Asia Travel Preparations

I’m starting this blog off with my upcoming trip to southeast Asia and mainland China. I have been traveling and backpacking quite a bit over the past two years but have been terrible at putting together photos and stories to share with friends and family. I hope to use this blog as a documentation of my trips and plan to use it a motivation to get through the 40 hour work week when I’m not out traveling. On to my May trip.

I am taking a month off in May to travel for the first part of May with my friends Michelle and Azrina in southeast Asia and end the trip with by visiting my grandparents and extended family in mainland China. I have purchased all the plane tickets for the places I will be visiting. Below is a google map I have created for the places I will visit. Below is a rough itinerary of the trip:
  • May 3-May 8: The first stretch of my trip will be Malaysia. Since Azrina currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, we will be traveling around the country with her car and staying with her family. Malaysia will also be a home base for us as we travel around southeast Asia.
  • May 8-May11: Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Ankor Wat and surrounding area
  • May 13-May 16: Azrina and I will be getting to Bali while Michelle heads home to northern California
Trip Preparation:
Traveling to Asia does not require too much preparation, visa is not required or can easily be obtained at the airport for most of the places I will be visiting. However, mainland China’s visa has to be applied in the US and the nearest Chinese ambassy is in downtown LA. I decided to pay a local travel agency to help me get the visa, in addition to the $140 visa fee, they charge $40 dollars to bring my passport and application to the Chinese embassy. The visa application process usually takes 7 days. Tip for others, make sure you give yourself enough time to obtain this visa, I was cutting it really close on with mine.
No visa is required for Malaysia but there is one required for Cambodia and Indonesia. Both of these visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport, make sure to bring exact cash as the custom people do not always have the right change. Cambodia offers a online visa for a 30 day tourist entry for $20 with a $5 processing fee, I applied for the e-visa to avoid the airport traffic. The Camobida e-visa takes 1 to 3 days to process. Bali’s visa is also $20 for a 30 day entry, I plan to apply for it at the airport as they do not offer online visas.
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Cambodia

We caught an early flight from KL to Siem Reap on Tuesday morning. The flight took about three hours, we were pleasantly surprised with how new the Siem Reap airport was, it looks like tourism has been bringing in good money for the area. We are staying at a place called Mekong Ankor Palace, they sent a free tuk tuk to the airport to pick us up. This would be the first and only free service we would be receiving in Cambodia. Once we arrived at the hotel we coordinated with the hotel for a tuk tuk driver and a local tour guide for the temples. The cost of the tuk tuk driver was $25 a day and was suppose to be our transport all day, we found out later the driver actually stops working after sunset. The tour guide was also $30 a day, we decided to skip the guide for the first day and only have the guide around for the temples on day 2 and 3. USD is a common currency used in Cambodia, this is probably due to the poor currency value of the country.

Day 1 Tonle Sap Lake and Apsara Dancing

Tonle Sap Lake is one of the largest lake/river in Cambodia. One of the most unique features of the lake is the water flow changes directions between the dry season and the monsoon season. During the dry season the lake is fed by the Mekong River, once the monsoon season hits the water pushes up from the Mekong River and uses the lake as a reservoir.  The lake is home for many ethnic Vietnamese and Cham communities. Much of the lake is occupied by these people as their permanent residence. The entrance fee for the lake was a hefty $20, at this point, I am starting to feel wary of all the $20s I’m spending. Isn’t Cambodia suppose to be an affordable place to travel to?
Our ten year old boat driver bringing us out to the lake

View of the boat houses on the lake. These villagers live in extremely poor conditions and depend heavily on the tourism industry.

The entire lake lacked the feel of authenticity because it was heavily dependent on tourism. Everywhere we went, people were asking for money. Also, our tour guide did not speak very much English, therefore much of the history and description of the people living on the lake were left out during the tour. The entire trip went on without much discussion of the area and we were often brought to boats seeking for additional donation for the lake and surrounding area. It made the entire trip uncomfortable and left us feeling trapped and irritated.

Beggers on the river

We purchased a three day $40 pass for Ankor Wat and all of the surrounding temples. We ended our first day by going to Phnom Bakheng hoping to catch the sunset.

Phnom Bakheng without the sunset

We caught the first big storm of the rainy season shortly after returning from Phnom Bekeng. The rain prevented us from doing anything outdoors on the first day, we decided to watch a traditional Apsara dance in a nearby hotel. The dance included an all you can eat Americanized buffet dinner. The total for the dinner and show cost $12 USD. The food was mediocre, but I really enjoyed the traditional dancing.

Day 2: Bayon, Ankor Wat

Bayon temple is one of the largest temples within Angkor Thom. The most distinctive feature of the temple is the four faced Buddha. The photo below is one of many four faced Buddha in the temple.

There is a dress code for several of the temples currently still being worshipped by locals. Women can only go in the temple if their legs are covered above the knee. Our tour guide Bob failed to tell us this prior to leaving the hotel. It turned out I was the only person in the group who was dressed appropriately to visit these temples. Miscommunication is becoming a reoccurring problem with our tour guide.

The hindus were obsessed with framed doorways, intricate carvings on the stones and linga.

Ta Prohm, best known in the Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider

Entrance of Ankor Wat

Bob, our tour guide telling us the story of the Churning of the Milk for immortality for the hundredth time…

Michelle had to rent a Sarong to climb to the top of Ankor Wat.

Incomplete carvings inside Ankor Wat.

We lost Michelle among a big group of Asian tourist

We ended our day at Banteay Srei Temple, better well known as the lady temple. The temple is within the outskirts of Siem Reap. It took us approximately 40 minutes to get to the temple via our Tuk Tuk. With no shade in sight, the temperature was becoming unbearable, it made it difficult to concentrate on the beauty of the architecture.