Day 57 | Catching the sunrise at Angkor Wat then off to Saigon

For our last morning in Cambodia, we biked to Angkor Wat in total darkness to capture the iconic sunrise over its central towers. Back at the hotel, we lingered over a long breakfast and relaxed in our room until it was ready to fly to Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City to be politically correct) where we met up with our friend Luc visiting from Hong Kong.

Reluctantly, we rolled out of bed at 4 am, picked up our bikes from the hotel’s parking area and sped through Siem Reap for the dark and quiet 8 km ride to the west entrance of Angkor Wat.

When we finally got there, we were disappointed that it was already light outside.

Although the road was pretty much flat and the temperature invitingly cool, my short legs could not pedal fast enough. When it comes to two things biking and eating, I am always the bottleneck in this couple.

We speed-walked through the bridge over the moat to the best photo spot, just over the reflecting pool on the left side of the Angkor Wat entrance. We held the camera up high over the crowd in order to get this silhouetted shot.

Angkor Wat sunrise

Now, for the behind-the-scenes photo of what went into getting the above shot. We had to gently nudge our way through at least three rows of other tourists who waited here longer than we did in order to take serene unobstructed photos of Angkor Wat.

Crowds at sunrise

The right reflecting pool has less people taking photos since there is less water, the water looks dirtier and the sun rises off-center.

Sunrise part 2

We took the opportunity for a photo with both of us.

Mimo at Angkor

Other than humans, savvy monkeys descend down to this area in droves to get their free morning meals. Some monkeys crawl into trash cans, even opening them from the bottom to scavenge for food.

Monkey eating garbage

Other monkeys are more daring. Many tourists grab a packed breakfast from their hotels before coming to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. These shameless monkeys snatch tourists’ breakfasts straight out of their hands. And don’t even try to take your breakfast back. In this video, the girl with the scarf standing in the back had her food stolen soon after. She tried to grab the styrofoam container back and in retaliation the monkey ripped her beautiful scarf in two. It could definitely have been worse.

This monkey basking in the glory of his edible conquest.

Monkeys and temples

By 7 am, we left Angkor Wat and biked back to our hotel where we had our last breakfast at the Sarai.

Latte at Sarai

We went back to our comfy room to make reservations for our Saigon hotel and caught up on yolomimo blog work. Then it was time to check out and ride a tuk tuk to the Siem Reap International Airport, which is less than 10 km away. On the highway, my straw hat blew right off my head onto the street. We told the driver to stop and I dashed 50 m behind to grab the hat. I had déjà vu from the last time we took a tuk tuk to the airport in Chiang Mai, where my hat also blew straight off my head.

When we got to the airport to check in to our flight to Saigon, we had to present our passports. As an American citizen, I had to get a 90-day Vietnam visa in advance (at the sky high price of $160 in New York). Maurice, as a French citizen, did not need a visa but his stay was limited to 15 days. My paperwork checked out however the lady at the check in desk demanded to see proof of our departure flight. We did not book our departure flight. So on the spot using my phone’s 3G internet, I had to navigate AirAsia’s slow and nonintuitive mobile website to book a flight from Hanoi to Bangkok. The whole time we stressed that we would miss our flight. Finally getting through the mobile payment portal, my reservation was made but my credit card payment did not go through.

I showed the check in attendant my phone screen which showed the flight reservation details marked in huge letters NEEDS PAYMENT. She said this was acceptable but first we would have to go to Cambodia Angkor Air’s office and print out a copy of this. We both ran outside the terminal, through the airport’s airline offices to find the door leading to Cambodia Angkor Air. The two ladies working in the office looked extremely unenthused as they directed us to a vacant computer. We hurried to log into Gmail, “Please update your Google Chrome browser to the latest version.” Are you serious? I switched to Internet Explorer, “Gmail is not supported on this version of Internet Explorer.” Grrr! I went to the AirAsia website directly and typed in my booking number. I immediately printed out the confirmation still saying NEEDS PAYMENT. I tinkered with the payment portal to see if I could enter in my payment details again, as expected, it did not work.

One of the office ladies handed us the printout and told us “What are you doing? You’re going to miss your flight.” We grabbed the copy and ran out of there, she was probably right. We ran back to the departure area and handed the paper over, finally we were given our boarding passes and our luggage was checked in. We went through immigration and security and ran to our gate, it was completely empty of people. We ran to the desk at the gate, turns out our gate was moved. We ran to the new gate, huffing and puffing. The attendant told us boarding had not begun yet and told us to take a seat. Ok it wasn’t so bad after all.

Here’s the plane we finally boarded.

Boarding plane to Saigon

And the takeoff video.

Of course, the landing video in Saigon, which is marked by the endless sprawl of white buildings.

We took a taxi from Saigon airport to our hotel the Park Hyatt Saigon. Taxis in the queue refuse to use the meter and quote prices up to 300,000 VND ($14), we shopped around the private taxi services and chose the cheapest option 200,000 ($9) which is still more expensive than using the meter.

As expected the Park Hyatt Saigon was extremely luxurious. Room rates start at $360/night, we used our Chase points converted into Hyatt points to pay for the upscale accommodations. Here’s our walkthrough of the most expensive room of our trip.

We were even welcomed with pitaya, which we’ve acquired a taste for in Southeast Asia.

Pitaya in Saigon

We then explored the area in Saigon from late afternoon till past sunset. Our hotel is close to this large walking street. Now this is a real, modern city. More developed than either Phnom Penh or Vientiane. Perhaps comparable to Bangkok, but smaller.

Saigon walking street

The Ho Chi Minh City Hall building at dusk.

City Hall building

The opera house near our hotel.

Opera house

We later met up with our friend Luc who lives in Hong Kong. He traveled down to Saigon for a five day vacation. We went to an upscale vegetarian restaurant called Hum.

Hum Vegetarian Restaurant

The boys are back together.

Luc and Maurice

We shared dishes from their overwhelming menu of creative vegetarian food.

Mushrooms in a coconut shell

We picked up some dessert at Mochi Sweets, then headed to a rooftop bar called Broma Not A Bar. We ordered cocktails and enjoyed the view of this splashy building with its continuous light show. Only in Asia will we find such excessive light displays, in the US this would be considered tacky. Here it fits in well with the pulsing energy of the city.

We both enjoy urban travel partly because you see how real people live. Here it’s not about the Western restaurants, tour agencies and other services catering to tourists in Siem Reap, but a real glimpse of Saigon families and friends skateboarding, picnicking and strolling on Nguyen Hue walking street. We found it to be surprisingly busy on a Sunday night.

Nguyen Hue walking street

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