Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Our Fabulous Do-It-Your-Own Tri-country Trip (Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam) - Part 3

When we were in high school, the farthest place that we had been to was in Calamba, Laguna, Jose Rizal’s hometown, during one of our field trips. Being in a public school, we thought that field trips were a luxury. Back then, we could not afford to have leisure travels unlike the teens of our age who were born with silver spoon. Yet, almost 15 years after, here we are, setting our feet on foreign grounds to reward ourselves for not giving up on our dreams. On March 29-April 4, 2017, I and my high school best friends traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam to experience the surprises that these lovely countries had to offer. It was a trip that definitely strengthened our friendship.
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April 2, 2017. Millionaires in Vietnam.

                We checked out at 10pm the night before and left Siem Reap via a sleeper bus around 11pm. It was my first time to ride in a sleeper bus, where your seat was actually a bed so you could comfortably sleep! We traveled for six hours and reached Phom Penh at 530am. We waited for another 2 hours for the van and tuktuk that would transfer us to the bus that would bring us to Vietnam.

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Sleeper bus going to Phnom Penh

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Bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh

                There were free bottled water inside the bus! We traveled for how many hours until we reached the boundary of Vietnam and Cambodia where we had to get off the bus, pass through the immigration, and return to the same bus. We reached Ho Chi Minh at 245pm and looked for the taxi that would bring us to Vung Tau. The challenge of being in Vietnam was the language. Compared to Thailand and Cambodia where people spoke English quite fluently, conversing with Vietnamese (particularly with those whom we met) was like being in a game of charades!


                From Ho Chi Minh, we traveled to Vung Tau for an hour and a half, without traffic which cost us one million dong ($65). Yes, we’re millionaires in Vietnam! We stayed in Romelies Hotel, a 3-star hotel facing the Vung Tau Beach. We booked a family room with 3 queen sized beds and 2 toilet and baths! We exchanged our Dollars to Dongs with the hotel receptionist, who, thank God, can speak English! The exchange rate was $1 = 2,200 Dongs. So for $10 (or Php 500) I had 220,000 Dong!

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Millionaire in Vietnam!

                We ate at a hole in thewall eatery beside our hotel hoping that the food there would be cheaper than the other well-kept restaurants. Because of the language barrier, the foods that were served to us were different from what we ordered! More than that, when we surveyed other nearby restaurants, their prices were a lot cheaper!

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                At night, we planned to go to a night market. The hotel receptionist told us that we just needed to walk for 15 minutes and we would reach the “night market”. Walking for almost 30 minutes, we did not find any night market! Only a mall that’s open at night, the Imperial Mall. She was probably referring to that!

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The Imperial Plaza, Vung Tau, Vietnam

                We stopped over at Rainbow Yogurt, a yogurt house, and played “Pinoy Henyo”, before we went back to our hotel. We would enjoy the beach the next day!


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At Rainbow Yogurt, Vung Tau, Vietnam

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Playtime at Rainbow Yogurt, Vung Tau, Vietnam

 April 3, 2017. Vung Tau Beach/B*tch.

                The reason why we went to Vung Tau, which was an hour and a half drive from Ho Chi Minh was the beach! Situated along the highway (imagine Manila Bay), it was not as good as the beach in the Philippines. But my girlfriends wanted to flaunt their sexy bodies, so we went there!

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Vung Tau Beach, Vietnam


                Prior to hitting the beach across the hotel, we had our buffet breakfast. We felt so deprived the past few days so we devoured everything that we could! The buffet breakfast in Romelies, I should say, was the best among all the hotels we’d been to!

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Breakfast at last!

                At the beach, we had our usual photoshoot! And man, the people were staring at the bodies of my friends!

                Afterwards, we continued swimming at the swimming pool of Romelies Hotel for about an hour before we prepared for checking out.

                We were driven back to Ho Chi Minh and stayed at 4 Boys, a backpackers’ Inn. The rate was very cheap, around less than a thousand pesos. It’s where we kept our bags and luggages while we went for shopping. Aside from Thailand, Vietnam, I supposed, was another best place to shop! At Saigon Center, I was able to buy a leather laptop bag (Mont Blanc) for less than Php 3,000! Tita Chato, Karen, and Harold, shopped ‘til they dropped! There’s a Nothface bag that I wanted to buy, but was not able to because I was short of money! If somebody I know would go to Vietnam, I’d ask him or her to buy me that bag! Or, I’d probably go back to Vietnam just to shop!

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4 Boys Backpackers Inn

                When we’re done shopping, we found this delicious rice cake along the street. The vendor, upon giving us our orders and receiving our payment, quickly ran away. Perhaps, peddling was prohibited where he previously stayed.

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Yummy rice cakes!


                We packed our things, had our dinner, and got ready to go to the airport. I wasn’t able to buy Starbucks tumbler in Cambodia and Vietnam. In Cambodia, there were only three Starbucks branches and were unable to visit them. In Vietnam, there were only three branches as well and these were not as hit as the other coffee shops in the country. After all, local Vietnamese coffee were far better than Starbucks.


                This trip was indeed, one for the books. While we’re the same high school students at heart, we’re now realizing our dreams together. In the next years, we would continue traveling the world. 

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CEZ SHARES HER EXPERIENCE IN VIETNAM:


1.)    What is your best experience in Vietnam?

It wasn’t exactly in Vietnam, but the best experience for me was taking the sleeper bus going to Vietnam. I just thought it was so cool! It was a unique experience for sure! It was really long and tiring but I conside it one of the highlights of our trip.

2.)    What is your worst experience in Vietnam?

I wouldn’t say worst but the language barrier was a little tough.

3.)    What is your tip to first time visitors of Vietnam?

Be prepared for the language barrier, but at the same time, have fun! Enjoy the street food (pho soup is a must, of course!) and the shopping!

4.)    Anything you want to say/add?

Do your research before going anywhere. But if it turns out to be not what you expected it to be, still make the most out of it and enjoy the experience. I would love to go back and enjoy yhe rest of the beaches and other beautiful destinations Vietnam has to offer.

5.)    What is your next dream country/destination you want to tour with your friends?

OMG. Europe, please! Or Latin America!


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Cez at the beach!

Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Our Fabulous Do-It-Your-Own Tri-country Trip (Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam) - Part 2


When we were in high school, the farthest place that we had been to was in Calamba, Laguna, Jose Rizal’s hometown, during one of our field trips. Being in a public school, we thought that field trips were a luxury. Back then, we could not afford to have leisure travels unlike the teens of our age who were born with silver spoon. Yet, almost 15 years after, here we are, setting our feet on foreign grounds to reward ourselves for not giving up on our dreams. On March 29-April 4, 2017, I and my high school best friends traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam to experience the surprises that these lovely countries had to offer. It was a trip that definitely strengthened our friendship.

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March 31, 2017. Come home to Cambodia!

             We had our last buffet breakfast in the hotel and prepared for check out. We went to the swimming pool at the roof deck and had a quick photoshoot until around 10am. The cityscape was a perfect background for the shoot! I really thought though that the view was better at night.

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Photoshoot at the roofdeck of Grand Sathorn Hotel before we leave


                 We left the hotel at 11am and reached Dong Meung Airport at 12nn. We left for Siem Reap via AirAsia at 150pm and landed in Siem Reap Airport in Camboadia at 230pm. Siem Reap Airport was a lot smaller and simpler  compared to the that of Thailand’s. If you’ve been to Aklan Airport, it’s quite similar to that except that Siem Reap Airport was a lot cleaner. Upon arrival, we were greeted with welcome drinks since it was #SmilingDay. From the airport, we were transported by the hotel shuttle to Royal Crown Hotel. The scenery was very different from Bangkok’s. Siem Reap reminded me of the provinces I visited in the Philippines. Their tuktuk looked different as well compared to Thailand’s tuktuk.


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Siem Reap International Airport


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Bayon Face at Siem Reap International Airport

    
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#SmilingDay at Siem Reap International Airport


              Upon reaching Royal Crown Hotel, we were welcomed by the polite and helpful hotel crew, who were mostly males. From them, we learned the words “susaday” (hello) and “akun” (thank you).


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Hotel shuttle
    
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Royal Crown Hotel

           
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Royal Crown Hotel Interior


               Royal Crown Hotel was a clean and comfortable hotel, as well, so we rested until around 5pm. Moreover, the hotel was conveniently located near the market. Thus, after having our afternoon rest, we went to the night market! The night market was very organized as the stores were zoned according to the products that were being sold – clothes, home decorations, art pieces, and paintings, among others. I bought a painting of a family of elephants on white canvas for 200 baht.  We also bought clothes for $1 each from a Turkish guy selling along the street! It’s a good deal already since the same clothes were being sold at $2 or higher inside the market! I bought four items which I would give as pasalubong.

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Night market at Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Awesome artworks at Siem Reap Night Market

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Affordable t-shirts at $1 each

                 Finally, we had our street food dinner composed of fried noodles, spring rolls, and fried rice, for only $1 per serving! That’s how to eat on a budget!



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Streetfood at Siem Reap Night Market

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Eating at Siem Reap Night Market

April 1, 2017. The Temple Run.

             It’s April Fool’s Day but for us, it’s Temple Run Day as we were about to explore Angkor Wat (“Capital Temple”)! Back in high school, we just read about this Temple, considered as the largest religious monument in the world. Angkor Wat, is Cambodia’s most famous symbol, appearing in its flag and its primary tourist attraction.

             We woke up at around 5am because we want to witness the sunrise in Angkor Wat. The night before, we already asked the hotel to have our breakfast packed since we would just eat along the road. To our surprise, the stryropack only contained breads, butter and jam!

           We waited outside Angkor Wat complex, hoping for the sun to come out. It took an hour or more, but we did not see the sun rising! It was April Fool’s Day, indeed! Worse, it started to drizzle and we did not bring any umbrella!

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Since the sun did not show up...we just had fun!

           We decided to just proceed with the tour of the temples. We were amazed both by the ruins, the architecture, and the whole story that went with all the stones in the temple.

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Angkot Wat, Cambodia

         

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Who's got the best pose?


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Me, with Angkot Wat as my background


           We met Cambodian kids and and adults who spoke Tagalog! According to them, their teachers were Filipinos and they were the ones teaching them the language. Well, it was working for them since there were many Filipino tourists in Cambodia! We bought souvenir items from them and even had our brunch in one of the eateries owned by Ana (the lady who helped us took good photos and taught us how to utilize the panoramic option in our cameras!) The foods were quite pricey. For example, the fried rice cost $5, which could be bought for only $1 outside (where we ate the night before). Also, one of our realizations in this trip was that drinking water was very important! They did not have house water, so one needed to buy bottled water every time!


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Having our brunch at Ana's Stall, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

          Apart from Angkor Wat, we also visited other nearby temples and Tomb Raider’s tree. If you’re the type of tourist who love temples and ruins, Cambodia is the place to be. However, if you want variety, you might want to consider other destinations as the temples were quite similar from each other.

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Cez posing beside Cambodian tuktuk

           
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Going down the dungeons!

            We went home and took a dip in the hotel’s swimming pool. By 10pm we needed to check out as we were leaving for our next destination: Vietnam!

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KAREN SHARES HER EXPERIENCE IN CAMBODIA:

1.)    What is your best experience in Cambodia?

The best experience that I had was visiting Angkor Wat. It felt surreal. I only read and saw picture of in history books before and now I got the chance to be there. I see perfection in the ruins.

I also love our experience travelling in a sleeper bus. I wish we had that in the Philippines!

2.)    What is your worst experience in Cambodia?

Aside from the language barrier, everything was fine. Locals were friendly and accommodating.

3.)    What is your tip to first time visitors of Cambodia?

My tip would be this: if you are visiting Asian countries, be a local. Act and look like one because it is an advantage!

4.)    Anything you want to say/add?

It is always the best to travel with your “bestest” friends!

5.)    What is your next dream country/destination you want to tour with your friends?


I want us to travel in Japan. I’ve been there before and I had a wonderful experience, so I want it to experience it with my best friends. This time, I want us to travel in Osaka and Kyoto. You’ll experience the old and true Japan in those cities.

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Karen in Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Read Part 1 and Part 3 here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Our Fabulous Do-It-Your-Own Tri-country Trip (Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam) - Part 1

When we were in high school, the farthest place that we had been to was in Calamba, Laguna, Jose Rizal’s hometown, during one of our field trips. Being in a public school, we thought that field trips were a luxury. Back then, we could not afford to have leisure travels unlike the teens of our age who were born with silver spoon. Yet, almost 15 years after, here we are, setting our feet on foreign grounds to reward ourselves for not giving up on our dreams. On March 29-April 4, 2017, I and my high school best friends traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam to experience the surprises that these lovely countries had to offer. It was a trip that definitely strengthened our friendship.
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March 29, 2017. Welcome to Thailand!

                In August 2016, we decided to save Php 2,000 per month for our planned travel in time for our best friend’s Cez vacation from Canada. It was Harold who arranged everything about this trip – from collecting and keeping the money to ensure that it wouldn’t be spent, to arranging the itinerary, to securing the flights, and to booking the hotels. He’s so efficient that he could already put up his own travel agency! After eight months, the long wait was over. Our first trip abroad together was finally happening!

                On March 29, we left for Thailand via Cebu Pacific around 9pm (yes, CebuPac was not delayed!) and reached Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok around 1230am. It was not my first time in Thailand. In fact, Thailand was the first foreign country I’ve been to.  Among us, it’s Herbert who had not been to Thailand.

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Welcome to Thailand!


                  Upon reaching the airport, we exchanged US $70 or 2,285 baht to cover our taxi and hotel expenses. The taxi waiting area in the airport was very organized. There’s machine where you would input the type of taxi that you needed based on the number of passengers. We’re lucky to get an Innova and an entertaining, English-speaking driver, who brought us to Grand Sathorn Hotel in Silom.

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Harold exchanges dollars for bahts


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Taxi queuing system


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The taximeter that could fit us 6!

              Grand Sathorn Hotel was a 4-star hotel with comfortable and spacious rooms, and amenities like fitness gym, swimming pool, and garden and gazebos on the roofdeck, among others. WiFi connection, though slow, was available, as well. The hotel also provided complimentary bottled water and coffee.

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Grand Sathorn Hotel at night


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Our hotel room's interior

  Coming from a very tiring day (I came from work, went home, and rushed to the airport!), I was excited to sleep and recharge for the next day’s adventure!

March 30, 2017. Family. Health. Wealth.

              What I always look forward to in hotel accommodations is the breakfast. Good thing, Grand Sathorn Hotel had a great selection of delectable food – from fruits, to salads, cornflakes, oatmeal, omelette, bread, sausages, rice, name it! And I ate everything they offered! I learned that to maximize what you paid for, you need to strategize on how to be able to taste every food that the hotel offered!

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Breakfast at Grand Sathorn Hotel

            After prepping up, we decided to go on a tour, but as to which tour to choose, we were unsure. First things first, we walked to the nearest bank (Kasikorn Bank) to exchange our dollars to baht. A tip to first time travelers: do not convert all your dollars in the airport, because the exchange rates are better outside. After having our dollars converted, we continued walking until a woman offered help and suggested where to go. She even called a tuktuk and negotiated that we pay 80 baht only. Because of her kindness, we bought bottled water from her for 10 baht each.

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Posing at the tuktuk that we rented. (Behind was the lady who helped us.)
     
 We rented another tuktuk, and the drivers brought us to Wat Chai Temple where devotees pray before the statues of various buddhas. There we met a certain soft-spoken man named Eric Kwek who introduced himself as a 68-year old doctor-turned-property developer who did not look his age! He told us that our visit in the temple was very timely since every year, on the 30th of March, they hold an event in the temple. Moreover, he spoke about life and what really matters: family, health, wealth. He knew a lot of information about the Philippines (and Philippine politics vis-à-vis China, Russia, and the USA), and even told us stories about his adventures in Aklan! My mom was from Aklan and it’s my hometown, so I was surprised to learn all the things that he mentioned about the towns in Aklan!

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Wat Chai Temple


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Inside Wat Chai Temple

Mr. Kwek influenced us to purchase orange sapphire, the same stone that Imelda Marcos and Pope John Paul II wore. He reminded us to purchase according to one’s ability and avoid being greedy. The stone would not be a “lucky charm”, but a reminder of “karma”.



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Groufie with "Mr. Kwek"

After saying goodbye to Mr. Kwek, we went to “Shang” and bought orange sapphire. Cez, Karen, and Harold bought rings with the stone. The rings were a bit pricey, thus, Tita Chato, Herbert and I just bought the loose stones. We planned to have our rings done and customized in Manila! According to Mr. Kwek, one could not buy for another person as a gift. As much as we wanted to share our stones with other people, we could not.

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After buying our rings and stones at "Shang"

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My bestfriends' orange sapphire rings 

Afterwards, our tuktuk drivers brought us to Bangkok River Terminal where we would have our cruise along Chao Phraya River. We paid 300 baht each to our drivers for the excellent service they provided us. The one-hour river cruise cost 2,400 baht (each of us paying 600 baht). That was negotiated already. We sailed along Chao Phraya River and were amazed by the various buildings, temples, buddhas, and houses along the riverbanks! There were merchants selling goods, similar to the famous floating market of Thailand.

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#LoveWins Theme Photoshoot, Bangkok River Cruise

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Bangkok River Cruise View

We disembarked at Sathorn Pier and walked to the nearest train station. It was my first time to ride in Thailand’s train since I wasn’t able to do that three years ago. We took the train to Siam and walked to Platinum Mall to have our super late lunch! Nothing has changed in Platinum Food Court.


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Groufie inside the train


I still loved the concept of buying a card loaded with money which you would use in purchasing food from the various stores within the food court. The whole tiring day of tour made us excited about whatever food was on our tables!

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Having our super late lunch at the Platinum Food Court


Just across the Platinum Mall was a Filipino store selling sampaloc (tamarind) and other pasalubong. It was the same store where we bought our pasalubong way back in 2014. After buying dozens of 20-baht sampaloc packs, we decided to go back to our hotel. We hired a tuktuk because it was difficult to look for a bigger taximeter (say, Avanza). Initially, the tuktuk said that he knew where our hotel was and agreed to accept 200 baht as payment. Later on, at the middle of the infamous Bangkok traffic, the driver insisted that he didn’t know the location of our hotel! He went on asking other drivers and when we finally reached our hotel, he demanded for 300 baht payment instead! Since we were all tired, we just gave him the money. It was a long day, indeed, so we freshened up and rested the whole night!

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1.)    What is your best experience in Thailand?
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Bert posing during the Bangkok River Cruise

Since it was my first time in Bangkok, Thailand, I would say that the city looked like Metro Manila, with its tall buildings similar to those in Makati and Ortigas. The diffence, though, was that the buildings in Bangkok had various architectural designs, and the temples were all over!

The best experience for me was not the city tour, but the person who approached us in Wat Chai Temple. He was a very positive person, with overflowing wisdom. He imparted with us some teachings in Buddhism and the achievement of Happiness – balancing Family, Health, and Wealth.


2.)    What is your worst experience in Thailand?

The rush hour traffic, overcharging of tuktuk fare, and the pollution!.


3.)    What is your tip to first time visitors of Thailand?

If you are a budget-conscious traveler like me, save every dollar that you have because it’s a bit pricey in Bangkok compared to Cambodia and Vietnam. Do not exchange all your dollars in the airport. Instead, exchange these in the money changer outside, or in banks where the exchange rates are better! Also, as much as possible, try to haggle to get a discount when buying “pasalubong” or boking a city tour.

4.)    Anything you want to say/add?

We only stayed for almost a day and a night in Bangkok. It would be better if you would spend more days in Bangkok to explore and enjoy the city more. However, it’s not about how short or long your stay is. It’s about happy memories with your best friends that count.

5.)    What is your next dream country/destination you want to tour with your friends?

Japan or Korea.


Read Part 2 and Part 3 here.