Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Arrival in Siem Reap

This posting is primarily for other cruisers and travelers following in our footsteps. A couple of experienced cruisers in our marina who have hung out in SE Asia for years told us that getting to Kuala Lumpur via express bus was the best way to go. Well, experience is a wonderful teacher; and now that we have done it, we don't agree with that advice. Unless you plan to stay in central downtown Kuala Lumpur, take the plane instead.

The public bus serving the marina area is very unreliable timewise. The express bus to KL departs the Bukit Indah station at 0900. Since we could not rely on the public bus #6 to follow the posted schedule and get us to Bukit Indah in time to make the connection with the express bus to KL, we opted to have the marina shuttle deliver us to the Bukit Indah station -- cost 40 ringitt. Bus for 2 persons to KL -- cost 62 ringitt. Taxi from bus terminal in KL to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) -- cost 120 ringitt. Supposedly there is a public bus from KL bus terminal to the KLIA airport for 8.50 ringitt but we never saw that bus. Shuttle for 2 people and 1 piece luggage from Concorde Inn Hotel at the airport to the LCC Terminal of KLIA -- 55 ringitt. So, total cost to get from marina to the LCC Terminal in Kuala Lumpur -- 277 ringitt (about $82 USD) and 7 hours travel time. Cost to fly 2 persons via Air Asia from Senai Airport at Johor Bahru to the LCC Terminal at KLIA including taxi to or from Puteri Harbour Marina -- $82 USD and less than 2 hours travel time. Seems like a no brainer to me. Take the plane.

Also, the LCC Terminal is more than 20 km from the KLIA main terminal. And about the same distance from all the airport hotels. Except that there is a new Tune Hotel (operated by Air Asia) that is located directly at the LCC Terminal. The Tune is the only sensible place to stay for overnight connections with Air Asia, Tiger Airways or Firefly airlines. The Tune stays booked up so reserve your room months in advance of travel.

Air Asia is a low-cost carrier, no frills whatsoever; and they are strict on their baggage allowance. But overall it was pleasant enough. Flights were on time and planes were clean and appeared well maintained and mostly new. The meals sold on the plan were very reasonably priced and smelled good, although we did not partake.

We arrived in Siem Reap at 0900 and were greeted by a driver from our hotel. We had obtained e-Visas and breezed right through Immigration and Customs while all the other plane passengers were busy completing forms. In fact, we were the first people out of the terminal. The driver led us to a nice Lexus LE; then served us ice-cold cloths to freshen up and cups of ice water to sip as he drove us to the hotel. We stayed at the Pavillon d'Orient, thanks to recommendation from Andy and Melissa on S/V Spectacle. We would not have wanted to stay anywhere else. There are many large resort hotels at much higher prices that appeared very nice; and there are many very cheap hostels/guest houses/hotels for lower budget travel. But we would not have wanted to stay anywhere other than the Pavilllon d'Orient.

The area surrounding the Pavillon d'Orient is not attractive or welcoming, but once inside the wall surrounding this boutique hotel it is lovely. And the staff is very efficient and friendly. Included in our room rate was our personal tuk-tuk driver from sunrise until 10 p.m. daily. A tuk-tuk is basically a mechanized rickshaw. It is a small motorcycle with a passenger compartment attached. These are everywhere and usually cost $25 per day. The room also included a more than ample breakfast. The hotel's homemade yogurt was marvelous. And they made perfect 3-minute or 4-minute eggs.

One night the hotel surprised us with a complimentary pretty chocolate mouse cake delivered to our room. Delicious! Also included was car transportation to and from the airport, to the Banteay Srei temple 37 km distant and a half-day trip to the floating village. What more could we have asked for! There was a nice swimming pool but we never got around to using it. The hotel presented us with 2 vouchers for free one-hour massage each. I opted for the traditional Khmer massage. Felt great. It has been a very long time since I was pampered with a professional massage.

When you take all these extras into consideration, the room rate was quite reasonable for such a lovely little hotel.

Each night one of the staff would deliver to our room a small scroll tied with red silk thread. This was our bedtime story. Each story was a short Cambodian tale, either with a moral or humorous message. A delightful touch! Also included were a few Cambodian proverbs, some of which were a bit too mystical for us. Here are a few that did make sense to us:

"Riding a buffalo across mud is easier than swimming."
Interpretation: Utilize the resources at your disposal rather than making things difficult for yourself.

"The back foot follows the front foot.
Interpretation: Children follow in the footsteps of their parents; surordinates follow the orders of their superiors.

"Even those with four legs eventually slip; even those with complete knowledge eventually slip up."
Interpretation: To err is human.

The first afternoon we took the tuk-tuk to downtown Siem Reap for lunch. Found a Mexican place and enjoyed watching people on the street while we scarfed $1 tacos and $2 margaritas. Draft beer everywhere was only 50 cents per mug. No wonder backpackers love this place!

There was a pharmacy at the end of Pub Street and I was able to purchase enough thyroid hormones to last me until we reach the Med next year. Exactly the same brand I would purchase in the USA, but at a fraction of the cost. Will never understand why this drug that was developed in the 1930s costs so dang much in the US but is so inexpensive everywhere else in the world. Cambodia is one of those countries that does not require physicians to write prescriptions for non-narcotic drugs. So buying the levothyroxine without a script was not a problem. I also bought a few rounds of antibiotic cipro to replenish our medical kit on the boat. Then we went out to the silk farm.

Unfortunately, we forgot to bring our camera so have no photos. The silk farm is one of the artesan ventures in Cambodia. The government supports several artesan ventures to keep the traditional skills alive. This was an interesting little tour and it is free. I would recommend it. We saw everything about silk: the various types of mulberry trees that the silkworms eat, the cocoons and how they are stored as the worms develop inside, how the cocoons are boiled and the thread is extracted and then spun into thread, the various methods of dying the threads, the looms and weaving processes. An interesting tidbit is that real silk will not burn, only the partial silk fabric will burn. If you set flame to 100% silk fabric, the flame with extinguish and the fibers will turn white. Partial silk fabric will flame and burn up, leaving black fiber residue. An easy way to tell if a fabric is truly 100% silk, if you are brave enough to try to burn your clothes. We purchased a couple of silk pillow covers for our main saloon as souvenirs.

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