Photo: Fisherman returning to Ko Tarutao.

Trip reports forum

Trip Report, Nov 09'

Posted by donmillerx on 7/12/2009 at 14:52

Hey there... Just returned from my first solo trip through S.E.A. and wanted to share a few experiences. Please note, this is only one persons' opinion, it does not necessarily reflect the views of others.
It's difficult to sum up a month long journey in only a couple of paragraphs but I'll do my best.

The journey started as most do, in Bangkok…
I personally, couldn't wait to get out of there. Just sensory overload, I guess.
I spent two nights at the Lamphu Tree House… Overpriced. 7/10 $43USD

Travelled into Cambodia by bus. Pretty straight forward but a little nerve wracking. Everything you're warned of at this border is true. If you'd like more details on this please feel free to ask.
Stayed one night at the Mandalay Inn… Not impressed. 5/10 $16USD
Stayed for one week at Terrasse des Elephants… Absolutely incredible. 10/10 $33USD
Had an amazing time in Siem Reap. Loved it here.

Took the boat down to Phnom Penh. Good experience but long.
Stayed at the City Centre Hotel… Business like. 8/10 $33USD
Big city, had some great experiences.

Took a bus into Vietnam. Easy.
Stayed at the AnAn Hotel in Saigon… Big rooms. 7/10 $35USD
Very cool place, barely scratched the surface.

Flew back to Bangkok.
Liked it a lot more the 2nd time around.
Stayed at the Siamese Views Lodge… Warm and friendly. 8/10 $35USD

Flew to Krabi and took ferry to Ko Phi Phi.
Stayed at the PP Insula Hotel… Decent but expensive. 8/10 $42USD
Beach by day, European rave by night.
Good time, crazy party.

Ferry to Phuket, flight back to BKK and home.
It's like culture shock coming back.

That's the short of it…
I would love to share some more about my amazing adventures like visiting the Angkor Temples and the Killing Fields etc. If you'd like anymore details, please let me know.

At least one person here on this site has tried to convince new travelers to Southeast Asia to shorten their itineraries and not attempt to see too much at once…
as tempting as it may be, I wish I would've taken it a little slower and was able to experience more of the culture instead of trying to fit so much in. Heed their advice, you'll get more out of your holiday than a few more stamps on your passport.

In my opinion, the food was best in Vietnam, the beaches were most beautiful in Thailand, the people were amazing everywhere but Cambodia was definitely my favorite.

In my month long journey through S.E.A.,
I never got sick, never got ripped off and never felt unsafe anywhere. It changed my life. Best thing I've ever done.
Good luck to everyone on their travels.


#1 donmillerx has been a member since 26/8/2009. Posts: 17

Posted by somtam2000 on 10/12/2009 at 11:00 admin

Great report -- and more details always welcome!

One question tho -- Mandalay Inn in Siem Reap, what happened with that one? Just not up to scratch?

#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,933
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Posted by swag on 11/12/2009 at 07:30

Thanks for the report great to hear you really enjoyed yourself

#3 swag has been a member since 28/3/2007. Location: Australia. Posts: 331
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Posted by TLH41 on 17/12/2009 at 23:51

Would love some more feedback on the Terrasse des Elephants hotel...looking at staying there in January and wondered what, if anything, is wrong with the place? Seems every hotel/guesthouse in Siem Reap has something great to offer, but the catch is there is always a downside - bad location, no pool, high price, boring atmosphere, bad plumbing...something always comes up in a review that makes you not want to stay anywhere! (Of course, there is always one person who will complain about everything.)

What type of room did you have, how was the staff, did you use their recommended services, was it noisy, etc etc...anything at all you can share would be very welcome!

Also curious to know why they might have resorted to a very poorly photoshopped photo on their home page, did they just want to erase the street traffic, or is there some other reason they would do that? (Check it out, the street in the front of the hotel has all been greyed out in the main page image: ) Are there just big potholes in the road they don't want me to see? What gives? I'm not looking for streets paved with gold :-)

Anyway, thanks in advance as this place looks pretty interesting, but I like to have more user reviews before booking a place so far away! How did you get such a great rate? The web says at least $50 /night, which still seems reasonable. Was that a weekly rate, or did you negotiate?

Thank you!!
(preparing for first trip to SE Asia)

#4 TLH41 has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by MADMAC on 18/12/2009 at 09:51

Would love to hear the details of the problems at the Cambodian border.

Great you had a good time. Interesting you liked the Vietnamese food the most - I can't stomach it. But again, different strokes for different folks.

#5 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by krisited on 18/12/2009 at 14:18

very nice experience..good to hear you never got sick and you always feel safe..i think those are some of the issues in Asia -- health and safety. I wonder how your visit in the killing fields went? Did scenes from the movie gave you creeps? :)

#6 krisited has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 25

Posted by shadek on 18/12/2009 at 15:57

I just purchased my ticket for a month and a half, and initially I had Vietnam in mind, but to be honest, as a female travelling sole for the fist time to Asia I'm quite considering the option. You mentioned the journey from PP was straight forward to HCM. Could you please help me out on that? I know I will have to apply for a Visa before getting there as well, but all of the info I find to get the pre-visa online seems to be of a 3rd part, qhich gets me suspicious.

#7 shadek has been a member since 30/11/2009. Posts: 37

Posted by donmillerx on 22/12/2009 at 12:23

Wow, didn't realize I'd have so many great responses to this post… sorry it took so long.

SOMTAM2000 -
My review of the Mandalay Inn might've been a little harsh. I must admit, I've grown accustomed to a certain comfort level. I've heard others really enjoyed it there but my particular room was quite dingy. I really don't think it had been cleaned since the last visit. It seemed as though one or more of the staff members might have been using it until I arrived. The bathrooms were obviously new and very nice.

Glad you found the report useful. Just happy I was lucky enough to visit these magical places. I will no doubt return one day… Cheers!

The Terrasse des Elephants hotel was, without a doubt, the nicest place I stayed in all of Southeast Asia. The location was great, one block from pub street. The rooftop, (saltwater) pool was incredible… complete with a beautiful, lush garden. No issues with the plumbing or the atmosphere. It was quiet. I think I was the only one staying there for the first few days.
I booked a standard room, (honestly, it was the size of a suite) with a giant, stone buddha fountain in the center. The fountain's pool below it (like a moat), had fresh lotus flowers on lilypads, (replaced daily) and two, separate stone bridges on either side, one leading to the toilet and the other leading to the sink and a gorgeous shower.
The bedroom area was again, huge… with a/c, a couch, desk, TV, fridge, and of course, a wonderful king-sized bed. The mosquito net was nice (I did have quite a few in my room the 1st night) but they sprayed daily. It also had a couple of large, nightstands and a very small balcony… my room on the 2nd floor didn't have much of a view.
The price was $99 for 3 nights and I just walked-in, without a reservation. When I booked 3 more, they dropped it to $30 a night without me asking. I would've paid $50, no question. The staff was amazing. I've already written them and really hope to keep in touch. If you do end up staying here, please take care of them, they're great people.
The streets surrounding the hotel are just dirt roads with large potholes everywhere. Not sure why they would resort to the poorly photoshopped pictures though, the streets aren't really that bad.
It is still a relatively new hotel and there are bound to be issues but I personally loved the place. I really think a room like this in the states would be upwards of $300+ a night. Although, the new bath towels did leave a bit of fuzz behind. ;)
I have a ton of photos inside and out, including the surrounding streets, pool, etc… if you're interested. I really can't say enough about this hotel. You will NOT regret it.
Good luck on your trip and PLEASE let me know if you'd like to see the photos.

The border crossing was pretty straight forward although it still took well over an hour. An official attempted to make everyone pay in excess of 1,500 baht and more for those without a photo. I gave him $20US and refused anymore. One man there said he paid $100US and was still fighting to get it back when I left. Against my better judgment I let another "official" direct me to a bus and sure enough, he followed… instead of heading to the transport depot, the bus pulled over a few miles down the road and dropped me off, where, on the side of the road, in the dark, I attempted to negotiate the cost of a taxi into siem reap. The "official" helped translate and we settled on $40US but not before he demanded a tip for his services. The taxi ride was about 2 1/2 hrs in the dark, and in silence. The stars looked incredible though. He dropped me off on the edge of town and I negotiated the cost of a ride on a motorbike to the Mandalay- $1US. It was an adventure, that's for sure.
I only tried a few vietnamese dishes but loved them all. No idea how to spell them but the pronunciation is a bit like:
Bun tee nung, gai tom cua, and of course everybody's favorite, pho. I really also liked the lok lak and amok fish dishes in Cambodia and all the street food in Thailand. If you've got anymore recommendations, let me know- I love it all.

Health and safety are obviously the biggest concerns while traveling anywhere but I really didn't haven't have any issues at all.
Visiting the Killing Fields was a sobering experience. I went to the Genocide Museum as well and I really think either one would have been sufficient. It was a horrific event and the details are pretty hard to stomach but I felt like it was something I had to do. I haven't seen the movie in years but definitely plan to again soon.

I think you will be surprised at how easy it is to get around, meet people and have a great time.
I was told the Visa would take 3 days and attempted to visit the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh but they are closed for a few hours every afternoon. I booked the bus ticket to Saigon with Mekong Express, $12 I think, and they took care of the visa for me… had it in 1 day. The bus is about 6 hrs, with a/c, bathroom, meals, a movie and a couple of short breaks… no need to transfer and the bus stop in Saigon is a block from a major "pub street" with lots of restaurants and lodging options.
Have a great time! Anymore questions, let me know!

Thanks again to everyone on this site.
Good luck on your travels. Let me know, if I can help in any way.

#8 donmillerx has been a member since 26/8/2009. Posts: 17

Posted by MADMAC on 22/12/2009 at 17:51

"Bun tee nung, gai tom cua, and of course everybody's favorite, pho. I really also liked the lok lak and amok fish dishes in Cambodia and all the street food in Thailand. If you've got anymore recommendations, let me know- I love it all."

I am not a fan of street food, but I do have a soft spot for Phad Thai. I also really like Gai Pad Met ma Muang. These are Thai dishes.

#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by TLH41 on 22/12/2009 at 22:37


Thanks SO much for addtl info! We had just made up our minds to stay at Le Tigre de Papier Residence instead of Terrasse des Elephants....and now your post makes me really want to see this place! Maybe we'll have to change plans after all. It sounds like a very unique experience. Do you know if it is Western owned or locally owned? I don't know that it makes a lot of difference, and have heard that Western owned hotels sometimes offer better pay to their local staff, but that locally owned means more money is staying in Cambodia...hard to know which is better, but it is something we were trying to consider in picking a place to stay.

I wouldn't mind seeing some photos of this water fountain/moat/bridge contraption you have described...I can't believe all of that is housed in a single hotel room and sounds fabulous! :-) And also of layout of the rooftop bar/pool area. Is there room there for a quiet chat or would you pretty well be required to interact with the rest of the guests - not that doing so would be bad, but I like to have some personal space too!

I guess there aren't any places to post photos on travelfish? If that is so, you could email some to me at thoffbauer ( at ) yahooo ( dot ) com if you wouldn't mind. (I love vacation photos!)

I would love to know of any great restaurants or shops you particularly liked in Siem Reap as well. Thanks again for your time and for sharing valuable information! Appreciate it!

#10 TLH41 has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by donmillerx on 24/12/2009 at 06:41


It's really my pleasure.
I really don't know anything about Le Tigre de Papier Residence although, I believe they offer cooking classes as well…it might very well be nicer. I think Terrasse de Elephants is locally owned however, it could be a Korean property. Many hotels and restaurants in Siem Reap are now Korean owned.
I think there is a ton of space for a quiet chat or romantic interlude on the rooftop and throughout the different levels of the hotel. The restaurant was lovely as well.
Pub street is of course lined with bars and restaurants and I think I tried almost all of them. The menus everywhere are huge and the prices are low. The Soup Dragon was a great spot for lunch but I guess it depends what you're in the mood for.
The alley parallel to pub street has a little more ambience and is also filled with great little eateries. Try the traditional khmer dish, Amok Fish, just about anywhere… coconut curry served in a banana leaf. The Red Piano served a good one and the Blue Pumpkin was a great place for desert… head upstairs for lounging on plush beds in air-conditioned comfort.
A few of the places transform into nightclubs later on in the evening. Again, not sure what you're looking for but The Warehouse was a cool, laid back ex-pat bar on the corner. Remember to take care of the staff anywhere you go, the locals work so hard and make so little.
I didn't do much shopping but you'll pass by the old market and tons of little shops every afternoon.
I emailed you a few photos of the hotel but they really don't do it justice. Even if you decide to stay elsewhere, stop in and see it for yourself.
Good luck. Let me know if I can be of any more help.

#11 donmillerx has been a member since 26/8/2009. Posts: 17

Posted by shadek on 28/12/2009 at 21:18


Thanks for your reply. I've been doing my homework, found out I can get the visa to Vietnam in PP in a day or 2 and I believe I will take the risk! Have met many people during my trips, most the time alone, and I just love it!

When you crossed the border from Thailand to Cambodia, did you do it all alone or there were many other Westerns doing the same journey? Perhaps I'm just being paraoid, but my husband is driving me insane with this trip, talking about safety all the time (he's not going with me, not the traveller type) and it's getting to me a bit. I've been to Morocco and to the Sahara desert on a tour for about 2 weeks, have backpacked Brazil almost South to North, but Asia is the big dream and I'm getting anxious by the day!

#12 shadek has been a member since 30/11/2009. Posts: 37

Posted by donmillerx on 29/12/2009 at 09:24

I don't think Asia is much different from any other part of the world as far as safety is concerned. Common sense, although not so common, is all you really need.

The bus was almost full of tourists entering into Cambodia… Mostly eastern europeans, some australians, a few from the UK, etc. You won't have to do it alone.
Just being a little outgoing and approaching others with a smile, goes a long way.

You'll be fine! Any more questions, I'll be more than happy to re-live my amazing experiences with you. ;)

I'm actually considering Brazil for my next adventure… would love to hear your thoughts!
I'm also currently dating someone that's "not-the-traveller-type", but i'm still convinced I can ease her into loving it. ;)

Feel free to contact me via email anytime... donmillerx (at) gmail (dot) com

#13 donmillerx has been a member since 26/8/2009. Posts: 17

Posted by TLH41 on 8/1/2010 at 11:06

Donnie, we are taking your advice and staying at the Terrasse, can't wait to get there...will report back after we return. Thanks for the help. Let me know if you have any messages for the hotel staff, they have been very nice so far via email.


#14 TLH41 has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by donmillerx on 11/2/2010 at 11:58

Good luck! Hope you really enjoy yourselves!

#15 donmillerx has been a member since 26/8/2009. Posts: 17

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