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Rice and Jungle - Jungle Rice or Perhaps Rice Jungle

It took a while to get this all written down and the photos all done, but since I’ve come back I’ve been very busy and also had troubles with sickness, so that’s my reason.

I got back from my travels to Vietnam and Cambodia on Friday March 7th. I spent 11 days (including flights) away from home, of which about 5 in Cambodia, 4 in Vietnam and 2 in the air. Everything went well and almost according to plan, I only had a few minor incidents - like getting ill and having the USB-port of my mp3-player ruined.

People that have been in the region keep telling you how cheap it is. I agree to that, I got away pretty cheap, although I certainly could have used less money had I really tried. I bought 400 USD before leaving Japan and later withdrew another 100 USD, before coming home with 63 USD left. Using my excellent maths skills, I’d say I spent 400 + 100 - 63 = 437 dollars. That includes everything except the round trip flight ticket (~58,000 JPY), as I didn’t buy anything using my card.

Day 1 - Tokyo → Saigon

Kitchen Work
This was mostly a transportation day. I started off early at Narita airport where I had big troubles getting my dollars. I didn’t have any cash with me because I thought it wouldn’t be a problem to use my VISA card at one of the largest airports in the world. How silly of me! Seeing as to how many times I have had trouble getting money from my card in the rest of Japan, I really shouldn’t have assumed that it’d go smoothly here.

After a while of running around the departure hall asking different banks and exchange agents if they accepted credit cards, which they of course didn’t, I finally found the only ATM that accepted international credit cards. So I got my dollars, got on the plane and never looked back.

Ben Thanh Market RoundaboutAfter a change in Taipei, I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City on schedule at around 16.30. I took a taxi to Bui Vien street in District 1 in the centre of the city, where my guest house was located. I felt it would be nice to know where to stay for the first night at least, so I had booked a guest house from Japan through Hostelworld.com. I stayed at Luan Vu Guest House on 35/2 Bui Vien and I paid $17 for a single room. It was a nice and clean room, with air condition, but in retrospect, it was a bit over the top as there were many other places in the same neighbourhood with much cheaper rooms and not much lower standards.

First Meal in VietnamHaving settled in my room I ventured out in the city to hunt down some dinner. I ate some fried noodles at a food stall at the market. Saigon is a bustling and live city, which never seems to rest. The streets are full of people riding bicycles and the ubiquitous motorbikes. They are literally everywhere. I heard from someone that there are 7 million people in Saigon and 4 million motorbikes. Crossing a street can be a little bit intimidating at first, but after a few times I had no problem at all. As long as you keep a steady pace and don’t do anything unexpected, the drivers will be able to plan how to drive to avoid hitting you.

Streets of Saigon
I also managed to buy me a one-way bus ticket to Siem Reap, where the Angkorian temple ruins (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom etc.) are, for the next morning before finishing off the evening with a few rounds of beer at the bars.

Day 2 - Saigon → Siem Reap

They Way to Ride a Cambodian Mini-Bus
Another early morning. I got up at 05 to catch the bus to Siem Reap at 06:30. The tickets were $15 and were bought from Sinh Cafe Travel Agency on De Tham street. I know Mekong Express also has tickets all the way to Siem Reap, but they are $22. There wasn’t much information when I searched the Internet about buses on this route - the route seems to be quite new. Before, it seems like you had to take a bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh and then go to Siem Reap the next morning. At any rate, the bus ride was supposed to be 12 hours with a 1h30min stop in Phnom Penh to change buses (and have lunch), but it turned out to take around 15 hours and I arrived tired and hungry to Siem Reap at about 21.

Man Watering FlowersI had read in my Lonely Planet and on Wikitravel about a guest house called Prince Mekong Villa, that seemed to have gotten good words from previous guests. So when I got off the bus I decided to try my luck there despite my tuk-tuk driver insisting on taking me to another guest house - probably one where he would get some money for bringing guests. The Prince Mekong guest house is located a little bit out of town, but the rooms were clean and the owner was very nice, so I decided to stay there. I stayed in a spacious single room with hot water, tv and fan for $10 per night. The price also included a light breakfast, a bicycle and free laundry service.

After settling in and having explained to me the best way to see the temples without the crowds (that is, by bicycle!), I went out to dinner with a few Koreans that I had met on the bus, and then straight to bed.

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