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Tim Foolery

Home » 2014 » January (Page 2)

Monthly Archives: January 2014

Siem Reap

We spent a total of 2 nights and 2 full days in Siem Reap. We landed around 20h00 the first night and after checking in at the hotel, we went to dinner at Nest. The five of us – including our tour guide – ordered several entrees and ate family style.  Our guide gave us some good recommendations – we were very much pushing for Khmer food and not the western option.  My favorite  thing we had at Nest was the Beef Loc Lac.

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The next day (our first full day) we had a great family-style Khmer lunch at a Viroth’s – which was the best meal I had in all of Cambodia.  If you are in the area, I can’t recommend another restaurant any higher than Viroth’s.  We had some curry, another service of beef loc lac, sweet and sour pork as well as some tom yam soup.

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We wandered around the markets and found the same sort of stuff we found in both Hanoi and HCMC.  You can buy post cards, t-shirts, hats, knickknacks and all the mass produced “local” souvenirs.  We did buy hats at the market – if we didn’t have something to keep the sun off of us, we probably would have heat stroked out half way through the first tour.

When we travel we almost without exception eat local food.  We gave our guide full reign for selecting dinner our final night in Siem Reap.  He suggested we go to a Cambodian Barbecue joint then afterwards head to the night markets and then play it by ear.  The idea of a Cambodian Barbecue was intriguing and he assured us that there would only be locals there – no tourists at all.  Boy was he right.

We sat down at the BBQ joint and our server brought us over a charcoal grill.  The top of the grill was a partial cone – where you’d cook the meat you select on the upper portion and you could boil/steam the veggies in the lower chamber, which was filled with water.  We were each given chopsticks – we struggled with keeping our utensils straight – which chopsticks were for eating (cooked food) and which ones were used to handle the raw pork, beef and chicken.  This caused me some angst.  Honestly, the food just wasn’t very good.  Our guide loved it – he ate like he’d never eaten a meal before.  I just picked at the food once it was way over cooked.  I felt, if I was going to get sick on this trip, this would likely be the place.

Cambodian Barbecue - A Pool of Festering Bacteria

Cambodian Barbecue – A Pool of Festering Bacteria

After the BBQ, we headed over to a little carnival area, where we found dozens of stalls selling street food, including black eggs, various local wildlife and sausages.  I was hungry, but didn’t want to risk a catastrophic gastrointestinal blow out with this food.  The carnival was interesting – it was basically long the side of a road in an empty field, but it didn’t seem all that organized.  There were rides for the kiddos, a shooting gallery (which I did surprisingly well at) and various other games.  The prizes for winning the games were interesting – you could win stuffed animals from Angry Birds, or you could win a can of beer or a two litre of soda, or dish washing soap.  Very odd indee.

Angry Bird Bumper Cars

Angry Bird Bumper Cars

Shooting Range

Shooting Range

Pretty exciting prizes at the carnival

Pretty exciting prizes at the carnival

After spending about 45 minutes at the carnival, we headed back downtown Siem Reap and walked down Pub Street – which is just like it sounds, a bar lined set of streets where all the tourists come hang out after a long day of hiking the ruins.  Our guide seemed to know everyone in the area.  We finally ended up at Miss Wong’s for a specialty cocktail.  This red lacquered gay bar was relatively quiet the night we were there.  Almost all the tables were full, but it wasn’t crowded.  Our group had a couple of cocktails then called it quits for the night.

Miss Wong...

Miss Wong…

Half way through our time at Miss Wong’s my stomach started to do cartwheel’s, so I was really interested in just going back to the Le Meridien and calling it a night – especially since we had a big final day.

Without the temples of Angkor Wat (et al), there really is no reason to visit Siem Reap.  I did enjoy the town, but it’s really just designed to occupy the tourists when they are not visiting the ruins (which is fine, just don’t think it is more than it is).

Have you been to Siem Reap?  Did you eat in the town and hit the night spots or did you solely focus on the temples and nothing more?  What did you think of Miss Wong?

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Stockholm: Initial Impressions

Fifty hours in Stockholm is not enough. Admittedly, I didn’t do a whole hell of a lot of planning before I arrived.  I made a list of the major things I wanted to see/do/eat, but that was it.  Stockholm is small. It is walkable. It is clean. Everyone I have encountered has spoken at least SOME English… and most speak better English than I do.

I love the transit here. From the high (ish) speed train from the airport to the Central Station, to the tram, to the Subway (haven’t taken a bus yet).

I’ve been happy with all of my choices on this trip so far, including my Hotel, the list of Must-Dos, my spur of the moment food decisions and my decision to actually take this trip. No regrets at all.

As I’ve said before, but this is my first vacation alone. I’ve traveled solo hundreds of times for work, but never for pleasure and have never traveled abroad alone.

I won’t lie. I had to FORCE myself up and out of that surprisingly comfortable Sheraton bed this morning.  I knew it would be a struggle for me each morning…. and it was. It is nice to be off the grid and recharge….but I didn’t come here to lay in bed.

I have several friends who really dig the solo travel thing.  They hit it hard each day and really thrive. Not me.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it, I just really like experiencing things like travel/food/booze (well, life in general), with others.

If I didn’t have a full list of things I need to do I would have totally spent more time sleeping/watching TV in the hotel…and then upon my return home, been utterly disappointed in myself.

I managed to knock off all the things on my must do list.  I write this post as I sit in the Ardbeg, a fun little bar in the Old Town area. They have a huge whisky selection and great beers on tap (I am enjoying God Lager by Nils Oscar).  I plan on having some beers, eating some Swedish food and just relaxing….away from the hotel.

Stockholm reminds me of Mexico City. You probably think I am nuts. It isn’t the architecture, the people or the weather.  It is how I feel about the City. I like both Cities. I have enjoyed my time in both Cities. Unlike Cities like Toronto, Ho Chi Minh City, Frankfurt and Lisbon, I definitely want to return to Stockholm….sometime, not necessarily anytime soon though.  If I never revisit HCMC, Toronto, Frankfurt or Lisbon, I would be OK.  Mexico City and Stockholm are places that are on my revisit list….but now they are at the bottom. These Cities aren’t like London, Paris, Phnom Penh, or Cape Town where I actively want to visit again.

Have you been to Stockholm? What is your favorite thing to do/see here? Do you love to travel solo? When traveling solo do you do more planning than if you traveled with friends?

Angkor Wat and Surrounding Temples

The main reason to visit Siem Reap is to visit the temples of Angkor Wat and the surrounding area.  I will spare you all the regurgitation of an ancient peoples history class – mostly because I would not do it justice, there are so many better resources available than my blog.

Our guide picked us up around 08h30 and our first stop was the Angkor National Museum, which was a great way to get acquainted with the history of the area (I had done absolutely no research on the area before we arrived in country). Our guide led us through the museum providing some commentary on the exhibits and additional color on the history of the area.  We spent a couple hours a the museum then headed to see the markets of Siem Reap.

The markets were like the other markets we visited  on this trip – full of some of the same tourist trash. We did buy hats though – to keep the sun off of our heads.  The best $5 we’ve ever spent, I think.  We had a quick lunch at Viroth’s, which was truly great, then we headed out to an outer Temple of Beng Mealea for the day.  The next day we visited Angkor Thom in the morning, then capped the final day in Siem Reap with a tour of Angkor Wat.  Below are photo highlights from the visits.

Beng Mealea

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Ankor Thom

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Angkor Wat

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Stockholm for the Weekend – Booked!

Last Friday I posted that I was toying with the idea of going to Stockholm for the weekend.  Well, I thought about it on Friday and decided to pull the trigger.  It will be a nice quick trip and here are the expected stats:

  • 9,298 Miles
  • 4 Segments
  • 2 Hotel Nights
  • 1 Hotel Stay
  • 27 Hours 12 Minutes in Transit (including layovers)
  • 50 hours on the ground

Interestingly enough, this trip will have almost the same amount of time in transit as well as on the ground as I did in Shanghai last January — and for almost the same cost as well.

Stockholm

I’m using TripAdvisor, 3 Perfect Days, various travel blogs and some food magazines to help plan my trip.  I haven’t made my list of things I must see yet, but I will before I leave – along with a list of restaurants I want to try and types of food I want to eat.

Do you have any recommendations on what I should do while in Stockholm? Where should I eat? What’s high on the traditional tourist list that I should absolutely avoid?

Le Meridien Angkor

We decided to stay at the Le Meridien Angkor (@SPG) while in Siem Reap.  While it wasn’t ranked all that highly on TripAdvisor (at time of posting 66 our of 208 hotels in Siem Reap), we did want to save a bit of money and cashed in some Starwood Points – we actually did the cash and points option, which ended up costing me $35 plus 1,800 points per night.  The going rate at the hotel was $140/night, which means I redeemed points for more than $0.058/each – which to me is a win.

Our guide dropped us off at the main lobby, where we were met by a front desk check-in agent, who escorted us to a corner of the lobby, offered us some water and checked us in.  While completing the check-in process we were told about the amenities at the hotel and provided details on the breakfast offerings each morning.

P1030792 (Small)The Lobby

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Reception Desk

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Lobby Flowers

We were given a standard room (no upgrade option for this Gold – at the time- member).  We were put into a room with two single beds. The room came with an abundance of pillows too.

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Beds with a ton of pillows.

There was a small seating area – a couch and a small table off in the corner of the room.  The  couch wasn’t all that comfortable, but it was nice to have a separate little area to enjoy.

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The bathroom was very dated, but nice and large.  One big issue I had with the bathroom is that there is small bi-folding door above the bathtub.  This might be great if traveling alone, but it doesn’t provide any real privacy if you have someone else in the room.  I’ve seen this many places before and I gotta tell you, I hate it.

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The water pressure and temperature was perfect the entire time we stayed.  One other thing that confirmed the bathroom needed to be updated was the toilet.  The water was so mineral filled, it totally stained the inside of the toilet bowl — so much so it looked like the toilet was dirty.  It was a bit of a shock at first.

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The hotel was pretty quiet and the internet worked at a pretty good clip too.  We ate at the hotel both mornings we were on site.  The breakfast buffet was well stocked and has standard Asian hotel fare – including various egg dishes, meats, fruits and a couple different noodle dishes.  The food was quite fine – although the buffet for two of us cost more than the cash outlay for the hotel itself.  My biggest issue at the buffet wasn’t the selection, it was our fellow guests at the hotel.  I’ve never been pushed, poked or glared at more in my life – I’ve also never had food intercepted from the buffet serving spoon before it hit my plate before either.  What is wrong with these people?

The hotel was also nice enough to let us use the spa for showers after returned from Angkor Wat and after we had already checked out.  Without the shower the flight on to Phnom Penh would have been one stinky mess.

The hotel was located out of the downtown Siem Reap area – it was on the main road, but off the beaten path.  It was pretty close to Angkor Wat – but you’d need to take a tuk-tuk or a taxi either downtown (for dining, shopping or nightlife).  Since we’ve stayed here, the Park Hyatt has since opened.  If I return to Siem Reap, I would definitely consider staying at the Le Meridien again — although I think I’d give the Park Hyatt a go though.

Have you visited Siem Reap before?  Did you pay the Le Meridien a visit?  Did the mineral water stained toilet freak you out at first too?