Author: chuck

8 Random Impressions of Siem Reap

Lucky Supermarket in Siem Reap

Lucky Supermarket in Siem Reap

When I arranged to housesit in Siem Reap, I had little idea of what to expect. Over the past month, however, I’ve familiarized myself a bit with this western Cambodian town. Here are some notes and observations.

  1. Mix of dollars and riel
    Although the Cambodian riel is the official currency, the U.S. dollar is widely used and accepted. Only U.S. bills are used, not coins. Anything below $1 is calculated in riel, with an exchange rate of around 1 U.S. dollar to 4,000 Cambodian riel.
  2. Lack of street signs
    Streets and addresses are often not marked. Google Maps works fine here but the lack of signs can make it difficult to locate some streets and buildings.
  3. Concentration of useful stores
    Siem Reap is a pretty compact city, at least the central part of town that I’m familiar with. Because of the amount of tourists that come through the city, there are stores that supply just about anything a Westerner would want or need.
  4. It’s cheap
    Like other countries in Southeast Asia, the cost of living here is generally low. You can rent a serviced studio apartment for as little $250 per month and you can buy a coconut for fifty cents.
  5. It’s hot
    April is the hottest month of the year with high temperatures usually in the 90’s Farhenheit, sometimes reaching triple digits. When I first got to Siem Reap, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the heat. But after about a week I adjusted to the climate and now it feels “normal”.
  6. It’s dusty
    There is often dirt in the air, which makes many people cover their mouths or wear masks.
  7. Plenty of geckos
    You can spot these little brown creatures on walls around the city.
  8. Techno music
    European-style dance music seems to be the popular choice of music here and can be heard in stores and on the streets.

55 Days of Coffee in Hanoi and Siem Reap

Gloria Jean's Coffees in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Gloria Jean’s Coffees in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ever since the beginning of March, I’ve been recording certain details whenever I visit a coffee shop. Specifically, I make note of these things:

  • Date
  • Time rounded to nearest half hour
  • Name of coffee shop
  • Geocoordinates
  • My drink
  • Price of drink
  • WiFi download speed
  • WiFi upload speed
  • Speedtest results

Below is the data I’ve gathered over the last 55 days and provides a snapshot into my coffee shop migration patterns.

A few of the speed measurements around the middle of March seem inaccurate due to issues I had with the tool. (I’m not sure if it was my computer or the website that had the issue.)

3/114:30Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND7.415.83
3/219:30Oriberry CoffeeAmericano28000 VND0.951.94
3/220:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee35000 VND49.9224.77
3/222:00Cong CapheYogurt coffee40000 VND36.9328.98
3/311:30Highlands CoffeeAmericano54000 VND7.459.65
3/313:30Cong CapheTea by the pot30000 VND50.4734.89
3/317:00Highlands CoffeeVietnamese black coffee29000 VND5.673.43
3/321:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee smoothie45000 VND32.3134.35
3/412:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee35000 VND11.884.41
3/414:30Highlands CoffeeVietnamese black coffee29000 VND6.113.78
3/422:00Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND9.149.72
3/511:00Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND4.948.89
3/514:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee35000 VND27.7615.07
3/517:30Oriberry CoffeeShort black28000 VND3.490.75
3/614:00Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND7.999.79
3/616:30Oriberry CoffeeEspresso28000 VND8.31.76
3/714:00Oriberry CoffeeCappuccino45000 VND4.543.6
3/718:30Cong CapheCoconut coffee35000 VND31.425.84
3/719:00Oriberry CoffeeVietnamese black coffee28000 VND1.930.38
3/810:00Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND9.151.63
3/811:30i-Feel CoffeeVietnamese black coffee35000 VND22.515.95
3/914:00Oriberry CoffeeAmericano28000 VND1.680.71
3/918:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee smoothie45000 VND13.296.26
3/919:00Cong CapheCoffee with fresh milk35000 VND28.7225.75
3/920:30Cong CapheTea by the pot30000 VND32.9834.72
3/1013:00Trung Nguyen CoffeeMother Land coffee50000 VND9.568.3
3/1014:30Trung Nguyen CoffeeL'Amour coffee50000 VND8.758.05
3/1015:30StarbucksCoffee of the day50000 VND43.3335.71
3/1017:30StarbucksCoffee of the day50000 VND22.8718.81
3/1020:00StarbucksCoffee of the day50000 VND44.3747.86
3/1111:00Oriberry CoffeeAmericano28000 VND0.765.59
3/1113:00Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND2.152.1
3/1213:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee35000 VND2.484.05
3/1313:30Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND0.640.05
3/1319:00Oriberry CoffeeAmericano28000 VND6.651.38
3/1320:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee smoothie45000 VND49.2434.78
3/1419:30JomaAmericano30000 VND34.10.99
3/1615:30Highlands CoffeeVietnamese black coffee29000 VND3.150.4
3/1714:30StarbucksCoffee of the day50000 VND9.146.18
3/1716:30StarbucksCoffee of the day50000 VND14.279.59
3/188:00StarbucksCoffee of the day50000 VND0.290.08
3/1812:00StarbucksAmericano55000 VND278.157.1
3/1912:00Cong CapheCoconut coffee smoothie45000 VND12.824.11
3/1919:30Cong CapheCoconut coffee smoothie45000 VND0.980.44
3/2014:30Highlands CoffeeAmericano44000 VND3.127.44
3/2017:30Cong CaphePassion fruit yogurt smoothie50000 VND347.361.88
3/2220:00Cong CapheSoda water30000 VND0.2422.1
3/2913:30StarbucksAmericano55000 VND3.077.99
3/2914:00StarbucksCoffee of the day50000 VND9.510.35
3/3012:00Oriberry CoffeeBrewed coffee50000 VND1.120.04
3/3013:00Highlands CoffeeAmericano54000 VND3.179.21
4/215:00Costa CoffeeAmericano3.3 USD2.033.41
4/315:00Common GroundsCoffee1.25 USD3.142.98
4/611:30The 1961 Coworking and Art SpaceBrewed coffee2 USD8.6212.4
4/711:30Gloria Jean's CoffeesAmericano2.85 USD4.8422.7
4/911:30Gloria Jean's CoffeesAmericano2.3 USD4.821.16
4/913:30Gloria Jean's CoffeesCaffè Latte2.55 USD3.9719.9
4/914:00Gloria Jean's CoffeesCrème Brûlée Chiller3.45 USD4.4621.82
4/920:00Gloria Jean's CoffeesCookies 'n Cream Chiller3.25 USD9.7318.27
4/1011:00The 1961 Coworking and Art SpaceBrewed coffee2 USD7.610.67
4/1111:00Gloria Jean's CoffeesCoffee of the day2.85 USD9.6924.12
4/1319:00Gloria Jean's CoffeesSalted Caramel Matcha Chiller3 USD9.1611.82
4/1414:30Gloria Jean's CoffeesAmericano3.1 USD3.889.63
4/1515:00Jean's CaféAmericano2.25 USD3.363.1
4/1516:30Gloria Jean's CoffeesCoffee of the day2.3 USD4.8122.79
4/2019:00Gloria Jean's CoffeesMint Chocolate Bomb Chiller3.35 USD7.1915.82
4/2313:30Gloria Jean's CoffeesVoltage Chiller3.25 USD3.2220.2
4/2318:00Gloria Jean's CoffeesVery Vanilla Chiller3.25 USD9.6724.06
4/2411:30Gloria Jean's CoffeesAmericano2.85 USD4.3122.4
4/2413:30The GlasshouseCoffee3.5 USD4.884.76

Settling in Siem Reap

My tuk tuk chauffeur welcomes me to Cambodia

My tuk tuk chauffeur welcomes me to Cambodia

Another month, another country. Although it is well into the month of April, at the beginning of the month I moved to Cambodia. I am staying in the city of Siem Reap, which was recently voted the world’s second best travel destination of 2015 and #1 in Asia by TripAdvisor. (Incidentally, Hanoi was ranked fourth overall and second in Asia.) Siem Reap is best known for its close proximity to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

I came here by way of a house-sitting opportunity that I found on the site Trusted Housesitters. I am currently housesitting for an Australian couple until the middle of May. They are travel writers and were very helpful in arranging my arrival and stay. For example, they had their tuk tuk driver Sothea pick me up at the airport and gave lots of tips about the city when I met them the night before they left. I am looking after Pepper as well, who is an affectionate year-old black cat.

Siem Reap has been a nice change of pace from Hanoi. It’s pretty relaxed here and the city has everything you need to live comfortably – good grocery stores, coffee shops, and even two co-working spaces. (I am writing this from “The 1961“)

It took me about a week or so to feel settled in to Siem Reap. For me, “settling in” involved:

  • renting a bike
  • going to different coffee shops to find the best one
  • finding a gym
  • finding a good grocery store and buying some groceries
  • doing some odd errands
  • exploring the city by bike

Overall, the transition from Hanoi was pretty smooth and Cambodia is treating me well!

A Trip to Northern Vietnam

On the northern frontier

In the northern Vietnamese hinterlands

A couple weeks ago I took a motorbike trip through Hà Giang province in northern Vietnam. It is considered one of the most beautiful parts of Vietnam with its rugged, mountainous terrain and breathtaking views. It is also one of the least explored areas of the country, having been largely inaccessible due to a lack of reliable roads until recently.

The weather was mostly overcast and included some light rain with temperatures in the 60’s Fahrenheit. There were some warmer spots, but the sun was hidden the majority of the time. The views were constantly amazing and it was really neat to see all the ethnic Hmong people in their brightly colored outfits along the mountains. They continue to live a very traditional lifestyle of subsistence agriculture.

Below are a few unedited videos I took from the trip. The other person in some of the videos is Gita, my (former) housemate from Canada.

Driving in Hanoi, Part 2

Morning commute in Hanoi

Morning commute in Hanoi

I had heard about the crazy traffic in Hanoi before coming here. But experiencing it first hand gives you a better appreciation for it.

What’s interesting is how orderly everything seems beneath the chaotic surface. Drivers here don’t follow “formal” standards like obeying traffic lights and stop signs, driving on the right side of the road, etc. But people are actually pretty cautious if a different way.

There is a lot of honking, which serves as a helpful warning that drivers are passing or just letting you know that they are there. Cars seem to honk the most because they take up the most room on the road and therefore need to alert people of their presence.

There also appears to be no road rage whatsoever, which is strange considering how everybody cuts each other off all the time. I guess since everyone does it nobody takes offense. As far as I can tell, honking is rarely intended as malicious or aggressive. Driving here is generally less anti-social than in the U.S. where everybody jealously guards “their” territory on the road and is quick to get upset about “those other idiot drivers”. Driving in the U.S. (or driving cars in general) can be a stressful and isolating experience.

In contrast, driving in Hanoi can actually be fun and exciting. It can also be stressful and tiring as well, but more in terms of having to be constantly on alert. Driving during rush hour and in crowded areas like the Old Quarter is also much more demanding physically and mentally with the amount of other bikes, motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians. Since I live in the “suburbs” of Tay Ho I don’t experience this heavy traffic very often.

A factor that makes driving in the city less dangerous is that the speeds are generally quite low. My motorbike, for example, tops out at 30 mph, but most of the time I am travelling at a much lower speed. Most people wear helmets here. I would estimate around 80% or so, although some helmets are so thin I doubt they would help much in a serious crash.

Overall, driving in Hanoi is a unique experience that makes you appreciate the city!