Gili Trawangan–The Unspoiled Bali

After the five strenuous but magnificent days hiking and camping on Mount Rinjani (read about the Rinjani experience here), it was time for us to get some well deserved R&R.  Gleefully we went to the islands of Gili for some sun and sand!

The Gili islands are actually made up of 3 small islands off the north-west coast of Lombok, Indonesia; Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.  Of the three, Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most ‘happenings’ among the three islands.

‘Gili’ in local Sasak language means small while  There is an age old cave tunnel (‘terowongan’ in local language) that was built during World War 2, and that is why this Gili island is called Gili Trawangan.

There’s plenty of things to see and do on Gili Trawangan.  My best advice if you’re planning to go there for the first time; plan a longer stay there.  We stayed for only 3 days and I can definitely say it was not enough!  I am very sure I will definitely be going back there for a second visit and this time I will make sure I stay for a least 5 days on Gili Trawangan.  There’s just so much that you can do there.

HOW TO GET TO GILI TRAWANGAN

How to get to Lombok

The cheapest way to get there would be to get to Bangsal (north of Lombok) and catch the public boats that would bring you over to the island.  It would cost you only 15,000rph (USD1/SGD1.50/MYR5).  The only trouble with the public boat is there are no fixed schedules, and the boat will only depart once it is full.  It would take 45 minutes going in a public boat.  That being said, it is often overloaded with goods and passengers and looks very unsafe in any standard.

Our private boat

We arranged for a small chartered boat (pictured) which was just enough to fit 6 of us and was 900,000rph per boat (USD70/SGD95/MYR280).  Not too bad especially when the cost is shared among us and it was a convenient 15 minutes ride.  The boat even dropped us right in front of the shore of our hotel, rather than the usual drop-off at the island’s main jetty.  However, I am sure there are other cheaper operators of chartered boats, we just couldn’t be bothered to price hunt especially when we were so exhausted from the climb, the only thing in our minds were to just get there and have a proper nice hot shower!

GETTING AROUND

The first thing you will notice arriving on the island is; WHY SO MANY PEOPLE?  The crowds are many, there are traffic jams even by walking!  The island is a MOTOR-LESS island; there are no vehicles allowed on the island.  Therefore, the 3 forms of transportation on the island are; WALK (keep fit!), bicycle (best way in my opinion) and Cidomo (horse-pulled carriages).

Cidomo

The Cidomos are horse-pulled carriages, you would need to ride on these if your luggage is too bulky.  You can find them parked at the jetty when you arrive.

Cidomo - the only form of transport suitable for kids and seniors

Cidomos are also the only option for you if you are travelling with kids or seniors.

The first thing you should do when you get to the island is RENT A BICYCLE.  It is 50,000rph (USD3/SGD/5MYR15) for 24 hours!  The island is small, but walking from the east side to the west side via the southern perimeter of the island will take you a good 30 minutes walk.

With a bicycle, that would be a no effort 10 minutes.  That is why you will see plenty of people on bicycles on the island.  Even if you are walking, always look to your back before overtaking others because there is a big chance there’s an incoming bicycle!

TIP: When going to Gili Trawangan, don’t bring those trolley bags.  Instead, choose to use backpacks because the roads on the island are rough and dirty, there are even some stretch that is just dirt road.  So pulling a trolley bag is a no-no.  With a backpack, once you get on the island, quickly rent a bicycle and cycle to your accommodation (if its not walking distance from the jetty).

Grocery shopping anyone?

Grocery shopping anyone?  Chose the bicycles with baskets in front for added convenience to bring your things around.  We’ve even fitted a whole luggage into the basket to our hotel!

TIP: When choosing a bicycle, get those that has a bell or horn.  These bells/horns are extremely useful to signal the pedestrians to take notice of you behind them and most will give way.  Trust me, you really need to do this on Gili, otherwise you will be going at the same pace as everyone walking!  Always make sure that the bicycle’s tires have enough pressure in them (not too flat).  If it is, you can request to the owner to inflate it.

THINGS TO DO

When it comes to things to do on Gili Trawangan, the list is long.  You won’t even be able to do everything even by staying a week there.  Needless to say, our stay on the island for 3 days was definitely not enough, we had under estimated Gili Trawangan.

Marvelous Sunrise

Witness the marvelous sunrise from the island’s south and east beach with Mount Rinjani in the distance.

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Once you have had your breakfast, start your engines and go shopping on the main streets.  There are many international brands and local brands around.  Short on rupiah?  Don’t worry, there are a few money changers around as well as a few bank ATMs.

Scuba Diving 101

Try an introductory course to scuba-diving.  There are plenty of dive centers located along the main streets, a lot of them have pools for an introduction course to scuba diving.  Or you can sign up for a dive if you are a certified diver.

But first, a selfie

Have a swim in the ocean.  Snorkeling and surfing equipment are available for rent along the beach.  You don’t have to worry about which shop to rent it from, they are all the same.  Just go for the one most convenient to where you plan to snorkel / surf.

Get wet!

Walk along the narrow walkway while the waves comes crashing into the barrier.  You will have to time your approach properly in order to avoid getting soaked by the waves.

Live Entertainment

Sit down and enjoy a nice cold bottle of Bintang beer while enjoying the live band.

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Have lunch at Le Petit (its located right in front of the jetty, where the town square is), a French operated burger stall known for their delicious burgers.  Good luck getting a seat during peak hours!

Preparing for a rainy day

Try to find this street of umbrellas!  There is a street in Gili Trawangan that is decorated with these umbrellas. Although these red-white umbrellas are long faded, I made a conclusion that these umbrellas represents the national colours of the Indonesia flag.

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Rent a bicycle and start cycling around the whole island.  The island is a bit too big to walk the whole way, but with a bicycle, it is easy to go around the whole perimeter of the island or simply cut thru the middle of the island.

Losing the battle

While we cycled around Gili Trawangan island, we met a dead end at the northern tip of the island. I got off my bicycle to proceed further on foot to check if the road continues again ahead while my friends waited for me. It was by luck that I stumbled upon this dramatic scene of waves after waves, pounding on the broken walls that seems to be losing their battle against the force of nature.

Good luck getting a seat

Watch the beautiful sunset on the western side of the island.  Head there at least an hour before sunset as it tends to get quite crowded and all the best seats around will be taken.

Swing in the ocean

Or sit on the swing in the ocean just watching the sunset.

A game of volleyball

Or join others in a game of beach volleyball, having fun hitting the ball around while the sun tucks itself into the horizon.

Group picture

As the sun sets, remember to take a group picture with your friends to capture the moment and be forever in your memories.

Big sunset

I don’t get to see the sun as big as this from where I come from.

Chillaxing with friends

Just chillaxing with friends, cold Bintang beer in one hand while enjoying the gentle sea breeze and watching the setting sun slowly disappear into the horizon at the end of a very tiring day on the island of Gili Trawangan with the silhouette of of Bali’s Mount Agung against the dusk sky.

Bonfire

Stay around the bonfire for some warmth when the night takes over and the cold starts creeping in, maybe share a ghost story or two?

Seafood BBQ

When you start to get hungry, there are many delicious restaurants all around.  The ones offering buffet seafood are located along the main street.  It’s easy to find them, you can smell them a distance away.

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We tried the food at Thank You Restaurant.  Food was very cheap here and its not too bad.

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We also had the chance to try the food at Wilson’s Retreat, a fine-dining restaurant located at the western side of the island.  The food was superbly presented and more importantly, was quite delicious.

Psst, want to see some magic?

Or have another drink at any night bars.  Psst, if you’re interested to experience some magic, try asking for ‘magic mushrooms’ at most bars and experience the magic unfold!  (Although illegal in Indonesia, it is commonly available here if you ask for it.)

Night cycling

Even at night, there are still many people going around, even on bicycles.  Always make sure you carry a torchlight or headlight around, it will be useful when coming to roads without much ambient light.

Party the night away

Or just dance until the early mornings or until you drop (whichever comes first).  Most places closes around 2 or 3 am so if you’re staying in the heart of the activities, good luck getting any sleep!

Other things to do on Gili Trawangan which we did not have change to try at all includes:

  • Island hopping to Gili Meno and Gili Air
  • Swimming with the turtles; this was in our original plan but we decided against it when we found out the schedule for this is from 10 am to 3 pm and this would have taken up almost our whole day on Gili if we went for it.
  • Diving
  • Surfing
  • Hike up the hill in the middle of the island for a good view of the whole island
  • Experience the famous Indonesia massages!

ACCOMODATION

There are plenty of places to stay on Gili Trawangan, ranging from the cheap good-for-just-a-nights-sleep type of room till the expensive villas with its own private beaches.  When I mean plenty, I literally mean it; there’s basically more accommodation available than the number of shops and eateries!

We stayed in different places on Gili because it was the eve of Hari Raya when we arrived on the island and naturally they are also many locals who are in Gili with the families for a quick getaway.  Also, it being the first time on the island, we wanted to see and experience what the different accommodations had to offer.

Here’s 3 of the accommodations which we stayed in:

1.  NATYA HOTEL (http://www.natyahotels.com/)

This hotel’s location is strategically located at the end of the main stretch of street, which in turn provides great convenience in coming in and out of the hotel whenever you feel like it.  Once you get too tired from walking around the main street, just pop back into the hotel to rest.

Drop off in front of the hotel

In fact, the location of the hotel was so convenient that our chartered boat could just drop us right in front, instead of the normal drop-off at Gili’s jetty.  In the picture is the hotel’s restaurant.  I’m not sure why it is spelled differently from the hotel itself though (Natys instead of Natya).

The hotel has its own pool, a luxury to have when on Gili for a relief from the hot temperature.

Welcome drink

The welcome drink provided to all of us, so nice so refreshing.  You cannot imagine just how tasty a simple mock tail like this would taste in the heat of the day on Gili.

The hotel’s staff are also extremely friendly, and you will feel this right from the very moment you step into the lobby.  They are extremely attentive of your needs and will provide you assistance in anyway they can.

Ocean View, kind of.

Natya Hotel is one of the rare few hotels that offers Ocean View rooms at an affordable price.  Trust me, I’ve done months of research on this.  Ocean view accommodations are many on the west and north sides of the island, however, most of them are the more expensive hotels and villas.  It’s extremely rare to find ocean view accommodations on the south and east sides as the whole stretch of the beach view is blocked by eateries and bars (like in the picture).

Natya’s rooms are quite small, just large enough to fit a queen size bed/twin bed with just enough space to walk.  Fitting in an extra bed would prove quite difficult.  Apologies, I don’t have a picture of the room.

SUMMARY OF NATYA HOTEL
PROS
: Very good location, Extremely friendly staff, Nice ocean view room, Has a pool.
CONS: A bit on the pricey range


2.  MAMA J’S COTTAGE (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/4894233)

Mama J’s cottage was my favourite accommodation among those that we had the chance to stay in.  Just like it’s name, it has a very homey feel as soon we entered the grounds.  Mama J is located on the east side of Gili very near to the beach where most of the snorkeling activities are carried out.

Off the beaten track

Mama J is just a few walks away from the main street.  The location is also ideal as it is located away from the busier parts of Gili therefore quieter, perfect for a guaranteed good rest and relaxation.

A place of zen

This is the first impression as soon as you enter the grounds.  Unlike the other accommodations, the whole place is walled up therefore you will have a lot of privacy, like a hidden sanctuary in a chaotic place.  You will feel the ‘zen’ as soon as you step foot into the place.

Welcomed by our host

We were greeted by Tamara our host who was extremely friendly and informative.  She prepared a very nice welcome drink which comes with nice juicy watermelons as well as cookies.  We were then brought on a tour of the whole place.  Tamara was very meticulous in explaining everything including how to go about the places and activities on Gili Trawangan.

Mama J offers two cottages that are identical (except for the bedroom window view), both of which are two-storeys.  The design of the cottages are inspired by the storage barns in villages (called ‘Lumbung’) of Bali and Lombok, built with bamboo and coconut wood.  The ground floor of the cottage is the living room which also opens up to a semi-outdoor bathroom.

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The ground floor is also generously spacious which is equipped with table and chairs, refrigerator, towels, insecticide, torchlight and a complimentary gallon of water!

Incredible bedroom

The bedroom which  is located upstairs is generously spacious and also has a sofa with complete with a coffee table.  The bedroom has a window which opens up to a view of the street outside.  The bed itself was so comfortable it was one of the best sleep I have had since coming from my Rinjani climb.  One point that I really have to mention about the bed is … it smells so good!  I don’t know what kind of detergent or softener the bed sheet was washed in, but it was like sleeping in a heaven away from the dusty streets of Gili!  And yes, the bedroom is air-conditioned.  In fact, it was too cold in the early morning that I had to switch it off.

A different bathing experience

The semi-outdoor bathroom was also a joy to use.  Seldom will you get a chance to bath (or do your big business) in a bathroom that has an open ceiling.  I’m not sure how you will feel about this, but I really enjoyed the experience.

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This is the view of the garden that the living room opens up to in the morning.  I got up just in time to see our host, Tamara (sounds Japanese right?  But she’s Scandinavian) setting up the table in the garden for breakfast.

This is life

Our set menu of breakfast choices was ready for us on the garden table as soon as we woke up.

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While waiting for breakfast to be served, I went around taking more photos of the place.  I must stress again that Tamara is extremely meticulous and her attention to details is impeccable (although she claims that it is rather a curse).  This can be seen from the facilities that the cottage provides which includes insecticide spray, torchlight and even an umbrella.  The wash basin and bathroom is decorated with pink flowers that will brighten up anyone’s day.  The towels that they provide are placed together with floral scented bag which gives out a burst of lovely fragrance each time I use the towel!  The hand wash and body wash that was provided also smelled very lovely.  Even the breakfast table was decorated with plucks of bouganvillea flowers from the garden.

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Breakfast was also delightful, much effort was putting into making the breakfast very presentable and of course, delicious!

Two thumbs up!

That’s me and Tamara the host.  I definitely give Mama J’s cottages two-thumbs up.  This will definitely be my choice of stay the next time I’m back on Gili Trawangan.  Thank you so much for your hospitality, Tamara!

SUMMARY OF MAMA J’S COTTAGES
PROS
: Situated away from the noisy streets yet not too far away, peace and quiet, extremely friendly host who can provide a lot of information and answer any questions that you might have, delicious breakfast, comfortable sleep, extremely affordable.
CONS: I can’t think of any, absolutely loved it here!


3.  VILLA JULIUS (http://www.villajulius.com/)

Villa Julius was the most expensive accommodation that we stayed in among all the others and of course that also means that it was the most luxurious place that we stayed in as well.

Villa Julius

Villa Julius is situated on the quiet western side of Gili Trawangan, which is where most of the more luxurious accommodations are located.  The western side of Gili Trawangan is also where you will get the best sunset views.  Villa Julius also has a very nice pool to dip in, perfect after a day of swimming and snorkeling in the salty ocean water.

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The room itself was extremely spacious, we could have at fitted at least three or four more extra beds in there if we wanted to.  We booked the room on the first floor which has its own balcony with a perfect undisrupted view of the ocean.  The room itself was extremely spacious, we could have at fitted at least three or four more extra beds in there if we wanted to.

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This is our room’s private balcony which has the best seat in the house to the ocean view.  The balcony also overlooks the pool of the villa.

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The bathroom was as large as the bedroom and also a joy to use, with a bigger-than-usual king-sized bathtub, I spent a lot of time simmering myself and dozing off in aroma-therapeutic soaked waters.

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The pictures above shows some of the very nice features of the room; novels, umbrellas, fancy bath gel bottles, decorative ornaments and flowers around the room.

SUMMARY OF VILLA JULIUS
PROS
: A great place to pamper yourself with luxury even if it is expensive as it is still cheaper than the expensive hotels out there, great pool, great bathtub, private balcony, fantastic ocean view, best place you can get a sunset from the comfort of your room.
CONS: Far away from the main streets of Gili Trawangan (at least 15 minutes bicycle ride / 30 minutes walk) where all the activities are.


TO SUM IT ALL UP

I hope this article gives you a brief idea of what Gili Trawangan has to offer and the kind of accommodations that would suit you or your group.  For my friends and I, we really miss Gili Trawangan.  For me personally, I would like to come back here again to try the other activities which I never had the chance to try, or even if it was to repeat the same activities I would still love it.

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There’s something about Gili Trawangan that will grow in you.  I know it did on us all.  So many weeks has passed since my visit to Gili and I am having post-Gili deprivation.

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I wish I could just turn back the clock and get back on that swing and swing to that beautiful sunset that is Gili Trawangan, the unspoiled Bali!

A Really Remarkable Rinjani Experience

Mount Rinjani has been on my bucket list of mountains for a few years and finally I am able to cross it out in my bucket list.  The irony of it all is that, I really want to do Rinjani again!  What I have learnt from this experience is that the really remarkable  thing about Mount Rinjani is not just about the mountain nor its summit, it is the whole experience from the start till the end of the journey.

This is my first time to Lombok, Indonesia.  Lombok is an island of almost the same size as Bali and located directly to the east of Bali.  We took a 5 days 4 nights package for the Rinjani hike and stayed another 2 nights on Gili Trawangan, one of the 3 satellite islands of Lombok.

Although the package was for 5 days 4 nights, the actual hike itself was only 3 days.  The start and end point of the hike is quite far from the airport (around 4 hours, that’s nearly half a day gone), that is why the first and last day of the package is basically the pick-up and send-off from the airport.  The price of the package conveniently includes everything, and I literally mean everything including the park fees, guide fees, accommodation in the start and end point, tents, sleeping bags, meals and porters that will carry all those things … everything!  The only additional fees that you would need to consider and is option, is for a personal porter, that is if you wanted someone to carry your own personal belongings for you.

DAY 1: Lombok International Airport to Sembalun

What was the first thing that we did upon arrival in Lombok airport?  Get an Indonesia data card of course!  The mobile operators are conveniently located just outside of the arrival hall at the airport, all the different providers there for your choosing.  Our poor guide was anxiously waiting for us outside the airport, wondering if we bailed on him.

We chose the package from XL Axiata as they are known to have the widest coverage and fastest speed in Indonesia, especially in Lombok.  We went for the 100,000rph (USD8/SGD10/MYR30) package because the all the other cheaper packages were out of stock.  Oh, did I mention that this package is for 12GB and last for 30 days!  So it’s basically enough to be shared among the whole group using hotspot or a data sharing device.

After meeting our guide and shoving all our luggage into the cars, we headed for Senggigi, the main tourist strip of Lombok that stretches several kilometers which was around a 1.5 hours from the airport.

Yessy Cafe

We had our lunch at a cosy café called Yessy Café, and that was where we got further acquainted with our guide, Stuk and it was also where I had my first Indonesian meal!

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Picture (clockwise from top-left): Nasi Campur, Nasi Ayam Bakar, Mee Goreng, Bakso

The Strong Lombok Coffee

I found the Lombok Coffee to be interesting.  It seems that in Lombok (not sure if this is the same throughout the whole Indonesia) the coffee powder is not filtered.  As in, the coffee powder is placed in the cup and hot water and milk is added into it directly, leaving a very thick layer of indigestible coffee powder at the bottom.  Strange way of making coffee in my opinion, but certainly very strong!

TIPIf you have no reason to go Senggigi, I suggest you skip going there.  This is because Senggigi is north-west of the airport, while at the end of the day, you are suppose to head far east towards the village of Sembalun or Senaru, depending on which village you are starting from.  Either way, going out of the way just to go Senggigi will add around 3 hours of travelling time, going in the opposite direction of where you have to go.  I suggest that you request your guide to bring you to a genuine Indonesian local coffee shop along the way for your lunch (if you need any).

From Senggigi, it took approximately 5 hours of driving on small narrow roads and eventually very long and winding hilly roads with a lot of twist and turns dotted with many hairpin turns.  We were swinging from left to right being thrown around in the car as though we were sitting in a roller coaster.  Two of my friends did could not handle ride and was immediately car sick.  Please make sure you sit in front or ensure you have a plastic bag ready in case you get nauseous.

Sembalun Agro Villa

We were put up in the Sembalun Agro Villa, one of the more expensive accommodation around Sembalun.  It is located in a hilly area with a very nice view of the valley below together with the hills surrounding it.  It is also conveniently near to the Rinjani National Park office.

Superior Room @ Sembalun Agro Villa

This was our Superior Room in Sembalun Agro Villa.  According to their official website, the room is priced at 575,000rph (USD44/SGD60/MYR173) per night, a bit on the pricey side, but don’t worry, the room is already inclusive in the 5D4N Rinjani trekking package by our guide.

DAY 2: Start of Hike (Sembalun to Plawangan Sembalu)

We woke up to a very fine morning, fresh from the very good sleep that we had.  The rooms are not equipped with air-conditioning but believe me, it is not hot during the day and quite chilly during the night.

The Warm Sunlight

As we placed our bags into the back of our truck, the sun started revealed itself from behind the hills, shining its morning rays unto the land.  The fresh aroma of the mountain air, the warm sunlight touching against our still cold skins … luck was on our side, we could feel it was going to be a glorious morning.  We were worried yesterday as our guide mentioned that it has been rainy continuously for the past few days.

Orange Snow

The first sunbeam reaches the tip of Mount Rinjani, creating a very interesting and picturesque effect on the mountain as if it was covered with orange snow.

Fried RiceThe Goose that lays the golden eggs?

Our Fried Rice breakfast was provided by the villa which was more than enough to keep us from going hungry until lunch.  Instead of roosters awaking the villagers up with their crows, this place had … a goose with its gobbles.

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Planted around the whole compound of the villa were flowers from every different colour spectrum.

All aboard!

Like sailors boarding the ship, we too climb into our open-air deck, ready to start our adventure.  Behind us lies the great Mount Rinjani, patiently awaiting for our arrival.

The fearless leader

This is our fearless leader and guide, Stuk.  He sits at the edge of the tailgate in intense thought while we continue enjoying our majestic view of Mount Rinjani behind him.

Rinjani National Park Office

The first order of the day was to report to the Rinjani National Park office in Sembalun.  There is another similar office in the Senaru side if you are starting your trek from Senaru.  In there, you are required to register in the log book and pay for the park entrance fees (which your guide will do for you and is already included in the package) and you will be given a tag which you should have on you at all times.

The Entrance Ticket Tag

The entrance ticket tag that was issued at the Rinjani National Park office which should be hanged on your bag at all times.

Sembalun Village

After that, we were brought into the heart of Sembalun village where you see many other hikers who have either just arrived or are already on their way to start their trek.  Sembalun is already 1,156m asl (above sea level).

Off we go!

Off we go! The trek basically starts by walking into the village and into their farms, headed for the direction of Mount Rinjani in the distance.  The weather at that time was sunny and hot.  I had on me my UPF rated North Face hiking hat with snap-on cape and neck guard to protect my ears, neck and shoulders while I had UPF rated arm sleeves to protect my arms.  I’m not a fan of sunblock lotions as I don’t like the feel of lotions on me.  The time was 8:32 am.

Gradual ascendTiny white flowers

For the next 2 hours, the trek was basically farms and greens all around with fairly easy gradual ascend.  As we progressed, I could feel my excitement slowly building up momentum as Mount Rinjani slowly gets nearer.

Porters

The porters can move in amazing speeds, even going up slopes, wearing only slippers!

The first bridge

Alas, a sight to behold, the first of many other man-made bridges suddenly appearing out of nowhere in this vast grassland.

Rolling hills as far as the eyes can see

The scenery continues on for a few more hours just like this; rolling hills of grassland as far as your eyes can see.

Pos 1: 1300m asl

At 10.00 am, we reached the first post known as ‘Pos 1’ and is 1,300m asl in many Rinjani trekking map.  Just a quick breather here and then we’re off again.

More rolling hills

Yes, more rolling hills of grassland.  When will this ever end!

Pos 2: 1,500m asl and also Lunch!

We finally reached Pos 2 which is to be our lunch break at 10.42 am.  Pos 2 is 1,500m asl and the temperature was starting to get chilly, especially with the clouds blocking most of the sun rays.  When we reached there, some hikers have already set up their mats and rest area on the bridge as there was a big tree there that provided some shade.

Picnic

Stuk’s team quickly and efficiently put up this shade for us, a bit further away from the rest of the crowd where we sought solace.

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Happily cooking

While we rested under the canopy, Stuk’s mobile kitchen team went to work.  Some of them started cutting the vegetables while others were busy preparing the fruits.  It was amazing seeing the team in action, all working together like one big happy family, prepping and cooking while entertaining themselves with their jokes and laughter.

Coffee, Tea or me?

At the same time, some others gathered fire wood from all around to boil water to make hot coffee and hot chocolate for us!

Lunch

In no time at all, our lunch was ready.  Nasi campur (mixed rice) that had fried chicken, tofu (bean curd), tempe (fermented soy beans, one of the traditional food of Indonesia) and mixed vegetables.  Our reaction?  Wow. Just wow.  All prepared and cooked on the spot.  Immediately we felt like kings and queens.

SaucesA complete lunch

If that wasn’t enough, they even offered three sauces (sambal traditional, sweet sauce and ketchup).  For dessert (yes, they even served desserts!) we had watermelon, pineapple and apple!  Spoiled for choice, really.

Gets steeper ...... and steeper

We must have spent at least 1.5 hours just resting and enjoying our lunch.  We started off again at around 12.30 pm.  Stuk had already briefed us earlier that the trek after lunch would get harder and steep as we approach the Mountain’s crater rim.

When you see it

“When you see it”.  Aha! So there they are.  I’ve been wondering when will I encounter our furry cousins with their round eyes staring at us.

Pos 3: 1,800m asl

We arrived at Pos 3 at 1.42 pm which was 1,800m asl.  This was to be the last pit-stop and then it would be all the way up to the crater rim.

68 and still going strong

I managed to take this picture of one of our team members before he disappeared in front of us.  His name is Tuaq.  He is actually a farmer but works together with Stuk whenever its after harvesting for extra income.  Even at 68 years old, the contour on his muscular body shows that he is extremely fit, doesn’t even need any slippers or shoes!  Incredible.

Up and up

From Pos 3 onwards there were no more gradual climb, it was non-stop going up.

Steep

Most of the way, it was a slow and steep hike up.  We were told that this would continue on for another 2 hours before reaching the top of the crater rim.

Engulfed in clouds

By then it seemed like we were engulfed in clouds the whole time and it was getting quite chilly.  We kept moving the whole time, not wanting to stop because it would have been warmer to just keep moving!

Finally at the crater rim

Finally, we reached the crater rim at 3.24 pm.  The Sembalun crater rim (Plawangan Sembalun) is at an altitude of 2,639 asl!  When reaching there, the first thing you will notice is the nice looking information board.  I use the word ‘nice looking’ because most of the other signage around Rinjani seems to be old and unmaintained.  Then turning left after the signage is someone selling drinks (not shown in the picture).  Very smart considering it will tempt most people including well deserved drinks like Coca-Cola, 100plus, Pocari and the likes.  I was tempted myself but I knew that our guide (was briefed beforehand by Stuk) had brought Diet Coke for us!

Work in progress ...

We followed our guides and proceeded a little further to find a suitable clearing to set up our campsite.  This was another testimony that luck was indeed on our side as we managed to secure a very good location that had a big clearing that had a wonderful overlooks the beautiful lake.  Our team wasted no time in clearing the space making sure there it was free of any particles before putting up the tents to ensure we have a comfortable experience in our tents.

Customized tentsCustomized Sleeping Bags

I was impressed by the tents as each one of them had our guide’s name “Stuk Rinjani” printed on them.  Even the sleeping bags had his customized name on them!

Tents in front of the summit

Here’s our 3 tents against a marvelous view of the Rinjani summit.  The tents were unlike most tents that I have seen.  Other than the normal sleeping ‘chamber’, the tent had an extra chamber much like how space stations has a ‘decompression chamber’ before going into the actual chamber.  I immediately fell in love with the idea.  Since it was quite cold outside, whenever I wanted to get in or get out the tent, I made sure I ‘zipped up’ the previous chamber first before going to the next chamber to reduce the chance of cold air getting in!  Brilliant!  Also, we were able place our very bulky backpacks in the outer chamber so that it is nice and spacey inside the sleeping area.

A tired porter

Here’s a view of the valley behind our tents.   I managed to capture this photo of a very tired porter who just arrived on the crater rim probably carrying nothing less than 30kg on him.

Boiling water

Our team used the firewood that they have been collecting on the way to boil hot water which they use to serve us hot coffee and hot milo.  Hot coffee/milo has never tasted this delicious before.  (Stuk’s team never failed to serve us hot drinks every time we camp as well as waking up in the morning.)

The Summit up close

I used my 70-200mm lens (photographer’s lingo) to zoom to the summit to take this picture.  The summit seems to be very dry and narrow.  Gulp!

Selfie 1Selfie 2
Selfie 3

While the sun was still up, we took the opportunity to take many pictures of our surrouding including our selfies with the summit.  Even Choco (Mandy’s ‘companion’ wanted to be in the selfie!)

How much is that doggie in the window

Even this doggie came to our area to take a picture!  Ha ha.  According to them, this dog has been living up here, everyday surviving on leftover food from all the campers.

A room with a view

This rainbow structure is none other than our toilet for the duration of our stay.  Our toilet is probably the brightest and most colourful structure up there!  In case your wondering, a hole was dug up and it was deep enough to fit an entire 1.5 litre bottle (just as a comparison, not that I actually tried that! ha ha).  So, there’s no need to worry, the hole could last the 6 of us all the way until the next day without ‘overflowing’!

View of the lake

Time seems to pass to quickly, in no time at all the sun was already setting.  This was the view from our campsite overlooking Lake Segara Anak and in the distance, the other side of the crater rim which was Senaru’s crater rim (Plawangan Senaru) which we have to get to the next day.

Campsite above the clouds

This was the sight of our first campsite at an altitude of 2639m on the very narrow ridge of the volcano’s crater rim. Together with the other hundreds of climbers, our tents were pitched on any available area that has a surface that is flat enough to sleep on.  This was the most memorable stay of the whole 5 days 4 nights adventure on Rinjani; the cool mountain air while enjoying a hot cup of coffee with the clouds moving beneath us while the last sunbeam shinning its glory unto us, oh how I wish I could be teleported back to this place again.

A visual feast

The rays from the setting sun creates a very visual display among the clouds.  Time for some more selfies!

Din din time

Just as the sun has almost disappeared into the horizon, dinner was served!  This was our picnic place, on the edge of the rim with the last of the sunlight, overlooking the lake and the clouds.  It was already quite cold at that time, we were already wearing our thick jackets.

Green curryRed apple

This green curry tasted fantastic with our rice in this very cold evening.  The red apples was really contrasting being served with the green curry.

The last sunbeam

I took this last picture of the last sun beams while we were still having our ‘picnic’ dinner.  By this time, it was dark and we had to use our headlamps to finish up our dinner.  After dinner, we all went straight into our tent as it was too dark to do anything else.  We were chattering away in our tents for awhile, but we couldn’t deny our bodies of its long needed rest, and fell asleep within no time.

Camping under the stars

There are many pictures of the milky way available on the internet.  I took an extra effort to determine what time the milky way would be right above our tents and set my alarm to wake myself up at 10 pm to be able to get this perfect shot; the milky way above our tents (and my friends were all snoring away unaware of the heaven that has unfold itself in the night sky.

DAY 3: Up to the Summit and then down to the Lake

Summit climbs always involves getting up in the middle of the night and making it to the summit in time for the sunrise.  The Rinjani summit climb is no different.

Starting the summit climb under the stars

When I climbed out from my tent to have a little ‘supper’ which Stuk’s team has prepared, I noticed that the milky way was located exactly behind the path of the summit trail (Yes, I could see the milky way with my own eyes).  I hurriedly went back into the tent to grab my tripod and quickly set up my camera to be able to catch this very rare opportunity; a picture of the milky way some climbers were still in their tents getting prepared and some already making their way up (the long streak of light on the left).

By the way, Stuk asked for our permission to have one of the team to sleep in each one of our tents so that our tents were not left unguarded during this time that we are making our way to the summit.  Safety and security is always a priority in Stuk’s team.

The first hour

The first hour of the summit climb was not as difficult as I imagined.  I was warned of the very steep and loose ground on which we will trek on but at that time, it was still manageable.  I remember thinking to myself, well this is not too bad.  If it goes on like this the whole way I would be up there in no time!

After that section of the climb, which I am guessing lasted around an hour, came the easier part, which was just a gradual ascend which was a relieve.  However, it was cold because of the strong wind and I could many people hiding behind large boulders which provided shelter from the strong cold winds.

Another hour has passed and I was proven wrong.  The hard part came and without realizing it, I was cursing and swearing at myself, literally.  Indeed this part of the climb was the hardest.  In fact, I would testify that this was the hardest summit climb I have ever done throughout my whole life of mountain climbing on the mountains of South East Asia!

The best way for me to describe the conditions there is: it is like you’re on the moon with gravity, trying to get up a very dry hill that when you take 2 steps up, you automatically slip 1 step down because of the loose volcanic soil and rocks.  The experience is very frustrating and will put your patience to the maximum test.  No matter what, I just kept crawling my way up (at the same time still cursing and swearing just to let it all out!).  I used the word ‘crawl’ because I was literally on my 4 limbs, using my two legs and two hands to crawl that very steep section.  It must have been at least 60 degrees steep at some points!

Buried in soil

This picture was actually taken on the way down the summit, but I am pasting it here to show how loose the ground was.  With every step that I take, I will fall back half of the time.  In fact, I don’t even have the option of stopping to take a breath because if I did that, I will start slipping down and end up further down!

TIP: I’m not a person who uses walking sticks for any hikes (only because I carry a DLSR all the time and using walking sticks will mean I don’t have free hands to handle my camera in case of anything), but walking sticks WILL DEFINITELY HELP a whole lot for the summit climb.  With walking sticks, it would be easier to maintain your overall grip on the surface and will surely have less time sliding back down!
From first to last

At the beginning of the summit climb, I was among the few front liners, but that all changed coming to the last few meters of the climb.  Not only did I not have walking sticks to help with, my shoes were not suited for that kind of terrain.  I seem to be slipping more than anyone else around.  The sun was already rising even before I reached the summit.  I could only enjoy the sunrise while I was still cursing and swearing, trying to finish that last few meters of the summit.  At the end, I ended up being one of the slowest and one of the few last ones to arrive on the summit.

The compulsory group picture

It was a good thing I reached the summit in time and not a minute later, as my friends were already starting to make their way down.  I had to actually force them to stay to take a group picture (because some of them was badly shivering from the cold).  I’m so happy we managed to take this group picture together!  This picture was taken at 7:25 am.

Stuk in Raya clothesAgainst the blue yonder

Picture: (Left) Our guide Stuk actually brought his traditional Malay costume and changed on the summit. using a sarong to change in.  He wanted to take this pre Hari Raya Aidil Fitri shot to dedicate to his family and friends as it was just two days before Hari Raya at that time.  (Right) Another climber poses against the blue yonder.

Panorama from the summit

This is a panorama shot I took on the summit.  I must say that Rinjani’s summit doesn’t have the best of summit views, compared to the other mountains that I have climbed before.  In fact, the direction of the sun creates a very bad shadow that falls over the valley below.

One wrong slip ...

After spending more than enough time on the summit, it was time to head down.  This time it was broad daylight and we could see how narrow the section of the peak really was.  One wrong slip and it was all the way down into oblivion.

Moonwalk

With the ground being so loose, it was very easy (and fun) to go down.  I was sliding my way down all the way!  This was a good thing because it means that you won’t need to use your thigh muscles to control your descend.  Your toe would also be safe because by sliding, you don’t hit your toe against the front of your shoe like you would on normal mountain descent.  Best way to describe the descend; it was like skiing!  I really had fun going down!

Living on the edge

Halfway making our way down, Stuk suddenly stopped us to tell ut to take a picture from this angle.  Thanks to his recommendation (which if he didn’t mention, I would have totally miss), each one of us had a very nice and dangerous looking cliffhanger picture!  Impressive?

Enjoying the breeze?

I was amused that our cousins could make it all the way up here too.  Seems like he was just enjoying the wind?

What's in a shoe?Gold dust?

What is the first thing we did when we arrived back to our campsite?  Clear our shoes of all the volcanic pebbles and sand!  One thing I can guarantee you when doing the summit climb, it would be impossible to keep your shoes and even your clothes clean.  By the end of the summit climb, all will surely be black!  The volcanic sand is so dry and light that it gets into our ears and even nose!

Breakfast for champions

As usual, we were served our hot coffee/milo when we arrived back at the campsite and not long after, our breakfast was served; Instant mee never tasted so good before!

We took our time at the campsite, enjoying whatever time we have left on this beautiful part of the journey, knowing that there was not going to be another repeat of this remarkable memory.  I took every sip of my coffee really slowly, just enjoying the view and sharing the laughter with all my friends and our team members!

Our next destination and campsite would inside the crater of the volcano itself, at the shores of Lake Segara Anak.  This would involve a 4 hours hike going down into the caldera of Mount Rinjani.

Heading down

We left our campsite at around noon 12 pm.  At that time, clouds had already filled the whole valley and we were amongst clouds the whole way down.  The path was rocky and slippery at some points.  Just be careful of your footing and you should be okay.

Spiderweb

The clouds that filled the valley was so moist that this spider web was glistening with dewy pearls of water droplets.

Careful steps

Some sections are quite steep and narrow, so always be mindful of your footing and also always watch out for what you hold on to.  Sometimes objects which seems solid may not be solid enough to hold your weight.

The clearing

After negotiating the rocky section for about half an hour, more greens started appearing and more well defined paths were visible.  At the same time, the clouds seems to be clearing making the distance more visible.  We could see it was still a long way down.

Don't rely on the railings

Some of the sections are equipped with the green metal railings on the edge, supposedly to assist in making sure no one falls off the edge.  Our guide advised against relying on those railing, in fact, don’t go anywhere near them at all!  These railings are years old and most of them have very poor foundation and will give way at any time.

Easy from here on

Within an hour, we met the first bridge since coming down into the valley.  From this point onwards it’s a walk in the park, mostly navigating around hills to get to the next hill.

Taking a rest

We came upon some shade and our guide signaled to have a rest here.  The clouds had already cleared and the view from inside the valley was quite different.

FlowersFlowers

As usual, I always take the chance to photograph anything whenever I have the chance.  These are just the different little flowers that can be seen around the valley.

Turning the corner

As we navigated the hills once again, turning that one last corner, a glimpse of our next campsite revealed itself to us; well hidden in the valley, like a secret pool surrounded by the crater rim of the volcano lurking among the tall trees. The trek passes through many shades of greens while we enjoy the fresh cool clouds that breezes its way through us and finally the appearance of the majestic lake that lies in the belly of the volcano crater at 2,008m asl was all too surreal for me to take in.

Welcoming committee

Finally, at 2.28 pm, we arrived at Lake Segara Anak.  Our welcoming committee by a distance relative was there to welcome us upon arrival at the lake side.

Dropped our bags and go

The lake was so beautiful and inviting that we just dropped our bags and ran to the shore to see it  up close.  So beautiful, crystal clear blue waters that is so calm and moves in synchronization with the wind when the breeze brushes against it.

The 2nd night's camp

This was to be our 2nd night’s campsite, with our tents opening out to the breathtaking view of the lake.

Gunung Barujari

From here, we were the closest to the baby volcano that is located in the middle of the lake.  Gunung Barujari, if translated to English, it would mean Mount New Finger.  This is a highly active young volcano with its most recent eruption just last year (October 2015).  Constant white steam can be seen being emitted from the mouth of the volcano.  Gives me a bit of the chills just by staring at it.

Steaming ground

Even the shore closer to the baby volcano has steam coming out from the ground.

FishingFishing

I came to the conclusion that the lake has bountiful fishes because those that are fishing there seemed to be able to get a catch almost every  few minutes without any effort!

Aik Kalak, the natural spa

Our second night campsite also has another interesting attraction; a natural spa!  The hot springs of Aik Kalak, which is located just a few steps from the main lake itself. The cold water gushing from the waterfall comes directly from the lake itself, then mixing with the hot sulfur water of the spring. The mix of both water makes the temperature just nice and warm, perfect to spend the evening to soak our tired and soared bodies (not to mention dirty).  Bubbles can be felt rising from the bottom of the pool touching gently against our bodies.

Fish Spa

As an added bonus, we get a free fish spa as well; there are small fishes in the pool which occasionally nibbles on our skin! After almost 2 days of non-bathing and cold weather, this was like a pool of Eden to us!

Dusk

We walked back to the campsite just in time for me to capture this last shot of dusk.  Today the sky had a purple hue compared to yesterday’s orange hue.  It’s interesting to witness how much of a difference each day can make.

Cooking in the dark

Total darkness?  No problem.  Our team is so efficient that even cooking in the dark is not an obstacle for them.  In fact, they use it to group together to keep warm!  That’s killing two birds with one stone.  As usual, they were happily chattering away, the still night filled with their laughter.

Dinner

Our delicious dinner!  Somehow, this seems even better than our 1st night’s dinner, right?  Even took the effort to prepare deep-fry chicken, sausages and even a sunny side-up egg!

Picnic in the dark

Even without any light source, that didn’t stop the team to set up a ‘picnic’ area for us in the middle of the campsite.  Equipped with only our headlights, we enjoyed our extremely delicious dinner together.

I couldn’t believe so much has been done in just one day; seen the milky way, reaching the summit for the sunrise, breakfast above the clouds, a walk in this magical land to arrive at this mystical lake, bath in a natural hot spring … all in one day!  After the very filling dinner at the end of the day, we went to bed and immediately started snoring!  *snore snore snore*

DAY 4:  What? Up again? #$@&%*!  Up to Senaru Crater Rim and down to Senaru Village

After all the effort in climbing down from Sembalun crater rim into the lake, the only way to get out of the crater is to climb back up to the crater rim.  However, we will use the path up to Senaru crater rim instead.

Stuk had already advised us that we should leave our campsite early and aim to make it to the crater rim of Senaru by around 10 am so that we could have a clear view of the valley without the presence of clouds blocking the view.  From his observations, the clouds will be blown into the valley in the later part of the morning usually after 10 am.

Breakfast for royalties

At 6.30 am, the guide woke us up and passed our breakfast to us in our tents, it was still dark at that time.  Today’s breakfast puts all the other breakfast on previous days to shame.  Banana fritters, Sandwich with honey, all sprinkled with a very generous amount of Parmesan Cheese!

Banana Fritters
Sandwich with cheeseJuicy

My friend and I could not finish the breakfast!  I am not used to having such a filling breakfast so the rest of the team helped us to finish it all up.  But it was definitely a very delicious breakfast.  The banana fritters were fried to just the perfect crispiness while maintaining its very juicy insides.  The cheese and honey that accompanied it made it taste like heaven!

Ready to go

By 7.28 am, we were all packed and ready to go.  The sun has risen above the horizon and the air was had a bit of warmness providing a comfortable hike.

One last picture

I went down to the lake shore one last time just to have one last glimpse and also to capture this panorama before heading out.  After all, I might not have the chance to come back here again, who knows.

Boom!

Just when we were about to leave our campsite, Mount Barujari decided to give us a good show!  It erupted (don’t worry, it’s only a very small eruption, without lava) spewing a large cloud of thick gray smoke.  Again, luck seems to be really on our side.  According to our guide, this kind of occasion of the mountain erupting with smoke is extremely rare.  Sometimes for years on, there would not be any eruptions at all.

Along the shores

At the start of the trail, we were walking along the shore of the lake.  At some points, the path was so narrow that we had to reach over rocks that are far apart from one another just above the water surface.

Up we go

After around 30 minutes of walking along the shore, we finally reached the spot in which we had to proceed up the slope.  It was a steep ascend but nothing hard like the terrain on the peak.

The Recycler

I managed to capture this picture of Azis, one of our team member.  The empty mineral bottles tied to his back are ours.  It is good to see that this team under the leadership of Stuk are very responsible in keeping the the surrounding free from our own rubbish and liter.

Avalanche

After a short while, by 8.50 am, we reached this open area with a lot of boulders, probably from some avalanche that happened long time ago.

Stay away from the edge

Our guide told us that the climb will get a bit dangerous from here onwards and to remind us to please watch our step, keep away from the edge whenever possible and do not hold on to the metal rails that are provided.

Upper body strength
Just reach itMore rocks

This is how steep it gets from the climb up to Senaru crater rim.  There are sections where we have to cling to the rocks and pull ourselves up.

Duck!

Or at times, ducking under a fallen branch.

Never ending steepness

The steepness doesn’t end and it continues for the rest of the hour.  After going through the kind of terrain on the summit the previous day, this kind of hard seems pretty easy by comparison!

The best view on Rinjani

Finally, we arrived at Senaru’s Crater Rim at 10.12 am at an altitude of 2641m asl, just shy of 2 meters compared to Sembalun’s Crater Rim at 2639m asl.  Stuk delivered on his promise that the clouds will not be here yet by the time we got up here.  This spot on Senaru Crater Rim (Plawangan Senaru) located 2,641m asl (above-sea-level) is the best place to view the whole caldera of Mount Rinjani which, in one whole postcard perfect picture, includes the 3,726m summit of Mount Rinjani which can been seen towering majestically in the distance on the left, the 2,639m asl crater rim of Sembalun side which we camped on the 1st night, the highly active baby volcano named Gunung Barujari (a volcano inside a volcano) and finally, the calm Lake Segara Anak that fills the caldera of Mount Rinjani which fades colours from yellow to turquoise to jade as the temperature of the hot sulfur water which emerges from the edge of Gunung Barujari mixes into the cooler water of the lake. Take me back there please!

Down we go

After spending a few more minutes at the top of the crater rim and taking some compulsory group pictures, it was time to descend Senaru Crater Rim, this time from the other side.  The time was 10.43 am, the destination; Senaru village, the end point of our Rinjani adventure.

Meet Azis

Meet Azis, who is currently a guide in-training and he was part of the fantastic team that took care of us throughout our Rinjani journey. I’ve seen him being a porter carrying our bags, swept and cleaned the area where our camp was to be put up making sure its free of any dirt or particles that might affect our comfort, served us our hot coffee and hot milo, collecting our empty mineral water bottles and carrying it on him (as seen in the picture) to be discarded at the end of the journey and accompanying and guiding us when we were separated from the larger group.

Sandy slopes again

Before long, more greens filled the path as we reached lower.  The trail was more or less like this for another hour, just a moderately pace descend as the surface of the ground was a bit slippery.

A star in the morning?

We arrived a Pos 3 of Senaru trail (2,000m asl) near to noon time.  The team took out the mats and place it on a shaded part to prepare our picnic lunch.  This is where I had my first Bintang!  Bintang is the well known beer brand of Indonesia.  One point to note however, the Bintang pictured here is Bintang Zero, this is the non-alcohol version of Bintang Beer.

ala Spaghetti Bolognese

They prepared us a fusion of local and Italian ala Spaghetti Bolognese with Crackers and Ikan Bilis (anchovies) for lunch.  Strange combination but works very well surprisingly!

Just visiting...

Another friend dropped by for a visit.  He seems to be very well versed with the path as he was happily coming up from the trail that we were about to continue on.

The root of all evil

We continued on with our journey at 1.30 pm.  From here on, we were mostly in the tropical forest with many roots and veins on the ground.  I went at a moderate pace being careful not to twist my ankle on the uneven ground.

The forest

By then, the forest started getting thicker and thicker.  It was obvious we were quite far down the Mountain as the humidity of the air started getting thicker.

Pos Extra

We arrived for a short break at Pos Extra at an altitude of 1,165m asl at 3.25 pm (I’m not sure why it is called Pos Extra).  From here, we could read the signage on the tree that says it is only 3.8km from the finishing point (Pintu Senaru / Senaru Gateway).

Just your typical jungle

So onwards, we continued our last part of the journey.  By this time, the trail has become a very normal trekking trail that you would encounter in any hikes in the forest.

Giant treeGiant tree split in half?

Gigantic trees that towers the canopy of the jungle are plentiful around here.  You will notice that a lot of the trees have labels on them indicating the family and genus of the trees.

Almost at the finishing line ...

The last few kilometers to the finishing line of the Rinjani trek was significantly easy, bringing us through a lust green tropical forest with the sun shining its beam into the thick foliage. This was in stark contrast of our previous 2 days of hiking which saw cold weather and breath-taking views. As the trail became more humid and hot, signaling to us that we were near the end of our journey, I began to slow my pace to enjoy my last few moments in this paradise; as together with the sense of accomplishment there was also a deep sense of sadness, having to say goodbye to this beautiful and remarkable place called Rinjani.

Pintu Senaru
The jump of joy, star versionThe jump of joy, yahoo version

The Senaru Gate (Pintu Senaru) gave a very authentic Jurassic Park feel with its gigantic rusty arch and the overgrown crawlers.  The feeling of relieve filled all of us as we reached this finishing line of our long long long journey at 4.25 pm.  Wendy & Jess were so happy they did jump shots at the entrance!

Herding cowsShifting

While we waited for our transport to fetch us, I went around the area looking at the activities that was happening around the village.  The area was still bustling with activities of the villagers going about their daily lives.

Pondok Senaru Cottages

We checked into our accommodation at Pondok Senaru Cottages, another high-end accommodation along the Senaru village.

Great view

It was close to sunset at that time and we had a wonderful view of Mount Rinjani from the vantage point here.  Mount Rinjani’s tip at the leftmost of the picture while below on the right we could see the Sendang Gile waterfall which we will be visiting tomorrow.

Our superior room

This was our superior room for the final night.  Looking at the room tariffs at the reception, these room cost 450,000rph per night.  Again, this was all included in the package price so we didn’t have to worry about it.  The hot shower was a delight after spending 3 cold days in the mountains!

Simple dinner

Nasi Goreng Kampung for dinner.  Simple yet satisfying.

We spent a long time at the cafeteria’s cottage just chatting the night away, sharing our experiences and what we noticed along the way.  At that time, we were free of any agendas, having completed our Rinjani trail and we didn’t have a worry in the world.  Stuk was also there to tell us a lot of story, some his own personal experiences on Rinjani, others about stories of some of his team members.

DAY 5:  The Waterfalls! (Sendang Gile & Tiu Kelep)

I purposely woke up earlier than the rest because I wanted to walk around the cottage to take pictures.  The cottage is actually located on the edge of the hill providing one of the best views of the valleys and the mountain.

Our cottageGood view from our cottage

This is the cottage we stayed in.  It overlooks the valley below as well as Mount Rinjani in the distance.

Mount Rinjani from afar

From here, Mount Rinjani was still visible in the distance (the tip on the left most).  It was hard to imagine that we have travelled this far from the mountain just within a day.

A preview of the waterfall to come

I took another peek at the Sendang Gile waterfall we were about to visit later after breakfast.

A great start for the day

It was another great start for the day as we had the best view from our breakfast table.

Wendy and her warm noodle soupStuk enjoying his morning puff

Wendy’s enjoying the delicious hot Soup Noodle while Stuk sits near us enjoying his morning smoke.

Today was our last day of the package which includes the two waterfalls located in Senaru, Sendang Gile which is around 5 minutes leisure walk down some stairs and Tiu Kelep which is a further 45 minutes from Sendang Gile.  Conveniently, the entrance to the waterfalls is located just next to (literally side-by-side) our accommodation so we only needed to walk over.  The walk to the first waterfall was very brief, just around 5 minutes walk down a hill with steps.  Even if your legs are aching from the Rinjani climb, this path is not a problem.

TIP:  Wear slippers / sandals for the trip to the waterfall as you will be some stream crossing to get to Tiu Kelep.

The land of giants

Wendy stands in a land of giants, in awe of Sendang Gile, a towering 10-storey high waterfall that is just a brief and easy 5-minutes walk from our accommodation in Senaru Village. Although this waterfall does not have a pool to dip or swim in, when standing directly under it, the weight of the water that comes crashing down from 31 meters high makes for a very nice massage for your body! The mist blown up by the avalanche creates a rainbow when sunlight reaches into the valley. According to local legends, there was once a prince who hunted a lion which terrorized the village, and accidentally discovered this marvelous waterfall. Since then, the locals referred to this place as sengang gile (‘crazy lion’ in their local dialect) and eventually until this day … the ‘Sendang Gile’.

Crossing the bridge

From Sendang Gile, it would take another 45 minutes or so (depending on your pace) to reach Tiu Kelep.  You will have to cross this concrete bridge to get to the other side of the valley to continue with the trail to Tiu Kelep.

The TunnelThe cave
A window

Stuk took us through a ‘short-cut’ which was using the ‘tunnel’ of the drainage.  This part was optional, don’t worry you won’t be missing much, it’s just a fun and crazy way to go. Ha ha!  In the ‘tunnel’ there were some natural openings on the ceiling creating a ‘window’ to the jungle outside.

The Dam

We arrived at a small dam which looks like it has been constructed for irrigation and flood control.

Crossing streams

After that, there came the stream crossings where we had to get our feet wet.  The water was freaking cold and the currents were strong!  Be extremely careful not to lose your sandals from the currents!

Getting use to the coldness

More stream crossings.  By now our feet has gotten used to the coldness of the water.

Water fight!

Finally the destination is in sight.  Even before seeing it, we could already hear the thunderous sound of the waterfall from the distance.  Stuk celebrates our arrival by … splashing the cold water towards Wendy.  The kid in them took over and they both started a water fight there.

The Majestic Tiu Kelep

Trust me when I say Tiu Kelep is a must-visit waterfall if you are going the Rinjani climb. Even after the very exhausting Rinjani hike that is guaranteed with aching muscles after the climb, upon arrival at Tiu Kelep, all pain will miraculously disappear! Although Tiu Kelep waterfall is not as tall as the Sendang Gile waterfall, it is more majestic in every other way; totally hidden in a corner of the dense jungle, a sheet waterfall with a wide fall-line with multiple plunges of thunderous water crashing down to the pool below. Even standing a distance away from the waterfall, my camera was drenched wet within seconds, my tripod had trouble keeping still from the storming winds from the explosive force of water against rock. Getting this long exposure shot of the waterfall was the most challenging ever!

Taking it all in

Another long exposure shot of the waterfall.  Preferably, I would have liked to be able to get closer for a better angle in which to shoot this marvelous waterfall, but it was just near to impossible unless you don’t mind getting your camera soaked wet!  Even at this distance, my camera was already quite wet, needing to cover the body of the camera with a plastic bag to prevent it from getting wet while I adjust the settings on the camera.

Happy kids
Happy kidsThe crashing waterfall

Happy kids in the pool!

So that was the end of our really remarkable Rinjani adventure.  5 days and 4 nights, each day worth it, each day offering different sights and experience from the previous days.  We actually spent another 2 nights on the island of Gili Trawangan (a satellite island of Lombok island located North).  Read about it here!

The magnificient 12

Here I would like to take a moment to dedicate this picture to this fantastic team.  This picture was taken at the Sembalun Crater Rim (Plawangan Sembalun).  Special thanks to this awesome 12; (from left to right) Asyid, Stuk, Tuah, Harry, Sujar (crouching), Johan, Edi, Udi, Abul and Idi (and 2 others not in the picture) who made sure our successful journey up and around Rinjani was remarkable every step of the way. Their dedication to our safety and well-being is second to none. Our Rinjani journey would not been complete without you. Thank you for making this truly a memorable adventure for my friends and I. No words can ever express our gratitude.

Stuk Rinjani Mountain

Lastly, a special mention is in order for this man.  This is the man responsible for guiding us throughout our whole Mount Rinjani climb. He has been a mountain guide for more than 20 years ever since he first climbed and fell in love with Rinjani. He is charismatic, he is energetic, he is responsible, he is a joker and most of all, he was extremely flexible with us during our climb, with 101 requests coming from us, he tried his best to cater for it all. He is Stuk (FB: Stuk Rinjani Mountain).  This man, together with his team gave us their 100% to ensure our safety and well-being from the first till the very last day. They made sure that we were able to had the best time of our lives and showed us their home; Rinjani. From all of us, thank you Stuk and team for such a wonderful time at Rinjani! ‪

My most memorable moment on Rinjani

My most memorable moment on Rinjani

If you were to ask me which was the most memorable time throughout the whole journey, I would say it would be this; the campsite above Sembalun Crater Rim; 2639 meters above sea level.  It was not the summit, nor was it the lake that enticed me.  The feeling of camping in the clouds, with the lake below on one side and the valley of Sembalun on the other side, it find it hard not to miss this beautiful moment.  Even the campers in this picture found it too amazing and spent quite a bit of time just standing there by the ledge enjoying the beautiful moment that God has bestowed upon each one of us up there on that day.  Even the dog knows how to appreciate an amazing view.  Give me a time machine and I would teleport to this particular moment in time first!

Modesto Bistro & Grill Sungkai Buffet 2016

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When it comes to western food, Modesto Bistro & Grill has certainly made a name for themselves for their delicious food over the years.  This Ramadhan, they are offering all their best and crowd-favourite dishes in their Sungkai Buffet, and that is not all!  They are also partnering with their sister restaurants to provide you with as much variety of food, more than enough for your picking.

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Lof Bakery for their tasty cakes and pastries, TwinklePan for their delicious pretzels, Dapur Penyet for their Indonesian recipes  and Hippo & Bees for their famous Korean ice-cream, all available in Modesto’s Sungkai Buffet this year.

Situated at Batu Bersurat, same block as Shabulicious and a few rows behind Happy Star, Modesto Bistro &  Grill is equipped with modern & colourful luxury seats and tables that are arranged with generous spacing and plenty of room to ensure their patrons has a comfortable time during their dine-in.

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Click on the map to enlarge.

Modesto’s Sungkai spread is very well organized.  There’s a section for the appetizers and main courses, another section for the bread and buns together with the fruits, another ‘hot’ section that serves the carvings such as the roasted chicken and lamb as well as the pasta and another section for all the different types of desserts you could ever want.

I took many pictures during the buffet, too many that I cannot include them all in this post.  To view all the pictures, have a look at my FB’s album here:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1093683457370441.1073741879.265575076847954&type=1&l=507566a9db

THE APPETIZERS

Here are the appetizers that were available that day.  My favourite is the Mini Pizza Cowboy and the Baked Mussels.  The Salsa and Chips were also a nice addition to the appetizers.

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The Appetizers selections which includes the tasty Chicken Velveteen Soup

Mini Cowboy Pizza

Mini Cowboy Pizza

Baked Mussels

Baked Mussels

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Various buns and pastries for your choosing

Bread & Buns

Bread & Buns

Pretzels

Pretzels

Very refreshing drinks

Very refreshing drinks

THE MAIN COURSE

I found myself ‘attacking’ the main course most of the time compared to the other sections.  I suppose I’m a meat eater hence this was my favourite section of all, and my favourite dish here was the Grilled Lamb Chops!  I have always been a lover of lamb chops, so naturally this is my favourite.  Baked Salmon is also my favourite here!

Main Course

The main course spread; an impressive selection of many of my favourite dishes.

Grilled Lamb Chop

Grilled Lamb Chop

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Picture: (Left) Grilled Sirloin Steak in Mushroom Sauce. (Right) Prawn Skewers.

Baked Salmon

Baked Salmon with Salsa Medley. I couldn’t get enough of this! I’m a sucker for Salmon!

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Picture: (Left) Mixed Vegetables. (Right) Pan Roasted Chicken Breast.

Chicken Satay.

Can’t go wrong with a perfect Chicken Satay.

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Picture: (Left) Creamy Mashed Potato. (Right) Fried Rice.

THE CARVING & PASTA SECTION

The carving section offered their Roasted Lamb Leg and Roasted Chicken, both of which is undeniably delicious.  I noticed that pasta section was also ‘hot’ among the crowd.  The chef was preparing making the dishes ‘made-to-order’ to ensure the pasta dish is served to you while its fresh and hot!

Freshly carved Roast Lamb Leg

Freshly carved Roast Lamb Leg

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Picture: (Left) Roasted Lamb Leg. (Right) Roasted Chicken.

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Roast Lamb Leg

Made to Order

Chef preparing the pasta ‘made-to-order’ so that you get it freshly cooked and still hot with the flavours.

Pasta Ala Carbonara

Pasta Ala Carbonara

Seafood Aglio Olio

Seafood Aglio Olio

THE DESSERTS

Most buffets that I have been to usually offers plenty of main course dishes, but does not provide a similar abundance in choices for their desserts.  At Modesto’s Sungkai Buffet, you will be spoilt for choice even at their desserts section; from old fashioned traditional cakes all the way to the modern cakes.  Modesto is also reviving the old-school cakes which was the favourites during the yesteryears.

Dessert selections

Brunei’s No.1 Food Blogger Thanis showing off the dessert selections to his viewers

Old School Cake

Old-School Cakes that was once the ‘hot cakes’ back in the yesteryears.

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Picture: (Left) Various cupcakes and puddings. (Right) Teh Tarik Cendol.

Blueberry Cheese Tarts & Mini Egg Tarts

Blueberry Cheese Tarts & Mini Egg Tarts

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Various cakes

Colourful Macaroons

Colourful Macaroons

Sugar Candy

Sugar Candy

Fruits & Dips

An impressive arrangement of fruits and the dips

Fruit Platter

Very beautifully carved and well presented fruit selections

TIME TO DIG IN!

All that delicious looking food, I could not wait to be able to have a go at it myself.. but sabar.. sabar.  As much as I would have loved to dig in together with the rest, being able to capture all these smiling faces enjoying their Sungkai was the most rewarding!

Time to dig in!

Time to dig in! I love the twinkle lights above the dishes.

Mandy & Salt delighted with the choices

Mandy & Salt delighted with the choices

Nabilah 'attacks' the desserts corner first

Nabilah ‘attacks’ the desserts corner first

Happily ever after

Happily ever after… with their food

My own selections!

My own selections! As you can see I’m a meat eater.😉 Camera gets to eat first!

What? Second round already???

What? Second round already???

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Picture: (Left) The No.1 Brunei Foodie trying his hand at preparing his famous Thanis’ Pasta. (Right) The proud chef presenting his Spicy Cheesy Lamb Pasta.  Delicious!

Spicy Cheesy Lamb Pasta!

The finished product, the masterpiece of No.1 Food Blogger Thanis. Spicy Cheesy Lamb Pasta!

Korean Ice Cream

Last but of course not least, the creamy Korean ice cream from Hippos & Bees. Must have!

Outside Patio

Patrons has the option of enjoying their meals outside in the fresh air at their sidewalk tables, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd inside where you can enjoy the ambiance of the candlelit tables with your loved ones.

To keep the menu interesting, Modesto has a different menu for each day of the week.  Please refer to the menu below to check the dishes being served on the respective days.

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Click to enlarge!
Picture: (Left) Menu for Monday – Wednesday. (Right) Menu for Thursday – Sunday.

You might also be interested to read Brunei’s No.1 Food Blogger’s take on Modesto’s buffet here:
http://www.thanislim.com/2016/06/brunei-sungkai-2016-modesto-sungkai.html

I took many pictures during the buffet, too many that I cannot include them all in this post.  To view all the pictures, have a look at my FB’s album here:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1093683457370441.1073741879.265575076847954&type=1&l=507566a9db

Be sure not to miss out Modesto’s Sungkai Buffet this year!  For any enquiries or reservation, please call (+673) 233 2000 or (+673) 720 9777.

See you at Modesto!

Here’s Chef Phoebe and Chef Jamie saying “See You at Modesto!”

Best Restaurants and Cafés of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Honestly speaking, I am not a food expert but I hope to share with you the places that I dined, the food that I tried in Cambodia, specifically in Siem Reap.  One thing to note is that Siem Reap’s attraction is not only the temples of Angkor, but also its food choices which seems to be aplenty.

This is the last out of my 3-part article which will be all about the food!  If you missed my other two parts of the article, they can be found here:

  • Scenes of Siem Reap; which shows the different ambience and scenery of Siem Reap, both day and night, in the city and out of the city.
  • The Temples of Angkor; which tells the exciting story of our visit to the famous temples of Angkor such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom and many more!

Before I proceed, let me introduce to you two very common dishes that is Cambodian that you must try; Fish Amok which is a curry dish which is prepared by steaming it in a banana leaf, and the Beef Lok Lak which is a stir-fried marinated beef usually accompanied by lettuce, cucumber and tomato with some house sauce.  Basically, the easiest way for me to describe Cambodian cuisine would be; a merge of Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.

You might be interested to read the views of my food blogger friend Thanis’ here.

I have divided this article into two logical sections: RESTAURANTS and CAFES.  ‘Restaurants’ in the context of this article refers to places where it would be suitable to have lunch or dinner whereas ‘cafes’ refers to places that are good for having a short rest from the heat of the day.

Please refer to these two maps for the locality of each place being mentioned:

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Map: (Left) Detailed view of Siem Riep city’s main town proper. (Right) Location of places further from town. Orange Circles represents restaurants while Green Squares represents cafes.

RESTAURANTS

In the maps above, the restaurants that we dined at are represented by the orange circles.  Some of the restaurants are located just within the city limits, so they are just very short tuk-tuk rides which shouldn’t cost you more than USD 1.

1.  Little Kroma (84 Wat Dam Nak Street)

Little Kroma is a very humble local coffee shop located at Wat Dam Nak Street, just behind the Wat Dam Nak Primary School.

Homely little shop

This little coffee shop gets to be my first on my list not because it was the cheapest out of the other restaurants that we’ve been to, but their freshly home-cooked local Cambodian dishes is definitely worth a mention.

Heavenly aroma

I can guarantee you that it’s fresh as we could see them chopping and preparing all the ingredients in their kitchen as we waited and then the heavenly aroma that makes its way into our nose receptors.

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Picture: (Left) A typical Coffee with Milk, quite thick and sweet compared to our normal Malaysian flavours.  Nevertheless, it’s a nice change from the usual.  (Right) Nom Pao (steamed pork buns) are also slightly different from the Chinese ‘Pao’ such that the bun’s texture is thicker and dense (personally I prefer our lighter chinese buns) but the fillings were generous with the pork meat, which had a little hint of black pepper.  The generous fillings really won it for me.

Cambodian Kuy Teav (Beef Noodle Soup)

Cambodian Kuy Teav (Beef Noodle Soup).  Tasty clear broth and rice noodles equivalent to that of the Vietnamese ‘Pho’.  Not surprising since southern Vietnam was part of Cambodia once upon a time.

Khmer Curry

Khmer Curry.  It’s more of a sweet curry than the spicy hot curry I’m familiar with.

Cambodian Fish Amok

Cambodian Fish Amok. ‘Amok’ refers to the process of preparing the food by steaming  the curry in banana leaves.  This dish took awhile to prepare but definitely worth the wait.

Cambodian Beef Lok Lak

Cambodian Beef Lok Lak.  Stir-fried marinated beef,served on a bed of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Fried Flat Noodles

Fried Flat Noodles. Similar to the Fried Wet Tomato Kueh Tiaw in Malaysia.

Fried Rice

Fried Rice.  Definitely my favourite dish there!  It’s one of the most unique fried rice I have ever tasted, certainly unlike the usual fried rice that I’m familiar with.  Must try!

2.  Genevieve’s Restaurant (Sok San Street)

Genevieve’s Restaurant is located in town on Sok San Street which is not too far from the main Pub Street.

Genevieve's Restaurant

It is one of the many restaurants in Siem Reap that provides some of its profits for the benefit of the locals and local non-profit organizations (NGOs).  10% of its profits is divided between the staff, while another 10% is given to 4 local charities, and the remainder of the profits are distributed to a school or community project in Siem Reap.

Fried Squid with fresh Green Pepper

Fried Squid with fresh Green Pepper.

Khmer Style Curry

Khmer Style Curry.  This is my favourite dish among those that we ordered.  The curry was so tasty we finished it to the last drop.

Beef Lok Lak with Rice set

Beef Lok Lak with Rice set.

Fish Amok with Rice set

Fish Amok with Rice set.

3.  Mamma Shop (636 Hadgang Street)

Mamma Shop is an Italian restaurant located at Hadgang Street, just opposite of where my favourite café The Little Red Fox Espresso is also located.  Mamma Shop is opened by an Italian who has settled down in Siem Reap with the aim of keeping the Italian food and culture alive and at the same time, giving back to the community by contributing to the lives of the less fortunate children.

Mamma Shop

The restaurant is small and humble, but don’t let that fool you.  Their food is simply delicious.  I would say it’s one of the best Italian restaurant’s I’ve tasted before in my life.  I suspect that the secret to the deliciousness is because every dishes are home made!

Ravioli al Pomodoro

Ravioli al Pomodoro.  Homemade raviolli filled with spinach, ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese served with tomato sauce.

Spaghetti al Ragu Bianco

Spaghetti al Ragu Bianco.  Spaghetti with beef and parmesan cheese.

Prosciutto di Parma e Rucola

Prosciutto di Parma e Rucola.  Pizza topped with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parma ham, rocket salad, parmesan cheese and oregano.  This is my favourite, the generous amount of ham won it for me!

4.  The Square 24 (Street 24, Wat Bo Area)

The Square 24 is a fine dining restaurant that serves Khmer cuisine.  They say first impressions always count, which is probably what the owners of this establishment was aiming for.  The attention to details put into the whole setup and interior deco is just amazing.  Vegetarians will be delighted to see that they have a special section in the menu just for them.

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From the moment you walk in, the place gives out an ambience of class and style.  The first word that came out of our mouths were ‘Wow’.

The Square 24

When it comes to the interior deco, the Square 24 beats all the other restaurants that we’ve been to.  From life-sized statues of Apsara and Bayon-like faces to little intricate details such as colour flowers on table tops and ever-changing lighting themes, they certainly take their dining experience to the max!

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Picture: (left) Life-sized statues stands in the middle of the square litted by ever-changing neon coloured lights.  (right) My Lime Breeze (Lime, Banana and Pineapple with grenadine syrup) nicely decorated with a purple bougainvillea flower.

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Free appetizers before our main meal, elegantly presented.

Banana flower salad

Banana flower salad.

Fish Amok with Coconut Milk

Fish Amok with Coconut Milk.  This was my favourite dish of the night and I’m really missing it now.

Grilled beef with lime and chili

Grilled beef with lime and chili.

Sour Duck Soup with Pickled Lime

Sour Duck Soup with Pickled Lime.

Complimentary desserts after the meal

Complimentary desserts after the meal.

5.  Happy Special Pizza (2 Thnou Street)

Do a google on ‘the best pizza in Cambodia’ and you will be flooded with search results of ‘happy pizza’.  Happy Pizza is what Cambodia is famous for.  I know, I know, eating pizza is  always a happy affair.  However, the ‘happy pizza’ in Cambodia doesn’t refer to that kind of happy, but a ‘happy’ of another kind.  These ‘happy pizzas’ are topped with ‘extra special seasoning leaves’ which can make you ‘high’, therefore happy!  By law, these ‘leaves’ are of course illegal, therefore the menu in Happy Special Pizza are all for the normal pizzas.  Just choose the pizza of your choice, and specifically tell them that you want the pizza to be a ‘happy’ one!  Oh, and please make sure don’t have anything important planned for the rest of the day in case you get too ‘happy’.

(For obvious reasons, I’m not attaching a picture of the restaurant).

Happy Pizza! =) =) =) 8)

‘Happy’ Pizza!  The dark green herbs you see on the egg and hidden below the cheese are the happy stuff!

6.  The Sugar Palm (Taphul Road)

The Sugar Palm Restaurant is another Khmer cuisine restaurant which serves their dishes with a modern twist.  They actually have two branches in Cambodia; one in Phnom Penh which was their first branch since the 1970s and another in Siem Reap which was only opened in 2010 which features a very stylish and wooden themed dining area.

The Sugar Palm Restaurant

The entrance to the Sugar Palm Restaurant with plants and vines dangling from the top makes it feel like an entrance to one of the forest temples.

On the first floor

The dining area is located on the 1st floor.

Spacious tables and seatings

Very spacious dining area with ample ceiling fan in the hot climate of Siem Reap.

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The exterior and interior of the restaurant are all wooden themed, including the tables and chairs and even the bar!

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Picture: (left) Sombai, an infused local Cambodian liqour is displayed on a shelf available for purchase.  (right) The trademark of Siem Reap and the restaurant is named after it; the Sugar Palm.

Classy cutleries

The plates are embossed with the Sugar Palm’s name accompanied by very classy cutleries.

Crispy Spring Rolls

Crispy Spring Rolls.  One of their unique dish you won’t find anywhere else.  Pork mince, prawn and vegetables wrapped in rice paper and then deep fried.

Fish Amok

Fish Amok.  This is my favourite dish of the restaurant and my favourite of the whole Siem Reap!  Freshwater fish, steamed with a lightly spiced blend of coconut cream and steamed vegetables.  The Sugar Palm’s Fish Amok definitely wins my vote for the best Fish Amok in Siem Reap!

Khmer Fish Salad

Khmer Fish Salad.  Freshwater fish sliced and marinated in lime juice the mixed with a fresh salad of capsicum, carrot, cabbage, been sprouts and mint, topped with special dressing and ground peanuts.

Beef with Basil

Beef with Basil.  Sliced beef stir-fried with onion and basil leaves topped with group peanuts.

Khmer Crispy Noodles

Khmer Crispy Noodles.  A traditional dish of crispy rice noodles accompanied by pork, tofu, sprouts and special sauce.  Another of my favourite!

7.  Kroya @ Shinta Mani (Oum Khun Street)

Shinta Mani is a prestigious upscale boutique hotel located in the heart of Siem Reap.  Their fine-dining restaurant was given the name according to the meaning of food in the Khmer Royal language, which is a highly suitable reflection on the setup and ambience of the establishment.

Kroya

The entrance to Shinta Mani’s restaurant, Kroya.  As soon as our driver dropped us right in front of this entrance, we were glad that did prior researched and knew we should dress formally for this dinner.

Caterpillar

At the side of the entrance lies this cute green caterpillar lantern.

Air-conditioned area

The air-conditioned section of Kroya has equipped with very bright down-lights and a maze-like ceiling design with matching carpets.

In the mood for love

The outdoor section of the restaurant has bed swings.  I used the word ‘bed’ because the size of the swing is literally as big as a bed.  I won’t be surprised if it is a real mattress under that sheet.  These swings are mounted to the high ceiling and makes for a very romantic and relaxing ambience for you and your partner.  The only reason my friends and I preferred not to sit here was because we really wanted the air-conditioning and we can’t do our photography if we were on a moving platform.

Complimentary

Complimentary plain bread to keep us busy while we wait for the good stuff!

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Banana Blossom Salad

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Banana Blossom Salad.

Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab with Lime & Pepper Sauce

Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab with Lime & Pepper Sauce.

Home Smoked Salmon on Wasabi Pancake, Black Caviar, Sour Cream and Khmer Basil Sorbet

Home Smoked Salmon on Wasabi Pancake, Black Caviar, Sour Cream and Khmer Basil Sorbet.

Warm Wagyu Beef Carpaccio.  Frisee and Cresson Salad with House Dressing

Warm Wagyu Beef Carpaccio.  Frisee and Cresson Salad with House Dressing.

Chilled Fresh Strawberry Soup, topped with pumpkin gazpacho ice cream

Chilled Fresh Strawberry Soup, topped with pumpkin gazpacho ice cream.

Sauteed Devil Scallop with Me Kong Langoustine

Sauteed Devil Scallop with Me Kong Langoustine.

Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle Cream Sauce and Balsamic Reduction

Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle Cream Sauce and Balsamic Reduction.

The Traditional Khmer Tasting Menu

The Traditional Khmer Tasting Menu.  Clockwise (from top-left): Khmer Organic White Rice & Brown Rice, Beef Sour Soup Scented with Lemongrass and Fresh Herbs, Wok-fried Pork Fillet with Toasted Ground and Lime Juice, Khmer Style Steamed Garlic Prawns with Chili.

Passion Fruit Crème Brule

Passion Fruit Crème Brule.

Assorted Khmer Sweet Dessert

Assorted Khmer Sweet Dessert.

8.  Mie Café (Phum Treng Khum Street)

Mie Café is a fine dining gourmet cuisine restaurant which makes me wonder why they label themselves as a ‘café’ in the first place.  It is located a bit out of the main town area, which is why we planned our dinner there to coincide with our attending of the play “The Smile of Angkor” (read more about this show in my previous article ‘The Scenes of Siem Reap’ here) which is located not far from there.

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Mie Café is nested in a very traditional Khmer house with an outdoor patio and garden, which offers a refreshing place to enjoy our meal.

Patio garden

The outdoor patio garden offers an alternative dining experience.

Mosquitoes away

Upon arrival, we were initially concerned for mosquitoes (yes its in our Asian blood) which might attack us, but the many fans that are placed around the place helps to ensure that our bodies are not molested by these pest.

A balcony with a view

The upper level of the restaurant has a nice balcony seating that overlooks the garden and the main street.

Tonle Sap Chlang Fish Fillet

Tonle Sap Chlang Fish Fillet.  Mixed vegetable stew (Cambodian kor ko style) light coconut cream mixed with lemongrass.

Grilled Beef La Ap with Red Ant Eggs

Grilled Beef La Ap with Red Ant Eggs.  This was by far the most unique dish throughout my whole time in Siem Reap.  Chopped grilled medium rare beef marinated with local herbs, chili, roasted sticky rice flour, tomato sauce and a touch of balsamic vinegar, served with long bean salad and topped with parmesan cheese and of course… red ant eggs!

Alien world

Using my macro lens to magnify the ant eggs for a closer look, we could see that some of the eggs has burst with the ants complete with their faces and antenna clearly visible!

Sexy legs

Marinated Frog Legs.  Wild Mushroom tart, sauteed frog legs with balsamic vinaigrette.  Deliciously sexy!  Best dish here!

Eel Char Khroeung

Eel Char Khroeung.  Stir-fried Tonle Sap Eel with mixed lemongrass paste, saffron, bell pepper, spinach served with sticky rice.

Rib Eye Beef Lok Lak

Rib Eye Beef Lok Lak.  Mushroom, onion, green pepper corn stir fried with oyster sauce.

9.  Cuisine Wat Damnak (Wat Damnak Market Street)

Cuisine Wat Damnak is located in an area called Wat Damnak, just a little further from the main town.  This is a highly popular restaurant and we made our reservations a few weeks in advanced, even at that time, our initial preferred date was already unavailable and we had to select another date for our dining there.  When making a reservation in a restaurant that is in the Asia Top 50 list, it’s not surprising to find an available date!

Cuisine Wat Damnak

When we arrived, we were greeted by a lady with French ascent (I assume she’s French too?) and after having checked our reservation, we were brought to our table.  When doing your reservation, you would need to choose for outdoor seating, or indoor which is air-conditioned and with very limited tables.

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche (Complimentary Appetizer)

Palm Sugar and Tomato Pickled Winter Melon, Sanday Fish, Green Mango and Fresh Peppercorn

Palm Sugar and Tomato Pickled Winter Melon, Sanday Fish, Green Mango and Fresh Peppercorn.

Frog Meat Salad with Lotus Root, Stern and Seeds, Prahak and Cashew Nut Emulsion

Frog Meat Salad with Lotus Root, Stern and Seeds, Prahak and Cashew Nut Emulsion.

Spicy Prawn Pancake with Yam Bean, Holy Basil and Kaffir Lime Leaves

Spicy Prawn Pancake with Yam Bean, Holy Basil and Kaffir Lime Leaves.

Duck Confit in Pong Tia Kone Style

Duck Confit in Pong Tia Kone Style.

Mekong Langoustine Yellow Curry with Pumpkin Fruit and Leaf, Lemon Basil and Tamarind Shoots

Mekong Langoustine Yellow Curry with Pumpkin Fruit and Leaf, Lemon Basil and Tamarind Shoots.

Beef Cheek Soup with Barbecued Green Papaya, Shiny Cresson, Lime and Rice Paddy Herb

Beef Cheek Soup with Barbecued Green Papaya, Shiny Cresson, Lime and Rice Paddy Herb.

Braised Pork Shank and Calamari Black Sticky Rice Porridge, Mushrooms, Glazed Turnip and Siem Reap Sausage

Braised Pork Shank and Calamari Black Sticky Rice Porridge, Mushrooms, Glazed Turnip and Siem Reap Sausage.

Cambodian Green Giant Eggplant, Tonle Sap Croaker Fish, Braised Maam with Coconut Tree Heart, Peanuts and Winged Beans

Cambodian Green Giant Eggplant, Tonle Sap Croaker Fish, Braised Maam with Coconut Tree Heart, Peanuts and Winged Beans.

Pan Fried Kholan Cake, Aged Rum Caramelized Banana, Toasted Coconut White Chocolate Ganache

Pan Fried Kholan Cake, Aged Rum Caramelized Banana, Toasted Coconut White Chocolate Ganache.

Steamed Chocolate Biscuit and Pot De Crème, Passion Fruit Whipped Cream and Rice Praline

Steamed Chocolate Biscuit and Pot De Crème, Passion Fruit Whipped Cream and Rice Praline.

Complimentary Assorted Fruits

Complimentary Assorted Fruits.

Thanis & Chef Joannès Rivière

My friend Thanis posing with Chef Joannès Rivière after the very satisfying and delicious dinner.  Thumbs up Chef!  It’s no wonder your restaurant is in Asia’s Top 50 list!

CAFES

Apart from the many lovely restaurants in Siem Reap, there are also many very hipster cafes in town which has its own style and theme.  However, you will notice one thing in common that most of these places offer; giving back to the community through donation and working closely with the non-profit organizations for the welfare of the local community.  Many posters and pamphlets are available in their premises to raise awareness of the visitors.

A.  The Little Red Fox (Hap Guan Street)

This is my favourite café among all the others in Siem Reap due to its variety of coffee drinks available which I really love.  They serve the best latte in my opinion, and if you feel the need to excite your latte flavours, there’s also the Coconut & Cinnamon Mocha which I love really much!  If that is still not exciting enough, they have the Espresso Martini which will blow your mind!  It does not end here, other than the casual espresso brewed coffees, they do offer cold pressed coffees as well!  Oh by the way, there is a popular hair salon located above the café which is run by the same owners.

Lively ambience

The outside of the café, gives you a very down-to-earth experience.  The place is always filled with people giving it a very lively ambience.

Cosy

Inside is air-conditioned, with small wooden stools and tables that can be easily moved around to suit the group size.

Interior Deco

Unique and interesting interior deco using stools stucked to the wall.

Merchandise

There are also some Little Red Fox merchandise that is available for purchase.

Coconut & Cinnamon Mocha

Coconut & Cinnamon Mocha.  This is my favourite!

Espresso Martini

Espresso Martini.  Coffee with Martini, what a terrific combination.  I could definitely feel the kick from the combination of the two fusion!

Affogatto

Affogatto.  If you can’t decide if you would rather have coffee or ice cream, go for this!

Carrot Cake (Grandmother’s Style)

Carrot Cake (Grandmother’s Style).

Omelette with Sundried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese served with Fresh Brown Rice Salad

Omelette with Sundried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese served with Fresh Brown Rice Salad.

Thanis, Adam and David

Thanis (the guy who cannot decide if he prefers Batman or Superman) posing with the two owners of The Little Red Fox, Adam (left) & David (right) both from Australia.

B.  Common Grounds Coffee (#719-721 Street 14)

Common Grounds Coffee is an American style café located at the end of the street from The Little Red Fox.  The café is big enough to cater for plenty of people, and features a Internet Café on its upper level.  This café also believes in giving back to the community by giving the locals a working chance and to create an income that helps to sustain the Children’s Home in Siem Reap.  More impressively, Common Grounds serves as a vocational training center, teaching English and computer skills!

Apple colour!

The bright apple green colours creates a very refreshing ambience to enjoy.  The upper level is the Internet Café.

Merchandise

Various merchandise sold in the cafe with the proceeds being donated to the cause of the Children.

Molten Lava Cake

Molten Lava Cake.

London Fog

London Fog.  Interesting name for this drink which is a combination of Earl Grey Tea and Vanilla Latte.  It is quite nice too!

Beef Lok Lak

Beef Lok Lak.  Cambodian stir fried beef in BBQ sauce.

Fried Spring Rolls

Fried Spring Rolls.

Chicken Caesar Salad

Chicken Caesar Salad.

C.  The Hive (#631 Psar Kandal Street)

This is another café located near to The Little Red Fox and Common Grounds Coffee.  Using black steel, shiny floor tiles, modern art graffiti on the walls and yellow hanging lights, the place gives out a feel of modern and artistic ambience.

The Hive

Being smaller than the other cafes, they have managed to make efficient use of space by making another upper level for more seating.

Small and cosy

The seating in the café is small and cosy, with most suitable for groups of 4.

Latte & Passionate Juice

My Latte and Jess’ Passionate Juice (Mango & Passion fruit).

Rough Morning Cure

Rough Morning Cure.  This is Hive’s specialty breakfast with potato fried in Tabasco with bacon, cherry tomatoes and topped with fried egg.

Breakfast Burrito

Breakfast Burrito.  Scrambled eggs, bacon, spinach and tomato sauce.

Egg Benedict

Egg Benedict.  Poached eggs with ham, spinach and homemade hollandaise sauce on Panini, served with fries and salad.

Mango Bruschetta

Mango Bruschetta.  This was absolutely delicious!  Never had a combination like this before.

D.  Sister Srey (Pokambor Avenue)

Sister Srey is located literally in the heart of the city (right next to the old market) where you would be able to watch people going about their everyday lives by just to sitting there, watching them go by.  This café was opened by two sisters to not only to serve coffee, but also to support Khmer students by training them in hospitality, English language skills and personal development.  They also have various incentives in place, to name a few, working alongside the Hearts to Harmony Foundation which supports the rural families.

Sister Srey

Sister Srey is a ‘young’ café, having being opened only in 2012.  Both the sibling owners in their early 20s were equally young at the moment they started this café!  These two sisters has the most amazing story on his they ended up in Cambodia and eventually starting this café.  There’s even the Sister Srey motorbike parked right outside!

People spotting

One of the main streets of Siem Reap where you can watch people go by their everyday lives.  The number of tuk-tuks waiting opposite just proves how much of a hot-spot this place is.

The 10 Commandments

The 10 COMMANDMENTS why you should have a break at Sister Srey.

Map of the world

One section of the wall which is fitted with the map of the world.  This is quite fitting seeing that the sisters almost migrated to the United Kingdom (they are originally from Australia).

Window

Another corner of the café where there is a big open window which faces the less busy alleyway.  Perfect place to catch up on some reading.

Fancy some shopping?

The upper floor of the café holds the shop where various items such as clothing, books, souvenirs are being sold and proceeds goes directly to the Hearts to Harmony foundation.

The Library

There is also the cozy book corner where you can spend time reading the books and novels available there.

Pink Flamingoes

That’s Sister Lauren (no, I don’t mean a nun) hard at work drawing a mural of pink flamingoes on wheels.

Ground Floor

A shot of the ground floor from the challenging spiral staircase.

Yummylicious

Various yummylicious pastries at display shelf.

Children's story Book

We sat at the sidewalk and I had the Ice Latte which was extremely good and refreshing from the heat of the day.  Notice the kiddy story book?  Why would I be reading it?  It is actually the menu of the café in disguise!  What a brilliant idea!

E.  Gelato Co (2 Thnou Street / Old Market Street)

Gelato Co is the best place to stop by to get a cone of ice cream while you continue your walk around pub street and market street.  The summer heat in Siem Reap will definitely make this an irresistible place even if you accidentally walk by.

Gelato Co

The classy sign board outside of the shop.  Our eyes opened with delight when we saw the word GELATO on the board, which could only mean ICE CREAM!

Pistachio Ice Cream

Jess very happy with her Pistachio Ice Cream.

F.  Blue Pumpkin (2 Thnou Street / Old Market Street)

Blue pumpkin is a french bakery which also serves Ice Cream.  They a lot of branches in Cambodia and plenty of branches within Siem Reap itself.  The best feature of this place is the very relaxing atmosphere at the first floor of the café.  A long row of mattress with big cushions is there for anyone to just lounge on.  I could literally fall asleep there after a long and tiring day at the temples.

Blue Pumpkin

Look for this sign along pub street which will lead you to your desire… Ice cream!

Like a boss

Very comfortable setup for patrons to relax on (and even fall asleep).  Thanis shows everyone how to be a Chinese boss!

 

SUMMARY

As far as really local Cambodian, coffee shop style food, the only dish that I’ve managed to try is the Cambodian Noodle.  I had the chance to taste this at the village near to Bantaey Srei.

Local Cambodian Noodle

Local Cambodian Noodle.

Simply Delicious

The best way I can describe how the noodle taste; tasty with a coconut milk broth.   The complimentary freshly plucked vegetables which is placed on each table (see picture above) is meant to accompany the noodles or any dish that you order.  All that for only USD 1!

Please take my article here as it is; it is not meant to be a full review on the food places.  My friends and I were in Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and the other Angkor temples with our own eyes.  Food was only a side pleasure while we were there.  Please note also that we did not dine in the local coffee shops (except for one) mostly those proper classy restaurants, therefore I don’t have much to show in terms of the genuine cheap and simple local food around.  Also, since I am a Malaysian (another food haven), most of my comments would be based on and comparative to our Malaysian flavours.

But don’t worry, if you get yourself a reliable tuk-tuk driver, they are always more than capable of recommending a local place for you.  Please consider Shafie our tuk-tuk driver for the whole duration of our visit.  He has proven to be very steadfast and his knowledge of Siem Reap, even the temples of Angkor is comparable to that of a tour guide.

I hope this guide is of help to you!  Needless to say, although the variety of food in Cambodia cannot match those in Malaysia, I do find myself missing some of the dishes; namely the Fish Amok from The Sugar Palm, The Fried Rice from Little Kroma and the Coconut & Cinnamon Mocha from The Little Red Fox.

Above all else, I miss the feeling of wondering in the mystical temples of Angkor and discovering something new at every corner!

The Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

The Angkor Archaeological Park is a 400 square kilometers area in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which holds many of the majestic temples (many of which functioned as capital cities at that time) during the era of the powerful Khmer Empire.  Angkor means ‘capital’ in Khmer.  A common misconception among people who has never been to Angkor would think that Angkor Wat is the name used to refer to the whole area, which is far from the truth.  Many other temples, each with its own uniqueness in terms of architecture and beauty.

Don’t miss the last section of this post as I will share about our strategies for temple visits in order to avoid the menacing tourist crowd and the hot sun!  Please remember that this article only mentions the temples that my friends and I visited.  Don’t forget there are actually many many many many many more temples there, which might or might not appeal to you.  The temples that we visited was chosen based on prior researching which we felt we would like to see.  It is quite impossible to cover so many temples in a day, unless you’re just walking into one then walking straight back out.  It’s quite pointless to do so, there’s so many things you might miss!

Also, if you missed my first part of this 3-part article which tells covers The Scenes of Siem Reap, you can read it here.

Or if you prefer to read about the Food of Siem Reap, the restaurants and cafes, you can read it here.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

First things first, in order to be able to visit the temples, you will need to get an ‘Angkor Pass’.  This pass can be purchased from the Ticketing Office which is located along the main road to Angkor Wat, you will not miss it.  This pass is available in several durations: 1 day (USD20), 3 days (USD40) and 7 days (USD60).  TIP:  If you purchase this ticket after 5pm, you are allowed to enter the temples for free (without taking a day away from your pass)!

You shall not pass

Thanis showing off our Angkor Pass after a very quick and efficient process of getting it; wait for your turn in the queue, state the pass you require (how many days pass), stand and smile for the camera, then FLASH!  You will get your pass almost instantly!

A TASTE OF WHAT IS TO COME: PRE RUP

Right after getting our Angkor Pass, we asked Shafie our ever-so-enthusiastic tuk-tuk driver (his website here) to recommend to us the best spot for a nice sunset.  He said he knew just the place and into the Angkor Archaeological Park we went.  After riding the straight road, we turned right riding east along a long river (unbeknown by us at that time, that was the moat of Angkor Wat stretching more than 5 km!).

Our Royal Chariot

Thanis and Jess sitting in the carriage while Shafie our fearless tuk-tuk driver sits on his black stallion, riding against the silhouette of Pre-Rup temple, photo bombed by a tourist (Yes, the photo bombing started even at our first temple!)

Map of Angkor

The formal name of this temple is Prasat Pre Rup.  Prasat means palace or temple in Khmer.  This map shows where Pre Rup is situated compared to all the other temples.  (Map taken from ChoiTravels)

Pre Rup Sunset

Okay, this is a better angle, no photo bombing tourist here!  Maybe luck was with us after all, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else here.  No herds of tourist to photo bomb my pictures!

Pre Rup with tourist

Think again! The moment we stepped into the compound of Pre Rup temple, we realized just how busy the place is.

Vertigo anyone?

The flight of stairs up was a good evening exercise getting everyone’s heart pumping while huffing and puffing to catch their breath.  It’s hard to tell how high the middle section is but I estimate we were around 3 storey high, judging from the number of section of stairs.  In the distance, the tour busses and vans awaits their clients.

State of ruins

Some of the already collapsed ruin in the compound of the temple.

The lintel carvings

The lintel (the horizontal support across the top of the doorway) has carvings of elephants and what seems like a man (not really obvious) sitting on them.

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Picture: (left) The figures carved on the walls of the west towers are feminine like, it’s not really clear anymore due to the wear but I suspect it might be the Apsara, the female spirit of cloud and water in the Hindu Buddhist mythology.  (right) The doors on the upper most level are made of sandstone and has plant motifs inscribed on it.

Through a window, literally

Jess trying to squeeze through the window with balusters in the west courtyard.  I think you can guess how that went.

Magnificent view for sunset

Indeed Shafie our tuk-tuk driver was not wrong.  The uppermost level of Pre Rup temple provides a magnificent view to enjoy the sunset.   Please be extremely careful walking around the upper levels as there are no safety barriers or handles.

Best seats in the house

The best seats in the house were already taken when we reached there.  People of all ages and skin colour all sitting by the edge of the temple’s upper floor, just basking in the orange glow of the sun setting.

Accompanied by ancient lions

Two seated lions standing guard on the pedestals flanking the stairways down.  I can’t help but imagine the number of beautiful sunsets these two lions has seen over the centuries.

Calvin Klein advertisement

It was just pure coincidence that when I was climbing down the staircase and as I looked back, these two gentleman was giving such an elegant pose that I just had to capture it!

Beauty in the rubbles

I hold Yukiko solely responsible for me not having more shots like this; a beautiful fashionable girl among the mystical ruins of Angkor!  You see, Yukiko is our fantastic fashion blogger friend who was suppose to be part of our group but she withdrew from the trip on the 11th hour!  (Find out more about Yukiko here)

Sunset through a door

Since there were so many people on the upper terrace of the temple, I decided to wander elsewhere in search of a different perspective.  This is the western doorway that leads out into the forest.

A different perspective

Another different perspective.  “Into the heavens I shall seek”.  According to the historians, Pre Rup temple was more of a ‘funeral’ temple where they would cremate the dead.  This was probably one of the towers used for the cremation process long time ago as it looks like it has a chimney.

Worn out

Looking at the overall structure of Pre Rup temple, it seems that most of the surfaces has already worn out and a lot of the stones which it was built with has already collapsed.

One last look

One last look at Pre Rup temple from below.  This first experience at one of the temples of Angkor has definitely kept our excitement going for what is to come the next day.

DAY 1 : ANGKOR WAT

The most famous temple among them is none other than Angkor Wat, which is unofficially the 8th Wonder of the World and is the largest religious monument in the world.  Wat means ‘temple’ in Khmer.

The normal practice to visit Angkor Wat would be to arrive there in time for the sunrise.  Angkor Wat is the only temple in Angkor that is built oriented to the west.  That is why the sunrise of Angkor Wat appears behind the complex hence the many postcards of Angkor Wat’s silhouette against the sunrise.

Shafie suggested to us that we should leave our hotel by 5.30 am in the morning which we did.  It takes around 30 minutes tuk-tuk drive from the town center to Angkor Wat.  Driving through the Angkor Archeological grounds that early in the morning was really freezing.  I was glad that I brought my arm sleeves which I originally meant to use against the sun.

The money shot

This is the main reason why everyone gets up before the break of dawn to rush to Angkor Wat; to get there in time to capture Angkor Wat with its five majestic towers against the canvas of dawn with its symmetrical image reflecting from the basin.

Behind every good picture...

Behind that mysterious scene of Angkor Wat is thousands of tourist gathered at 6 am in the morning just to catch that same scene.  Arriving as early as you can is a must if you want to have a good vantage point for your shot.

Waiting in the dawn

Behind all that crowd stands the north library which is almost in ruins.  Tourist with all kinds of photography equipment ranging from the smallest GoPro to the professional DSLRs.  One problem here is that even those tourists that are not trying to capture a shot who are just there to watch the sunrise, they are also standing there occupying many good vantage point that a photographer would need, when they could just as easily stand somewhere.

Angkor Wat reveals itself

In fact, even for amateur photographers who just wants to capture the shot can do so even without getting front row seats.  Photographers who know what they are doing (i.e. shooting at slow-shutter speed for a very smooth reflection in the basin) that they would need to get to the front to place their cameras on their tripod.

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Meanwhile, many other activities are on-going around the basin.  From people just sitting down on the grass just indulging in the moment, to people just walking along the causeway, to people taking out their brushes to sketch the view into their canvas.

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Children from the nearby stalls would sell their souvenirs to the tourist, all of which are very soft spoken and polite unlike child touts of other countries who can get quite persistent.  They are such good charmers that most tourist would not mind to get something from them.

Sound of music

As the sun begins to reveal itself from under the horizon shining its rays into the land, the birds of the valley begin singing their songs celebrating another beautiful day.

Sugar Palm Trees

The towering structure of Angkor Wat reaching out majestically into the sky.  The sugar palm tree which is the national tree of Cambodia are also very common throughout the whole temple.  (I explained about the sugar palm tree in my previous article here).

The causeway

The main causeway that leads to the main entrance stretches a far distance framed by the balustrade of the serpent.  It was interesting to note that the slabs on the floor are of irregular shapes, which means that each slab has to be chiseled to fit the adjoining one.

Plant motifs

Another plant motif  can be found carved onto the pillars of the entrance.

Roof of Angkor Wat

These curved sloping roof which are made with gracefully arched stone rectangles and are prominent along all the chambers and aisles are all hallmark of Angkor Wat.

Keep praying

The statue of Buddha can be found hidden amongst the labyrinth of walls and pillars in the central area.  Please remember to take of your footwear and any hat that you might be wearing prior to entering the praying area.

A moment to meditate

Thanis takes a moment to meditate and pray.  Initially he forgot to take of his hat, which he did after this shot was taken.  The monk is the caretaker of this area and he would give you his blessings if you would ask.

Get your charm bracelet here

Visitors can also get their charm bracelets from the monk.  The guy on the right  is an official guide of Angkor who was accompany these group of tourist.  The official guides are easily recognizable with their cream-coloured uniform with the emblem of Angkor Wat on the long sleeve.  They also wear an ID tag with them the whole time.

A helping hand

The monk helps to put on the charm bracelet on his visitor and also gives her his blessing before she leaves.

Good for photo opportunities at every corner

Every corner of Angkor Wat’s old structure is good for a nice selfie against the background of worn out stone slabs.

The central tower of Angkor Wat

This shot was taken from the central square.  12 sets of stairs with 40 steps each leads to the center tower which can be visited only on certain days.  If you want to attempt to go up to the upper most level, you should ascent and descent sideways as the steps are exceptionally narrow!  The corners of the upper level are dominated by the four towers.  All these towers make up the 5 towers which can be seen from the outline of  Angkor Wat in the Cambodian flag.   Even this central area itself is huge!  If you study the picture above carefully, you can see the tiny tourist against the majestic center tower!

Apsara carvings

Frieze of Apsaras in great detail, each Apsara with her own unique identity (not repetition of a pattern) can be found carved onto many of the walls surrounding the central section.

Battle with demons

A lintel carving depicting the monkey army battling demons defending the souls of humanity.

The four cardinal directions

One of the four porches which opens up to the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west).

Rubbles

Many of the rubbles lay untouched on the floor of the central sanctuary.

Eastern entrance of Angkor Wat

This is the eastern entrance of Angkor Wat.  Proceeding down the path by exiting the eastern entrance will bring you to the east gate which is known as the Ta Kou entrance.

Repeating pillars

The unbroken stretch of repeated pillars leading from the far end of Angkor Wat all the way to the central opening.  On all the inner walls walls are galleries of bas reliefs, each depicting a specific story in Hindu mythology.

The churning of the ocean of milk

This is the bas relief found on the eastern wall which depicts the story ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ (I wonder who comes up with these sexy sounding titles).  It tells of the story where the ocean of milk is churned by the Gods and demons to bring out the Amrta, the elixir of life, which brings immortality.

The Battle of Kurukshetra

This is the bas relief found on the western wall which depicts ‘The Battle of Kurukshetra’.  I find this relief  particular interesting because it stretches from opposite ends towards the center where you can see the two armies meet in combat and the scene gradually builds and climaxes from end to center.

Appreciating the sunset

The collapsed roof of the north entrance makes for a good photo opportunity with a stunning courtyard view with the continuous stretch of pillars.

Ballusters carved like wood

These balusters which are used in many of the windows are placed together on the grounds of the courtyard.  I find them to be very impressive seeing that in those ancient times, the people were already capable of carving out decorative balusters as if they were made of wood!

The courtyard

The courtyard is all brown in this dry season, making it blend well with the old and dull walls of Angkor Wat.  At the center of the wall is the eastern exit.

You talking to me?

Taking the eastern exit, you will find yourself on a sandy path surrounded by trees on both side.  A few monkeys went about their everyday routine and didn’t even bother about me.  I had to call out to the monkey for him (or her?) to look over for me to be able to capture this!

Ta Kou Entrance

The Ta Kou entrance has a different ‘feel’ to it.  Maybe because it is located in the middle of the forest and most of its walls are covered with moss and algae making it seem totally abandoned and untouched.  The shadows of the trees that falls upon it casts a deep sense of eeriness as I approached.

Magical scene

The dense foliage makes for a nice mystical scene, even the two tourist there thinks so!

Angkor Wat from a distance

From inside Ta Kou looking out through its windows, I managed to capture this lovely framed picture of Angkot Wat in the distance.

Going to work

Workers of the Archaeological Park identifiable with their dark green uniform makes their way to start their day at work.

Grandeur of the central tower

From the eastern entrance, the height and grandeur of the central tower of Angkor Wat is clearly visible towering above the foliage of trees, unlike from the west entrance where it was not visible from the causeway.

The Naga

The Naga (the Sanskrit word for a deity or god) is in the form of a snake with seven heads which guards the entrance of Angkor Wat.

The guards

These giant stone lions stands guards at the western entrance of Angkor Wat.  This picture was taken just before we left Angkor Wat around 10 am.  In the background, you can see the throngs of tourist still pouring in at that hour.

Our thoughtful driver

Our tuk-tuk driver, Shafie is so thoughtful that he even prepared cold wet towers waiting for us as we exited Angkor Wat.  It felt like such a luxury to be able to wipe our sticky sweaty face and arms coming out from the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat!

The treasure chest

Upon closer inspection, apparently, Shafie has a mini cool box to carry these ‘essentials’ for us for the end of every temple.  And I do literally mean every temple!

One last shot

It’s 10 am and the sun is now scorching high above the sky.  Seeing as there are no more tourist hogging the basin, I made my way to it one last time to catch this shot of Angkor Wat against the morning sun.

NOTE: A few things advice from me after having been in Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat can be walked through within an hour if you are one to just walk from one end to the other end.  However, if you want to appreciate the beauty, charm and complexity of Angkor Wat, I suggest you bring along a guidebook on Angkor Wat which details out all the galleries of bas-relied, carvings, architecture and layout of the whole place.  It would be IMPOSSIBLE to read up on all these details before hand and expect to remember them by-heart, there are just too many!  And if you should decide to do this, allocate yourself at least one whole day in Angkor Wat to be able to trace and find all the details mentioned in the guidebook.  However, if you are just like us who just wants to go in there and see Angkor Wat with our own eyes and capture its splendor with our cameras, then more or less 4 hours should be more than enough to complete this.

DAY 2 : ANGKOR THOM & TA PHROM

On our second day, we got up at 6 am, again because we wanted to be there before all the tourist arrive.  Our steadfast tuk-tuk driver Shafie, as usual, was at our hotel to pick us even before we were ready.  Every single day!

Map of Angkor

This map shows where Angkor Thom (the bigger area surrounded by a moat to the north of Angkor Wat) and Ta Phrom is situated compared to all the other temples.  (Map taken from ChoiTravels)

We chose to do Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom together since Ta Phrom is very close to where Angkor Thom is.  One thing to note is that Angkor Thom is not just a temple, but a collection of many other temple and buildings within one boundary, the most well-known being Bayon, the temple of many faces.  Angkor Thom is the last capital of the Khmer Empire, holding the residences of priest, the palace , the military and various structures for the kingdom’s officials.    Oh by the way, Thom means ‘large’ in Khmer, so its no surprise that Angkor Thom is also know as ‘The Great City’’.

Shafie our steadfast tuk-tuk driver

That’s Shafie our steadfast tuk-tuk driver posing against South Gate where he suggested we stop at for a sunrise photo opportunity.  There are altogether 5 gates that lead into Angkor Thom.  South Gate is the most well-preserved gate among the other gates so it would make sense to stop here.

Going to work

I am really thankful to Shafie for suggesting we stop at the South Gate.  The sun was just coming up and many locals were riding their bicycles going to work.  They all had smiles on their faces!  That’s something that would be hard for me to do until I get my coffee fix in the morning!

Asuras

As the sun rises from the east above the moat of Angkor Thom, the shadows cast by the sun on these asura (demon gods) statues with its intense stare gives out sense of scariness.

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Along the causeway of South Gate is the 54 stone figures depicting the story of ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’.  On the left side are the devas (guardian gods) and the right side the asuras (demon gods), all pulling the naga’s tail (serpent with 7 heads) telling of the eternal flight between good and evil.

Going to school

Two siblings in their uniforms probably cycling to school on this early morning.

Central structure of the gate

The central structure of the gate is topped with a three face tower that face the four directions.  Below that is the base of the gate which has elephant statues that flank the gate at both sides.

BAYON

Bayon temple is situated in the middle of the Angkor Thom intersected by the roads leading to all four gates.  Like a lot of the other mountain temples, it is considered to represent Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain in the mythology of Buddhism.

The temple with many faces

Bayon temple is also best known for its gigantic face sculptures every four-face of the remaining towers of the temple.  According to legends, there was originally 54 towers but now only 37  still remains.

The faces of Lokeshvara

The stones on the towers are so worn out that it is a bit hard to distinguish the faces on them, unless properly looked at.  The faces on these towers are thought to represent Avalokitesvara (‘Lokeshvara’ for shorts), a Buddhist deity that projected benevolence outward to the four cardinal directions.

Carvings of everyday life

The bas relief at the outer walls are quite unique from all the other temples.  Most of the bas relief usually depicts story from the mythology while these just depict scenes of everyday scenes of everyday life.

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Picture: (Left) An Apsara themed carving on one of the pillars of the temple. (Right) Another Apsara themed carving, this time with a group of three apsaras dancing on a bed of lotuses.

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Picture: (Left) Althought I have no idea what this is, I suspect that once upon a time, a statue of Buddha was placed on this ‘throne’, probably representing the lotus flower where he sat once sat on.  (Right) A statue of Buddha clothed in gold sits in the middle of the walkway towards the center tower.

Upper Level

The third level (uppermost level) of the temple is the best place to be.  High above ground level, I suddenly feel myself transported into the ancient world.  The passageway is narrower than usual making it seem like I’m in an ancient labyrinth with  stone faces watching me at every corner.

Face to face

On the uppermost level, you get to come face-to-face with the tower faces.  From here, the faces suddenly become clearer and I couldn’t help but feel tiny amongst the gigantic faces.

Serene face

Every tower has faces on all four sides.  The light from the sun makes the faces it touches seems like it is smiling, while the faces still in the shadows seems serene looking.

The two towers

I wouldn’t have noticed this corner if I didn’t turn back to look.  This fantastic angle where the silhouette of the two faces gazing at the sun.

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Picture: (left) The narrow passageway makes it seem as if you’re in a labyrinth.  (right)  A cat came out of nowhere and rested on the window craving for our attention.  How in the world did a cat get all the way into the temple and then up here to the upper most level? God-sent maybe?

Gold Buddha

In the central shrine lies a Buddha statue looking glittering gold from its gold cloth and flickering candles.  Visitors are welcomed to take a moment to pray and meditate here.

The courtyard

Back to the courtyard at the lower level of the temple.  Piles and piles of stones can be seen stacked and arranged in a corner.

Wall of rubble

These piles of stones stacked on each other must have been from the collapsed towers.  I took this picture to show the size of the stack of stones against the size of Jess!

One last shot

As we exited Bayon, I turned back to shoot this picture of the crowds starting to flood the temple.  The timestamp of this picture is 7:37 am (local Cambodian time).

NOTE: It was in Bayon that we encountered a tout.  We were the first to arrive at Bayon, and there was already a person in plain clothes waiting at the entrance.  While we passed the entrance, he followed us and started talking to us and explaining and showing to us some of the interesting things to see in Bayon.  Don’t get me wrong, I use the word ‘tout’ but he was extremely friendly and polite.  Since he was not dressed in the usual peach-coloured uniform that the official guides usually wear, I knew this was just a guide-wannabe trying to earn a quick buck.  If you ever encounter this yourself, just thank him politely and explain to him you would prefer to explore the temple alone.

BAPHUON

Not far from Bayon, just a few steps to the north is Baphuon temple.  Prior to reaching Baphuon, don’t miss the statue of Buddha located between Bayon and Baphuon.  I didn’t capture a picture of it as the statue had scaffoldings around it at that time.  I assume they were preparing the statue for the coming Khmer New Year.

The raised causeway

One unique feature of Baphuon is the raised causeway to the temple.  It is raised as shoulder level.  Walking on this long raised causeway gives a hint of how royalty must feel when coming home and paraded through the path cheered on by his people.

The temple mountain

Baphuon is another example of a temple mountain representing Mount Meru from Buddhist mythology.  The uneven soil on which Baphuon was built has caused the temple to be in a bad condition, but major restoration works has been on-going to restore it back to its original glory.

Higher than Bayon

It is interesting to note that Baphuon temple is actually higher than Bayon.  At the time that we were there, access to the uppermost level was not possible, only to the middle-tier.  There is a unfinished statue of a reclining Buddha on the left side of the temple that access to the middle tier level.

Onwards to the palace

Walking a few more steps north will bring you to the compound of Phimeanakas, also known as the Royal Palace.

PHIMEANAKAS (THE ROYAL PALACE)

Phimeanakas is located inside the compound of what used to be the Royal Palace during those times.   The word Phimeanakas comes from a combination of the Sanskrit word ‘vimana’ and ‘akasha’ which means ‘celestial palace of the gods’.   However, even with such a grand name, the temple itself is quite modest; not really big and not really high.

The modest temple

Due to its modest size, the temple probably functioned as a private temple for the kind and a select group of people; after all, it is located in the Royal Palace grounds.  It is possible to climb up to the upper level but I didn’t do so seeing that it wouldn’t have given me a good vantage point anyway.

TERRACE OF THE ELEPHANTS

The Terrace of the Elephants I s part of the walls of the Royal Palace.  It is a 360-meter long sandstone wall and runs from north to south.

Terrace of the elephants

The terrace served as observation points from which the king and his cohort could observe whatever ceremonies.

Stairways flanked by elephants

The stairways that leads up to the terrace has elephant carvings with fully rounded projecting trunks along the stairs.

High walls

The terrace is around 4 meters high and has life-sized elephants carvings along the walls.

Life-sized carvings

A close-up of the elephant reliefs along the walls of the terrace.

TERRACE OF THE LEPER KING

The Terrace of the Leper King is located just north at the end of the Terrace of the Elephants.  This terrace is named after a statue of the Leper King that originally stood at the center, which is no more there as the statue has been moved to the National Museum of Phnom Penh.

Terrace of the leper king

The terrace is made up of a set of double walls.  The outer wall is easily visible with seven tiers of sculptures which are mostly repeating motifs of royalties, priests, nagas and court ladies.

Victory Gate

After having completed all that, we exited Angkor Thom via the Victory Gate, one of the 5 gates that leads into and out of Angkor Thom.  According to legends, this gate is called ‘Victory Gate’ because the King at that time sent his army into battle against the Khmer’s mighty enemy and is also the game where his victorious warriors returned via when they entered back into the capital.  Seen in the picture is our tuk-tuk against the towering size of the gate.

TA PHROM

Ta Phrom is located just a short distance on the east of Angkor Thom.  It is known as the ‘jungle temple’ and was made famous by the movie ‘The Tomb Raider’.  The banyan and kapok trees has spread their gigantic roots over the temples, sliding and pushing the walls apart establishing a firm hold on the roof.  One has to appreciate its natural beauty as it is a temple which has been left in the same condition in which it was found!

Ta Phrom Entrance

The west entrance of Ta Phrom is seen after going through a short path in the forest.  Like the main gates of Angkor Thom, the upper portion of the gate also has the four faces, although a smaller one.

Huge tree

As soon as you enter the Ta Phrom complex, you will already notice the ruins of the temple with huge trees growing all over the temple.

Hall of the dancers

Many areas of the temple has been structurally reinforced to prevent it from further collapsing.  This is the first main building, also known as the Hall of Dancers) which you will encounter coming in from the east entrance.

Gold carvings

The southern wall of Ta Phrom’s enclosure seems to have some unique carvings in gold which I really cannot make out.

Well maintained

In the center of the enclosure wall there lies what used to be a gopura (an entrance with a tower or ornament) which has collapsed.  Dead leaves around the area seems to have been stacked, ready for disposal.

Cleanliness is top

Not long after, we saw this worker lady coming back to her base continuing her sweeping.  It’s good to see that the Angkor authorities takes the cleanliness of the temples seriously.  Come to think of it, I did not find a single rubbish in any of the temples!

Already collapsed

Some of the towers of the temple have already collapsed, and some seems to be near collapse!

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Carvings of dancers that is still well preserved which can be found at the Hall of the Dancers.

Dramatic kapok tree

This is the dramatic kapok tree growing on the temple roof which we encountered.  I began to wonder how did it end up growing on the building.  It must have taken it centuries to have gotten so big!

David and Goliath

Jess posing against the kapok tree, showing the dramatic difference between her and the tree.  The top of the tree is so high that I was not able to include it in the shot!

Navigating the halls

Navigating the hallways of Ta Phrom can be quite tricky.  Hole left my collapsed ceilings provide enough brightness into the hall to light up the way.  Seeing so many collapsed stones makes me quite nervous everytime I duck my head into these hallways to get to the other size of the hall.

Sunlight through the foliage

This is one of the famous scene from the movie ‘Tomb Raider’, with Lara Croft standing in front of this ancient banyan tree.

Alien world

Centuries old roots of the banyan tree intervined with each other, forming a stranger firm grip on the building that it grows on.  The look of these roots gives me the chills, as if it was from some alien world.

A kapok tree

The kapok tree is different from the banyan tree where the kapok tree has a distinctive trunk and big roots (shown in the picture), while the banyan tree is actually a vine which grows and engulfs a host tree.

The library

Another kapok tree grows at the edge of the library building of the temple.  Some parts of the ceiling has already cracked being pushed apart by the roots of the tree.

Dead tree

A visitor enters the hallway which is overgrown by another kapok tree which seems to be all dried up.  Perhaps this tree will start to blossom again when the rainy season starts?  If you noticed from my pictures, the moss and algae growing on the stones are not really green, due to it being the dry season when we went.

Yoga pose

This is the last and the most dramatic of the kapok tree before exiting the temple complex.  A visitor poses the Vriksasana yoga pose (also known as the tree pose) against the monstrous roots of the kapok tree.

Monks

I spotted these monks making their way into Ta Phrom.  Their bright orange robes is a contrast against the dull walls of the temple.  I suspect they were visiting monks as they stopped a few times to take ‘selfies’ with the temple.

NOTE: If you are a keen photographer, Ta Phrom is best visited during midday (or close to midday) when the sun is higher allowing it to shine it rains into the canopy of leaves and branches provided by the banyan and kapok trees which engulfs the temple.  Do remember that this is one of the most visited temples so if you want to get a clean shot of the money shots, you need to be very patient!  One technique that worked for me; everyone will automatically queue, waiting for their turn to have their pictures taken at the picturesque spot by their companions, so when it comes to your group’s turn, get your friend to pose for you while you take the shot, and then right after, just kindly request the next person in line to give you a few seconds to take the shot without anyone in it!  And bingo, you get the clean shot that you want.  Do also take note that you need wide angled lens to be able to capture most of the dramatic spots in the temple as it is quite narrow!

DAY 3: BANTEAY SREI, EAST MEBON & TA SOM

The third and final day of our ‘temple run’.  The first two day has been very rewarding and eye-opening for me.  I couldn’t wait to see more!  For this last day, we planned for three other temples that are unique to the others, Banteay Srei, East Mebon and Ta Som.  Banteay Srei is one of the furthest temple, needing to travel an extra 23 km from the where the main temples are.  That translates to around a 1-hour tuk-tuk drive from Siem Reap town.  Please do not confuse this temple with another temple that is named Banteay Samre.  Banteay Samre and Banteay Srei are two different temples.

Map of Angkor

As you can see from the map, Banteay Srei is really out of the way from the other temples.  However, East Mebon and Ta Som which we visited after Banteay Srei is back in the Angkor Archeological Park and its along the road leading back to Siem Reap anyway. (Map taken from ChoiTravels)

Ride through the countryside

We got up around 6.30 am knowing we had quite a fair bit of distance to travel to get to Banteay Srei.  I specifically wanted to visit this temple, knowing that it is far away because that also means I will get to see the rural villages and see the people in their everyday lives.  You can read all about my experience at these rural area in my first article (Scenes of Siem Reap) here.

BANTEAY SREI

Banteay means ‘citadel’ and Srei means ‘Woman’ that is why it is also known as ‘The Citadel of Women’.  This temple is known for the temple with the finest and most beautiful wall carvings carvings that many believed could only be the mastery of a women.  Another very unique identity to this temple is the red sandstone is it built from.

Refrain from touching

A signage at the side of this outer gopura reminds visitors to refrain from touching the carvings on the walls.

Delicate details

The lintel carvings at the main entrance gopura gives us a feel of what we would expect to see inside the temple itself; so finely carved with delicate details.

The red causeway

Upon entering the first entrance, we are presented with a short causeway.  The path of this causeway is also made out of the same red sandstone.  It is guaranteed that your shoe will be reddish/pinkish after this!

Flowery patterns

Some more delicate carvings that has feminine flowery patterns on it.

Reassembled

Another lintel from one of the inner gopura which has collapsed but reassembled and left on the side for visitors to view.

Intricate carvings

This carving lies on the floor next to the wall enclosure, making it possible for us to see just how intricate and delicate the carvings are.  The carvings are so deep I can only imagine the amount of time it would have taken just to create this masterpiece.

Central Sanctuary of Banteay Srei

Upon entering the third enclosure area, you will come to a moat which is divided in the center by another causeway leading into the second enclosure.  The moat was almost empty due to the dry season when we were there.  From this spot, we could already see the central sanctuary of the temple.

Kala

A carving kala (a monster with a lot of teeth symbolizing time) with flowery patterns on the side of the second enclosure.

Ninda

A broken statue of Ninda the bull, the mount of Lord Shiva, lies in front of the central sanctuary.

South Towers

A view of the south towers

Legend of Mahishasura

Carvings on the main arch depicting the legend of Mahishasura; the battle of Durga and Ashtanayika (her eight eternal compaions) against Mahishasura who took the form of a man, an elephant, a bull and a lion.

Best time to visit Banteay Srei

Try to avoid visiting Banteay Srei to close to midday or too early before the sun is up.  The intricate carvings of Banteay Srei requires the sun not to be too high or too low, just high enough to shine its rays on the the surface of the walls and light up the reddish stones of the temple.

Garuda with the evil serpent

Another beautifully carved relief on another tower, depicting garuda holding the evil serpent.

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The towers within the central sanctuary are all of the same delicate and beautiful designs.

Close-up shot of the tower

A close-up shot of a tower with all its extravagant designs of the sanctuary.  Levels after levels of carvings from the base all the way to the tip of the tower.

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Kneeling statues of yaksha (male guardian spirits of natural treasures) and devatas (female deities) are placed in front of each of the tower in pairs.

Close-up shot of the lintel carvings

A close-up shot of the carving on the lintel.

Another close-up shot

Another close-up shot of another carving on the lintel.

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Other carvings of Durga and Naga that can be found on the walls of the central sanctuary.

Kala

A carving of kala at the edge of a lintel.

Battle of Mahishasura

Another depiction of the Battle of Mahishasura with Durga and her many hands at the centerpiece of the relief.

One last shot

One last look of the central sanctuary to appreciate its beauty and elegance, knowing this might be the first and last time I would be able to see it with my own eyes.

NOTE: The Banteay Srei compound is very different from all the other temples.  It is quite well organized with many tourist stalls and eating stalls located at the parking area.  We tried our first local Cambodian noodles at this eating stall for only USD 1!  Other than that, there is also a baray (river) filled with lotus plant and flower where visitors can opt to have a short boat trip.

EAST MEBON

We headed back to the main Angkor Archaeological site headed to East Mebon temple which is located just north of Pre Rup.  East Mebon’s uniqueness is with the statues of elephants which stands guard at the four corners of the temple.  It is interesting to note that East Mebon used to be an island around a large body of water (East Baray) which has dried up for centuries.

Pyramid like temple

East Mebon is a very structured temple, like a pyramid of multi-leveled terrace with the last level having five towers symbolizing Mount Meru’s five peaks.  The condition of this temple is quite worn out but the giant elephant statues are still intact.

Stairway flanked by lions

To get to the central tower, there are 3 sections of stairs to climb, each section flanked by lions guarding the entrances.

Indra on a three-headed elephant

The lintel on the east tower depicting Indra on a three-headed elephant.

Done differently

The same carving as the picture before, though the completed carving was implemented a bit differently.

Decay and weather

Some of the walls are so worn out that the figurines carved on them cannot be identified anymore.  The holes wall are characteristics of sandstones being used which has been worn out over the centuries by decay and weather.

The risk taker

Jess takes a risk posing under the small doorframe, although its size is a window, but why would a window have stairs leading up to them?  The walls are clearly leaning and are close to collapsing.

Elephant

The monolithic (formed of a single block of stone) statue of an elephant stands guard against the blue skies at all four corners and at both tier of the temple.

Lion

Lions flanks the stairways leading up to each upper-tier, some in better condition that others.

Posing with an elephant

Visitors having a happy moment taking a picture with the elephant statue, which can only be done at East Mebon temple.  No other temple has elephant statues as big as these.

TA SOM

Ta som is located close to East Mebon, towards the north.  The easiest way to describe Ta Som is that it is like a mini Ta Phrom (the jungle temple with the banyan and kapok trees growing on them).

Entrance to Ta Som

This is the east entrance and it is the only entrance into Ta Som.  A guard is seated at the entrance to check visitors for their Angkor Pass.  Like the entrances of many other temples, it has a tower with a face.

Genuine smile

A shot of the tower face up close.  It seems that this face (compared to all the other temple faces I’ve seen) is smiling wider than usual.  Maybe it’s the sun playing tricks on my eyes?  But really, the cheeks seems to be raised higher making it seems like its giving a wider, more genuine smile.

Devata

These carvings of the devata is common in many of the temples, although this particular carving is shaped almost like a statue.

Locked away

Many other fallen carvings and statues lies in the hallway, kept and locked away safe from the harm of humans.

Deep carvings

I noticed that more of the other carvings of devatas in the temple are shaped like statues, making me assume that whoever made the carvings, really emphasized on the devatas to the point that they look like statues standing in fake windows.

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Picture: (left) A restored carving depicting Lokeshvara. (right) More devata carvings seen on the walls of the gopura (entrances).

Fallen Lintel

This looks like a fallen lintel but has been pieced back together although the carvings on it is still not very visible.

West Gopura

This is a shot of the outer gopura from the west.  There are more trees growing in the inner part of the temple, casting a shadow and light play on the floor.

Alien world

Finally reaching the end of the path, a very rewarding view of a gopura totally covered by banyan trees.  The roots of the tree grows downward along the door frame of the gopura towards the ground line alien veins reaching into the earth, creating a very dramatic shot for me to bring back.

Innocence of Youth

As we were exiting the temple, we found this too sweet looking sisters sitting by the entrance putting flowers on each other’s hair.  They were so beautiful in their floral dress I just had to share this picture with everyone!  Maybe what attracted me to them was their youthful innocence, a reminder of how we all were back in the time when we ourselves were kids, without a care in the world!

Happily ever after

Shortly after, they were joined by their little brother who was also in a very colourful dress.  As they got up to proceed into the temple, the eldest sister wrapped her arms around her little brother’s shoulder, and I could hear them chatting away happily as they got further and eventually disappeared into the mystical place.  I shall call this shot “Happily ever after”.  This shot has very sentimental meaning to me.  Not only is my shots that I am most satisfied with, this is also the very last shot of our 3-days temple run.

SUMMARY

Phew!  That must have been a lot of Khmer names and terms to take in!  Don’t worry too much about memorizing the all the terms and the mythologies.  Just remember to enjoy yourself and stand in awe when in the presence of the mystical Angkor temples.

Let me try to summarize our whole trip so that it may be of help to you:

  1. We did all our temple runs in the morning.  We used the afternoon for food hunt and café hopping.  The normal tourist will usually start their temple visits after breakfast, so expect bus loads of them to come in around 8 am or so.  So if you want to get clean photographs without them, you have to arrive early.  There is also of course the lack of sunlight if you shoot that early.
  2. If you get your Angkor Pass after 5 pm on that day, you get a free visit into the temples that evening.  They will only start to ‘deduct’ your pass days the next day (by punching a hole on the dates printed on the pass).
  3. We arranged our temple runs in the order that was mentioned mainly because of the location convenience (less travelling time).  The exception being Banteay Srei.
  4. If you are the person who would want to know about the stories behind each of the galleries of carvings and reliefs, the design, the architecture and the layout at each temple, bring along a Angkor Temple guidebook which explains all that which should also include on directional tips.  And if you are going to do this, you should expect to spend hours in just one temple itself.  For example, if you were to follow every single one, then expect to spend a whole day in just Angkor Wat itself.
  5. You can also choose to hire an official temple guide, which you can easily hire at the entrance of Angkor Wat.  They are identifiable by their cream-coloured uniforms with the Angkor emblem on their sleeves.  The guides are extremely good and can speak chinese, french and malay.  I know this for sure because while we were going around the temples, we would meet many of them bringing their group of visitors and admittedly, there were a few occasions I just stood near them to ‘listen in’ on the guide’s explanations.
  6. Ladies, please remember to wear decent clothings.  All the temples do not allow entry if you are not ‘covered up’.  By covered up, I mean that your knees should not be visible and no sleeveless.  Using a shawl, scarf, towel to cover it up does not work.  The guards will insist on proper dress code.
  7. Always, always, always remember to bring along your Angkor Pass.  No pass, no entry!  Shafie our tuk-tuk driver ALWAYS checks to make sure we brought our passes prior to leaving our hotel for the day.
  8. Don’t miss also, Thanis’ account on our travel.  You can read his take of the story here.

However, you do need to remember the temple names!  Here are the uniqueness of each temple and why we chose to do these temples within our 3-days pass:

  • Angkor Wat; the largest single temple compared to all the others and obviously the most famous among all others.
  • Angkor Thom; it has the most collection of temples within one area. e.g. Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King.
  • Ta Phrom; the jungle temple overgrown with banyan and kapot trees, also known as the famous Tomb Raider temple.
  • Banteay Srei; the Citadel of Women with its very intricate and delicate carvings and use of red sandstone.
  • East Mebon; the temple that has elephant statues!
  • Ta Som; a mini Ta Phrom with less tourist!
  • Pre Rup; a small but high temple which is nice to enjoy the sunset

And if you asked me, will I ever go back to Cambodia again.  Well a big YES to that!  Our 4 days in Siem Reap whooshed by us like a breeze.  There are still so many temples left for me to discovered, and when I have the chance, I would like to visit these temples:

  • Beng Mealea; a real jungle temple that is isolated deep faraway and deep in the jungle.  The timetravelturtle has more information together with some very nice pictures here.  By the way, it is around 75 km from the city!
  • Phnom Kulen; it is by itself a National Park which is located near to the mountain range.  The attractions in here includes a river which has sandstone carvings by the riverbed, a colossal reclining Buddha statue and a waterfall!  More about Phnom Kulen here.

There’s just so much that Angkor has to offer.  I’m already missing the mystical atmosphere in the temples and the friendliness atmosphere of the people.  Siem Reap has really touched deep into my heart and I can’t wait for my next chance to visit there again.  The people that I met, the faces that I saw… I miss them all.  Godspeed and take care my friends, until we can meet each other again.

This is the end of the 2nd part of my 3-part article on my visit to Siem Reap.  Coming up next is my 3rd and last part which is about The Best Restaurants and Cafes of Siem Reap.  Also, if you missed my first part of this 3-part article which tells covers The Scenes of Siem Reap, you can read it here.

Scenes of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Everyone knows that at the mention of Cambodia or Siem Reap, automatically the thought of Angkor Wat comes into mind.  For a very long time this unofficial 8th wonder of the world has been in my bucket list and finally, I’ve managed to see it with my own two eyes and step my own two feet upon the ancient stones of Angkor!

What I’ve discovered is that Siem Reap is not all about the magnificence of Angkor but also the beauty of the people and their culture.   If you don’t know already, Cambodia recently won “The Nicest People in the World” for 2016 by the World Countries Award.  Mind you, this was not the first time Cambodians has received this award.  It came as no surprise having spend my days interacting with the people there to see how genuinely friendly and helpful they are, even to an outsider like me!  Needless to say, I am missing their hospitality now that I am back home.

I’ve divided my articles on Siem Reap into 3 main categories according to topics:

  • Scenes of Siem Reap, which is this article which mainly focuses on the sights that you will see and experience in the city and nearby villages.
  • The Temples of Angkor, which describes about the different temples that I visited.
  • Best Restaurant & Cafes of Siem Reap, which is a food adventure in Siem Reap.

(Don’t miss the last section of this article which contains some useful information on the currency and mobile data usage in Siem Reap!)

Do also have a look also at Thanis’ (we went there together) all-in-one article (link here) about our experience when visiting Siem Reap!

Like most other cities, the scene can be very different from day and night.  Come night time, the city transforms into a very different image.  For our whole stay in Siem Reap, we chose Central Indochine Hotel (website here) which offered a very affordable price of USD27 per night and its location which was in the city yet away from the noise of party goers.  Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the warm and friendly greetings of the hotel staff.  This was our first-hand experience of Cambodian friendliness.

ACCOMODATION

A warm welcome

First-hand experience of Cambodian friendliness;  Theary gave us a very informative briefing of Siem Reap and how to get around the city and places of interest in the city.  She even checked to make sure if we already have arrangement for the temple visits in place, otherwise she would also be able to offer some assistance.

Refreshing refreshment

We were given a much needed refreshingly cold lime juice for the hot and dry weather there.  We were there late April which is known to be one of the most driest season of the year.

Love is in the air

They even took the trouble to decorate our hotel beds prior to our arrival.  Two swans made out of our bathroom towel formed a heart, while petals of flowers showered all around the bed with our names spelled out with a leaf.

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This was our hotel room; extremely comfortable and clean.  I immediately love the very bright and modern colours of the room.  The bed was as comfortable as it was spotless.  The toilet is big and spacey, supplied with all toiletries as well.  For the price that we pay, we felt that this was extremely value for money, to the point that it is almost unbelievable.

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Picture:  (Left) I found this very photogenic hole on the roof of the hotel which overlooks part of Siem Reap.  Being on the 4th floor, we were higher than most of the other buildings and structures there.  (Right) The hotel’s restaurant has a nice ambience to it, all natural wooden chairs with an abundant of  plants and trees all around.

The Hotel

The hotel also has a very important necessity in the heat of the city; the swimming pool!  A swimming pool that is chlorine-free yet very clean (no moss or dirt on the pool bed at all).  It is a haven to swim in after a long day of temple runs and city walkabouts, to just dip yourself in the poor sipping on the cold ice beer allowing the body to cool down.

UP AND ABOUT DURING THE DAY

Travelling on the tuk-tuk

The most convenient and cheaper way to travel in and around Siem Reap is with the Tuk-Tuk.  The tuk-tuk is capable of carrying a maximum of 4 persons.  Any trip within the city proper is around USD 1 or 2 per trip (not per person).  We had Shafii, our tuk-tuk driver for the whole duration of our stay.  He is the most reliable, flexible and extremely patient you can find.  We would strongly recommend him for his services without any doubt.  His website can be found here.

Tuk-tuk everywhere

Is it convenient to the point that you can basically catch a tuk-tuk anywhere at all without any worry.  They are everywhere!  What I’ve found to be very impressive is that none of the tuk-tuk drivers are aggressive when they try to offer you a ride.  They would just go “Tuk-tuk?” and will move along if you decline.  Some drivers are even friendlier and would just strike up a conversation just for fun.  That’s how friendly people there can get!  Coming from a country where we are taught to not trust anyone, this needed a lot of getting used to at first, but believe me… they are just genuinely friendly!

Having a rest

Life there seems to be quite easy-going (although it is obvious that they do work very hard to make ends meet).  I watched this grandma cycling with her heavy load on the bicycle when she decided stop by the side to have a short rest while watching all the people go about their everyday life.

Feather dusters on wheels

There are a lot of traders that goes around the city just on their bicycles.  The picture above shows a lady selling her handicrafts and feather dusters, among many other bicycles traders in the city that holds many other variety of products.

Best seat in da house

Although not as widespread as in Hanoi, there were also a few people who was going around with their dogs either on their motorbikes, bicycle or just by walking.  This pooch was really enjoying the ride that he did not even notice me pointing the camera at him!

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The old market of Siem Reap is a bit more special that other markets I’ve visited before; it seems to be a one-stop place to get anything.  By ‘anything,’ I really mean anything!  From souvenirs of all kinds, dried food of many varieties, both traditional and modern Cambodian all the way to fresh fruits, fresh meat which includes exotic body parts of animals which I can’t even recognize, hardware shop, goldsmith shop and even hair salons (look at the picture on the bottom right, that’s proof I kid you not)!

Stress-free shopping

For the first time, shopping for souvenirs in the market was stress-free!  From experience, the market sellers of other countries would be aggressive in trying to sell their products which has already been marked-up to high ‘tourist’ prices and one would have to hassle extensively to get a good bargain.  This was not the case here, most prices was already considerably good, to the point that most of the time I just asked for another USD 1 or 2 off the price they offered.

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Walking around the city, flowers are all around.  From the simple lotus flowers placed on water-filled pots (pictured right) to pain-stackingly stacked flowers from smaller petal of flowers (pictured left).  The significance of the Lotus and its flower can be seen all around the city from

Wat Preah Prom Rath Pagoda

The Wat Preah Prom Rath Temple is one of the places of interest within the city. In the temple, there is a reclining Buddha as well as many other statues and decorations. Glittering gold buildings and structures brighten up the place. In my opinion, the place only lacks proper description of each momument and statue.

Gruesome statue

This is one of the most gruesome statues I have ever seen, which can be found within the compounds of the Wat Preah Prom Rath temple.  It depicts Ney Chan being defeated by King Ang Chan and the Khmer people with his corpse being gored out by vultures.

WHEN NIGHT FALLS

The transformation

When day gives way to night, the city is transformed into a city with neon lights and loud music, just as the visitors transform from their modest temple-suitable attire to the ready-to-party not-so-modest clothing.  There is a street called Pub Street that houses all the clubs and bars with different offerings and even themes and different ambience.  If you’re not one for partying, there’s always the night market to visit or the ice-cream and cafes to indulge in!

Mobile Bars

Mobile bars are aplenty around the Pub Street.  These mobile bars are basically housed on a cart and they are so mobile and flexible that it can be pushed around anytime and anywhere.  How convenient is that!

Cheap liquor

Beer as cheap as USD 1 and some even USD 0.50 can be easily found on Pub Street.  Cocktails of all kinds of unique names which are also cheap comparatively are available.

Night market

Other than the pubs and bars, you can also find night market where most of the items available at the day market can also be found here.

Themed bars

That’s Thanis and Jess peering into Miss Wong, a famous Chinese-themed vintage Shanghai feel cocktail bar.  You won’t miss it with its many red chinese lanterns hanging outside and the red-glow emitting from it’s corner.

Something fishy

Or you could just spend some time having your feet being nibbled at by the hundreds of tiny fishes.  They call this the fish massage.  I found it hilarious that the sign on the aquarium reads “Please feed our hungry fish your dead skin”.

The Aspara Dance

The Aspara Dance is a traditional dance of Cambodia.  Some of the pubs in Siem Reap has scheduled Aspara Dance performance for its patrons to watch.  The best and most grand Aspara Dance show is performed at a place called ‘The Smile of Angkor’.   I paid USD42 for the ticket and having witnessed the performance myself, I can say that a lot of effort has been put into the show to make sure it is the best.  The show employs very sophisticated laser and light techniques to wow the audience (I know I was), More information on the show and its schedule/pricing here.   Please take note, photography  and video-recording is not allowed during the show!  This picture was taken with my handphone at the end of the show.

HEADING OUT OF TOWN

With a tuk-tuk here, and a tuk-tuk there...

To visit the temples, you will have to head north out of town.  A single tuk-tuk ride from town to the temple area will cost around USD 10.  Again, I would advice that is would be easier to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the duration of your trip, rather than finding one every day.  You will be relieved of the burden of trying to look for a driver and then negotiating a price each time.  Having a dedicated tuk-tuk for the entire duration means an agreed upon price and you would have the flexibility to go anywhere (as long as it’s not too far out into the outskirts).

Change of scenery

Upon passing the check-point where the officers will check your temple visit pass, you will notice immediately that the traffic on the road has changed.  You won’t see cars and motorcycles using these roads unless they are ferrying tourist to the temples.  You will also notice the cold fresh air taking over the hot dry city air.

Humongous moat

The moat that surrounds Angkor Wat is HUGE!  So huge that it takes what seems like a long ride on the tuk-tuk to get from one end of the moat to the other diagonal end.  Couples rest themselves by the bank enjoying the romantic view.  The gigantic towers that are towering from inside of the walls of Angkor Wat adds on to the magical ambience.  Buffalo herders can be seen herding to their flocks while fishermen hauling their catch into their boats.

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The tuk-tuk ride along brings us through many villages, each offering and selling many different types of arts and handicrafts.  I was impressed by the number of artist in Siem Reap, there seems to be a lot of them just sitting around the temple grounds and just drawing and painting with their freehand.  Other delicate handicraft made by craving and weaving can also be seen.

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To avoid throngs of tourist that comes in the bus loads and to also the intense heat, we made all our temple visits early in the morning and left before the sun gets high above our heads.  This also gave us the opportunity to see the villagers go about their daily morning life preparing their stalls or mending to their cows…

life force

… or watering the plants in this dry season showering it with the much needed life force…

For their future

… or children going to school to pursue their education to have a better future for their families …

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… or transporting the products of their labor to be sold somewhere; potteries, charcoals, coconut and even cows …

Happy

… one thing is for sure; the people are HAPPY.  The smiles that the people have on their faces indirectly affects the whole mood of the atmosphere.  Maybe this is the real secret to why they are the world’s most friendliest country?

Sugar Palm

The sugar palm tree is a very important tree in the rural Cambodia economy.  It is also the national tree of Cambodia.  These trees can be found everywhere especially in the villages and can even be seen growing in the compound of the temples.  The tree is easy to spot; basically looks like a coconut tree but with long, fan-shaped leaves.  The picture above shows the sugar palm fruit which is used to make palm sugar.

The making of palm sugar

The fruit of the sugar palm is boiled for hours and left to evaporate to thicken the juice to essentially form a paste, which is called the palm sugar.  This palm sugar can then be made into different forms; powder, paste, blocks and syrup.

Cylindered tubes

In the picture above, the ladies are putting the paste into cylindered tubes to form the palm sugar blocks.

Palm Sugar blocks

Once the palm sugar paste is placed into the tubes, they are left to cool and will eventually turn into the solid blocks that can be eaten like sweets.

Planting rice with hydroponics

Although it was the dry season when we were there and all the rice had already been harvested months before, there were still some areas that are growing rice by using hydroponic methods.

Cambodian Noodle

Shafii our tuk-tuk driver introduced us to a small coffee shop in a corner and recommended us to try the genuine Cambodian noodles.  I loved it!  The noodles are like vermicelli noodles and its accompanied by all sort of other herbs that I cannot recognize.  The broth tastes a bit like coconut milk with a hint of curry.

Assorted vegetables

This big basket of assorted local vegetables is placed on every table and is meant to accompany the food.  This reminds me of the time I ate the Bánh cuốn in Vietnam that is also served with all the vegetables that you can ever imagine in one serving.

The real beauty of Cambodia

So if you ever manage to visit Siem Reap, remember to allocate time to explore the place especially in the rural areas.  There are plenty of sights that the rural areas has to offer other than just the temples.  Many tourist does are not aware of this but missing out of these also means that they are missing out on the real beauty of what Cambodia is.  In the picture is Shafii our tuk-tuk driver, who stopped before one of the gates of Angkor Thom for us to take a picture of the magnificent gate doors.

As promised, here are some pointers when visiting Siem Reap:

  • All transactions are in USD.  Even products in the local supermarket are price tagged in USD.  The Cambodian Riel are used like coins when getting change.  For example, if you pay for a USD 1.50 item but give USD 2, the change of USD 0.50 will be given in the Riel equivalent which is around 2000 Riel.
  • Mobile data is cheap there.  Cellcard’s (one of the many operators in Cambodia) offers a 3GB 3G tourist plan for just USD 5.
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  • Visit the temples early in the morning.  We started our visits around 6 am everyday.  Most tourist that comes in the bus loads will come after breakfast, around 8.30 am onwards.  So if you aim to photograph the temple without tourist in your frame, make sure you are there before that time.
  • We use our afternoons to try out different eateries and cafes in Siem Reap, and also visits to the market as well as other places of interest.
  • Hiring the right tuk-tuk is extremely essential to ensure your holidays in Siem Reap is enjoyable and stress free. If you ever need a Tuk-Tuk driver in Siem Reap, Shafii Angkor Tuktuk is the best! Many many many (excuse my grammar) times has he gone ‘above & beyond’ to ensure that our plans and wants are met and gives due recommendation and advice whenever possible! Check out his website here and contact him via WhatsApp.  He replies very fast (unless when he’s driving of course).
  • Do also have a look also at Thanis’ (we went there together) all-in-one article (link here) about our experience when visiting Siem Reap!
  • I will be writing about the temples and the food of Siem Reap after this, so please stay tuned!

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These were the first and last faces of my memorable visit to Cambodia.  A big THANK YOU to all the staff of Central Indocine for making sure we had the most comfortable place to retire and rest each day and then going the extra mile thatto make sure we have everything we need for the entire duration.  A huge THANK YOU also to our dedicated yet humble and extremely patient tuk-tuk driver Shafii for being so patient with us and our very random request to go everywhere.  You guys are the real faces of Cambodia and definitely you are the ones that gives meaning to the name ‘Smiles of Angkor’!  I miss all of you tremendously!

The Café for Dogs: Furry Fiesta, Miri

There’s a new place in town where you can relax by bonding with dogs of different breeds and sizes, while having a nice meal to catch up with your friends.  It’s called Furry Fiesta.  Come and say hi to the doggies around, have a picture or two taken with them, pat them or even give them a cuddle, share the love!
p.s. please read until the end of this post for some special offers that Furry Fiesta has for you.

Posing at the photobooth

Couple posing with cutie

Sharing the love

The idea of dog cafes is not new in this world, however, most dog cafes are focused on serving good lattes and finger-food, whereas Furry Fiesta offers the full-range of meals for both people and even dishes for their four-legged friends.

Located in Miri’s new Marina Bay Commercial Area, it is a good place to have a quick lunch (less parking congestion there!) or have your dinner after a nice evening stroll along the Marina’s walkway by the beach.

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The place has a beautiful corner for a photobooth complete with a trishaw with floral backdrop for anyone who would like to take a picture with their furkids, or other furkids that are around. Your furkids can also relax and fall asleep with the air-conditioned surrounding while getting their furs gently caressed by the breeze from the fans.  The warm lighting and various cute posters provides a warm and cosy atmosphere for the dog lovers alike.

Brackets for securing

If your furkid is one of the ‘hyper’ ones, fear not as there are brackets around the pillars that can be used to secure them.

Ever seen a husky up close?

Ever seen a husky up close?  Not one but two beautiful huskies who are not camera shy came that night.

Come say hi

Another young guest saying hi to Balu the blind dog.  Yes, he’s literally blind and can only recognize things based on smell and sound.

True love?

Two new fur friends sniffing each other out.  It is a great place for your furkid to learn how to socialize and to meet other fur friends… maybe even find true love?

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Sit your furkid on your lap and enjoy the candle light dinner together.

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Furry Fiesta’s range of dishes are quite a lot, ranging from asian-styled dishes to the western-styled and even dishes for your fur kids.  More importantly, they are all delicious.

Penang Curry Fish

Penang Curry Fish, this would be my favourite dish of the day.  I’m not really a fish dish person, but this dish is an exception.

Thai Green Curry

The Thai Green Curry is also very good, with it’s flavorful curry gravy that is moderately spicy allowing even those who doesn’t take spicy food.

Crispy Chicken

This is definitely my another one of my favourite; Crispy Chicken.  For me, the best part of this is the delicious crispy skin!

Yellow Wine Chicken

Yellow Wine Chicken, another dish of hakka origins. Made with potent rice wine and is considered as a highly nutritious dish especially for the ladies.

Slice Yam Pork

Slice Yam Pork, a kind of hakka origin dish.  The marriage of the tender layered pork just goes so well with the soft yam and sauce.

BBQ Pork

BBQ Pork, the universally loved dish that is best enjoyed with beer.

Pork Rolls

Pork Rolls, wonderfully wrapped spring rolls of tender pork.

BBQ Chicken Wings

BBQ Chicken Wings, simple and surely a no-brainer for the kids.

Hollandaise Chicken Chop

Hollandaise Chicken Chop, an smooth emulsion of of egg yolk and liquid butter to accompany the finely grilled chicken chop.

Grilled Chicken Garlic Cheese Bake

Grilled Chicken Garlic Cheese Bake, a unique dish that has the chicken served straight from the oven, wrapped aluminum to preserve all the flavours from the garlic and cheese!

ABC Doggy Yummy Yummy

A dish for your beloved furkid: ABC Doggy Yummy Yummy, as the name goes, your furkid will definitely love this!

Furry Lamb Special

Another alternative dish for your furkid, the Furry Lamb Special!

Happy Family

One happy family having dinner with their lovely furkids.

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Celebrities which I met that day!  Romeo (the white pomeranian in red gray stripes) wins my heart.

Letting our kids learn

Letting our kids learn to love canines early.  If your children does not have any experience with dogs, this would be a nice place to start, where they can pat and even feed them, and learn to love them.

Chillin;

Romeo just chillin’ and enjoying the ambience.

Fall asleep!

Our four-legged friends aren’t that different from us.  After eating and filling the stomach, they would get lazy and eventually fall asleep!  Well, all except for Pepe the brown dog still standing in the center!

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When it is time to go home, you would probably need to carry your furkid away as they take one last glance of their other friends one last time to say goodbye.

SPECIAL OFFERS
Furry Fiesta strongly encourages you to bring your furkids!  Bring your furkids and get a 10% discount on all the Asian & Western food that you order!
Other than that, Furry Fiesta can also organize a special birthday party for your furkid with a free special birthday gift!

Furry Fiesta is located in Miri’s new Marina Bay Commercial area: Lot 2028, Ground Floor Marina Square, Phase 1, Miri.  Their opening hours are 10.30 am – 12.00 midnight daily.  Please contact Connie should you have any enquiries or bookings at +60 12 7273272.

Beesket: The D.I.Y. 100% Natural Juice

Let’s face it.  Most of us (including myself) hates drinking fruit juices.  The more someone tells you “no sugar added… no artificial flavouring added”, the more turned off we are.  Sure, it’s healthy.  Sure, it’s good for us.  But it could take us forever to finish a glass, if we even manage to finish it.  Hands up if you’re one of us!

Rejoice! For now comes a fruit juice method guaranteed that anyone will love it… even the little ones who dreads the idea of being given any fruit juice.  Trust me, after the first sip, your child will drag you to order again the next time!

Introducing beesket, a very different approach to fruit juices: the latest juice franchise that comes all the way from Korea!  More importantly, the juices are all 100% natural ingredients that are prepared fresh and does not add any artificial additives or sugar!  Beesket Brunei has recently opened its first outlet in KB Sentral Mall.

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Beesket introduces a very different approach to fruit juices.

SO WHAT?  WHAT’S SO INTERESTING ABOUT IT?

The first thing to do is to determine what fruit juice you would like to have.

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Surely you will find your favourite fruits among the abundant choices available.  Choose 3 of your favourite fruits.  The choices are available in the different coloured capsules placed in the hive-like shelves (hence the word ‘bees’).  Located above the capsules is a guide of common combinations that people normally choose.

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These above combination guides were taken from Beesket’s website.  I’m so gonna try the combination for  ‘bling-bling my skin’ and ‘immunity shield’ the next time I am there!

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The capsules that you have chosen will then be placed into the holder (hence the word ‘ket’ which would be short for basket).

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Once you are satisfied with your choices, place the beesket (the holder containing the capsules) on the cashier counter.

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Just like magic, the system will automatically recognize your fruit choices and display the list of fruits that you have selected on the screen.  For those who are concern with the calories intake, the screen conveniently includes the calories(Kcal) associated with your selection!

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All fruits are FRESH and you can clearly see this standing anywhere around the counter.

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Fresh fruits of your selection are taken and weighted before being placed into the blender.

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Watch and drool while your delicious drink is being prepared in front of you.

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Taadaa!… and your drink is ready in no time.  Together with your drink, there is included a Beesket Score Card.  On the card are details of your fruit selections, together with the calories associated as well as the detailed breakdown of each nutrient contained in your drink, such as how much Fiber, Calcium, Vitamin K, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.  In addition to that, you can also leave your feedback on the card.

By the way, did I mention that Beesket juices are 100% fresh natural ingredient without any artificial additives or sugar?  Beesket’s ingenious system makes it possible for you to know your calories and nutritional informations at a glance, even before you confirm your order!

Beesket Brunei is located in KB Sentral Mall, 1st Floor.  You will be able to spot it as soon as you step off the escalator from the ground floor to the 1st floor.  Personally, I have never been a fan of fruit juices.  I don’t remember having any cravings for any fruit juice until I had beesket’s.  Now I find myself craving for beesket every so often.  Trust me, you will love it too!

Conquering Mount Fansipan (Phan Xi Păng)

Mount Fansipan (Vietnamese: Phan Xi Păng) is located at the north-west most region of Vietnam.  Towering at 3,143 metres high, it is known as the roof of Indo-China and is bordering to the province of Yunnan (China) to the north and Laos to the west.

Map of Vietnam

The road journey to get to the starting point of the Mount Fansipan trek in itself is already a challenge; travelling on a lenghty 8 hours overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (the last stop of the train) and then a further 1 hour from Lao Cai to Sa Pa with a minibus, and lastly, another hour from Sa Pa to the starting point of the climb.

There are also other alternative transportation from Hanoi to Sa Pa, however each with its pros and cons.  For example, one can also get from Hanoi to Lao Cai via overnight sleeper bus, but safety is always the concern since the road is long and dark.  Another option would be to hire a car (which can take you directly to Sa Pa), however as the journey is long, most ‘normal’ people would think twice.

Hanoi Train Station

Hanoi Railway Station.  TIP: There are no food in the train, so get yourself some food from outside the railway station, there are a lot of street hawkers stationed right outside the entrance to the railway station compound.

The overnight train

We chose to go by way of overnight sleeper train, which saves us a day of travel.  We sleep while we travel the 8 hours journey to Lao Cai.  TIP:  There are many different companies providing the Hanoi-Lao Cai overnight train route, some with better facilities than the others.  Choosing a more comfortable one would mean having a good sleep for that 8 hours to ensure you are well rested for the the climb!

Our humble cabin

Our sleep cabin had 2 bunk beds.  The space inside was just enough for us move in and out of the cabin.  If you’re thinking of having a party inside the cabin, forget it!  TIP: Bring along ear plugs to get a good sleep through the night, as the clanking sound of the train going over the rails can be quite annoying.

I slept through the whole 8 hours journey, only waking up an hour before reaching our destination.  I got up, brushed my teeth and washed my face, and immediately pulled out my long zoom lens to capture some of the serene views of the daybreak.

The cold morning mist

The cold morning mist shrouds the valleys, casting an aura of serene peace and quiet.  Only the rumbling of the train on the tracks thunders through the still of dawn.  Rice fields after rice fields, we rolled passed, some on a hilly slope, some just on flat land.  It was obvious that this region’s main produce was rice.

The early bird gets the bees

The early bird gets the bees.  The farmer and his trusted buffalo starts their hard labour before the sun comes up.

Where's Mama Goose?

Even these goslings got up earlier than most of the villages to have a pre-dawn swim in the pond nearby.  I wonder where is mama goose?

Alas, we arrived at Lao Cai at the crack of dawn.  Upon arrival, we were unsure as to whether or not this was our stop since all the train’s announcement was in Vietnamese and none of the signage on the platform was in English.  Most of the cabin crew and officers on the platform did not understand English either.  In the end, it was just down to asking two words… “Lao Cai?”.  With the nod of the head from one of the guards, we took a deep breath, packed our belongings and got off the train.

Our Limo awaits

Upon getting out of the railway station, what must be hundreds of mini buses were parked outside in the square as tourists and even some locals hopped in.  These mini buses would wait until it has reached its full capacity before rolling out to its destination, mainly to Sa Pa.

The journey to Sa Pa would take us through long and winding uphill roads, with very scenic views of rolling hills and terrace fields in the valley.  Our driver was careful and drove at an average speed, relying the most trusted safety device of the vehicle: the horn.

A room with a view

I wonder if today is the buffaloes’ day off?  They seemed to be just lazing around this fine sunny morning while other buffaloes are out in the fields working their fats off.  They sure have good taste when it comes to choosing a view!

Nothing much... just awesome scenery!

At every corner of the winding road that our mini bus turns, breathtaking views leaves us awestruck as green rolling hills and unending terraced rice fields as smooth as carpets fills the entire landscape.

Honking our way the whole way through, we arrived in Sa Pa in within an hour.  From the small and humble villages and fields that we passed along the way, making our way deeper and deeper into the region, we started imagining Sa Pa to be another small sleepy village with villagers going about their everyday routine.  We were dead wrong.  Every corner of Sa Pa’s street seems to be crowded with throngs and throngs of tourists.  Some sipping coffee in the coffee shops, warming themselves in the chilly mountain air, some walking about for souvenir hunting.  Some of the local ethnic tribe ladies dressed in their cultural wear can be seen approaching tourist trying to sell their handicrafts.

'Sleepy' town of Sa Pa

Every street every corner is lined with tourist.  It was clear Sa Pa might have once been a sleepy little town with natural beauty, it has fallen victim to tourism.

Handicrafts and Souvenirs

Local ethnic tribe ladies, I’m guessing from the main Hwong tribe litters the streets selling their local handicrafts and souvenirs.

Going about their everyday life

While the main income to Sa Pa town is the booming tourism market, there are still locals who are totally ignorant of the times and oblivious of their surrounding and choose to continue with their normal everyday routine.  Wonder where they are headed today?  From the empty baskets that they are carrying, I suspect that they might have just dropped of their farm produce to the market for selling.

The Real Vietnam Coffee

We were ushered to a nearby inn which served us coffee, brewed fresh from the Vietnam’s traditional silvery coffee drip, which was heavenly in the cold mountain air.

After a much needed breakfast, our guide for the climb came to meet us.  We were then quickly whisked away in yet another mini bus, driving through yet more long and winding road.  This time, the sides of the road were filled with houses and mini marts.  We reached the starting point in under an hour.

The corny named starting point

Welcome to the Golden Stream & Love Waterfall, the starting point of our Mount Fansipan trek.  Reading out-loud the name of the park instantly made me have the ‘goosebumps’, such a corny name to the start of a the journey labeled as ‘the roof of Indo-China’.

An ASEAN Heritage Park

Apparently this National Park is an ASEAN Heritage Park, which is a status given to recognize efforts to conserve areas of particular biodiversity important and exceptional uniqueness throughout ASEAN member states.  This was a good indication that the authorities do in fact realize the importance of conserving this national park.

Cloud Covered Mountains

Stepping a few more steps into the compound of the national park office reveals miles and miles of cloud-covered mountain peaks.

Our guide ushered us into the National Park office, which was manned by officers wearing their usual green military officer attire.   It was strange that we did not need to register ourselves into the park, neither did I see any formal procedure in placed for that.  Every single signage and information in the office was in Vietnamese as though it was only meant to be read by the locals.  The only words that I could recognize was ‘WC’!

Our guide introduced himself as Su and we were extremely pleased that he was able to speak good English than most of the locals.  It was here too that Su briefed us on our hike and what we should expect.

There was a miscommunication with our agent regarding porters.  We did enquire about porters in our initial communication and our agent assured us that the porters will carry all our equipment, but this only meant our tents and food.  This was a problem for me as my own camera backpack already weighted at least 7 kg with all the camera lens and accessories.  Su was kind enough to offer to carry my other backpack that had my clothing and other necessity for the hike.

Off we go!

Off we go!  With our guide and porters leading the way, we started our adventure.   A quick check of my watch says that it was 9:50am local time.

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Surprisingly, the first section of the trek leads us to a few descents.   I never liked descents this early in a trek, because it only means that we need to do an ascent on the last part of the trek back!

More descents

More descents!  And this time the descend is on rock surfaces that is not only smooth, but is also moist and dangerous.

First sight of refreshing stream

After around 10 minutes of mostly descents and a bit of ascents, we are welcomed by first sight of a refreshing stream with smaller rocks already arranged to form stepping stones to cross the stream without getting our shoes wet.

Kungfu Panda

Our friend John shows us how the stream should be crossed with genuine gracefulness and agility.

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It was here that the trek started to introduce hard ascents, which found us clawing for more breath at end of each ascent section.  The randomness of the rock formation makes it harder to ascent each step must be properly footed, otherwise it will cause unnecessary use of our energy.

Seasoned surfaces

Some of the surfaces seems to have been so seasoned that the footing surfaces were more obvious than others.

Roots

The trail slowly gave way to a section covered with tree roots which is a different challenge to handle.  Tree roots are more slippery and placing your footing on it should be avoided whenever possible.

Taking a break

Our guide signaled for us to have a short rest in this area seeing as there were natural formations of the tree roots that allowed us to have a good seat.

Sun beam

The sun beam managed to break its way into the forest canopy to shine the heavenly light on our trail.

Erratic ascents

More ascents on rocky surface.  The rocks seems to be getting more and more erratic.

Mind your head

Su signals us to be mindful of our heads so as not to be too engrossed on the trail that we might have missed the dangers hanging overhead.

Nice aroma

Alas, some flat lands.  Why does it seem that this trail was made by vehicles?  It was also here that we started noticing faint smells of dung.  Yes, DUNG.

The clearing

After half an hour of trekking, we reached a large open clearing which gave way to a beautiful view of the valleys and the mountain tops ahead.  There was a constant soft breeze that blankets the clearing which made it a rather pleasing rest stop.

Onwards

After a good rest, we pushed on into the forest and continued our journey from the open clearing into the woods.

Another mountain stream

Another encounter with a mountain stream welcomed us on our trail, this time much wider and more beautiful than the first one that we encountered.

Choose your stones carefully

This time, there were no stones already in place for crossing, so we had to choose our stones carefully when walking up stream.

A stroll in the stream

Su decides to enjoy a stroll in the lovely cold mountain stream without any worries of his rubber shoes not drying out.

Staying dry

The stream gets much wider as we progressed further upstream, so we had to stay towards the sides of the bank to keep our shoes dry.

Back into the forest

After a good 20 minutes of following the stream, the trail lead us back into the forest with a mixture if rooted trails and moist rocks.

I'm a big big girl in a big big world

Trails like these always gives me an impression that I’m one small ant in a very big forested aquarium just going about my life while a master watches from up above the activities of His subjects.

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Picture: (Left) I wonder if the hole in this tree is made by a bird, or was it formed from natural causes? (Right) The upward ascents can get really long and tiring, sometimes impossible to complete in one run.

Aged

This particular tree must be very aged to be able to have so many roots rooted into the ground and at such lengths.  We had to make a big detour around the all the roots just to get pass this tree.

Acrobatic

Some of the trail requires us to test our acrobatic skills using fallen tree trunks like tightropes…

Under...

while some requires us to go under fallen tree trunks…

over...

and others requiring us to go over the tree trunks.

Grabbing for dear life

Some slopes are so vertical that we had to grab on to whatever we could to pull ourselves up.  Luckily for us here, there was a large root that we hung on to pull ourselves up the slope that we could hardly have any footing on.

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Spiderman

This thin-legged spider was almost unnoticeable if not for its big red body suspended by its really long and super thin legs.

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Picture: (Top) Watch out for these nasty ‘landmines’.  Don’t worry, you will know when a mine is near from the odour that is emitting from it.  (Center-left) Oops, too late, looks like someone has stepped into one of the ‘landmine’.  One thing is for sure, it wasn’t one of us!  (Center-right) Looks like this buffalo was having a bad day, wonder what it ate for breakfast.  (Bottom) The mother load of it all!  Just look at the size of that thing, from one end to the other.  Needless to say, the ‘aroma’ being emitted from this gargantuan pile of crap may be enough to power a village!

The evidence

Aha… some evidence of a watering hole that indicates the activities of some animal nearby, most probably the source of the dung too.

Spoke too soon

I spoke too soon!  Not just one, but many watering holes!  There must be a herd of them around here.  From the looks of the watering holes, these were quite recent.

Peekaaboo

Found you!  Hiding behind the bushes,munching away on the leaves,  it was keeping a close eye on us without us knowing.

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Many of the plants, flowers and fruits found along the trail.

Calcite

These luminous calcite, a type of carbonate mineral are formed along the algae-filled rock surfaces due to crystallization process with the help of microorganisms.

Campsite

After 2 hours of trekking through all that we finally arrived at the first camp at 11.45 am.  The triangular shelters in this campsite seems like it was just newly built.  I suspect that the shelter assumes triangular shape to protect them against mother nature’s extreme forces of wind, rain and sun.

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Picture: (Left) The courageous chicken with its chicks roaming freely around the campsite foraging for anything to eat.  (Right) The extremely friendly man’s best friend forming part of the welcoming committee to the campsite.

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The two dogs at the campsite gave us a very warm welcome, planting their kisses all over our friend Weena (left) and Anna (right).  We foreigners must taste different compared to the locals.

Cat nap

Meanwhile, back in the shelter, some of us manages to get some catnap.  The building provides a very comfortable atmosphere to sleep in, sheltered from the sun and warm from the cold wind.

Lunch is served!

Lunch is served!  The most common Vietnamese food which we have all come to love: Bánh mì (Vietnamese for wheat bread) with its fillings served separately so that we can have our own preferred combination and also the Xôi (Vietname for glutinous rice) accompanied by peanut toppings.

One Go

John attempts to wallop his bánh mì in just one go.

The Dark Knight

The dark knight stands guard on the passageway that leads further into the jungle to continue our journey.

Continue

After out-maneuvering the black knight, guardian of the passageway, we proceeded on to continue our adventure.  The next campsite would be the base camp that we would rest for the night before the final push to the summit of Mount Fansipan.  Another quick check on my watch: 1.00 pm.

Mountain Ridges

Most of the following terrain brings us trekking along the mountain ridges, which provided many opportunity to view the valleys and beyond.

Opening to heaven

I was awestruck when I passing through this ridge; with the skies above opening the doors to heaven, allowing the precious life light flow unto the valley below.

Innovation

Man’s innovation at its best; a recycled isotonic drink bottle transformed into a bong.

Nerve wrecking

These ridges seems to be unending and can be quite nerve wrecking as it all looks the same and it gives a feeling that we are not progressing at all.

Consolation

The only consolation is the easy surface of the ridge which does not require much navigation.

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Some of the ridges ascents are so steep that we would use the man-made cement handles at the side to pull ourselves up.

One step at a time

While for some others without the handles, we can only rely on our leg muscles to bring us up one step at a time.

Ladder

Not long after, we began to see these steel ladders for those almost vertical slopes.

One person at a time

It is advisable to climb these ladders one person at a time as it doesn’t seem to be firmly attached to the surface.  We began to feel the climate getting cooler and the clouds getting closer each time.  There are times where the clouds would just breeze pass us along the ridges.

The tunnel

A natural ‘tunnel’ formed by the branches of bamboos on each side of the trail.

Getting difficult

This is where the trail gets really difficult and even dangerous.  The descents are extremely steep and mostly on large flat rock surfaces with barely anything to hang on to.  The only way to navigate down this is with extreme care.  One wrong slip and its a rather painful slip unto the many rocks and some with sharp pointed edges.

Glued to the rock face

This picture might give you a sense of scale of the steep trail.  Staying glued to the rock face while going down would be the safest way down this treacherous descent.

Confetti of trees and roots

Now the rocks are large and almost like chunks of diced meat with growing fungus placed in a confetti of trees and their roots.

Petrichor

Many times we suffer from the cold breeze that pushes the clouds into our trail, making the trail from a fictional land of ancient forest filled with fragrant petrichor and all its hidden mysteries.

Sun beam

It seemed like an eternity of wandering through the dense and misty clouded section, the trail finally gave way to some sunlight forcing its way into the path lighting up our way.

Base Camp

After 2.5 hours since leaving the first campsite, we finally arrived at base camp of 2,800 metres at 3.30 pm.  The first sight of the green and blue tents was a relieve.  From the distance, we could see the basecamp bursting with activities, with some locals working outside of their tents.

Another triangular shelter

Another triangular like shelter, much like the first campsite before.

Blue on green

Noticing that the sun was slowly beginning to shy itself behind the mountain, I quickly snapped a picture of the blue tents contrasting against the greenery of the area.

The largest shelter (shown in the picture below) was to be our accommodation for the night.  It has 6 large rooms and each room is able to accommodate 5 persons comfortably.  That calculates to a total of 30 climbers at most at its full capacity.

Each room has a wooden raised platform (to keep it further from the cold of the ground) on which we would place a layer of insulation followed by our sleeping bags.  There are 6 toilets located at the end of the shelter, with proper flushing and wash basins.  Strangely, none of the toilets had any water supply!  Luckily, we were already mentally and physically prepared to be without any water source (other than our precious drinking water) for the whole journey.  There is also no electricity supply, so come night time, we would be relying on our torchlight.

Mobile reception at the basecamp is weak, often non-existent when there is a breeze.  The reception and any internet data comes in short bust every few minutes, so you have to be really patient to wait for your messages to get through.

Ironic

Our shelter for the night.  The inside was warm and cosy, once inside, one would think twice about coming back out.  It’s so ironic that Viettel and Vinaphone (two of Vietnam’s mobile phone providers) manages to have their advert put up in such a remote place like this.

Keeper of the heavenly drinks

These two lovely ladies goes about their work weaving baskets from bamboo threads.  They are also the keeper of the heavenly drinks: Coca Cola, Revive, 7Up and many other isotonic drinks which can be purchased from them for a reasonable price.

Smile!

She seems happy to have me wanting to take her picture and so she poses a sweet smile striking a pose with the bamboo threads in her hand.

Standard issue

This bamboo basket are a common standard issue equipment that is used by most of the ethnic women in their everyday life.

The kitchen

There was some insanely delicious scent coming from this tent which only means  this is the heart of it all, the kitchen!  All that trekking has summed up a huge appetite for our dinner.  In this mental state, anything would taste good.

Master chef

The master chef prepares a dish of stir fried tofu for our dinner.  His skills with the pan is unquestionable as he  flips the tofu over and over into the air with great ease.

Kitchen aids

The other kitchen aids ensure the fire for the pots continues burning evenly as they were using fresh wood (not charcoal) for the fire.

Friends forever

Meanwhile, Anna has found herself a new friend.  This little feline seems to have cuddled into Anna’s warmth embrace.

Candlelight dinner

Alas, our dinner is ready.  It was already 6.00 pm at that time and the inside of the shelter was already near darkness.  We had to rely on our torchlight to light up our room.  The stir-fried tofu that I photographed earlier rest on our dinner plate together with stir-fried pork.  We were introduced to our very first chayote dish which was cooked in the style of stir-fried chayote shoots and chayote soup.  Chayote is a type of fruit belonging to the gourd family, along with cucumbers and melons, and can be commonly found in many of the highland dishes.

Temperature dropped

As the sun disappears beyond the mountain, the temperature in the area and inside the shelter dropped dramatically.  We donned our winter gear and closed the doors of our rooms to remain warm.

Hot Ginger Tea

Su prepared us his special hot ginger tea guaranteed to keep us warm.

Whenever I go for any camping trip, or any trip that sees me far away from civilization, I would set my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to witness the marvels of the universe; the milky way and the infinite stars in the celestial sky.  Before retreated for the night, I set my trusted watch alarm to 10.00 pm and made a little appeal to the Almighty so that there would have a clear sky and good weather at that time.

My alarm rang on the dot, and as I slowly attempted to get out  of my sleeping bag, I realized it was freezing cold!  Every inch of  my body was telling me to just stay in bed and stay in the warmness of the sleeping bag!  After what must have been few minutes of battling with my own self, I was finally outside… alone… in the dark.  The feeling of emptiness and void was only for a brief moment and then I experienced the most incomprehensible feeling of astonishingly breathtaking canvas the cosmos has ever revealed to me!

Solitude

The night sky was filled with the stars of heaven and the ethereal milky way was visible even with my naked eyes.  I was completely overwhelmed with solitude; it was just me and the lights of heaven.  The feeling was so ineffable that I stood there for a good 1 hour.

Breakfast

This was our breakfast at 3.00 am, before the final journey to the peak of Mount Fansipan.   Instant Mee with plenty of eggs and vegetables.

The final push

This is it, our final push to the summit.  Mount Fansipan’s summit climb feels very different from other summit climbs that I have experienced before, mainly because most summit climbs would only involve ascending all the way.  For this, there were plenty of descent as well, which was very demoralizing as it gives a feeling of not getting any higher.

Power station

We reached a point of the climb that the new power station is finally visible.  This power station was built for the purpose of supporting the controversial world’s longest cable car system that will connect Lao Cai to Sa Pa and to the peak of Mount Fansipan.  When the cable car is operational, it will be able to ferry 2000 visitors to the peak of Mount Fansipan per hour – the same number of visitors that has stood on the peak in the whole of 2013 alone!

Harder ascent

As we neared the peak, the climb started to get increasingly tiring as the trail started to maintain a more difficult and constant ascend.  I could see from the distance that the sun’s rays was starting to light up the horizon.

Visible other peaks

As we inched closer and closer to the peak, we were already able to see most of the other peaks in the region.

The break of dawn

At the first break of dawn, I had to stop to take this panorama picture of the valley.  This picture was taken about 15 minutes from the peak.

Mount Fansipan at 3,143 metres

Finally!  On the peak of Mount Fansipan at 3,143 metres high!  The sun rays that penetrates the morning mist produced an iridescent sky.  The triangular monument that is shaped like the shelters of the campsites marks highest spot of Mount Fansipan.

Thanksgiving

I sat on the peak, feeling the warmth of sun touching my cold dry face, saying a little prayer of thanksgiving for providing us the passage of good weather and kept us all safe throughout the whole journey.

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Each of our individual shots on the peak of Mount Fansipan; (Clockwise from top-left) Xiao Yan, Anna, Weena and John.

Group picture!

Here’s a group picture of us together with our guide Su.  We were all smiles because we knew we went through so many obstacles just to get to this peak, including the fact that this trip to Vietnam was made in the eleventh hour, literally!

Photobombed

We stubbornly stayed up on the peak for quite awhile, unwilling to start our journey back down.  Weena was all curled up trying to cope with the coldness of the wind hitting the peak while I just felt the need to photobomb her!

One last view

Su was quick to point out that most of the time, cloud would engulf the landscape.  We were considered very lucky as it was a rare occasion that mother nature would allow her beauty to be seen in such uncensored sight.  I stood up one last time on highest point to paint one final picture of the aurora and its magnificence, knowing that this might be my last view of Mount Fansipan in all its glory.  It was a very fun climb and I would gladly do it again if I had the chance!

Special thanks to Su our guide who was there to assist us all the way from start to end.  He really went out of his way to make sure we were comfortable and safe.  Special thanks also to Daisy of Rising Dragon Legend Hotel in Hanoi who has is the representation of genuine Vietnamese hospitality and her everlasting smile which has been embedded deep into our cherished memories of Vietnam.  Not for forget, special ‘Hi’ to our friend Anna, who must still be on her 3 months backpacking.  Lastly, thank you to my dear friends; John, Weena and Xiao Yan for the wonderful journey together.  I hope that with God’s grace that we would have the chance to cross path again one day in this lifetime.

Food Arena’s Jumbo Buffet 2015

Introducing the newest food offering in Brunei: Food Arena’s Jumbo Sungkai Buffet.  Food Arena is the consortium of restaurants and bakeries which makes up the whole row of Seri Q-Lap Mall’s ground floor.  Rows after rows of big eatery names in Brunei.

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Modesto Bistro & Grill, Lof Bakery, Dapur Penyet, Twinkle Pan and Hippo & Bees

This year, these big names are bringing to you one of the biggest buffet offering for Sungkai Buffet in Brunei.  Western cuisine, Indonesian cuisine, Arabian cuisine, cakes, pastries, and a whole lot of desserts, all under one roof!

Upon arriving at the Food Arena, my first impression was “So pretty!”.  This was my first time to the Food Arena since they took ownership from previous Giant Supermarket and gave the place a whole new makeover.

An enjoyable dining experience

View from the main entrance of Food Arena.  The area is spacious making sure that its patrons enjoys a comfortable dining experience during their sungkai.

The Welcoming Committee

The colourful buns and pastries that makes the welcoming committee as you enter the main entrance.  It is hard not to be impressed with these sweet smiles welcoming your arrival!

Vibrant yet comfortable

First impression tells that the place is extremely clean and comfortable, with colourful vibrant cushion seats for its patrons.  The LED lights hanging above the dining area makes whatever food porn that you take with your phone camera at your table to be clear and bright.

Vietnam Coffee drips

Every corner of Food Arena is decorated nicely.  These Vietnam Coffee drips are so irresistible although not part of the buffet, .  If only I could bring one home!

Presentation First Impressions

The waitress making sure every single glass is arranged properly.  Just goes to show how important their presentation is to the management.

Mee Soto Corner

The Mee Soto corner complete with all the toppings you would ever want.

The Arabian Appetizers Corner

The Arabian Appetizers corner which holds a lot of green choices, including the expensive olives for that extra taste.

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A wide view of the main dishes on each side of the main sitting area.

Drinks Corner

The drinks corner!  Any buffet that offers coffee wins one point with me!  If coffee is not your thing, there’s always the tea, milo, nestea, mango and orange juice.

Pastries of your choice

Pastries of your choice.   Those pineapple tarts will be my target!  It’s Chinese New Year all over again!

I Heart Sweet

Nothing says it more obvious that a big sign saying “I HEART SWEET” on this counter.  All the sweet desserts you could ever dream for.  If desserts is high in your priority list, Food Arena is definitely the place to go to!

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More cakes for your dessert.  Selections includes:

  • Chocolate Butter Cake
  • Pandan Butter Cake
  • Red Velvet Butter Cake
  • Marble Butter Cake
  • Batik Horlick Cake
  • Blueberry Cake
  • Premium Prune Lapis Cake
  • Chocolate Chips Kek Lapis Cake
  • Red Velvet Lapis Cake
  • Oreo Roll Cake
  • Oreo Cheese Cake
  • Blueberry Cheese Cake
Simply Irresistable

Having a chocolate fountain is definitely an automatic win for the kids!  To be honest, even for me!  Who can resist dipping those marshmallow and fruit sticks under the silky blanket of of chocolate layer.  Simply irresistible!

What do you think? See anything you like? For me, they already had me at ‘Hello’. First impressions count, and they have shown that when it comes to the presentation and layout of the whole place, they mean business.  Every single dish is decorated with contrasting colours and every corner is well litted with modern LED lights.

After seeing all those delicious food and sweet desserts, I can’t wait to dive in to eat!

Scallop in a spoon. 

Scallop in a spoon.

Baked Mussels

Baked Mussels

Grilled Prawns and Mango

Grilled Prawns and Mango. They say the best way to enjoy this dish is to eat the prawn first then drink the mango mixture to neutralize the after taste.

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Chips and its Salsa condiments

From left to right: Pandesal, Charcoal Pandesal, Breakfast Roll

From left to right: Pandesal, Charcoal Pandesal, Breakfast Roll

Lovely Cold Cuts

Lovely Cold Cuts

Arabic Green Salad

Arabic Green Salad

Tangy Coleslaw with Corn Kernels

Tangy Coleslaw with Corn Kernels

 

Mee Goreng

Mee Goreng

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry

Ayam Pandan

Ayam Pandan

Sayur Pakis

Sayur Pakis

Telur Madu

Telur Madu

Kacang Panjang

Kacang Panjang

Tauhu Tempe Goreng

Tauhu Tempe Goreng

Semur Daging

Semur Daging

Tomes Acar

Tomes Acar

Ayam Goreng

Ayam Goreng

Lamb Bukhari

Lamb Bukhari

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Chicken with Spicy Chili Sauce

Roasted Chicken with Spicy Chili Sauce

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Garlic Mayo

Garlic Mayo

Grilled Striploin

Grilled Striploin

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

Grilled Lamb

Grilled Lamb

Beef / Chicken Sheekh Kebab

Beef / Chicken Sheekh Kebab

Stir Fried Bokchoy in Garlic Sauce

Stir Fried Bokchoy in Garlic Sauce

English Fish and Chips

English Fish and Chips

Arabian Bread

Arabian Bread

Sheekh Tawook

Sheekh Tawook

Assorted Puddings

Assorted Puddings

Batik Horlick Cake

Batik Horlick Cake

Oreo Roll Cake

Oreo Roll Cake

Oreo Cheese Cake

Oreo Cheese Cake

My usual routine in a buffet this huge would be to taste each of the dishes on the first round, just one bite of each item and then decide on which dishes will make it to my ROUND TWO.  Round two would see more of those dishes until I’m fully satisfied!  Yummy in my tummy!  Maybe these dishes would be your favourites as well?

Pizza

I can never say no to pizza.  These assorted of various slices of thin crust pizza just delights me.

Carving Station

The carving station offers delicious roasted beef and chicken and various gravy to choose from.

Roasted Beef

Roasted Beef.  Tell me you can resist this?

Mouth Watering

Mouth watering Roasted Beef slices.  I was already mouth-watering while the beef is being carved.

Roasted Chicken

If roasted beef is not your thing, what about this delicious looking Roasted Chicken?

Pasta Corner

The Pasta corner serves nice Seafood Aglio-Olio.  It is made on the spot so the spaghetti and sauce will definitely be very tasty!

Cold Cuts with Olives

Cold Cuts with various chicken ham and beef salami.  The olives makes for a very interesting contrast to the colour.

Pandan Chicken

This is also one of my all-time favourite.  Chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves.  The aroma from the Pandan is really refreshing.

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Nasi Lemak and its condiments.  I love my Nasi Lemak with plenty of peanuts.  And their Sambal Belado and Sambal Hijau is my choice!

Lamb

And there’s always distinctive aroma of the lamb that is always my all-time favourite.

Scallops in a spoon

These scallops in a spoon makes it very convenient to just grab and go.  And it can be eaten in just one mouthful.

Lamb Bukhari

The Lamb Bukhari rice a traditional Arabian rice dish.  Since this is a Lamb Bukhari, it has a mildly distinctive aroma which is just enough to make me love it.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

I’m a Potato person, so I will definitely love any potato based dishes so the Creamy Mashed Potatoes is also one of my target.

TwinklePan Pretzels

Original and Almond TwinklePan Pretzels.

Consume when fresh

Waffles are one of those food where it must be consumed while still warm.  The waffles here are made on the spot fresh for you with a variety of filling to choose from.

Generousity

I chose the chocolate filling for my freshly made waffle.  Look at the generous amount of the chocolate spread!

Fresh Ice Cream

And now time for some fresh ice creams!  Available are Hippo and Bees’ Original Flavour with a choice of Chocolate or Strawberry toppings.

Too delicious not to try

I’m not really a fan of strawberry flavoured items, but these ice creams looks just too delicious not to try.

Hippo & Bees Ice Creams

Original flavour Hippo & Bees Ice-Cream with Chocolate and Strawberry topping.

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Macaroons and Sweet Candies anyone?

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Shredded ice is available at the ABC corner together with the varieties of toppings to choose from.  Or would you prefer delicately carved fruits such as the watermelon rose, the apple flowers and the pineapple swan?  Beautiful.

Marsh Mallow Sticks

I am brought back to relive my childhood days with these marshmallows sticks and the chocolate fountain.

Waterfall!

Chocolate waterfall… I mean Chocolate fountain remains everyone’s favourite.  Who can resist those unlimited silky smooth chocolate curtain!

Rainbow Cupcakes

Spectacular choices of Chocolate Cupcakes of various designs and colours.

Puddings of different designs and colours

Many different flavours of puddings of different designs and colours.

All in all, the Food Arena’s Jumbo Buffet is definitely a buffet worth going for.  At only $29.90 for adult and $15.90 for child, this buffet is priced competitively with other buffets available out there.  The choices of the main dishes available from the western, arabian and indonesia are those that are usually popular among the people.  One of the biggest strength that this Jumbo Buffet has over others are the overwhelming number of desserts that you are spoilt for choice!

Lucky Draw

This year, by shopping and dining in the Food Arena, you stand chance to win some very attractive LUCKY DRAW prizes.  You could be a winner of a flight ticket to SINGAPORE, KUALA LUMPUR or KOTA KINABALU, or you can also be one of the 10 consolation prizes which the Grand Draw will happen on November 1, 2015.

Jumbo Buffet

What are you waiting for?

The Jumbo Buffet will only be available until the end of Ramadhan, so do hurry.  Food Arena is located at Seri Q-Lap Mall’s ground floor.  Park your car behind the mall as that would be the closest to Food Arena’s entrance.  You will not miss the Jumbo Buffet’s banner there.  Please call +673 7151177 or +673 720 9777 for place your bookings!  Don’t just take my word for it, go and see and try for yourself!

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