Travel News 2004
Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel:
Last year, Brandon and Andrea Ross decided to sell their house in southern California and move to Cambodia, a country they'd fallen in love with when backpacking through Southeast Asia a few years ago.
In January, the Rosses got married, opened a B&B in a quiet Siem Reap neighborhood (near the giant temple complex of Angkor Wat), and started running private tours of the area. Their company, Journeys Within, is the first of its kind in Cambodia to be owned and operated by Americans. Because she and Brandon live in Siem Reap, Andrea says travelers feel a level of service and security they can't get from companies based in the U.S., half a world away. All of the local guides are handpicked, and the Rosses will handle everything from restaurant recommendations to lost passports.
Journeys Within currently offers several itineraries in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam and also creates custom trips. The Big Three Cambodia tour includes Angkor Wat, Battambang, and the capital of Phnom Penh for $875. You get domestic flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap and from Phnom Penh to Bangkok; a scenic boat ride from Siem Reap to Battambang; transportation from Battambang to Phnom Penh in a private car with a driver; three nights at the Journeys Within B&B in Siem Reap and one night each at hotels in Battambang and Phnom Penh; an English-speaking guide throughout; and most meals.
When: Year-round. Details: Airfare from the U.S. to Bangkok is not included. Extra nights at the B&B from $50. Single supplement $227.
July 11, 2004
By Judy Green, Bee Staff Writer
When you head out on your own to an exotic destination, it helps to have a friend in the castle, so to speak. If Angkor Wat, the complex of sacred temples in northern Cambodia, is your goal, your castlekeepers may be Andrea and Brandon Ross, a California couple with Sacramento ties. They have opened a tour company and bed-and-breakfast in Siem Reap, the city closest to the ancient wonders.
Well-traveled for a pair of 25-year-olds, the newlyweds decided to chuck the Western rat race for an unpredictable life in Cambodia, a country they have loved since their first visit two years ago. Brandon's father is Toby Ross, city manager of West Sacramento. He and his wife, Jo, plan to visit for the first time in September.
Andrea and Brandon married six months ago in Phuket, Thailand, and opened Journeys Within Tour Co. and Bed & Breakfast to meet what they see as a growing wave of travelers wanting to see Angkor Wat. According to Andrea, it's the first business of its kind in Cambodia to be owned and run by Americans.
From their insider perch, they create tour packages and independent itineraries for Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. They live and work from their three-bedroom B&B, which is about 10 minutes from the entrance of the Angkor Wat complex.
Among their recent guests is Steve Bartmasser of Berkeley. By e-mail from Vietnam, he writes that his visit to Journeys Within was a four-star experience.
“Their B&B is especially nice for the independent traveler. ... They have a great cook ... the accommodations were really nice. ... great tour guide, spoke great English and was knowledgeable.”
Operating a new business is a daring venture for anyone, but for Andrea and Brandon, both graduates of Chapman University in Southern California, the added challenge is the Khmer language.
“We're getting better at speaking, but we are not attempting to write it; it's so difficult!” Andrea writes in an e-mail interview.
“When we first arrived, the language was the most challenging part. I would go to the market every day and perform a charades game. Getting a pillow made included charading with the pillow stuffer, struggling with the couple that sells fabric and with the seamstress. It was exhausting, but when I got the perfect pillow, I was very proud of it.”
Such experiences left Andrea and Brandon drained but laughing at the end of many days. Her comments about how things are going and the kind of advice she offers travelers paint a spirited picture of life in one of the world's wondrous locales.
Q: How did you decide to call your company Journeys Within?
A: It's a funny story, and it demonstrates the challenges we face. We had come up with a list of names. We took them to the government for approval. No luck. There were many reasons. from “It doesn't translate well,” to “I do not like.”
We kept giving the minister more and more names. I was starting to go a little crazy. Finally, Journeys Within just popped into my head, and we got the nod.
Looking back, I love the name. I think it makes people think about what they're doing.
Q: Do you feel isolated?
A: Sometimes we do. We miss our friends and family and the simplicities of life in America - going to a movie, shopping at a grocery store. We are lucky we really enjoy each other's company, and with guests coming and going, we have people to talk to.
Q: How many days do you recommend for someone to see the best in Angkor Wat?
A: The highlights can be seen in three full days. This includes not just the “must-see” temples but also glimpses into Cambodian life that we feel are so valuable to a trip here.
We encourage guests to stay an extra day and head out to the remote temples to get away from the crowds.
Q: What time of year do you recommend for visiting?
A: Now is actually really nice. I had expected the summers to be very hot, but June and July seem to be great months here. There is rain most evenings, but the weather is relatively cool and the countryside is beautiful and green.
The official high season is from October to February, when the rains stop and it starts to get dry. My favorite month is November. Things are still green, but you can get to the more outlying temples. January is the coolest month. March, April and May are the worst time, when the country gets very hot and dry.
Q: How do you select your guides?
A: The guide selection was hard. They are all great men and women, and they really need the work.
We met with many of them to see how good their English was and how they felt about guiding and the temples. In the beginning, we thought we would just pick the guides that spoke the best English, but in the end, the guides we work with are the ones that not only speak fairly good English but also have a passion for Angkor Wat and Cambodia. All the feedback we have gotten is that this enthusiasm is what makes the days in the temples great.
Q: Have you made any changes as a result of customer feedback?
A: Some little things - water in each guest room, restaurants list and a full menu here - and some bigger things, such as naps in our tours. Our itineraries were so packed, we were exhausting our guests.
We have also included more glimpses into Cambodian life. We send guests to the Land Mine Museum in Siem Reap, on a boat ride on the Tonle Sap (lake), and in Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia), we take them to the Apsara Arts Association, a nonprofit company that teaches street children the arts of Cambodia so they can get jobs.
Q: What Cambodian foods do you like to eat?
A: Brandon tried deep-fried tarantula the other day, but we tend to not be too exotic in our taste. It's fascinating to see the staff eat crickets, snakes and spiders, but I steer clear. A guest we had tried the crickets and said they weren't half bad; I'm not convinced. We do eat a lot of rice, and the curries here are great.
Our breakfasts here are great, too - both Western and Cambodian.
Q: What are the hard parts of running a B&B in a foreign land?
A: The No. 1 difficulty is the language. We're learning.
The other struggle has been the difference in standards. It takes a lot of time to teach our staff our standards. Their background is so different from ours. They have no concept of setting a table or serving food.
Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure. We have a phone line, but it is supported by twigs, so every time there's a strong storm, the phone goes out.
Q: What are the pleasures of what you're doing?
A: They speak for themselves. We live in a fascinating and developing place, and we are doing what we want to do. We work long hours, but we work for ourselves, for our dream, for our life.
We live in a beautiful house with a staff that goes above and beyond to ensure the guests' and our happiness.
We are also able to help people. Our cook can send her child to school because of us. Our house cleaner had never made money before; now she sends most of it back to help her family in the village.
We are able to not only show guests the beauty and spirit of Cambodia, but through them we are helping the Cambodian people. It is so rewarding.
Brandon chimes in, “We are doing what we love. It doesn't get much better than that.”
Rosses offer Southeast Asia tour packages
Journeys Within Tour Co. maintains an excellent website, www.journeys-within.com. There are pictures of the bed-and-breakfast rooms and of the staff, tour options and comments and pictures from previous guests.
The company maintains a toll-free line - (877) 454-3672 - based in Southern California, which erases the problem of calling across the international date line. Andrea and Brandon Ross also can be reached at P.O. Box 93155, GPO Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia.
The bed-and-breakfast has three air-conditioned rooms, one single and two doubles, all with bathrooms. Room rates are $50 for a single and $95 for a double. Rates include airport transfers.
Although the company makes individual tours, it has seven established tours, including its signature 13-day, all bed-and-breakfast trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia; it starts in Bangkok at $3,950 a couple. Another trip, called Give-and-Take, is a 14-day adventure that gets travelers involved as volunteers.
The Park Record :
July 7-9, 2004
Journeys Within offers guests 'a break from Asia'
By Jared Whitley
Brandon Ross has done what most Park City High School students only dream of: he's opened a small bed and breakfast in Cambodia.
The 25-year-old runs “Journeys Within” with his wife, Andrea, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Their business is a five-room bed and breakfast, plus tour service for their patrons.
Journeys Within offers English-speaking tourists the chance to “take a break from Asia,” according to the company's website, and spend time with other native English speakers in Western-type style and comfort.
Neither of the Rosses had worked in the hospitality industry before opening Journeys Within in January 2004, but they had plenty of experience in travel.
“In the many places we have stayed we have seen how a good hotel is run, and we have definitely learned what not to do!” said Andrea via an e-mail interview.
Life in Cambodia presents many challenges for people who grew up with Western conveniences.
“On good days, it was fun to try to figure out where one goes to buy pillows and pillow covers in a city with no department stores,” Brandon said. “On other days, it was just plain frustrating not being able to find things as simple as flour to cook with.”
“There are many challenges to living in Cambodia,” Andrea said. “But when we see guests appreciating the culture and the people, and we see Cambodians benefiting from tourist influence and dollars, the difficulties seem to melt away and I truly feel that we made the right decision living and working in Cambodia.”
Andrea, originally from England, met Brandon when the two were students at Chapman University in Southern California. Brandon earned a degree in political science and worked as an accountant, which wasn't exotic enough for him.
In 2002, they took a trip through Asia, exploring Cambodia despite the fact that their guidebooks warned them it was unsafe. They fell in love with the Cambodian people, who are “full of smiles and always friendly: despite the country's poverty and history of bloodshed, Brandon said.”
About a year after the trip, the Rosses decided to return for a month to test the possibility of opening a tourist business there, and see if they could actually adjust to life in a different culture.
When they saw the Cambodian landscape from the airplane, they knew they wanted to stay there. The next day they went looking for a place to rent “the Cambodian way,” which Brandon describes as driving up and down streets until you see a “for rent” sign.
The Rosses, of course, miss their families and American conveniences. Andrea said, “it's not really the same” to read about the Sundance Film Festival online when they used to go every year.
Brandon said, “I miss America and everything that it is: football, Fourth of July, parades, Malone in the playoffs, ice-cream, drive-throughs, easy conversations, knowing where to find things and understanding how things get done.” Brandon is the son of Jo Duthie and Toby Ross, former Park City manager.
The Rosses enjoy the variety of experiences Cambodia offers, from the sublime – such as seeing the moon rise over the country's elegant temples – to the zany – such as watching five grown men ride a motor scooter or advertisements for English schools with misspellings.
“For Cambodia this is the norm, but for us it makes each day an adventure,” Brandon said.
“These are the moments that we'll always remember,” Andrea said.
The Rosses aren't sure how long they'll stay in Cambodia. Andrea guesses that after five years they might consider leaving, depending on how well their business does.
“As long as we're enjoying it we'll stay,” Brandon said. “This is a country that we never intended on visiting and now we love it and want to do what we can to make it a better place.”
The Park Record:
August 7, 2004
By Jared Whitley
Donna McAleer is adopting an orphanage in Cambodia, and she wants the rest of Park City to help. A former director of the People's Health Clinic and new mother, McAleer plans to send school supplies to the Killing Field Pagoda School. She visited the small orphanage in Siem Reap, Cambodia, while on vacation there two years ago.
She was inspired after reading an article in The Park Record about a Cambodian bed and breakfast run by Parkite Brandon Ross and his wife Andrea.
Before reading the article, McAleer didn't know the Rosses, although she knew Brandon's father, Toby, who had been the Park City manager. Since then, she's been in contact with the Rosses via email, and they want to help with the project, serving as a conduit between Park City donors and the orphanage, since they are in the same city.
“We feel that it is a worthwhile project that could help a lot of children escape their past and enter a brighter future,” Brandon Ross wrote in an email. “The help of the Park City Community is very much appreciated and we think there is a great potential in this partnership.”
The topic of orphans in Asia is particularly important to McAleer because her sister was adopted from Korea and her brother from the Phillipines.
“It was a very, very powerful experience,” McAleer said of her visit to the Siem Reap orphanage.
When McAleer was there, the 30-child orphanage had a small blackboard and one piece of chalk per six children. The monks were teaching them English using 10-year0old newspaper articles, she said.
The orphanage needs basic school supplies like pencils and notepads, plus any material that could help the orphans learn English. Cambodians who know English can get better jobs, because they can communicate with tourists and other Asians from the region, which has a great diversity of languages and dialects.
Local schools or individuals could also donate old supplies, she said.
“Out goal is to try to provide a little bit of hope to these orphan children by providing some supplies for their education,” McAleer said. “Park City has always been so, so generous. There are so many wonderful causes her and so many around the world.”
Mailing items to Cambodia is tricky business. McAleer sent the orphanage a box of supplies in February 2003, and it didn't arrive until May 2004.
The Rosses have had similar problems.
“Every time we have friends send something we try different strategies and none have come across as foolproof,” Ross said. “In the end most packages sent do make it here, but they often take an inordinate amount of time.”
Packages are usually delivered faster and in better shape than boxes are, Ross said, and there is a small fee for accepting packages. Ross said he's happy to pay the fee for any donations, but money would work best.
“The easiest, and quickest way is through cash donations,” he said. “Most of the supplies the students need can be bought locally and often at a cheaper prices than in the states.”
Cash donations avoid the risk and delay of sending packages to Cambodia, as well as a $30 fee banks charge to transfer the money internationally, Ross said. Furthermore, it would help the Cambodian economy.
“I understand that sending money into the unknown is a little daunting, but we are very interested in this project and with our background and our ties to Park City, we are hoping (donors) can trust that we will use the money as it is intended,” Ross said.
Ross volunteered to take pictures of the orphans receiving and using donated supplies, and send them to donors with “thank you” notes from the children.
McAleer doesn't want to set up a non-profit organization to handle the donations, so they will not be tax deductible.
“I think this has the potential to get really huge,” she said. “If we were able to send just $500 over there, that buys a tremendous amount. It would be an incredible effort.”
San Francisco Chronicle:
By Jeanne Cooper
As Cambodia's appeal to tourists spreads, getting and staying there is becoming less of an adventure.
Malaysia Airlines began regular flights between Kuala Lumpur and Siem Reap, the closest Cambodian city to the famed temples of Angkor Wat, earlier this month.
The new Siem Reap flights are Monday, Thursday and Saturday; the return flight from Sieam Reap includes a stopover in Phnom Penh. Service is on a two-class Boeing 737-400 aircraft with 144 seats. U.S. travelers can fly to Siem Reap via Kuala Lumpur from Los Angeles and Newark, NJ; fares begin at $1,120 and $1,070, respectively, including an overnight hotel stay on the Malaysian capital. For information, call (800) 552-9264 or visit www.malaysiaairlinesusa.com.
Don't know where to sleep in Siem Reap? The Siem Reap Angkor Wat Hotel and Guesthouse Association's website, www.angkorhotels.org, offers information and reservations for a range of accommodations. Formed in early 2002, the association is "committed to the development of a responsible and sustainable tourist industry in the Angkor region."
The industry is certainly growing: In 2003, the latest figures available from the association, Siem Reap had 57 hotels, 120 guesthouses, 27 resorts and 59 restaurants, with another 26 hotels under construction. Last year's dip in tourism due to the poor U.S. economy and SARS fears, which affected many Asian countries, also appears to be reversing.
One of the newer lodging options is Journeys Within Bed & Breakfast, which opened in January on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Owners Andrea and Brandon Ross say they were inspired by their first visit to Cambodia in 2002 to create both the three-bedroom inn, which blends Western comforts and Cambodian design, and a "boutique tourism" company that focuses on Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.