise that the ATV made. Our first stop was at a big fish pond where we could feed the fish…
We rode our ATV again afterwards and proceeded to our last stop where we could watch the sun set…
When we finished our ATV ride, Nico drove us back to Pub Street since Kim and I plan to feel the night life in this place. We ate at TRIANGLE where the dining area was out in the open. We ordered fresh spring rolls, barbecue, and flat noodles that was cooked like pancit here… Only the spring rolls tasted good. It was such a letdown because the place has a TripAdvisor sticker + their specialty is grilled food. The meat in the barbecue was too tough to chew and the veggies on the stick were quite soggy. As for the flat noodles, it tasted bland. *sigh*
Good thing we would drop by MISS WONG after this so we decided to just order food there aside from cocktails…
We ordered these cocktails and two servings of Steamed Shrimp Har Gow. If it was not that expensive, we would have ordered more servings. I liked the Passion Fruit Cosmopolitan I ordered but the alcohol was too strong for me. I still ended up with palpitations even if I added water into it. T.T Kim’s Lemon Grass Collins was better since it did not have strong alcohol kick and taste.
We went to another drinking place after this but only Kim ordered a mug of beer since it would be bad for me if I did the same. Not a fan of beer anyway so I did not mind. We walked around Pub Street some more before meeting up with Mr. Kim…
While walking back to our tuktuk, Mr. Kim pointed to the fried ice cream stall. We initially wanted to buy here earlier but the stall was still closed. We looked at Mr. Kim and told him we would buy one before going home. We found the serving to be good for sharing at that time since we were quite full already. We chose mango and dragon fruit to be mixed together then had mango bits as toppings. Oh, it was perfect for the humid weather. We were able to gobble it up after a few bites while riding our tuktuk on the way home.
Called it a night after arriving at our house as we had to get up early the following day to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
Our 1st activity was to watch the sunrise in SRAS SRANG. We were already there a few minutes past 5AM and it was really dark. Kim and I were a bit afraid to go alone and find a spot since we might fall down (too paranoid lol). Mr. Kim, our tuktuk driver, seemed to sense it so he offered to accompany us.
FEBRUARY 18-19, 2016
Kim (my best friend) and I booked a trip for Siem Reap last month. Our flight to Siem Reap was scheduled on the evening of 18th. There was a 30-minute delay but we did not mind it that much.
We arrived at Siem Reap International Airport at around 10PM (Siem Reap is 1 hour behind Manila). We had a tuktuk driver, Mr. Somnang, who would pick us up from the airport. He was recommended by our Airbnb host. Charge is USD 7. Yup, Siem Reap uses USD as currency especially for tourists. I read in forums and blogs that it is better to already have USD with you rather than having it exchange in Siem Reap since some money changers can rip you off. Do not exert effort anymore to exchange USD to Cambodian riel.
The ride from the airport to our Airbnb home is about 20 minutes. Bunthai, our kind host, waited for us even if it was already quite late. She showed us to our room and briefed us on other details we should take note of during our stay. We chose to stay in her listing (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5140353) because of the following:
Near proximity to Angkor Archaeological Park (just 5 minutes away by tuktuk)
Clean bedroom (with aircon) and bathroom
Strong and reliable Internet/Wi-Fi connection
Has swimming pool — perfect for the hot weather
Responsive and accommodating host
Last but not the least, very affordable rate per night
After settling down in our “home” for the next five days, we decided to call it a night since our tuktuk driver for our Angkor Archaeological Park trip would pick us up at 4:45AM.
The next morning (02/19) Mr. Kim, our tuktuk driver, picked us up from our Airbnb home. He was able to speak with Bunthai and get directions how to get to our place since it does not have an address.
Upon arriving in Angkor Park, we bought a 3-day pass for USD 40. They took a picture of us first then printed the ticket with our own picture in it. Do not lose this pass because every temple you go to checks this before you get to enter the place.
How did we go about our temple run adventure in Angkor Park? I researched itineraries shared online on avoiding crowds, compared each one of them, and came up with my own. The itinerary in this travel series is quite similar to one of the itineraries I encountered online (forgot though where I found it T.T). I’m proud to say that with the route I made (and with a dash of luck), we experienced very few to no crowd at all in most temples we visited. The only exceptions are Angkor Wat and Bayon which are crowded any time of the day, and Phnom Bakeng which is very popular during sunset time.
Our 1st activity was to watch the sunrise in SRAS SRANG. We were already there a few minutes past 5AM and it was really dark. Kim and I were a bit afraid to go alone and find a spot since we might fall down (too paranoid lol). Mr. Kim seemed to sense it so he offered to accompany us. He told us some details about the place then he showed us a picture of him as a student. Apparently, he is currently studying nursing and working as a tuktuk driver helps in his education.
How did I end up with Mr. Kim as our tuktuk driver? I was researching about Siem Reap when I chanced upon a blog that recommended him. I checked out Mr. Kim’s website (Kim Cambodia Driver) and found his rates for tuktuk driving. His rates are reasonable — either at par or cheaper than other tuktuk drivers. In addition, we had unlimited bottled water supply for the whole day, and he stored these in a cooler so we always feel refreshed. Prior to arriving in Cambodia, we talked to each other through e-mail and I had a gut feeling already that he was kind. I have a more detailed review of him in my post on our last day in Siem Reap: https://itskeanne.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/siem-reap-day-5-shopping-more-food-trip/.
Back to Sras Srang — when we already found a good spot, Mr. Kim went back to the parking area. A few tourists started coming at past 6AM…
Watching the sunrise made me feel grateful to be alive as I get to witness the beauty of nature. We took some pictures after and asked another tourist to take a shot of the two of us.
After Sras Srang, we decided to have breakfast first. We asked Mr. Kim to take us to a place he would recommend and he picked Angkor Reach Restaurant, which is located near Angkor Wat. We were quite hungry already and since it was not yet that hot, Kim and I decided to get flat noodle soup (chicken for me, pork for her). We both loved our food plus it was quite cheap compared to the other international breakfast food items they have.
After breakfast, our 2nd stop in the park was PRASAT KRAVAN. No one was around when we arrived so we had the place all to ourselves at first. After a few minutes, a small group of tourists arrived although they also left early.
After taking some pictures, our 3rd stop was PRE RUP. We were quite shocked to see it up close since the place was huge and there was a long, steep flight of rock stairs at the main area. We were already excited to explore the place after seeing these.
After almost an hour of roaming around Pre Rup, our 4th destination was EAST MEBON. It originally stood on an artificial island as it was surrounded by East Baray reservoir. However, it is now dry so no more water around. A unique point of East Mebon are the elephants found in each corner of the 2nd level.
The place was quite small so it took us a short time to explore the place. After this, our 5th stop was TA SOM. I fell in love with Ta Som right away because it was surrounded by nature, particularly huge trees. When we reached the end of the area, it was there where we saw a structure that resembled part of Ta Prohm (based from what I initially saw in pictures).
Checking out the other side before entering…
…The view from the other side! Similar to Ta Prohm, eh?
We traced back our steps to the parking area and headed to our 6th stop — NEAK PEAN. We walked a looooong path before reaching the main area of Neak Pean. From a distance, we could hear a traditional instrumental music playing. Turns out the people playing music were men who were victims of land mine. I did not read any scam about this so I left money in their small basket.
Braving the intense heat at around 11AM
After a few minutes of walking, we finally reached the main area. A LOT of tourists were already there but good thing they were not blocking the structures in the area.
Our 7th destination after this was PREAH KHAN. We walked a pathway of trees before entering the temple proper.
Tourists having fun posing here… but after 5 minutes, they were not done here so we had to move on T.T
We went back to Angkor Reach Restaurant for lunch but it was very disappointing. We ordered lok lak, fish amok, and a breakfast item… and nothing tasted delicious. Total disappointment since we were looking forward to tasting Cambodian cuisine. 😦
In the afternoon, our 8th (and last) stop for the day was ANGKOR WAT so that we can see the buildings lighted by the sunset. We entered through the East Gate since I read a few bloggers recommending this route if we wanted to get a good spot for sunrise. There were lots of monkeys around and one of them tried to steal my water bottle. T.T But the view of Angkor Wat from the East Gate was awesome — since the sun was already at the other side, it illuminated the whole temple.
Did we enter Angkor Wat using this gate for sunrise during our 2nd day trip in the park? Find out here. 😉
Angkor Wat – view from East Gate
It took us more than an hour to explore the place as Angkor Wat is insanely huuuge. It was a good thing this was our last stop for the day so we could take our time to go around. I read that visitors can climb the highest tower in the temple. We were supposed to do so but the line was so long + out in the open so the heat of the sun was a killer. We just moved on to the other areas of Angkor Wat.
After taking pictures here and there, we went to a spot with very few people to watch the Angkor Wat get illuminated by sunset. Since this is the only temple facing west, it is more ideal to watch the sunrise here; but, I do agree with other travelers that being present here during sunset is a sight to behold as well.
After a whole day in Angkor Park, I told Mr. Kim that we will have dinner in Cuisine Wat Damnak. When we got there, we were told that we should have a reservation to be entertained. This was quite weird to me because I researched about the place and no one mentioned that it was just a reservation-only place. I decided to take Kim to Marum Restaurant instead.
Marum is managed by an NGO that focuses on helping street children and marginalized youth. Most of the staff are students in training but during our visit, I saw two people who had “teacher” at the back of their shirt. Curious on what kind of food they have? This restaurant serves Cambodian cuisine but they put a twist in every dish.
We were given free appetizers and one of them is silkworm. We gave the teacher a weird look when he told us what it was but he just laughed and said that it tastes good plus there’s a creamy texture inside. We contemplated for quite some time whether to eat it or not… in the end, oh come on let’s do this for experience. True enough, it did not taste weird so we were able to finish this.
Free appetizer — the one at the rightmost side are silkworms
For dinner, we had mushroom and rice brie balls, dumplings, and fish amok. Everything tasted delicious and Marum was able to redeem fish amok to us. We also ordered Cambodia Beer and Angkor Beer since we kept on seeing these in the restaurants inside Angkor Park. Kim and I prefer Cambodia Beer over Angkor since the bad beer taste was not prominent.
Wild Mushroom and Brie Rice Balls with Marum Leaves and Beetroot Mayo
Dumplings (but I forgot what the ingredients were)
Happy ladies because of the delicious dinner. Bawing-bawi ang masamang lunch!
We ended up with happy tummies because of our dinner in Marum, and we highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Siem Reap. Do not expect though that their prices are dirt cheap. Price of dishes start at USD 4 and above.
Headed home after dinner to catch some z’s and be prepared for the next day.
We arrived at Sensoji Temple at past 8AM and the place was deserted. Total opposite of the Sunday vibe and environment
Shops started to open a few minutes after 9AM. At around 9:30, the number of people also started increasing and the streets slowly got busier.
JANUARY 20, 2016
We only had a few hours left before our airport service picks us up in our lodging. Our only destination was to go back to SENSOJI TEMPLE to buy local street food. During our visit last January 17, we saw tents near Hondo that were selling all sorts of food — steamed sweet potato, takoyaki, crab claws, big crab meat on sticks, etc. We were not able to buy back then since we were following Toshi-san around and it was almost lunch time.
We arrived at Sensoji Temple at past 8AM and the place was deserted. Total opposite of the Sunday vibe and environment.
The only people around were locals who quickly visit Hondo before going to work/school.
Shops started to open a few minutes after 9AM. At around 9:30, the number of people also started increasing and the streets slowly got busier. A rice cake shop caught my attention because of the cute edible designs they sold.
We were looking for a shop that sells Adidas shoes when we chanced upon a long alley near the temple that is full of shops. Most of them were still closed but there was a shop there that sells luggage. I bought a hand-carry luggage there so that I can transfer my other pasalubongs + I now have my own hand-carry luggage. No need to borrow one from a relative or friend, yay!
I took a look at some of the bags and clothing stores opened there, and they sell affordable items. T.T Such a pity but I guess that’s a good reason to go back here. We went back to our unit after the shopping trip and finished our final packing.
Our driver arrived promptly and he spoke English well. If I am not mistaken, my office mate booked our van with TOKYO AIRPORTER (http://www.tokyoairporter.com/fares.html) since we paid the exact rate of 21,000 yen for an 8-seater van. No other or hidden additional charges like tax, toll, parking as the rate in their site is already “ALL IN”. We had to get the 8-seater instead of the 5-seater van since 3 of us in the group (including me) had 3 luggage each, while our other office mate has a backpack and a suitcase. If you are a group of 4-8 people with at least 2 luggage each, we highly recommend availing this rather than pulling your suitcases to ride a train or take a bus.
We were already in Narita Airport at around noontime. Our flight was scheduled in the evening so we had lots of time to eat, shop, and chill in the airport. It was in an airport shop where I finally found the ViVi issue where Reina Triendl is part of the cover page. YAAAAYYY!!! I also bought the latest tankobon of One Piece there. *-*
It is still quite surreal that I was able to finally visit Japan. Tokyo has been one of my must-visit destinations since high school and now that I have done it, I can’t wait to go back to Japan and explore the other areas — Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Nagoya, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Hiroshima, and many more.
We started our 6th day in Tokyo really early — left our Airbnb place a few minutes after 5AM to catch an early train going to TSUKIJI MARKET. It was really cold that morning for me, around 4C and when we reached Tsukiji Market, it got even colder because of the wind.
JANUARY 19, 2016
We started our 6th day in Tokyo really early — left our Airbnb place a few minutes after 5AM to catch an early train going to TSUKIJI MARKET. It was really cold that morning for me, around 4C and when we reached Tsukiji Market, it got even colder because of the wind.
Our first mission that morning was to look for the famous SUSHI DAI or SUSHI DAIWA. Once we found the long line, J stayed behind. We thought that it was the line for Daiwa which has faster turnaround since they have more seats but we later learned that the line was for Dai (the original shop). The rest of us in the group decided to look for other breakfast options…
Shrine near Tsukiji Market
Big, sweet strawberries ❤
We spent 3 hours going around the market, buying food, and resting inside a coffee shop. We also encountered a woman handing out survey forms to tourists. Main topic is Tsukiji market and the move that is going to happen late this year. I read a few articles saying that the relocation is mainly due to sanitation and safety reasons. Guess we were lucky enough to see Tsukiji in its original area before the big move.
After 3 hours, we decided to go back to Sushi Dai to check if our J had already eaten. To our surprise, she was still in line so we told her we would go around some more. After a 5-minute walk, I saw a sign that we were in GINZA already. Too bad though that all of the stores were still closed.
When we returned to Sushi Dai at past 10AM, J was already done and she said that every penny was worth it in Sushi Dai. The place charges 4,000 yen for 10 sushi pieces, in case you’re wondering. Sushi is served omakase style, meaning you leave it up to the chef to come up with the different kinds of sushi. There is no fixed menu but rest assure that each sushi is fresh and tastes really good. My office mate also said that you can order extra pieces of sushi.
After our visit in Tsukiji Market, our next stop was KAWAGOE. We boarded a train going to Takadanobaba Station, and bought tickets for Honkawagoe Station. The purchase was quite confusing though since the employee was not fluent in English. She showed us a poster that highlights a Kawagoe package. She said that it already includes 2-way ticket via New Red Arrow Line (reserved seating, scheduled rides) and bus pass in Kawagoe. We bought it and since we still had almost an hour before our train ride, we ate a light lunch in a nearby shop.
About 10 minutes before the scheduled departure, we went inside the station to look for New Red Arrow’s platform. Do not make the mistake of boarding trains randomly. Always ask around. We asked nearby locals if the train already arrived. We showed them the ticket and they would shake their heads to say that the train was not yet there.
True to the character of punctuality, our train arrived on time. It was clean and the seats were comfortable enough that I drifted to dreamland after a few minutes of sitting down. The doors connecting each cabin were also awesome because there was no knob or handle; instead, I had my hand near the door surface and motioned it like I was swiping on an invisible surface. Should have taken a video of it for better demonstration, lol.
The ride to Honkawagoe was about 45 minutes and we were at a loss where to go out. Eventually, we found it but the problem was finding the bus going to Old Town. After speaking with an employee in the station, he gave us a map with bus schedules and when we checked the time, it was already boarding time for the Koedo Loop Bus (http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/bus/). I ran like crazy when I saw the bus from the exit, and when I reached the bus, the driver had just closed the doors. I knocked loudly at the door and the old driver laughingly opened it. Now that I think about it, that was really embarrassing!
We remembered that we bought a package so we showed our train ticket but the driver did not accept it. Not sure if the employee in Takadanobaba forgot to give our bus tickets, ugh. Since we did not know the distance of the places, we bought a 1-day unli pass. It was a waste in the end because we did not ride the bus anymore after that. Also, from the station, Old Town is apparently just walking distance. The loop bus drove around different spots in Kawagoe before we reached Old Town. No regrets though because at least we can all say that we were able to ride a vintage Japan bus.
It was amazing to see lots of snow in Kawagoe at that day because in Tokyo, there was just little snow left. A few roofs even had small icicles with water dripping due to the heat. The old buildings looked amazing! This long stretch of Old Town was able to preserve the vibe and look of the Edo period.
What else to do but take pictures, look into shops, and find a restaurant that sells unagi which this place is known for…
Unfortunately, an unagi restaurant was nowhere in sight and when I checked Google Maps, it was quite far and we only had less than 2 hours to explore the place before our scheduled train trip back to Tokyo. 😦 I tried dango instead, thinking that it is the same or similar to fish balls here in MNL… Wrong! Dango is apparently made from mochi… That was okay for me but the sauce that came with it did not taste good at all. Good thing I just bought one stick. Still willing to try dango when I return to Japan, perhaps it was just a “miss” incident.
I was really hungry already since we did not have heavy lunch earlier. There were few shops opened at past 3PM that sells decent food but either the price was too expensive or the type of food sold did not interest my appetite. Eventually settled for soft-served matcha ice cream. I was given a small cup of sweet tea as part of their free tasting activity inside.
After finishing the ice cream, my office mate and I walked back towards the train station. Also took some more pictures of people and places while walking…
Five minutes before the scheduled departure, we were already at the platform but we made the mistake of going to the side where the doors were closed. We ran with all our might to be able to reach the correct area where the doors were opened. We made it in time, thankfully!
Our destination was Shibuya to eat at the famous MAISEN (MNL has a few branches of Maisen already!). Indeed, their katsu was really good — crunchy, juicy, not too oily. But the best part of our dining experience in Maisen was getting to use their own salt & spices. Too addictive! If they were selling it there, we would have bought at least a bottle each. It was also funny because it was in Maisen where my office mates saw a woman who really looked like me, especially with her side view. We also had the same habit of smacking our lips together and tucking hair behind an ear. Quite freaky but really interesting and funny.
On the way home, we dropped by SOLAMACHI where my office mates bought Tokyo Banana. Turns out that this is a famous Japanese treat so they bought a few boxes as pasalubong. Before leaving the mall, we also bought takoyaki for our drinking session at home.
While walking to our Airbnb unit, we saw the Skytree all lit up. Since it was our last night in Tokyo, we just had to take a group selfie with the Skytree in the background. Yay to selfie skills!
At home, while packing all of our clothes and pasalubong, we had our drinking session ongoing. The takoyaki still tasted good despite being quite soggy already. We did not lake the taste of the sake from the convenience store because of the very strong alcohol taste. For me, it somehow resembles isopropyl alcohol, yikes!
While packing, I could not believe that our week-long stay in Tokyo was coming to an end already. *sigh* Good thing we still had half-day left the next morning to do some last minute exploration and shopping in the Asakusa area. Til the next post!
We went straight to Akihabara, and Mark and I were in pure bliss because we were in the popular anime place! We visited the big DONKI (DON QUIJOTE) store first to buy all sorts of pasalubong, mainly food (instant noodles + chocolates). After that, we headed to RADIO KAIKAN and went crazy at each floor. We were not allowed to take pictures, especially in areas of action figures. T.T
JANUARY 18, 2016
We were greeted in the morning by the first snowfall in Tokyo for 2016. Toshi-san’s prediction that we would be able to experience it was right on mark. We were not able to witness the actual snowfall but seeing that much of snow was already enough to make me happy. The last time I saw snow was back in January 2014, which was also my first time to see it.
We started the day quite late, leaving the lodging at past 1PM. We had our late lunch in the food court of SOLAMACHI, and I picked the store which sells Japanese curry dish.
We went straight to Akihabara, and Mark and I were in pure bliss because we were in the popular anime place! We visited the big DONKI (DON QUIJOTE) store first to buy all sorts of pasalubong, mainly food (instant noodles + chocolates). After that, we headed to RADIO KAIKAN and went crazy at each floor. We were not allowed to take pictures, especially in areas of action figures. T.T The place has all sorts of merchandise for anime lovers — manga, action figures, CD copies of the shows, drawing guides, OST CDs, etc.
I wished we could have stayed longer so that we could visit more anime/manga places in Akiba. *sigh* We went to Shibuya afterwards to do some more shopping…
Our first stop was TOKYU HANDS, which has 7 floors and per floor, it has 3 sections (A, B, C). The place sells all sorts of items — ballpens, friction pens & highlighters, brush pens, postcards, stationery, bags & wallets, cosmetics, etc. Shopaholics will definitely love this place!
I was excited and itching to go to our next destination, which was recommended by Mark since he absolutely loves the same show to… ONE PIECE MUGIWARA STORE in Parco Shibuya. YAAAYYY!!! Good thing it was just walking distance from Tokyu Hands. So happy to see huge figures of Zoro, Luffy, and Chopper outside the store. I splurged on the One Piece gachapon machines outside, and bought some more keychains inside the store. I also bought a Perona cellphone audio jack, but I AM SO SAD TO SAY THAT I LOST IT HERE IN MNL. 😥
We went to look for ICHIRAN after our shopping trip for One Piece goodies…
There was a line but we decided to stay since it seemed like we would not wait that long. We ended up sitting in separate cubicles so we were able to experience eating alone.
It was interesting how we ordered our ramen — we were asked to “create” our ramen using a vendo machine, which would let out a small paper slip after you paid for it. Then, the waiter would hand out a paper so that you can check your preferences when it comes to flavor, richness, garlic, sliced pork, green onions, original red sauce, and noodle texture. This part resembles the way Ramen Nagi in MNL does things so it was familiar to me at that point.
I liked the way they cook their ramen because it is not that salty. It was good but still not decided if that is indeed the best ramen.
We called it a night after this dinner since we still had to wake up really early the next day for Tsukiji Market.
Our first stop during our 4th day in Tokyo was the MEIJI JINGU (or Meiji Shrine) in Shibuya. It was just around 8AM so there were only a few locals when we got there.
Toshi-san explained that “shrine” is used for sacred areas under Shintoism while “temple” is for Buddhism. He taught us how to pray like the locals and explained a bit more about Meiji Jingu.
JANUARY 17, 2016
It was the last day of our company outing (but not last day in Tokyo for me and a few colleagues) so we had to check out at Hotel Monterey Akasaka.
Our first stop during our 4th day in Tokyo was the MEIJI JINGU (or Meiji Shrine) in Shibuya. It was just around 8AM so there were only a few locals when we got there.
Toshi-san explained that “shrine” is a term used for sacred areas under Shintoism while “temple” is for Buddhism. He taught us how to pray like the locals and explained a bit more about Meiji Jingu.
I kind of drifted away from the group when I saw the ema at one side of the shrine. I only saw these in some anime shows I watched so seeing them in reality was a delight. Most of the ema are written of course in kanji, but I still found it fascinating to look at some of the ema with cute drawings.
When I returned to the group, Toshi-san was already giving instructions on meet-up time and place as he would give us free time to explore the place. I followed a few office mates exiting the shrine but I remembered that there was one area in the shrine proper which I did not check out. I traced back my steps and found some locals crowding a wooden box where they were getting a piece of paper.
At first, I thought it was like a fortune cookie where you get to know your luck/fortune for the day… But apparently, they were getting omigokoro which is a poem card written by either Emperor Meiji or Empress Shoken. According to the printed paper in English:
“Emperor Meiji wrote about 100,000 waka and the Empress about 30,000 waka, which are not only excellent as literary works but also constitute significant teachings to enhance the national moral character. Meiji Jingu has chosen fifteen waka each from among their composition in order to provide visitors and worshippers with the divine grace of the Imperial couple in the form of omikuji (oracles).”
After getting an omigokoro, I noticed two women in the other stall browsing boxes then getting a small item and paying for it. I got curious so I checked it out. The items sold looked like amulets but everything was in kanji, except for the price. Then, I found one amulet which had an English translation — unfortunately, I found its purpose not that relevant for me but at least it confirmed that all the items were amulets indeed.
I picked an amulet randomly, praying that it was of more relevance — whether for luck, work, love, or health — then paid for it. I was already itching to go back to the bus so that I could ask Toshi-san what kind of amulet I got.
But, before I left this area, I saw a couple dressed in traditional clothes passing by. A woman and photographer were following them so I guess they were having a pre-nup shoot here. So lucky to be able to see locals wearing their traditional clothing~!
I was able to catch up with two office mates and we passed by Toshi-san who was counting the number of people going back to the bus. I tried to ask about the amulet I bought but he said he would check later.
We went to the souvenir shop first before heading back to the bus. Once we were complete in the bus, Toshi-san mentioned to the group that I bought an amulet. Turns out that what I chose was a luck amulet and he told me to keep it with me at all times. He showed his own luck amulet which he keeps in his wallet. He said that the amulet had been with him for 40+ years already, even before he got married. Amazing!!
Our next stop was the TOKYO IMPERIAL PALACE, where the Emperor of Japan resides. Of course, we were not able to get close and see the Emperor. But Toshi-san said that there are certain occasions when they open a part of the palace so that people can go closer and see the Emperor and his wife when they greet the crowd. If I’m not mistaken, one of the occasions is New Year.
After Toshi-san explained everything about the place, we were given some free time for picture taking before we leave the place…
We went to Asakusa area afterwards and visited SENSOJI TEMPLE, which is for Buddhist worshippers. Toshi-san said that most Japanese people practice both Shintoism and Buddhism so temples and shrines can be easily found.
Most of the people in our group chose to do some last minute shopping around the area, and the ones left behind with Toshi-san are the people who would be extending stay in Tokyo — me + 3 office mates.
We visited on a Sunday so the temple was full of worshippers and tourists, yikes. Toshi-san took us around the whole area of the temple and he took time to explain every area and statue to us.
I love hearing things directly from a local as it makes me feel closer to their culture, and it always fascinates me to hear their own stories and opinion. 🙂
One of the Jizo Bosatsus — protector of children, stillborn babies, and deceased kids
At one point in our walking tour, Toshi-san led us to an area where we could get our omikuji, the famous fortune-telling paper slips in Japan temples. We dropped 100 yen coin each, shook a metal can with wooden sticks and took out one stick, located the drawer with the same number as the one in the drawn stick (note that the number is in kanji though), then get the paper at the topmost. The one I got was…
..the BEST fortune. I showed it to Toshi-san and he suddenly hugged me tightly. He patted me at the back and happily told me that I was really lucky to get this one so I should always keep it with me. Apparently, drawing daikichi (great/best fortune) is quite rare. Yay! If one gets bad luck/fortune, the paper slip must be tied to a nearby tying station (not sure what it is called). Toshi-san said that this is practiced so that you leave the bad luck/fortune behind.
After exploring the area, we started to walk to our meet-up place with the rest of the group. We passed by a long alley of different kinds of stores — souvenirs, local delicacy, bags, accessories, etc. Toshi-san recommended a local food, can’t recall its name though since the matcha flavor I got did not taste that good.
After regrouping, we had our lunch in a restaurant nearby…
…then traced back our steps to go back to our bus. The four of us who would be extending would get our luggage while the rest of the group would head back home that evening.
We parted ways with the rest of the group, bid our goodbye and said our thanks to Toshi-san and Yamada-san (our bus driver). After that, we took a cab going to the Airbnb unit I booked for our extended stay in Tokyo. It was a good thing that the Airbnb listing was just in Asakusa area so paying for the cab was not that bad. I chose a listing from Shoji & Coco (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4807040) because of the following:
Price per night is at par with other listings but this one has a spacious area that really fits 4 people i.e., not cramped
Walking distance to Oshiage station, Tokyo Skytree, and Solamachi (mall)
Responsive and helpful hosts
After settling down, we headed to UENO PARK to start our museum hopping… which ended up in us going to just one museum since we were too tired already. We only visited the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURE AND SCIENCE — a bit of a bummer though that most of the stuff inside do not have English translation, but we were still able to appreciate the displays inside.
We took a rest in one of the coffee shops in the park then headed for Shinjuku. We went back to BIC CAMERA (visited a few days ago) to purchase a 3-day unlimited train ticket for 1,500 yen. Note that this is only for Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines — thankfully, most of the stations we rode were under these lines. We only paid extra for a few stations under JR line.
We shopped in the nearby Uniqlo afterwards then headed to Ichiran Ramen for dinner. The line was long though and an employee said that we would have to wait for about 40 minutes. We decided to look for another place since we were really hungry, and we stumbled upon a place that sells food in sizzling plates. We waited for about 10-15 minutes since the place was small and full of customers.
It was worth the wait since the food was good. Also a welcome break from soupy dishes!
We went back to our lodging after this dinner to get a long rest and prepare for the next day. 🙂
After a few hours of bus ride, we were able to reach LAKE KAWAGUCHIKO where we got to see a full view of Mount Fuji. We were lucky because it was not yet cloudy so we were able to admire its beauty. It kind of reminded me of Mount Mayon, except Fuji has snow at the top part.
JANUARY 26, 2016
We started our 3rd day early as we had to leave Tokyo and head for the Hakone area to view Mount Fuji.
After a few hours of bus ride, we were able to reach LAKE KAWAGUCHIKO where we got to see a full view of Mount Fuji. We were lucky because it was not yet cloudy so we were able to admire its beauty. It kind of reminded me of Mount Mayon, except Fuji has snow at the top part.
Toshi-san, our tour guide, gave us some time for picture taking. I was too engrossed with looking at Mount Fuji and snapping photos here and there that I did not know there was a shop in the area that sells local delicacy. Toshi-san bought us a box of mochi (matcha and strawberry flavors) and I could only chose one — strawberry won and it was sooooo good.
Apparently, this was only available in the area so yeah, I really regretted not being able to buy this one. I saw a similar box in the shop near Komagatake Ropeway but it was too expensive.
When we arrived in Hakone Komagatake Ropeway, we had lunch first.
After lunch, we had time to go around the area before going to the ropeway. We entered the shop where I first tried a gachapon (Hello Kitty keychain). There were all sorts of food and local delicacy which you can buy as souvenir.
I went near the shore of Lake Ashi afterwards to admire the view and take some shots of trees and a few locals…
When our call time for the ropeway activity drew near, we headed to the main area of HAKONE KOMAGATAKE ROPEWAY. Riding this would take you above Mount Komagatake where you can have a better view of Mount Fuji.
The cabin we rode was full of people but luckily, a senior office mate called me to a good spot near her side where I could step on an elevated floor and have a better view of the surroundings. The ride to the top was about 7 minutes and if you are acrophobic, better stay in the middle of the cabin space.
When we reached our destination, we only had 20 minutes to explore the area since we already had a schedule for the Lake Ashi cruise. Some of us ran right away and made our way to a higher, elevated area to check out Mount Fuji.
Unfortunately, it was already cloudy and we could only see the tip of Mount Fuji. 😦
We maximized the remaining time by exploring the other parts of the area and of course, took pictures here and there…
After our 20 minutes of free time, we rode the cabin again to go back to LAKE ASHI and wait for our cruise ship…
Upon boarding, some of us went on the topmost deck of the ship. Brrrr, it was very windy up there plus winter season so it was really a double cold combo. Good thing I was wearing my long padded coat which has a neck cover and hoodie. Best Uniqlo winter wear investment ever!
Despite me freezing due to the temperature and wind, I still managed to capture some good sights during the cruise. Toshi-san also shared legends and other cultural stories about Lake Ashi.
After the cruise, we rode our bus to head back to Tokyo. Caught some z’s during the trip so that I would be energized that night.
Upon reaching Tokyo, our bus headed for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which is located in Shinjuku area. I think there is no entrance fee for this but be prepared for the long line of visitors at night. We went up to the 45th floor where we enjoyed looking at Tokyo at night. There was also a purikura booth there — my female colleagues and I tried it, and it was fun!
We went to a restaurant in Shinjuku afterwards, and had another round of hotpot. There was also a buffet which had Korean and Japanese cuisine. I was so thrilled to see Japanese curry and kimchi there so even if these did not seem to be fit to pair with hotpot, I still grabbed a few servings.
A few of us decided to stay behind after dinner so that we could do some late night shopping in the area. Shops visited were BIC Camera, Uniqlo, and MatsuKiyo (famous drugstore Matsumoto Kiyoshi). I splurged at MatsuKiyo and bought items like Shiseido Perfect Whip Facial Foam, Sahada Shizuku Pack Gel, CURE Natural Aqua Gel, Liese Bubble Hair Color, Curel Intensive Moisture Cream, Shiseido Eyelash Curler, Hada Labo Gokujyun Light Lotion (which is actually their term for ‘toner’).
Called it a night after MatsuKiyo shopping as the next day would start early.