Oahu - Waikiki Beach Marriott
Oahu, Hawaii is one of my favourite places in the world to vacation. When I go to Oahu, I stay in Waikiki or in Laie which is near the North Shore. Last year, I decided to get one of those DNA tests done on myself to see what my DNA ancestry is. Being a quarter Filipino, I was convinced that I must have Spanish blood in light of the 333 year Spanish rule of the Philippines. When the results came back, I was surprised to learn that I had no Spanish blood. Instead, I had 12% Polynesian blood originating from the Guam/Samoa/Tonga area! Now I'm no expert in family trees but I believe this means that one of my grand parents may have Polynesian roots.
It now makes so much sense to me why I always felt at home in Hawaii and why I am always mistaken for being Kama’aina when I'm there. If you want to get your own DNA test done, consider using my referral to 23andMe, they have 2 types of tests that you can do. One simply does the Ancestry and the other a more advanced Health and Ancestry report.
walk to the Ala Moana mall. The Waikiki Marriott guest rooms are in 2 towers located on the north and south ends of the property called the Paoakalani (north), and the Kealohilani (south) towers. The main difference that I've noticed between the two towers is that the Paoakalani tower mainly has city and Diamond Head views, and the Kealohilani tower has ocean views.
On both my stays at this hotel, I was given a room in the Kealohilani tower with ocean views. The room has large patio doors that you can open to get that nice sea breeze and a very spacious balcony with loungers and a small table. In each room, you get the usual amenities that you would expect in a quality hotel like an inroom safe, bathroom amenities, mini fridge, alarm clock, iron
Since the hotel is a little further away from all the craziness of downtown Waikiki, you can sit on the balcony at night and easily hear the surf without all (just some) of the drunken yelling!
Apart from the hotel lobby, the first floor of the hotel also has 2 Starbucks Coffee shops and 2 ABC stores for your snacks, drinks and last minute souvenirs. These are located very close to the elevator banks of either tower of the property which makes it super convenient. There is also an Enterprise Car Rental, a number of souvenir shops, and a Segway of Hawaii tour office. I have never booked a tour with Segway of Hawaii but have seen them all over Waikiki and looks super neat to do. Maybe one day I will do a tour with them with some friends and do a review of it.
The pools, hot tub, exercise room, dvd rental machines, and hotel restaurants are all located on the 2nd floor of the property. I personally didn't spend much time using the pools and hot tub because few times I soaked in the hot tub after a long day playing, I felt that the chlorine levels were too high and irritated my skin too much. I much prefer swimming in the ocean anyways.
One negative to the hotel is the resort fees are higher than some other hotels in the area. If I remember correctly (cuz I chose to block it out of memory) the resort fees total US$27/night. To help make up for the high resort fees, you get quite a bit of freebies which include coupons for alcoholic beverages redeemable at the pool side bar (Moana Terrace I believe?), WiFi, dvd rentals, etc. It doesn't really make up for it but its something I guess. You also have to pay for parking separately which according to their website is US$40/day. I am not sure if you get a cheaper rate if you are a guest at the hotel (I would hope so).
Some notable landmarks that are very close to the hotel is the Honolulu Zoo which is minutes away and the St. Augustine Church which is right across the street, the Rainbow Drive-In is about a 10 minute walk away, and Leonard's Bakery is about a 20 minute walk north. There are 2 GoBiki bike racks that are across the street on Kalakaua Ave which makes it even easier to get to places if you don’t feel like walking.
Overall, I would rate this hotel at an 8.5/10. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone who is vacationing in Oahu and wishes to stay in the Waikiki area. On my next trip to Oahu, I will likely stay at this property again and will update this post if I find anything noteworthy.
If you have stayed at this hotel, tell me what you think of it in the comments section below.
- Mahalo Nui Loa
Angkor Wat part 4 - Pub Street
One of the things to do after a long day of touring is to hang out in the Pub Street area. The sign above is located on the corner of Street 11 and Street 8 and the Pub Street area extends about 3 blocks in every direction. Here you will find many restaurants and cafes as well as food carts and bars which come out at night. It gets pretty crazy here once the sun sets in Siem Reap!
One of my favourite restaurants in the Pub Street area is Khmer Kitchen Restaurant which has 2 locations that are quite close to each other. I ate at the newer location which is right on the corner of Street 9 and Hospital Street and is 2 levels. The menu is extensive with Khmer and Western dishes costing anywhere between US$3 to US$7. I loved this place so much that I came here 3 times during my 5 day stay in Siem Reap! The two dishes I would recommend are the pumpkin curry and the eggplant with minced meat.
Walking on Pub Street after dark, you will find a lot of street vendors peddling various food items from fresh jackfruit to fried bugs. And when you get even later into the night, the bar carts come out with music and drink specials.
There are 3 markets all within a 10 minute walk of Pub Street. The Siem Reap Night Market and Kru Khmer Old Market Shop mainly sell souvenir items like paintings, silk, clothes, carvings, keychains, etc. The Psar Chas market, which is also known as the Old Market has the same items as the other markets but in the morning hours until around 1pm or so, they also sell produce, fish, and meats. Bargaining is expected at these markets but unlike the markets in Hong Kong or Turkey, the prices they gave weren’t that inflated to begin with (maybe about 20-25% higher).
I am so happy to have had the opportunity to cross Angkor Wat off my bucket list. The feeling you get when you walk the halls of the centuries old temples and being able to marvel at the magnificent structures built by the Khmer empire first hand is truly an awe-inspiring and humbling feeling. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, do so.
- Mahalo Nui Loa.
Angkor Wat part 3 - the Temples
I booked my tour with Siem Reap Private Day Tours who I found through TripAdvisor where they received many good reviews including mine. I opted to spread out my touring through 3 ½ days so my itinerary was very relaxed. We often started a little bit later in the morning, around 9:00am and ended at around 3 or 4. For me, this was perfect as we didn’t have to travel too much from site to site. We were able to stay longer in each site and I was able to take hundreds of pictures at different angles and was even able to wait out tour groups for shots so that it seemed like I had the whole place to myself.
In Cambodia you are required to have a certified tour guide to bring you inside the temples/ruins or you can explore on your own. If you hire a private tour company to take your group around, most of the drivers are not certified tour guides and you may need to hire a separate one. I strongly recommend doing so as each temple/ruin has its own unique history and may not be captured in a travel book. Siem Reap Private Day Tours is able to arrange one for you in your preferred language. Just advise them at the time of booking.
The main Angkor Wat temple is as magnificent as the pictures portray it to be. The complex is about 400 acres big, and give yourself plenty of time to explore it all, you will not be disappointed. We arrived at 5 am to watch the sun slowly rise and illuminate the 5 towers of Angkor Wat in a gentle orange and pink glow. Do not pass up the opportunity to climb the main tower of Angkor Wat. The views you get at the top is not something you want to miss.
Apart from the main Angkor Wat complex, my favourite sites that I visited are Ta Prohm, Bayon, Banteay Srei and Neak Pean.
Ta Prohm was featured in the 2001 Action Adventure film Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. While not a very large complex, the main attraction are the trees that have started to grow out from the walls and buildings. In many areas, you see the complex weave of tree roots, climbing all over the walls of the structures. When I visited Ta Prohm, my guide suggested that go during the regular lunch hour and go while the large tour groups were eating lunch. Because of this suggestion, there were maybe 12 -15 people in the temple complex instead of the usual 100+. We took extra time exploring the ruins and examining the carvings that are all over the place.
Bayon is a very mystical place. There are 2 walls on the main floor of this complex that have very intricate carvings that tell the story of the Khmer of old. They appear to show people doing everyday life activities and as you move down the wall, the scenes start changing to show mythical or historical battles during times of the Khmer Empire. In the terrace area above, you see numerous smiling stone faces on the towers. Some say the faces are a representation of King Jayavarman VII and others say that those are the faces of Buddha.
Banteay Srei is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is one of the temples that is outside of the city of Siem Reap. You need to travel about an hour north to get to it and if you only had time to do one temple that is outside the immediate area of Siem Reap, this should be it. Banteay Srei is built primarily with red sandstone which, depending on the light of the day, will give the buildings a very rich reddish, and pinkish hue. There are very intricate carvings all over the walls of each building and statues that still stand intact after years of being exposed to the elements. Thinking back and looking at my pictures, I would have loved to have been in Banteay Srei during sunset, the colours must be absolutely amazing.
Neak Pean is a temple built on a manmade island on the manmade lake Jayatataka. It is believed to have been a hospital of sorts and the central pond inside Neak Pean is said to be a representation of Lake Anavatapta in the Himalayas whose waters are thought to cure all illnesses. The temple area itself isn’t too big but it is still a neat place to visit. It’s amazing how they were able to make these lakes and temples without modern machinery. It must’ve taken years and hundreds or even thousands of people to do it.
Arriving in Siem Reap during the early afternoon from Hong Kong, I was picked up by Siem Reap Private Day Tours at the airport and brought my hotel, the Prince D’Angkor Hotel and Spa. During the 15 minute drive from the airport, I was afforded my first look at the city of Siem Reap and was quite surprised at how modern it looked. Because of the pictures I have seen in the past, I had envisioned unpaved roads, and shanty type homes lining the streets. Instead, what I saw were buildings ranging from 2 to 15 floors high, many businesses, and electricity! It looked very similar to a street you would find in Manila or Taiwan.
When I arrived at the Prince D’Angkor Hotel and Spa, I was very warmly greeted by the staff who offered a me seat on one of the many couches and given a cold beverage while they checked me into my room. This experience was a stark contrast from other check in experiences I’ve had where I would line up, wait my turn (which would sometimes be over 30 minutes) and stand in front of a counter twiddling my thumbs while staff typed into a computer. After what seemed only to be a few minutes, I was all checked in and a bellhop was ready to show me to my room. Along the way, the bellhop gave me a rundown of where the hotel amenities are, and the hours for the buffet breakfast which was included with my stay.
The room I was assigned had a balcony facing the inner courtyard of the hotel complex which overlooked the pool. I was glad that I spent a little extra and went for the deluxe room when I booked as the superior rooms face the parking lot and it seemed like most do not have a balcony. Not really a big deal as most people who come to Siem Reap do not spend a very long time in their rooms but I like having the option of sitting and relaxing in my balcony after a day of touring. The room itself was quite spacious and had the normal amenities that one would expect (wireless internet, a/c, fridge, tv, dvd, kettle, coffee, tea, etc). The hotel gives you 2 complimentary small bottles of water which they replenish daily. However, please be aware that the large Evian bottles are not complimentary.
I felt that the bathroom was a little bit dark and could be a little cleaner. Not having an exhaust system for the moisture makes it feel damp inside but that is quite typical of bathrooms in Asia I find. There is a separate shower stall and tub so it felt a little cramped as well.
the places I wanted to go. There is also a modern mall called Lucky Mall that is across the street where there were a few retail shops, restaurants and a super market.
The famous Pub Street, where most of the restaurants are located, is only about a 10 minute walk away and from there, you can get to all the different shopping markets very easily. I will make a separate blog post regarding Pub Street and the surrounding area in a future blog post. I plan to also include a "travelling tips" section for the Angkor Wat area to hopefully help other travellers coming to Siem Reap for the first time, stay tuned. In my next post, I will talk about my tour the temples and ruins.
- Mahalo Nui Loa.
Angkor Wat part 1
Angkor Wat is one of the places in the world that is near the top of my bucket list and I’m sure it appears on a lot of lists as well. I have always been reluctant to cross it off my list because I was nervous about safety. My love for travel and adventure finally won over my nervousness and in 2017 I was able to visit this magnificent and humbling area.
I’m a planner when it comes to travelling to new places, I like to research and like to have lists. I don’t like to miss out on experiences in case I don’t get a chance to come back. Since Cambodia is completely new to me, I decided a guided tour is best as opposed to exploring on my own.
I have done a number of guided tours that had 20 or more people in them and I try to avoid doing those again. The experiences of them are great and you get to meet new people but I like to travel on my schedule and have a little bit of control. So the search began for a tour company that offered private tours. Siem Reap Private Day Tours kept coming up with very high (and recent) reviews on TripAdvisor so I decided to book through them.
I found Mr. Kriss to be very pleasant and easy to deal with. He was very quick to respond to my emails, considering I was across the globe. In about 4 emails, I had my itinerary in hand, all I had to do now was show up at the airport and look for my name on a placard! Mr. Kriss didn’t even want a deposit to secure the booking. Which honestly made me a bit nervous!
In Cambodia, guides who are not certified by the government are not allowed to enter the sites with you. Most tour drivers are not certified so you will likely need to hire a separate guide which I ended up doing. I didn’t want my first (and maybe only) time in Cambodia aimlessly wandering ruins that I didn’t know the significance of. Siem Reap Private Day Tours is able to arrange a certified tour guides, you just need to advise them at booking that you need one and what language.
If you are a Canadian citizen, you are required to obtain a visa to enter Cambodia. You can either apply online for a visa or get one when you arrive at the airport. I would suggest getting your visa online as the line I saw when I arrived at the airport was easily an hour long or more. However, please be aware that there are a number of websites offering Cambodian visas that may not be legitimate. Make sure you are accessing the Official Government website.
When I arrived in Siem Reap, I found out that Mr. Kriss wasn’t available to personally drive us to tour the sites but the driver (Sotea) he sent in his place was great. Sotea was always on time and very attentive to our needs. He was very quick to give us more water and a cool cloth to wipe down after a lengthy tour of dusty ruins. Our guide, Aime, was very knowledgeable and had a great sense of humour. He was very quick to answer our questions and explained the history thoroughly. Aime knew I loved to take photos so he would give me extra time to get the shot I needed and even recommended off the beaten track spots that I would never have found myself. One of these spots involved me having to climb into the ruins itself. Something he told me was ok but not a lot of people do because of the difficulty of it. It was very worth it as I got to explore a courtyard all too myself.
All in all, I spent 3.5 days touring Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Some would say that’s too many days but I disagree. I was able to spread out the touring and was able to slowly explore each site and soak everything in. The days weren’t too rushed, the day often started at 830-9am instead of 7am and ended at around 3-4pm instead of 6-7pm. This let me enjoy the city of Siem Reap and its many hot spots instead of being dead tired at the end of the day. I was also able to travel to sites that were further out of the city of Siem Reap which was a treat because there were fewer tourists.
In part 2 of the Angkor Wat series, I will do a quick review the Prince D'Angkor Hotel and Spa. Stay tuned and as always Mahalo Nui Loa.
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