On The Road

After a year travelling in Asia Dave can't leave and is revisiting his favourite places. He sent through excellent updates on our website info from his recent visits to Burma and Cambodia.
We will attempt to incorporate his travel notes into the
'travel info' sections, in the meantime....please read on for the positively most up-to-date info you will find anywhere...

Itinerary: Burma/Myanmar - Cambodia-Penang, Mal-Sumatra,Indonesia - Jakarta, Jan 1999-Bangkok - London

Email #14 Nov 7,99, from UK

Pailin, Cambodia

In Battambang I was told by a local guest-house owner that it was possible to cross the Thai border at Pailin and this was all the encouragement I needed to visit the former Khmer Rouge stronghold, my visa long since expired & having already spoken to someone in Phnom Penh who had recently visited the town & had whet my appetite with his tales of tanks rumbling through the streets.
Thinking the journey would be an absolute breeze, a mere couple of hours on a reputedly good road, I arrived at the truck stop, just in time to squeeze into the last space, unfortunately right at the back of the truck amongst various sacks of goods, with half a dozen chickens below my seat and 2 pigs at my feet. We set out at noon under a merciless sun, I soon envied the squabbling chickens their shaded position, felt more in common with the 2 squealing pigs in their basket, trapped in the midday heat. My nearest neighbor was an hostile woman, who occasionally tugged at my flip-flops & frequently turning round to glare at me, as if I should be somehow levitating myself so as not to even touch her precious bags with my legs. I'd have been only to happy to oblige had the ability to hang suspended in mid-air been within my repertoire as this would have saved my butt from the frequent, sharp, thumping jolts it received as the back of the truck bounced along the pot-holed road, care of the 3 inch metal edge of the truck which had to suffice as my seat for the journey. I sought refuge from the sun wrapped in my red & white checked Kramar, hen-pecked in every sense of the expression, soon generously adorned with a thick fake tan on legs, arms & face provided by the clouds of sandstone thrown up by the back wheels of the truck.
Relief at our arrival was tempered by a downbeat first impression of Pailin  low-key, dusty town of shabby wooden huts & shops, French colonial architecture notable by it's absence, only the baguette had made it this far west. After a couple of revitalising ice-coffees I decided to go straight to the border. I secured a seat in a share-taxi for the short journey, passing on our way some dilapidated military vehicles, a rusting tank & a rocket-launcher battery, housed on the back of an old truck. The scenery was punctuated by several large tracts of recently devoured primary jungle, a stark reminder of the logging trade with Thailand, a once magnificent ancient forest, cut down in a few days, leaving hundreds of huge gnarled trunks, another fallen army decimated in the name of the Khmer Rouge.

At the border itself, I was warmly received by the Cambodian immigration officials, who allowed me to cross to speak with the Thais before stamping me out, but predicted little chance of success and so it proved. In this case it was simply a matter of couldn't rather than wouldn't, I had no Thai visa & the immigration officials had no means of issuing me one. I looked for a gleam in the eye behind the initial refusal, a sign that this was just sparring before striking a deal, but saw nothing.
My forlorn return was greeted with expectant, good-natured laughter back at the Cambodian side. I sat with them for a rest from the heat & learned how the personnel there were a mix of local ex Khmer Rouge & Cambodian Army soldiers drafted in from Phnom Penh. After declining an invitation to risk my luck further at the casino, I returned to Pailin to rest up for the night before the morning's run back to Battambang, from whence I came, accepting that if you fly by the seat of your pants, sometimes you get caught with your trousers down.

After a shower in my guesthouse, I went for a wander round town, soon joined by an accomplished English-speaker, a young Cambodian who had moved here from Phnom Penh. He preferred Pailin to the capital as it is friendlier & because there is much less corruption. We stumbled across four Western journalists, who enlivened & paid for dinner. The next morning, I arose early feeling refreshed, my opinion of Pailin reflecting my improved state of body & mind. I set out for the Wat at the entrance to Pailin from which you get an excellent view of the surrounding Cardamom Mountain range.

It is easy to understand why the government failed for so long to prise Pailin from the grip of the Khmer Rouge. The mountains form a horseshoe around Pailin, protective cupped hands shielding the town from attack from all but one direction. If you wish to seize Pailin, you first must knock on the front door. Annually, each dry season would herald the start of the Cambodian Army offensive, stoutly repelled until the rains came, year after year, by the more motivated Khmer Rouge military. Eventually, the government troops did succeed in taking the town. The KR responded by splitting into small guerilla forces which sought refuge in the familiarity of the surrounding caves & mountains within 1 month they had re-asserted control, driving the Cambodian Army out. Finally in 1996, Pailin's commander, Ieng Sary, Brother No.2 in the 1975-79 infamous KR regime, agreed a deal with Hun Sen's government ,in which he and his considerable forces defected to the government in return for a total amnesty.

Pailin is now labelled a semi-autonomous town, still under Ieng Sary's control. Current international pressure for a war crimes tribunal may put a strain on this agreement & jeopardise Pailin & even Cambodia's future. Should an international tribunal insist Hun Sen's government bring Pailin's notorious residents Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea & Khieu Samphan before them, the response of these former KR leaders & their loyal following is critical. The gem & logging trades, which previously have provided the KR in Pailin with the necessary financial muscle to wage lengthy military campaigns, are reputed to be dwindling resources, the willingness for confrontation of the battle-weary former KR personnel maybe likewise. However, Cambodia's seemingly brighter future is still clouded with doubts.

Practical Information

Many GH, cost 8,000 - 10,000 riel. Basic rooms with fan, net, share toilet, mandi style bucket shower.

The Wat at the entrance to Pailin, built by King Sihanouk, gives excellent views of the surrounding mountains. Pailin has its own casino, (there is another directly at the border) & open-air cinema!!
There is reportedly a large waterfall approx. 1 hour moto drive from Pailin.
Local guide recommended for trips around Pailin due to presence of land-mines. Don't stray from those paths.

Pailin has a single bank on the road into town. Shut during research, assume they follow national policy. Due to its proximity to Thailand, the Thai baht is widely accepted in Pailin. The rate to the riel is 1 baht:100 riel
Canadia Bank
Mon - Fri 8.00 - 3.30, Sat 8.00 - 11.00, closed Sun
No credit card cash advance. T/C 2%, min $2.
Accept many major currencies but at prohibitive exchange rates

In addition to the many local food stalls, there is a good Chinese restaurant next to the bank.

Trucks from/to Battambang take 2 hours to cover 80km on a variable road. Cost in the back is 4000-5000 riel. A seat inside costs 10,000 riel. Trucks leave Pailin from the Central Market area & from Battambang leave from a small market west side of town.

Email #13 June 12,99, Bangkok, Thailand
Last email from On The Road
Penang - Recommendations

In Penang, a couple of excellent places definitely worthy of a mention. Wan Hai Hotel, Love Lane, which differs from the Chulia St accom in that it is cheaper, friendlier & the staff far more helpful. Good dorms 8Ringgit. They recommended me Kapitan Restaurant #49 Chulia St, which was superb, you'll kick yourself if you don't sample the tandoori chicken.
Now In Bangkok, soon to be ushered back to the UK by Air Bangladesh (Bangkok -> London 8800 Baht/ $240), with the added bonus of a couple of hours to go see Dhaka. Air Bangladesh offer some great stopover flights from Bangkok to cities such as Yangon & Calcutta where you can stay for up to 1 month (Burma visa) & 6 months (Indian Visa) before catching your next flight back to Europe. Prices are very competitive.
Health Issues: Lastly, if you have any health concerns, Bangkok's hospitals will take a blood sample & can test for malaria, dengue fever, flu virus, HIV. Cost is
approx. 250 Baht/ per test

Email #12 June 6,99, Penang, Malaysia

Elections in Indonesia
Now back in Penang, Malaysia having left Sumatra, Indonesia today one day before the elections. Until now only a few isolated incidents of trouble from political rivalry, excellent to see the campaigns, a real carnival atmosphere. After the elections, do keep a close eye on events before deciding to go to Indonesia, currently no problem whatsoever for tourists & still very cheap & very cheerful!
Sumatra - highlights/recommendations
If Java offers a wealth of cultural opportunities with it's temples,palaces, museums & art, Sumatra's attraction is simply it's own natural beauty. Sumatra's people are also a little more gentle than hustle-bustle Java with the notable exception of Medan, Sumatra's main city which is a real madhouse!
Transport between Java/Sumatra
Do yourself a favour & get a Pelni boat to travel between Java & Sumatra. Boats travel regularly from Jakarta to both Medan & Padang. I have yet to meet anyone who had a good word to say about the busride from Jakarta to Sumatra. We're talking 50 hours plus here!!! The Pelni ship is a breeze, economy class is fine other than the food,a small bribe will secure good 2nd class meals.
Lake Maninjau
After arriving back in Padang I spent one week at Lake Maninjau, near Bukkittingi which is itself worth a visit, a town with a good market set in an area of great beauty. The bus-ride between the two towns is excellent. Maninjau is like Toba maybe was 5 years ago, fewer tourists, less developed, reputedly a hang-out for philosophers & poets!!
My own favourite province is Aceh. Pulau Weh offers excellent coral for snorkelling & diving, with a great day out dolphin watching, snorkelling & huge fish barbie for 40,000 Rupiah. A beautiful lush very green island!
Accommodation: A good place to stay just outside Banda Aceh is Aceh Bungalows, Lampuuk, particularly suitable if you want to spoil yourself with good food in relaxing, comfortable surroundings after too many long journeys. The west coast of Aceh is fabulous, stunning scenery all the way down. Another superb place to stay is Hassan's, Kualadoh near Calang ,beach bungalows run by an Indonesian family, Hassan is a truly genial host, freshly baked bread, family food & the odd magic trick in the evening!
West Coast/Pulau Banyak
Off the West Coast are Pulau Banyak(many islands), 99 in all!! Occassional fishing boats go from Sibolga & Tapaktuan. Take your chances & barter, but the best bet is to get to Singkil.
Transport: Direct transport on offer, as a daily bus runs to Singkil from Banda Aceh (30,000, 20 hrs) down the west coast & a minibus goes from Medan (25,000, 8 hrs). The roads are now much improved,but still quite arduous. From Singkil public boats run to & from Pulau Balai 3 times a week (currently Wed, Sat, Sun, the return boat goes Tue Thur,Fri). The price is 10,000 Rupiah for the 3 hour run, next morning another 2 hour journey in an outboard gets you to bungalows on Pulau Palembak.
The island is very basic,just noodle & rice meals so buy fruit, fishing gear etc from Singkil. Essentials are your own snorkelling gear, suntan lotion, also a hammock, & a good large book.
A 3 hour walk gets you round the beautiful island, coconut palms, deserted white sand beaches. Much of the coral is dead but still supports lots of fish life.From the Point (bungalows) snorkel out straight where there is a drop-off. Keep coral bays on your left with 'the blue' to your right for an excellent variety & proliferation of
fish-life. I've seen a large barracuda & rays but nothing too scary!!
Warning..natural paradise means natural inhabitants, so don't keep food in your rooms (rats) & beware mosquitos, malarial outbreaks do occur, so please, the usual precautions!!

Pulau Banyak has a foundation funding conservation & social development programmes. Main office is on P.Balai, others at Singkil, Tapaktuan & Banda Aceh. Excellent for info. They run a turtle trip to faraway P.Bangkaru, where turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. You can also see the young turtles start their hazardous lives as they struggle the opposite direction to Mum. The coral here is reportedly much better. An all-in 3 day/2 night trip is 200,000 Rupiah ($25) per person.

Lastly in Aceh, there is Gunung Leuser National Park, home to Orang Utan & the few remaining Sumatran tiger. Reportedly much better trekking than Bukit Lawang, since less touristed.
So come & enjoy the greenery in Aceh!!

Email #11 April 29,99, Yogyakarta,Indonesia
First a quick word for about travelling Indo. The Indonesians are amongst the friendliest people you will meet in Asia, noisy, happy-go-lucky, always laughing. As in India, sometimes you feel the lack of personal space gets over-intrusive, but I find my attitude towards people usually reflects my own mood, normally I love the interaction,if I'm tired or stressed it can piss me off!! The language is great, probably the easiest to pick up in SE Asia, grammar like Tarzan-speak.
Weather has generally been hot,gets very hot in cities, but more rain around this year (La Nina??), particularly later in the day.
Boat trip Sumatra-Jakarta Now in Java after having done the Pelni boat, 30 hours from Padang to Jakarta. Horror stories about economy class & food exaggerated, you can take a mattress & sleep anywhere, OK the food is not exactly haute cuisine, basic rice, fish & veg, but edible & I've had much worse.
Still good idea to bring your own fruit & munchies for variety. Past Krakatoa at 5am, sound asleep, the reverse journey passes in the daytime.
First thing to say is SAFE, no bad atmosphere, Indonesians very friendly as ever. There is a military presence around Merdeka Sq.loads of army just hangin'around in hammocks, nothing happening. Saw a political rally ahead of June 7th election, atmosphere was excellent, very relaxed, like a carnival.
Buses full of buskers, always good to have some change on you, wide variety of ability, some excellent, some painful, all just trying to scrape some money together. Sight recommendations
Definitely recommend visiting the working dock in Kota, wooden ships sail from Kalimantan/Sumatra to Jakarta with travel option if you have a hammock, a sound stomach & faith in your crew!!
Taman Mini Indonesia worth a full day,
nice flavour of all the different Indo cultures..I want to go see Irian Jaya just on the back of what I saw there!!
Rahunan Zoo quite good, sometimes feels like you're a walking exhibit too though (Hallo Mister x 50!!)
Next Bogor, perfect antidote to Jakarta, tasted first fresh air for a week...yum!! Botanical gardens good, but again difficult to find a quiet spot, suggest go early before skool's out. Weather also better
in the morning.
Lots of possible day-trips from here, I went to Taman Mini Safari, midweek really quiet, excellent safari & modern zoo. Animals look really at home, why even the Komodo Dragons were active,not like stuffed exhibits as they usually are.
Now in Bandung, next reports will cover Pandangdaran, Yogya,Solo...please send request for specific info

Email #10 April 9, 99, Sumatra, Indonesia

Just bought my ekonomi ticket to Jakarta from Padang, 73,000 rupiah ie 9US$, really looking forward to the journey. Off tomorrow morning.

Arrived in Medan, Sumatra today (7-4-99). First thing to say is that this part of Indonesia at least is as relaxed as madhouse Medan ever gets, very very friendly, high fives with schoolkids the order of the day!!
Cost: Single/90RM, Return/160RM US$1=3.75RM

Entry into Indonesia
One word of warning about entering Indonesia here. This time, they seem to be asking tourists for return tickets, onward travel etc. Technically, you should have an onward ticket as proof that you are exiting Indonesia, however land crossings are a good way of avoiding this (last Nov I wasn't even asked doing this same crossing).
Questions now are...How long are you staying? (answer short, e.g. 1 month, you still get a 60 day stamp)
Where are you going?? (keep it simple... within Sumatra..I mentioned Jakarta & immediately was asked for proof of return ticket)
How much money do you have?? (best to answer reasonably high..I said 400$ US).
I got through no problems, even eventually admitting having no return ticket. Thought a bribe might be asked for, but it wasn't.

Currently US$1:8500 Rupiah in Medan. Seems to have been reasonably stable, similar rate to last Nov/Dec, rupiah being supported by IMF loans.

Zakia's & Sugar GH
2 popular budget GH's in vicinity of Mesjid Raya (Great Mosque), near where transit bus from port drops you in Medan.
Room rates approx: Dorm 7500Rp, Single 15,000Rp Double 20,000Rp

Internet available at Indo.Net, nearby on Jalan Brigjend. Katamso, Super-cheap at 4000 Rupiah / hour!!! Can be slow.

Email #9 April 7, 99, from Penang

Big is not necessarily beautiful when sending parcels home. At Bangkok GPO, don't go straight to the 2 "International Parcel" desks/kiosks.Ask at the 'normal' counters 1-10 for price to send a "small package".
2 kg is the weight limit for a small package. Above 2 kg, parcel rates apply. Price comparison below, all prices in Thai Baht (1US$:37.75 Baht)
KG Parcel(Surface) Parcel (Air)
2 1125 1280
4 1475 2040
6 1825 2800
8 2175 3560
2 kg small package 415 B (Surface)
2 kg small package 1006 B (Air)

Penang, Malaysia
A similar system is operated in Malaysia. In Penang, I sent a 2kg package (surface) for 19 Ringgit to UK. Much cheaper than Thailand.

Email #7 - from Bangkok, Mar 23, 99
CAMBODIA-GENERAL INFO - All this info has now been transferred to Cambodia - General Info Section

Email #6 - from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Mar 10, 99
Phnom Penh - City Info has been transferred to travel info section

Email #5 - from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Feb 99

The current political stability within Cambodia has finally allowed the long awaited boom in the tourism industry in the Angkor area. This has both advantages & disadvantages for the traveller. Improved services mean a greater variety & choice of guest-houses, restaurants, bars & shops. However, large tour parties & increased numbers of sellers make the temples themselves increasingly busy which can quickly affect the magical atmosphere. This can be a problem during major holidays (Christmas, Chinese New Year, Khmer New Year).

AIR: The airport is 7km west of town. Moto 1US$, Taxi 4/5 US$. Departure tax is 20$ international flight , 4$ domestic flight
Only current international flight is to Bangkok which started after the '97 fighting in Phnom Penh. This flight's future is uncertain after Dec '99 when the contract expires.
Bangkok to Siem Reap
Current price Single/Return: 145US$/280US$

BKK SR Day Carrier SR BKK Day Carrier 09-00 Daily Bangkok Air 09-30 10-30 Daily Bangkok Air
14-20 15-20 Fri,Sun RAC 12-30 13-30 Fri Sun RAC
14-30 15-30 Mon,Thur RAC 12-40 13-40 Mon Thur RAC
15-00 16-00 Daily Bangkok Air 16-30 17-30 Daily Bangkok Air

Phnom Penh to Siem Reap:
55US$/110US$ (S/R) Currently 2-3 flights / day operated by President Airlines & Royal Air Cambodge. Please check this information as some flights get cancelled and equally more flights may be provided acording to demand.
Re-confirm all flights 24 hours in advance.
Flight time is 45 minutes.

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
M 7:50, 16:10, 17:00, 6:35, 11:20, 15:00
Tu 7:50, 16:15, 6:35, 15:05
W 07:50, 16:10, 6:35, 15:00
Th 15:45, 17:35 6:35, 11:20,16:30
F 7:25, 7:50, 9:15, 9:45, 15:45 6:15, 8:00, 8:35, 11:20
Sa 7:50, 10:00, 16:15, 8:55,15:05
Su 7:50, 9:15, 16:10, 17:00, 06:36, 8:00, 11:20, 15:00

Royal Air Cambodge Office:
#362 Route 6 (7:30 - 11:30, 13:30 - 17:30)
A viable alternative for travel from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh used to be in a Russian Army Helicopter. The helicopter used to operate frequently between Phnom Penh & Anlong Veng using Siem Reap as stop-over. Now that the roads to Anlong Veng are safe, the helicopter only arrives in Siem Reap on an extremely irregular basis. A further difficulty is that the Siem Reap base have no idea when the helicopter will next arrive. If you have time to wait around & are interested, you must visit the Air Base just beyond the airport. Take a moto driver who can speak your language as an interpreter & arrange for the base to contact your guest-house immediately should the helicopter arrive. Cost is negotiable, around 40$, may not arrive in Siem Reap for many days. Mahogany & Popular GH.s are called on a regular basis in this way. Difficult to arrange, you may wait around without luck, but if it works out, definitely one to impress the grandchildren.

Boats operate from Siem Reap via the Tonle Sap River. The embarkation point is a floating village 16km south of Siem Reap. Taxi costs $4, moto $1.
To Phnom Penh
Express boat:
5 companies operate speed boats. Official price is 25US$ from all agents / guesthouses. Many will give some discount. Guest-houses offer free transport to & from port if you purchase ticket from them. All boats leave at 7-00am, so leave Siem Reap to give you enough time. Journey time is approx. 5 hours. Possible to sit inside or on roof (beware sunburn from sun/wind)

Slow boat: (May/June- Jan). For the more adventurous & well-prepared with plenty of time. Large cargo boats ply the Tonle Sap between Siem Reap & Phnom Penh during the rainy season until the waters are too low. Cost is approx. US$6-8 & journey takes about 2 days depending on water level. Take a hammock & food/drink. Crew may supply basic fish / meat & rice. See real life on the Tonle Sap as you drift by. Best to visit Tonle Sap 1 or 2 days before you wish to depart & ask around. Useful if your moto driver can act as interpreter.

Express Boat:
There is also an express boat crossing to Battambang $15. Departs 7:00 from same point as Phnom Penh boats. Arrive approx. 10:30
A second slower boat also departs for Battambang at 7-00 from the Tonle Sap at 07:00. Cost is US$13-15, arrives approx 13:00/14:00. Tickets can be obtained from some of the same agents who sell Phnom Penh tickets.

To Phnom Penh

The cheapest way to travel between Siem Reap & Phnom Penh is by road.
Trucks leave from Psah Leu market, 1km east of Siem Reap town. Departure time is around 7-00 am depending how full the vehicle is. Guesthouses can arrange this for you , but you will get cheaper prices by simply arriving at the market by moto (1000 riel) before 7-00am & bargaining yourself. Cost from GH's is 8US$ inside & 5US$ ouside. The journey takes 8-10 hours & can be quite arduous, long exposure to sun & wind being the main concern. The delights of bouncing along Route 6 & rural Cambodia will stay with you long after the bruises & sunburn disappear.

A minibus leaves Popular GH at 6:30am for Phnom Penh. Cost is US$12. Capitol 2 offers the same service from Phnom Penh which also leaves at 6:30

Poipet/Aranyapathet (Thai border crossing)
This crossing has been open since April '98. Many trucks bounce into Siem Reap well after dark with no reports of any security problems since the crossing opened. Armed patrols still operate checkpoints along the route. The road is in terrible condition, you probably spend as much time in rice fields detouring bridges / bad sections. Travel time varies depending on season/ route condition.
Trucks also leave Psah Leu market travelling some times on, but more often alongside Route 6 on their way to the Thai border. Departure is also around 7-00 am. Cost 5US$ inside / 3US$ outside.
The journey takes around 5-6 hours.

The border control is open daily 07-00 - 17-00. Obtain Thai visa at border. From the border, get a tuk-tuk to Aranyapathet (cost 10-15 Baht). From Aranyapathet, direct buses & trains both operate to Bangkok.

Transport From Bangkok


Trains leave Bangkok for Aranyapathet at 06-30 & 13-30. The journey takes anywhere between 4-7 hours. Cost for a 3rd class ticket is 49Baht. You can only obtain a ticket from 1hour before departure.
From Aranyapathet, a tuk-tuk to the border crossing costs 15 Baht.
From the Cambodian side of the border crossing point (07-00 - 17-00), trucks to Siem Reap cost 6US$ outside, 7US$ inside.

A tourist bus from Khao Sarn Rd Bangkok to the Thai border costs 320Baht
There is now a direct minibus service from Bangkok to Siem Reap costing 1200 Thai Baht.
Local Transport
Motos are freely available. They charge 6-7US$/day for visiting the temples , add another 6US$ for the day to Banteay Srei. May get cheaper price away from the guesthouses. Some moto drivers have good english & knowledge of the temples. Many travellers share a moto for a little more (8US$). No problems with police reported any more. Bargain
For a ride within Siem Reap 1000 riel per lift is typical or 1500 riel return journey. Bargain.

Taxi is typically quoted as 20US$/day, but you can bargain.

Motorbike rental is very difficult. Only possible for people resident in Cambodia. For the rest of us, the police are apparently concerned for our safety, maybe also the flourishing moto driver industry influences this policy.

Bicycle rental is also not formally available. Your best chance is to ask around at guest-houses for a spare bike. Expect to pay 1$ / day.
Markets / Shops / Services

Police Office Route 6, S side 2 blocks W from river, near GPO.

Psah Chas market - small market in Siem Reap, best visited early in the day. Fresh meat, fish, fruit, vegetables sections all quiet later in the day. General goods, souvenir stalls (carved wood, brass, silver. T-shirts, clothing, Kramar scarves etc)

Psah Leu market - large sprawling market 1.5 km east of Siem Reap. Food & general goods, the trucks leave Siem Reap from here.

Several photo shops (Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Konica) for film & developing on Route 6 direction Psah Leu market, east of river. Developing costs 5US$ for 1 colour film 36 exposure. All types of film available (colour, b/w, slide film). Kodak 200 36 exp cost 3.5US$

Many guesthouses offer laundry. Private places in town cheaper 500 - 700 riel/ item

There are many pharmacies in Siem Reap & medical labs which can perform basic tests
on whichever bodily fluid you wish give them (malaria blood test 2000 riel)

Diethelm Travel Service: #4 Route 6, direction airport. T: 063 963 524 / 063 963 694
Diethelm operates a small office here in Siem Reap. Book flights, hotels etc

The Ministry For Art & Culture
is re-introducing Apsara dancing to Angkor Wat.
Thur, Sat, Sun at 5-15pm in Angkor Wat. Cost is 6US$, the view from further away is free!!

Angkor Village (Tue,Thur,Sat, 7-00pm,20US$) & Grand Hotel d'Angkor (Mon, Wed , Sat, 7-00 pm 22IUS$) offer the chance to see Apsara dancing + meal. If you just wish to see the dancing this may be arranged at cost of 6US$. Again free for the longsighted.

Angkor Village also has a swimming pool which you can use as a non-resident for 5US$/day. It may be the size of a swollen kidney, but is refreshing with sun-beds in lovely surroundings Tip - bring your own drinks!!

The Cambodian Blind Development Centre:
Open every day, 8-00 - 22-00: Offer excellent massage for only 3US$/hour.
Address is Route 6 direction airport, next to Diethelm Travel, opposite Angkor Hotel.

Email #4 - from Trat,Thailand 1999 Jan 29,

Last session on Myanmar. Strongly recommend that travellers take a guide book, if only as a source of good maps.

The following section is based on a photocopy currently appearing in guesthouses around the Khaosarn & certainly helped us avoid any dollar exchange at the airport.
Thanks to the mystery person who did a great service.

Dear traveller, this section outlines how to avoid supporting the military government:

1) At the AIRPORT
The most significant contribution you can make is to avoid / greatly reduce the 300US$ exchange at the airport on arrival. Use the following tactics:
- claim only having an ATM bankcard which can't be processed here (visa card now can be processed);
- claim you have none of the following currencies (US$, pound sterling, german mark, Swiss/French franc) but only Asian currencies (eg baht ,rupiah, ringgit, rupee etc);
- claim only staying a short time (eg 7 days). This doesn't affect when you actually must leave the country;
- pair up with other single travellers on flight & approach and negotiate together;
- try sneaking through or simply refuse & walk through;
- hide in the toilets till all passengers go through (may be a long wait!!);
- you can leave all currencies / cards you don't want on your person in your main pack which is collected AFTER you pass through FEC exchange. Not sure if they would go so far as to search you!!

As with most bargaining, negotiate hard, but be polite & friendly. Don't be intimidated!! These people are just doing their jobs & will probably quickly ask for a "present". This is up to you!! You can still refuse

There is a 10US$ Airport departure tax. Pay with FEC so they get their own rubbish back. If you didn't get any FEC's find other tourists, particularly on a short stay in Myanmar.

Change money on the black market. Better rate than official exchange places & cuts out the government. US$ are the easiest though I believe Thai Baht is also possible. Yangon gives the best rates. There are many people/places all around the Sule Pagoda area. Most exchangers are completely honest but be careful.

PLEASE PASS ON ANY TICKETS to other travellers as this is the best way to avoid all fees. ALWAYS pay for tickets you do buy with FEC. Try student cards, locals can sometimes help but may equally feel uncomfortable doing this.

Shwedagon Pagoda,
difficult to avoid.5US$.
Fee collectors arrive at 7am. They patrol top level. Claim walking through to your Guest-House & didn't know of fee, want to visit properly tomorrow, may get you 2 days.

Difficult to avoid. 10US$. Stay in Pakolu 5 km to north & get local to show you way in. Problem is that buses to Bagan stop before arriving to allow inspectors to obtain fees from foreign tourists.

Royal Palace,
difficult! 5US$
Mingun, easy to avoid. 3US$. On getting off boat, don't follow main path up hill to fee station, but immediately go left into small lanes of village. Gradually work your way round clockwise to Mingun sites. Sagaing, easy to avoid. 4US$. At roundabout junction with "Welcome To Sagaing Hills" & statue, turn right. At village at bottom of hill, steps lead up to top.
Mandalay Hill - no info, help!!

Inle Lake
Difficult to avoid. I believe 4US$. If you get passed a ticket there is a check-point. You will be asked for passsport no, nationality. Best use those from who gave you the ticket, but can get through on your own details. Just keep a straight face as the people at the check-point are not used to Western alphabet so you have a good chance!!

Difficult to avoid. 6US$. There is a large office (with the flag) at Kinpun where all buses arrive. The people here are usually quick unless very busy. There is another check-point near the top. Only way is to get passed a ticket.

Boat,internal flight & train prices for foreign tourists are all government controlled. Buses are the cheapest way to travel & are privately run, charges should always be in kyat.

Try to stay in hotels where you can pay in kyat instead of US$/FEC. Much cheaper & the governemnt doesn't run off with it.

Bring english newspapers, books , magazines & just leave them around or give them to locals you meet. Read & take home "The New Light Of Myanmar" for friends to see how the Myanmar press is controlled.

If writing to people In Burma, address to "Myanmar", not vBurma as it won't arrive. Don't write about politics as you may compromise / cause trouble for your friends.

Please feel free to print off more than one copy & distribute to guest houses/on the flight to Myanmar etc. Above all have a safe & enjoyable visit to Myanmar.

Email #3 - from Bangkok, 1999 Jan 25,

Burma Cont...
- Good temple for sunset at Bagan is North Guni. Possible to ascend very high which gives an excellent view of sunset. One of the quietest spots, away from roads & people, really special atmosphere for sunset. Take a torch to aid the ascent if you have one!!
Bangkok - BURMESE VISA Cost (Embassy): 400 baht , 3 photos. Takes one day to process. Burmese Embassy is off Silom road, turn right at Hindu temple.

FLIGHTS to Burma - Cheapest is Bangladesh Air - Flight leaves every Sun afternoon (I believe 4-30 pm arriving 5-15 local time). 4700Baht, return (Jan 99), at Namhasin Tour on road which runs parallel to Khaosarn (down from Santa travel.) Myanmar Airlines, Similar prices around Khaosarn or travel agents on same road as Myanmar Embassy. 5750 baht return, fly daily.
Right I'm off to Cambodia, will "do the honours" there as well though maybe not quite as diligent (it's hard work as you well know!!)

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Email #2, from Bangkok,, Jan22 1999

Hi Burma was excellent, & actually the govt fee avoidance part was like a really fun little game!!!
Green Hill GH (nr Royal Lake) $10US double
Bus tickets: available from 3 offices on Maha Bandoola Garden St (Barr St) opposite town hall next to Unitex Fashion
Highly Recommended Restaurant:
near market, best Myanmar food I had in 1 month.
Accommodation Prices
Either stayed at or were highly recommended by others. Nylon Hotel - 3+US/p, Royal GH -3+US/p, AD1- 4+US/p, ET-7+US/p (All hotels listed here are described in more detail in the travel info hotel section - Mandalay)
Food Recommendations: Nylon Ice Cream (corner 25/83rd)
***Indian street food (corner 26/83 - unsurpassable!!!)
Lashio Ley, Shan style cuisine (84/23st)
Swimming Pool: 50kyat, next to Zoo, by Novotel (good landmark)

Delightful town in mountains used as hill station by the colonialists.Either pleasantly refreshing at night or downright cold depending on time of year.
Sights: Botanical Gardens 3 kyat, 432 acres, really nice. Camera fee 50 kyat.Nearby is a golf course which is suposedly excellent if you like that kind of thing. Can hire ,clubs fees not known, used to be cheap. Suggest you hire bikes to get to gardens / Golf Course.
*** Large market as good as anything we saw in the whole of Myanmar. Middle of town, down from the clock tower.Really gets going around 8-9

Anisakan Waterfalls - Enjoyable descent 6km back down road towards Mandalay. Look for signs, turn to the right. At bottom of road leave bikes at coffee shop & walk down a further 45 mins. Beautiful falls. Definitely take your cossie & a good thick towel!!! Water is fantastic very cold & very refreshing!! Bike back up to junction & then get a truck to take you & your bike back up the arduous climb.

Restaurant Recommendation: Candacraig is a classical colonial building made for bachelors in the teak trade at the time. Now serves excellent roast beef & chicken dinner for about 700 kyat with real gravy!! This price includes soup & fruit dessert.

Local Transport
Horse-drawn carriages are still a significant part of the local transport system. Ideal way to get to the train station or even Candacraig

Getting To / From Mandalay
3 hours from Mandalay (300 kyat in truck from 26/82 in Mandalay)
To Hsipaw, take train. Slow & bumpy ride but scenery & views of the famous Goteik viaduct are adequate recompense. Price 3US, can only buy ticket same morning from 7-30am onwards. Train leaves 8-30 am, takes on average 9 hours. Get a seat on Left Hand Side of the train for the best views of the viaduct & gorge.

Nice Shan town, another very good market.
Recommended Sights: Visit Shan palace, go out of Hsipaw centre ,turn right at telecommuncations tower follow path round to left.. Meet Donald & Fern who will show you the palace & relate it's fascinating but tragic history.
Please donate any books, newspapers, magazines (particularly if concerning recent Burmese politics).

Accommodation: Mr Charls GH 600k double, hot water
Aung Tha Pye 400k double, cold mandi (enjoy!!)If you stay here it's worth getting to know Henry if he's still here. Good english & a man worth listening to. Prepare to drink rice whiskey & even chew paan!!It's worth it!!!

If you have time hire a bike & try visiting the local villages.
The cinema is good for an evenings entertainment (30kyat/40kyat)
Recommended Accommodation:
Nyaung Shwe,Pye GH, Sisters,Joy GH -
All about 10US double. (All hotels listed here are described in more detail in the travel info hotel section - Inle Lake)
Boat trips 1500-1800 kyat. Unless you wish to buy goods, beware of the craft shops!!
Highlight: for me were: Nampan market, many hill tribespeople (every 5 days same day as Nyaung Shwe market); the floating gardens & getting out to a village not visted by tourist boats. Get off the tourist trail if you can!!

Getting there: 200 kyat on truck from Bago gets you to Kinpun. From here either trek up (decent shoes a bonus) which takes a pleasant but energetic 5 hours or get on one of the trucks costing 150 kyat. If you walk porters will carry your bags for 200 kyat. Tourist fee of 6US$.

Accommodation : There is a monastery at the top which accomodates up to 5000 pilgrims. However, the govt forbids foreign tourists from staying. This may have something to do with the fact that the govt has generously provided 2 guest-houses, the cheaper charging 15US$ single / 24US$ double for basic accomodation. Much cheaper rooms are easiuly available in Kinpun (we found 5000 kyat double with free swimming pool!!)
Do visit the monastery & chat with the monks.


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Email No#1 - from Bangkok Jan 21, 1999

Below is info after checking the "general" section of ITIS Travelers - Myanmar info, organised according to your system down as far as mail/phone....

English is good for SE Asia, thanks to British colonial past. As a result of this, particularly some of the older generation are conversant, also better educated (monks!!). However, all efforts to pick up basic Burmese are very practical (basic greetings & numbers) & are rewarded by a fantastic response from the suitably amazed locals!!

(Addition) Mountains, eg Pyin-u-Lwin (spell check!!) a hill station resort, are much cooler particularly at night. Ideal respite from heat,take warm clothing unless visiting in full summer heat.

I bought a film (200 Fuji 36 exp in P-u-L) for 800 kyat

Exchange rate 340 kyat : 1US$ (Yangon) Slightly less elsewhere (330 Bagan / Mandalay). Slightly better exchange the higher the amount.

MANDATORY EXCHANGE - or how to reduce FEC purchase
1) Show ATM card, this can't be processed at airport
2)Claim staying short time eg for 7 days
3) If travelling alone pair up with other singles on flight
4)Make sure you hide dollars / visa card in main pack which is retrieved AFTER you pass through FEC system
5)I have heard it is possible to get "Organised Tour" stamp at some Bangkok Travel Agents. This is an automatic exemption.I will try to get some examples.

(Note to Ed: We used the ATM ploy & paid NOTHING Just be adamant!!! You will then be asked for a "present!!!!" Flight was Myanmar Airlines .Another traveller used the same ploy and changed 50US$ which is easily spent - airline not known) Another single traveller used the short stay ploy & negotiated down to 150US.

Private office in Yangon: UK 5 mins 1000 kyat, Japan 3 mins 700 kyat Gov't office (Mandalay) 210 kyat for all int'l calls, may have to wait up to 1 hour for your turn. Can give no. get time estimate, go & return.
Connection not great & may be lost (once happened in maybe 6 calls) but worth the risk at these prices!!

BUS PRICES (Inter City)

Yangon => Mandalay 10 US$ (Leo): Train 30US$ sleeper
Yangon => Bagan 1800 kyat (dep 3pm, arr 6am)
Bagan => Mandalay 650 kyat (9 hours)
Mandalay => Inle Lake 1000kyat (9 hours, Honey Express)
Mandalay => Pyin-u Lwin 300 kyat (truck 3-4 hours)
Inle => Yangon 2000 kyat (dep 1pm arr 6 am)
Bago => Kyaiktyo 200 (truck, 3-4 hours, 200 kyat)

RECOMMENDATION:1 train journey worth doing: Pyin-u-Lwin => Hsipaw (Shan State). 3US$, crosses famous Goteik ()spelling??) viaduct, 8-9 hours, attractive scenery, standard class, great experience, food sellers, salesman, in our case wandering one-legged minstrels even!!).Return journey Hsipaw => Mandalay back down mountain about 10 hours, price 1500 kyat. (confirm price)

Can use taxi-trucks in Yangon / Mandalay (Son Thiaew??) about 5 kyat
Bikes 250 - 300 kyat / day in Mandalay & Bagan

Jan full moon
Hsipaw Mar full moon

Note: Festivals coincide with run up to full moon. Often the day preceding full moon is the biggest, full moon itself triggers departures.

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