Temple Hopping through Angkor Wat after Eating Happy Pizza (Part 1)

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Angkor Wat’s nostalgic reflection in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Traditionally every year during the half of October I spend my birthday alone on a remote island in Asia.  Traveling to the final destination takes a lot of research and effort, but in return gives me valuable time to reflect on life and also become acquainted with a new culture.  Past destinations have included Okinawa and Yakushima (Japan) and Phu Quoc (Vietnam), which were all unforgettable experiences that have taught me a lot about myself and the stunning world around me.  This year I wanted to go somewhere similar that had tropical beaches and lush nature so I could relax and do photography.  Since I’ve already been to Thailand twice and loved it, I decided to try one of its adventurous neighboring countries: Cambodia.

Cambodia is beautiful, less developed country with a sad past (which I’ll get into later), but is now extremely safe for foreign tourists and backpackers to travel to.  Like Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of people you will meet speak English and are quite friendly.  On a rainy day while I was in Australia, I came up with a tentative Cambodia itinerary which I managed to successfully complete in the 10 days while I was here.  Please take a look at it for reference if you plan on traveling to Cambodia in the future!

Overall, this trip was extremely eye-opening and completely changed my outlook on how I should live my life.  Staying 4 days on a small Cambodian island in a village that only stretched for about a mile taught me how to live frugally compared to my extravagant city life.  The villagers there were extremely kind and I was always surrounded by friendly people that took care of me.  This really helped me let go of a lot of anxieties and insecurities I had that were holding me back recently.  Though I have many caring friends in all the countries I have visited, being in this setting helped me resurface to reality and form an entirely new perspective so I could enter a new mindset that I couldn’t reach before.  I am very excited to start this blog series and share the knowledge I have gained with others.

Exploring Siem Reap’s Pub Street

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Pub Street: A endless expat all-night party complete with strobe lights and neon signs.

I chose Siem Reap as my first destination simply because it is the cheapest city to fly to from Tokyo and has all of the famous temples to explore.  Fortunately getting a visa to Cambodia is quite easy; all you need to do is fill out a form and pay $30 to enter the country for a short-term stay.  You can do this upon arrival, but I applied for an e-visa through Cambodia’s official government website.  This will speed up the process and ensure your swift entry into the country.  *Please be wary of other advertised e-visa websites on Google because they are often double in price.

I arrived to the center of the city around 9pm, just in time to try some of the infamous “happy pizza” adjacent to Pub Street–every bar lover’s dream.  What is happy pizza exactly, and why is it sold openly around Cambodia?

According to The Culture Trip:

Traditionally, marijuana was used as a herb in some Khmer dishes to complement the flavour. In the provinces, it’s also used by some for medicinal purposes.

Though recreational marijuana is illegal in Cambodia and most Asian countries, the “happy” foods and drinks sold here create a loophole in which it can be safely consumed by travelers.  In addition to happy pizza, they also have regular pizza and food here as well.  I decided to try the Happy Angkor Pizza restaurant first due to its raving Google Reviews:

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Needless to say, I was extremely satisfied with the light vegetarian pizza I ordered, so I tried another nearby restaurant called Ecstatic Pizza too.  “Why just be happy, when you can be ecstatic?” the official website questions you.  After my long 10 hour flight, I definitely needed to relax and the “add some extra :)” for a mere $3 more on my receipt did just the trick.  I felt calm and ready to explore the rest of Pub Street.

What I walked into was a street full of strobe lights, loud music, and people from around the world dancing in a trance under the light of the moon.  Fortunately I was in the perfect state of mind to join them:

Angkor What?

The first bar I checked out was called Angkor What? which is a hilarious pun of the famous temple I was going to the next day.  It is actually the oldest bar in Siem Reap and has been “Promoting Irresponsible Drinking since 1998” (though the atmosphere was kind and welcoming with no overly drunk people like in Tokyo).  It’s mindblowing to think about how the oldest bar in Siem Reap is actually younger than me!

Though obviously aimed at expats, I enjoyed Pub Street more than I have other expat drinking holes I have visited in Japan and Thailand.  This is because the street only stretches for a few blocks and is not overly crowded with obnoxious tourists.  Most drinks are priced from $3 – $5 and are extremely affordable.  The menus contained a variety of imported beers, fruity cocktails, and other hard liquors.  Despite the dirt-cheap prices, I was pleasantly surprised to not run into any reckless drinkers–everyone that I met was just drinking to relax and enjoy the night.  And that’s how it should be.

After having my fill I wandered through the night markets (which are a lot similar to those found in Vietnam), walked by a few “Doc of Fish” massage places (I’ve already tried this in Tokyo and it’s quite a weird sensation), then I decided to go back to my hotel.  I stayed in a private room at the Jasmin Hotel for less than $20 a night.  I highly recommend it because it is close to the center of the city and has a beautiful pool.  I was able to sleep peacefully and wake up in time for my tour the next day, as well as finish my morning workout.

I will be writing in detail about my trek through the famous Angkor Wat temples in my next blog entry this week.  Thank you to all of my readers!  I will try to be as open and honest about my experiences here as possible.

My Favorite Bars in Singapore: Nineteen80, Platform 1904, and Don’t Tell Mama

Singapore is not only home to the courageous Merlion, but is also a reputably safe country to go drinking in.  Like many big cities in Asia, Singapore has no shortage of unique night life places to explore until the early hours of the morning.  The plus is that almost everyone in this country speaks English among other languages and are generally helpful and willing to talk to you.  Most bars and clubs usually stay open until 1am-4am depending on the day.  Essentially whatever you’re in the mood for you’ll probably find here!

A lot of people enjoy drinking in the upscale Clarke Quay district near the heart of the city, but I did my best to venture off the beaten path and into the bars with unique themes and original cocktails.  Here are my top picks:

Nineteen80

When I was researching bars online, the name and theme of this one caught my attention right away.  Who doesn’t love a Nintendo-themed bar?!  Not only that, but they also have a number of Midway Arcade machines available to play, a worthy collection of cartridges displayed on the wall, and an original hand-drawn menu (my favorite was the shooters page).  There are also DJs that frequently play a handful of genres depending on the event.  I came during oldies night which wasn’t really my taste, but I still enjoyed the atmosphere of the bar.  Seeing “It’s on like Donkey Kong” written in the Sega font IRL in a foreign country was surreal.

The downside was the crowd was mostly drunken expats, and the music was loud so it was difficult to hear anyone.  Nineteen80 is definitely a “get up and dance” bar when they have weekend parties, so be sure to come here when you have properly pre-gamed (fortunately I had).  The cover fee was around 18 SD, but that included one drink so it wasn’t bad.  If the music was more my type, I’m sure I would have stayed here a lot longer.

This bar is situated near Chinatown, and is also in the gay district so there are a lot of interesting bars nearby.  I would recommend getting here before your main destination on your barhopping journey.

Platform 1904

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The deer seats add an interesting aesthetic to this Harry Potter cafe.

As someone who’s been a Harry Potter fan for more than half of their life, I could not pass up the opportunity to go to this magically themed cafe.  They not only brew magical potions filled with booze, but also have a full food menu with delicately crafted desserts.  I had previously gone to the Wizarding Worlds Cafe in Tokyo and had a great experience, so I wanted to see how this place measured up.  Platform 1904 has a more extensive menu and less of a wait time since it’s a permanent establishment (as compared to the pop-up cafe that I went to).  I enjoyed ordering a golden snitch cake and the Flaming Brew Cocktail because the presentation was very elaborate:

In addition to the golden snitch cake, there are many other colorful pastries for sale that all beautifully capture the Harry Potter theme:

The only downside of this cafe was the price.  I could buy a lot more food for a cheaper price at most restaurants around this area, but I came here once again for the experience.  One dish and one dessert are pretty filling, plus I mastered the art of potions class and took some neat photos in the process!

This restaurant is located Serangoon Road where many of the hostels are, so I was able to walk here.

Don’t Tell Mama

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What mama don’t know won’t hurt her.

First of all, I love the name of this restaurant–it truly stands out for being a Korean bistro.  Second of all, I love the shochu cocktails here.  They are absolutely gigantic and craftily tipped into a glass of margarita mix to create a wonderful flavor.  Though I’ve been to Korea twice, I’ve never seen a cocktail like this before:

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What happens in Singapore stays in Singapore.

In addition to this crazy concoction, they also have a ton of westernized Korean food available.  The kimchi fries caught my eye, but the downside of this bar was that all of the portion sizes were too huge for one person to finish.  Though I very much enjoyed my shochu cocktail, I was only able to get through half of it.  I looked around and nobody else at the bar was able to finish it either!  Though in this case it was worth the money, I wish they sold their food and drinks in smaller portion sizes so it wouldn’t get wasted.

This bar is located near Chinatown not far from Nineteen80.  I recommend getting only one drink here, else you will easily get full.

Overall I was extremely happy with my bar choices, because I had the chance to try so many crazy things that I’ll always remember.  I hope that those traveling through Singapore find my experiences helpful!

The Best Mixology Bar in Tokyo: Bar Benfiddich

If you are looking for a unique bar experience with no menu but endless possibilities, Bar Benfiddich in Shinjuku, Tokyo is the bar for you.  With a selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, chocolates, herbs, and spices, mixology master Hiroyasu Kayama will whip up amazing cocktails with ingredients you’ve never even thought of trying before.  I’ve been to this bar a total of three different times and have never once been disappointed.

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A bashful Snorlax won at the game center nearby sips on some fine scotch at the bar counter.  His look says it all.

On my first time there, I decided to request something fruity with vodka as the base.  The bartender pulled out a basket of fruit and I selected strawberries and bananas for my cocktail.  He also mixed in some chocolate to give it a nice kick. In addition to that, you can choose from the selection of bottles on the wall or ask for something specific if you have anything in mind.  Chances are this bar will have it or will be able to create something similar, plus they have their own array of homemade liquors that will make for quite the evening out.

If you come to this bar, be sure to come early because it opens at 7pm and usually fills up before 10pm.  There are now 2 floors in the same building available for seating, but I would still try to come ahead of time because reservations are generally not accepted.

Though Japan is full of bars due to the loose liquor laws, your efforts for coming to this bar in particular will be rewarded with some of the most elegant drinks you’ve ever had!  Be sure to bring at least 6000 yen with you so you can sample more than one.

 

The Adventure of Hakodate, Monkeys, and Squid! (Part 1)

Over the weekend I went on a two day trip to the charming city of Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan!  This town has been on my travel list for a while because of its famous dancing squid dish and gorgeous views from the top of Mt. Hakodate.  Why I chose to go this weekend is because Nakata Yasutaka played a show at Riviera (in Sapporo), so I figured it would be the perfect combination of sightseeing and listening to my favorite music.

The first place on my list was Yunokawa Onsen to see the hot-tubbing monkeys!  This was very close to the airport and inexpensive to travel to by taxi.  I was happy to skip town for this scenic view:

Seeing monkeys bathe was definitely an experience.  Though you can’t bathe with them, there are a number of hotels that are part of Yunokawa where you can use onsen!  Here is a comprehensive list, including those that are available to day trippers.  I took a very relaxing bath at Hotel Banso which had an amazing aroma sauna, then took the tram to Mt. Hakodate to see this glistening view of the city:

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A lot of people say that the city lights of Hakodate glisten like a jewelry box, and it’s very true!  You can take a cable car to the top of the mountain from 10am to 10pm to witness this breathtaking view.  The sensation that I got from being up here was truly amazing–I felt like I could finally clear my head after being in Tokyo for so long.

This town is very peaceful and is probably the closest place that I’ve been to in Japan that resembles the countryside where I grew up in America (minus the squid, monkeys, and mountains).  It’s very quiet, the people are friendly, and there are a lot of parks and rivers.  However, I think Hakodate is definitely more fun!  A lot of towns in America are suburbs, but Hakodate has a lot of nature so it is better for sightseeing.

After my wonderful experience on the mountain, I went to Bar Jey’s in central Hakodate and was whipped up an impressive cocktail:

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There is not a lot of nightlife in Hakodate, but there are a number of fantastic bars!  Because I am a budget traveler, I stayed at Hakodate’s only net cafe called Eye Cafe.  It is cheap and close to Fort Goryokaku and is very convenient.  I will cover the rest of my adventures in my next post!  Please look forward to it.