Today is our very last full day of this trip! We can’t believe how fast these past 4.5 months went. We’re feeling a mixture of emotions as we begin our long day of travel early tomorrow morning. On one hand, we’re really excited to see all our family and friends and on the other hand, coming back home poses a lot of questions about what we’re going to be doing in the upcoming months and about our lives in general. It was only until we got to Phu Quoc when we started to really reflect on our trip and lives in general. We were both hoping we would do a lot more personal reflection on this trip, but things always seemed to get too busy to do that.
We made sure to get a good night’s sleep last night because we know we won’t be getting one for a while. Hopefully our jetlag won’t be bad when we’re back! We had a pretty simple breakfast at the restaurant downstairs – noodles and toast. After breakfast we went back to our room and did some organizing and packing for the rest of the morning.
For lunch we went to a restaurant called, Com Cali, which is a Vietnamese casual restaurant chain. We passed by a few while in Saigon and there is one down the street from us. Most of the people eating there were locals. I expected there to be more tourists. Tourists generally don’t like to eat at clear chain restaurants but we both think it’s interesting to eat at local chains. As I mentioned yesterday, we’re trying to minimize our risk if getting food poisoning the day before our long travel day, so no street food for us today. We were thinking of getting a banh mi but decided against it (warm mayo is always a risk and we’re being super cautious). We ordered com tam, broken rice with grilled pork, and it was good – no complaints.
After lunch we walked down to the Notre Dame Cathedral to walk down “Book Street”, which is a tree lined street beside the Post Office. It was a warm day out, no clouds, and it was 34 degrees. We went into the McDonald’s close by and remembered that Vietnamese McDonald’s didn’t really have any special desserts like in Malaysia. We ended up just getting a vanilla cone each – 10,000 VND = $0.58 CAD.
We walked back to the Dong Khoi area (where all the nice hotels and malls are) and browsed around at the Union Square Mall. We debated whether we should just stay in the area for 2 hours and have an early dinner or go back to the hotel. There wasn’t much else we wanted to see in the area and we would be walking around aimlessly so we went back to the hotel to rest up. When crossing the streets around Dong Khoi, there are a lot of tourists around and you can tell who has just arrived (we were those people once too, or maybe that was just me) because they’ll wait forever to cross the street. Tim is like a crossing-the-street pro now. He leads a lot of people across the street and tells them they just need to start walking (such a local..). Maybe because we’re darker now, but people have been speaking Vietnamese to us instead of English and are surprised when we say we can’t understand. That didn’t happen to us when we were here at the beginning of the month. Do we look Vietnamese? I guess we don’t look Chinese.
We went back out at around 5pm to have an early dinner. We went back to the VinCom Center basement and walked around a couple of times before deciding to go to Pepper Lunch. The majority of options at VinCom are Korean BBQ or hot pot (all you can eat). So our last meal in Vietnam was Japanese casual fast food. We’ve now had Pepper Lunch in Taiwan, Cambodia, and Vietnam – but haven’t even been to the ones in Vancouver. Since we had some leftover VND, we went back to VinMart and I grabbed a few more snacks to shove into my backpack.
When we got back to our room, we packed up, and Tim organized all our receipts (he’s the best record keeper). We’re taking a car to the airport tomorrow at 3am since our flight leaves for Hong Kong at 5:30am. We’re going to train to Central HK and have breakfast with a couple of our friends for a quick visit. We leave Hong Kong at 2:30pm for Tokyo-Haneda, where we’ll have a 2 hour layover before our last flight home! We’ll finally get home around 3pm on July 17th, which will be the longest day ever for us.
After tomorrow, we will have taken 30 flights, visited 49 cities, 11 countries, and slept in 44 different beds. We’re ready to come home!
Today we flew to Phnom Penh! A new country for the next week. Our flight was at 11:50am, so we didn’t have much time to do much other than have breakfast and pack up. Tim went out to the main street to find a tuk tuk that would take us to the airport. We paid 50,000 LAK = $7.95 CAD to get to the airport.
The Vientiane international terminal is pretty small and old. There wasn’t much there in terms of restaurants or stores. The best food option was probably the Dairy Queen at the departure check in, but once you got past customs, there was not much available and everything was 4 x the price as it would be on the street. We spent some of our last kip at the departure gates on some ice cream bars.
Our flight to Phnom Penh was a code shared flight and operated by Vietnam Airlines. The final destination for the flight was Ho Chi Minh City. It seemed like the majority of passengers were going back to Vietnam. They served a small lunch and gave us drinks. The meal was a salad, Vietnamese deli (mystery) meat, and a piece of cake. The flight to Phnom Penh was an hour and 10 minutes, which went by pretty quickly.
We arrived at Phnom Penh’s airport and it was quite modern. Once we got down to the arrivals area, customs officers directed passengers who required visas to fill out visa application forms. We lined up and got our visas and paid $30 USD each (same rate for all countries if you’re entering on a tourist visa). Tim paid for both our visas and gave the custom’s officer $100 USD. The custom’s officer only gave him back $30 USD and Tim firmly asked for the other $10. You could tell from the officer’s expression that he didn’t accidentally forget the extra $10. Welcome to Cambodia! We purposely flew into Phnom Penh over Siem Reap because we read that the customs officers aren’t as corrupt as the ones in Siem Reap. For the most part we didn’t have any trouble and weren’t asked for bribes of any sort while getting our visa.
Once we got our bags we walked outside to where all the drivers with signs were waiting. We saw Tim’s name and went with the driver from the hotel. The hotel offered the same rate as what we read a taxi would cost from the airport so it was a no brainer to just be safe and book the car. Our hotel driver came and picked us up in a Lexus RX 300 (SUV) and we realized that particular Lexus is very common in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh streets are very congested with scooters and a lot of SUVs! It was more reminiscent of Vietnam traffic and we knew while walking around we had to be on high alert again. Tim said we shouldn’t have gone to Laos until the end because it made us “soft”.
After about a 30 minute car ride through lots of traffic, we arrived at our hotel. We’re staying TEAV Boutique Hotel, which is a fairly modern boutique hotel in the middle of the city. We’re paying $45 USD/night, which is a bit discounted for the slow season. The staff came out and greeted us, checked us in while giving us cold cranberry juice and ice cold towels.
We were shown to our room and it was indeed very modern inside. Concrete floors, high ceilings and it smelled like lemongrass oils (the kind you smell when you got to a spa in SE Asia or a Thai spa in Vancouver..so good!). We settled in and planned to just walk around our surrounding area called the “BKK” district of Phnom Penh. BKK is where the majority of hotels are located as well as many restaurants.
We walked to the Independence Monument to take some pictures then made our way into the BKK. We were surprised to see so many foreign based restaurants and coffee shops. There are a lot of Korean and Japanese chains that we recognize. We have also noticed that in Laos and now in Cambodia, there are a lot of signs and plaques with Japanese flags on them thanking them for their contribution. Apparently Japan has invested a lot in Laos and Cambodia’s development (even buses in Vientiane say they were all donated by Japan).
While walking around BKK, we decided to go to Bon Chon for our very late lunch. Bon Chon is a Korean fried chicken restaurant that has locations all around the world. The first time I ever had Korean fried chicken was in New York, probably 10 years ago, and it was from Bon Chon. It was the only restaurant back then to serve it and I was hooked. It was the best fried chicken I’ve ever had and every time I went to visit my sister we always got it delivered. So it definitely bring back a lot of good memories. I wished Vancouver had a Bon Chon. There’s some places downtown that serve Korean fried chicken but it’s not the same.
We ordered garlic fries and a medium combo to share. Prices in Phnom Penh are all in USD. If change is under $1 USD, they give Cambodian Riel back. It’s a bit confusing and I’m not sure why they have to use both. Seeing as prices are quoted in USD, food in Cambodia is probably going to be more expensive compared to Laos and Vietnam. But I suppose going to Bon Chon for our first meal wasn’t exactly a good representation of what prices are like in Phnom Penh.
I haven’t had Bon Chon for a while and it was pretty darn good. It was very juicy and the skin was so crunchy. Being a nicer restaurant in Phnom Penh, the service was really good. It was definitely not a cheap meal by Cambodian standards and since we’ve been in SE Asia for a few week, I felt a bit guilty for having such an expensive meal. Our lunch was $15 USD (how things quickly change from being in Australia).
After Bon Chon, we walked towards a large mall called Aeon Mall (which is a Japanese branded mall). We walked for about 20 minutes and finally got there. It doesn’t seem like many people walk in Phnom Penh. There weren’t many tourists or locals walking. I guess everyone is in a tuk tuk.
Aeon Mall Phnom Penh is huge and it’s really nice. The mall is celebrating its 2 year anniversary so it explains why it looks so new and pristine. There’s a large department store with a supermarket on the bottom level (Japanese style), a movie theatre, a great selection of restaurants, and a bunch of pretty good clothing stores (like Mango from Spain).
We walked around the mall to see what options we had for a light dinner and ended up eating at Pepper Lunch. It’s a casual Japanese restaurant that has locations all around Asia and North America (including Vancouver). Pepper Lunch seemed like a very popular place amongst locals. We shared a beef and egg on rice combo. It was pretty good. The Pepper Lunch in Richmond has been opened for a couple of years now and I haven’t even been to that one yet!
After Pepper Lunch, we went downstairs to the supermarket to browse around. Tim bought a few Cambodian beers and I got a bag of green basil Lays chips. Prices are still fairly cheap, just not as cheap as Vietnam. We walked back to the hotel to plan out our day tomorrow, catch up on blogging, and watch TV shows (Tim couldn’t wait to watch Game of Thrones).
We’re in for an emotionally heavy day tomorrow as we plan on visiting the killing fields and learning more about Khmer Rouge.
Since more than half the people in the apartment are jet lagged, I woke up at 6:30am too. Nate was in a good mood this morning but you can tell his internal clock is very confused. Hopefully he can adjust in the next couple of days so he will be in a better mood.
Once Tim woke up, he went with Noel to Yong He Soy Milk King to get breakfast. I think my sister and Noel learned early on that those egg wrapped rice rolls are really filling and that they should just be shared. My sister cooked Nate one of the organic eggs for breakfast – he loves his eggs!
When we looked out the window, it was raining and it didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon. We wanted to try to keep most of our activities indoors since it was raining and it wasn’t that warm (around 15 degrees again today). As most of our planned Taipei activities are outdoors, we decided to do the one sightseeing activity that kept us the driest -that being the National Palace Museum.
The National Palace Museum is a museum that has mainly Chinese arts and artifacts – even more than what is at the Forbidden City in China. This is because during the Sino-Japanese Wars, the Nationalist Government in China decided to pack up all the most valuable artifacts in the Forbidden City and hide them in storage to keep them away from the Japanese. After World War II, as the Chinese Civil War resumed (and the nationalists were losing), Chiang-Ki Shek decided to move all the (already packed up) artifacts to Taiwan. Now, the museum houses around 700,000 ancient Chinese artifacts, of which approximately 1% is on display at any given time in 3 month exhibitions.
I had visited the museum in 2013, during my first time in Taiwan. I had seen the highlights of the museum – the jadeite cabbage and the stone that looks like a piece of pork (Tim: my favourite!), but I didn’t remember the rest of the museum too well (I was half asleep when I visited after a long flight) (Tim: Any it’s hard for things to look familiar when many of the exhibits are rotated out for new exhibits). I knew that the museum gets really busy with tour groups from China but I didn’t know how busy it would get.
We got to the museum around 10am, and were met with the hoards of tour groups and schools on field trips. As soon as we stepped inside, it was a gong show. General admission to the museum is 250 NT = $10 CAD (in 2013 it was only 160 NT = $6.50 CAD).
First, this is the strictest museum I have ever been to and I’ve been to a lot. You’re not allowed to bring any food or drink inside (which is understandable but this includes water bottles that are inside your bag). Traveling with a toddler, this isn’t ideal as you never know when they really need something to drink and they won’t take no for an answer. There are signs that say no backpacks are allowed and that you have to check it in. I’ve been carrying a small Longchamps backpack as my purse during this trip and as soon as we got into line to get into the museum, they singled me out and told me to check it in. I get why you can’t bring huge backpacks in, but mine was smaller than most purses and that made no sense to me. I even took everything out of it and was folding it up (it’s a foldable bag that can fold into a small square) and they told me I needed to check it in. At this point I was getting really irritated and annoyed with the security people (Tim: who were just doing their job) at the museum. They weren’t very courteous and it was a bad start to the morning. We put everything into a locker (for 10 NT, which is refundable), including Nate’s lunch bag and water (which he later cried for).
We finally got into the museum and were greeted with even more Chinese tour groups. I was already on edge with security that this whole scene made me want to leave. Being pushed around and cut in front of it not a great way to start your morning. In addition to the pushing, the tour groups were so loud. I felt bad for the museum workers inside that were holding signs that said “Please be quiet”, as their jobs seemed really hopeless and a bunch of them looked so defeated. Even when Nate woke up from his stroller to see where he was, his crying didn’t even matter since the tour groups drowned him out (this was the only upside to the noise). I know this is bad, but I learned to start walking with my hands on my hips when I wanted to get out of crowds because I didn’t want to get pushed around anymore. I don’t remember the museum being so busy when we were here in 2013. Not only did the price go up 90 NT, but it was not nearly as enjoyable. This was probably my least favourite place in all of Taiwan – inside the museum, which is such a shame because they have a lot of interesting things to see. But personally, I wouldn’t want to go back again (Tim: a statement that could probably apply to all museums for Kaitlyn :P).
After we escaped the museum, we headed to the Miramar Entertainment Park. This is a mall that is known for their large Ferris wheel on the roof, that has nice views of Taipei. Due to the weather, no one was on the Ferris wheel. Once we got to the mall, we went down to the food court for lunch. We were feeling a bit cold and wet – although it was 15 degrees, it didn’t feel like it when it was damp. We did a quick loop around the food court and all decided on Pepper Lunch (a Japanese casual/fast food place). I knew we could get this in Richmond, but we hadn’t tried it yet. We shared two lunch specials between the four of us, which each came with an appetizer and a drink.
The mall food courts in Taipei are all really good – great food selections, clean and ideal for eating with children. They have very clean high chairs to sit on and cleaning stations for people to wash their hands right in the middle of the food court. Since Nate is here, we’re eating more in food courts because it’s easier than what we have been used to. It’s nice and comfortable compared to eating on the street.
We walked around the mall and went to Muji and Uniqlo to look around. My sister and Noel bought a couple of items from Uniqlo. I notice that their prices are a bit more expensive than what they are in New York and in Hong Kong. There was also a Carrefour (French grocery store) across the street from Miramar, so we went to check it out. Our Grandma (Paw Paw) really likes the cookies my sister brought back for her from Paris’ Carrefour so we went to see if we could find them. Unfortunately, there didn’t have much Carrefour branded items so we couldn’t find the French cookies she wanted. (Ah zut!)
The rain continued to come down so we decided to go back to the apartment for the day- it was about 3pm. Nate was in and out of napping, poor guy, his days and nights are mixed up. Once we got back he was pretty happy playing around with the bubble tea cups – he likes to play with the straw and poke holes in the top of the thin plastic lids. Nate went down for a nap and then eventually so did everyone else (including me) except for Tim. I feel like since my sister has been here, I’ve reverted to having jet lag again. Nate and I woke up from our naps around 7:30pm – except Nate eventually went back to sleep and has been sleeping since (it’s midnight right now). Noel fell asleep and has been sleeping since as well.
My sister, Tim and I went for dinner without them, hot pot as originally planned. We went to the same place we’ve been twice before. Tim and I now have a stamp card (10 meals and one is free). My sister enjoyed her first individual shabu shabu experience and had some much needed vegetables. We picked up some soup noodles from a popular food stall down the street for Noel – but he hasn’t woken up to eat it so we put it in the fridge.
Once we came back to the apartment, we started to watch the finale of the Bachelor (3 hour finale). Warning! Spoiler alert!
My sister hadn’t watched any of the season so she was rolling her eyes the whole time (and same with Tim). I knew he would pick Lauren B, but I liked Jo Jo more. We were joking around that out of the final three girls, he got rid of the ethnic ones (half Persian and half Filipino) and picked the blonde girl (typical).
Now everyone is sound asleep and Tim is watching the Walking Dead. Apparently my typing is too distracting, so he went into the bedroom to watch it while I type away outside in the living room.
Tomorrow it’s supposed to be mainly cloudy so hopefully it will be a better day!