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A month worth of Southeast Asia memories

In the summer of 2014, Journeys Within guests Michele and Michael traveled through Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos on an epic month-long Southeast Asia trip that made a lasting impression on them. One year later, they sent us a few photos from their trip along with the note below…

Sjwedagon Pagoda at night
We visited this landmark sight twice during our time in Yangon, and dusk is definitely our favorite time to see it, though any visit there is one that will be seared into your memory. The gold of the pagodas reflects the light of the setting sun and is almost blinding. Whether it is beautiful or gaudy is in the eyes of the beholder – the temple had a bit of a feel of “Buddhism meets Disneyland”!

Hard to believe it’s been a year since our trip with you to Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos in May-July, 2014)! We have so many incredible memories of our trip, and an even larger collection of photos! You asked us to send along a few of our favorite photos.

We have referred numerous friends and colleagues to your travel company and to the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap – hopefully, at least some of them became clients. Definitely hoping we will be able to travel with you again some time!

Warmest regards,
Michele and Michael

Monk with dogs at temple
Scene at the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar, famous for housing the world’s largest book (729 marble slabs inscribed with the Buddha’s doctrine). This young girl was running through the temple, accompanied by four dogs, all of them with looks of sheer joy on their faces!

HIGHLIGHTS OF MICHELE AND MICHAEL’S ITINERARY

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Yangon: City Tour
Enjoy a full day tour of the city center, taking in some of the highlights such as the National Museum, Bogyoke Aung San Museum, Chaukhtatgyi (a colossal reclining Buddha), and Karaweik Hall on Kandawgyi Lake. You will also get the chance to explore the famous Bogyoke (Scott) Market, home to hundreds of stalls selling local souvenirs. No visit to Yangon would be complete without spending some time at the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda, one the most venerable places of worship in Myanmar. Take in the array of gold and gems which light up around the giant golden dome as the sun slowly sets around you. Watch as the locals come here to make offerings before they return home for the day. Return to your hotel in the early evening.

Bagan sunset
We waited patiently for sunset over Bagan, Myanmar at an acclaimed viewing spot requiring us to climb barefoot to the top of the ruins of a massive temple, but the sunset was mostly a bust. We finally gave up, climbed down the temple, and left. As we drove away, the light changed dramatically, so we pulled over quickly and I was able to get this shot. Not a bust after all, even if the intended location changed! (We loved our guide and driver, who never complained about my frequent requests for photo stops.)

Yangon: Yangon – Bagan
In the morning, you will be driven to the airport in time to catch your flight to the ancient city of Bagan where you will spend the day exploring the city. Visit Nyaung U Market, Shwezigon Pagoda (the prototype for later Myanmar Stupas), Kyansittha Umin, Wet-Kyi-Inn Gubyaukgyi Temple with its exquisite mural painting from the 13th Century, and Htilominlo Temple. After lunch visit a fascinating lacquer-ware workshop before continuing on to Manuha Temple, built by the exiled King Manuha, before stopping at Nanphaya, said to have been the residence of King Manuha. You will also visit Ananda Temple, an architectural masterpiece, as well as the Oakkyaung Monastery, which is decorated with multi-colored mural paintings. End the day with some breathtaking sunset views from the terraces of an ancient temple.

Bagan: Mt. Popa
After breakfast, head out on a side-excursion to impressive Mt.Popa, an extinct volcano known as the abode of the legendary nats (naughty spirits!); a one hour drive. Here a temple complex sits perched atop the summit where, for the energetic, there is time to climb the 777 steps to the top of the hill or, for the less energetic, an opportunity to join the local pilgrims and participate in the festivities at the base. Mt. Popa is a natural place to learn about the nat, or spirit, as people traditionally believe that the custom of nat worship started here and it is still practiced here as although Myanmar is a Buddhist country they also practice spirit worship in the belief that it will bring about prosperity. Depart Mt. Popa return to Bagan.

The_Duck_Herder
Who knew that ducks got herded? Scene from the famous wooden bridge at U Bein, outside of Mandalay, Myanmar.

Mandalay: Drive to Pyin U Lwin
Your driver will meet you at your hotel for your private transfer to the airport, where you will arrive in time for your onward flight to Mandalay. After arrival set off on a 1 ½-hr drive to Pyin U Lwin (formerly known as Maymyo, named after Colonel May, a veteran of the Indian Mutiny and commander of the Bengal Regiment temporarily stationed here in 1887). Located a good 1000m above sea level, this former British hill station is home to a range of red-brick colonial buildings, and also famous for its delicious coffee. Explore the area with its local market and cafes, before continuing on to the nearby Botanical Gardens, founded in 1915 by a British botanist, which cover an area of more than 170 acres of land and 70 acres of water. You will also have the option of riding in a horse-drawn cart to the Thiri Myaing, formerly known as the Candacraig, a beautiful colonial mansion which was built in 1904 by the British Bombay Burma Timber Company for their expatriates. Continue on by car to the Peik Chin Myaung Cave, located about 10 miles from the city, where you can spend some time exploring. Return back to Pyin U Lwin for the evening.

Pyin U Lwin – Mandalay
After an early breakfast your guide will meet you to transfer you back to Mandalay. Once you have arrived in town have lunch before you take a sightseeing tour which includes Mahanumi, a life like Buddha image; visiting a gold leaf making center, to see the gold leaf still being made by hand; marble sculpture and tapestry workshops and Zaycho Market. In the afternoon visit the Old Palace grounds; Kuthodaw Pagoda, known as the world’s largest book for its 729 marble slabs inscribed with the Buddha’s Doctrine; Golden Palace Monastery, noted for its exquisite wood carvings; Atumashi Monastery; and Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, where a huge image is carved out of a single block of marble. At sunset enjoy the panoramic view of the city from Mandalay Hill.

Mandalay: Amarapura and Ava with Sagaing Sunset
Drive to Amarapura where you will visit Mahagandayon Monastery and watch as a thousand monks take their last meal of the day at 10am in total silence. Then take a leisurely walk across U Bein, a 200 year old curved wooden bridge with beautiful views out over the lake and a superb destination for photography. Afterwards, take a walk to a nearby village to see the local’s process of dying silk and then visit a local silk weaving shop where you will learn how the Burmese silk weaving industry makes its fine cloth. Carry on to the Kingdom of Ava. After crossing a tributary via ferry with locals, you will travel by pony-cart through villages, farms and tree lined lanes of Ava. You will have the opportunity to see the leaning tower of Nanmyint and the hidden royal swimming pool nearby. Then venture to the picturesque Bagaya wooden monastery, surrounded by farmland and local sellers and artists. You will also go to see the newly revealed standing Buddha image at Aungmyaybonza Monastery also known as the residence of the Royal Abbot (some believe it to be haunted). Though the Royal Palace has gone, the Pagodas, Temples and Monasteries still remain and leave a feeling of a previous time. Proceed on to Sagaing Hill, which is famous for being covered with about 600 white-washed pagodas and monasteries. The Hill is famous for Buddhism and meditation, a home to over 3000-monks and 100-meditation centers. You will go to visit Soon-Oo-Pon-Nya-Shin & U-Min-Thonw-Sae Pagodas while taking in the setting sun over the below plains.

Heho: Arrival and drive to Pindaya
Fly to Heho with Air Kanbawza K7282, departing 8:55 and arriving at 9:30, and then proceed by road to Pindaya (60Km), a small, quiet town, about an hour and a half drive. Visit Pindaya caves famous for its thousands of centuries-old Buddha images of various sizes, some carved into the face of the rock and some deposited in niches in the walls. Next visit a home based paper and umbrella making industry where you will be able to see all of the steps in the process starting with the gathering of local plants to the finished product – beautiful, decorative paper umbrellas. Check into your traditional cottage hotel.

Pindaya – Inle Lake
Enjoy the drive through some beautiful scenery to Inle Lake, home to the Intha people who live their lives on the water. Upon arrival at Nyaung Shwe jetty, transfer directly to your beautiful floating hotel. Check in before taking a boat trip around the lake where you will see the unique method locals use to row their boats, fishermen with their own style of fishing, floating farms and gardens, and a handloom weaving cottage with its own showroom. You will visit Phaungdawoo Pagoda which houses the five most revered Buddha Images in the southern Shan States and Nga Phe Cheung Monestary, formerly known as the Cat Jumping Monastery, which got its name from formerly teaching cats to do tricks but has hence stopped this practice due to overly worked cats. You can still enjoy the many roaming cats while learning about the Shan style Buddhas at the beautiful mid nineteenth century teak monastery. It is a great location to capture monastery life on the lake with it located right on the outskirts of a massive floating garden.

Inle Lake: Indein
Your guide will meet you at your hotel and you will take a boat to Indein, a small village on the western bank of Inle Lake.  To get there you pass through a channel, one of the prettiest boat rides on the lake.  You can visit some of the village houses to see their day to day lives. It takes about 30 minutes to walk up the hill of Indein Pagoda complex, as you pass through the bamboo forest where you will see the ruined temples under renovation. Return the way you came, by boat, and once again enjoy the picturesque ride. On your way back you will stop along the way to learn and witness some of the local’s distinct handicrafts of lotus weaving, cigar rolling, blacksmithing and silverwares.

Bangkok: Half day City Tour and Phnom Penh: Arrival
Your guide will meet you at your hotel in the morning and take you to a famous flower market by private minibus. Enjoy the sights and smells there before visiting the pride of Thailand, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew housing the Emerald Buddha. Follow your guide to Wat Pho and you will see the Reclining Buddha. While at Wat Pho enjoy a relaxing 30-minute traditional Thai massage before heading for lunch at a local restaurant and after that take a stroll down to amulet market and return to your hotel in the afternoon.

Phnom Penh: City Tour
This morning take a tour of the Royal Palace, which to this day is still the royal residence. See the amazing royal collection and the beautiful architecture before heading to the National Museum, where you will be taken around by a trained museum guide who will show you some wonderful pre-Angkorean pieces as well as a number of special pieces from the temples. After your cultural morning, enjoy lunch at Friends, a restaurant benefiting at-risk street children. On the way back stop at a local organization that takes at-risk and orphaned children and provides them with education and dance training, sit in on a traditional dance class and be amazed at the grace and persistence of these students.

Phnom Penh: Toul Sleng and Killing Fields Tour
Head to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum where your guide will explain the history of the Khmer Rouge and walk you through the different museum displays. After watching the movie they show every day, head out to the Killing Fields, where a memorial stupa and shallow pits remind visitors of the thousands killed under the Pol Pot Regime. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch your guide will take you to central market, reported to be the biggest domed market in the world, and to the famous Russian Market where everything from souvenirs to car parts is on sale. Enjoy a shopping spree or just browse along with the locals out doing their shopping.

Siem Reap: Arrival and Village Tour and Sunset at Angkor Wat
You will be taken to the airport in time to catch your onward flight to Siem Reap. Set out on the Journeys Within Village Tour with our guide who will take you to his village, showing you rice paddies and typical homes along the way. Once there enjoy a fresh coconut drink and meet his family and neighbors. Walk from here to West Baray Lake where you can take a local boat around this picturesque area before returning to shore where your car will be waiting for you. Head out to the temples and watch the sunset from Angkor Wat.

Siem Reap: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom: Sunrise to Sunset
Wake up early and head out to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Return to your hotel for a delicious breakfast. After breakfast head back to Angkor Wat with your guide. Explore this majestic temple throughout the morning while it is still cool and has fewer tourists. Return to Journeys Within for lunch and a nap. In the afternoon head to Angkor Thom, the famous walled city and see the many temples within its borders, including the fascinating Bayon temple with its many magnificent faces smiling out. Watch the sun set over Angkor Wat, or climb Phnom Bakeng and watch the sunset from on high.

Siem Reap: Banteay Srei, Other Temples and JWOC Class
This morning set off with your guide to Banteay Srei, the intricately carved temple located just 30km beyond Angkor Wat. As you head towards your hotel you can stop at Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, two of the prettiest temples in the complex. Enjoy climbing through these smaller unique sites. Enjoy lunch in the temple complex overlooking Sra Srang. Many of our students at Journeys Within Our Communities (JWOC) have limited opportunity to speak and hear English in their everyday lives and we welcome you to come and help us out by conversing with our eager students. Helping these students practice their English for an hour is a rewarding and fascinating experience, and gives you a real insight into Cambodians’ perspectives on life. You will be amazed at their desire to learn about your culture, and the enthusiasm they hold to learn English. Your ability to speak English is the only qualification you need and by participating in the program you are playing a vital role in developing our students’ English skills.

Siem Reap: Tonle Sap Kompong Kleang Village
Upon arrival at Tonle Sap, take a boat ride to visit the village of Kompong Kleang and a Cambodian fish farm. Kompong Kleang is located on the northern section of the lake and is a less traveled village. During the dry season it is a forest of stilted houses and in the wet season a floating village. It is the largest community on the lake and, like all other lake communities, relies on fishing.

Siem Reap: Beng Mealea and Rolous Group and Artisans d’Angkor Silk Farm
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before leaving the crowds behind and heading to Beng Mealea, a temple only recently opened to the public, located about one and a half hours drive from the town center. After an hour you will leave the paved road and get onto a beaten track running through rice fields and villages of rural Cambodia. At the temple our guide will help you imagine how it once was as you pick your way through the rubble now surrounded by jungle. Head back towards Siem Reap, along the way stopping to visit the Rolous Group, a group of Angkorean temples located 15 minutes outside of Siem Reap in a beautiful area. In the afternoon take a walk around the old market where the locals and tourists shop side by side. Then head out to the Pua District, passing through Cambodian villages and countryside, until you reach the Artisans d’Angkor Silk Farm. Learn about the silk weaving process before seeing the beautiful finished products.

Luang Prabang: Arrival and Orientation Tour (pm)
In the morning visit the Land Mine Museum, a rather humble look at the land mine problem, past and present, in Cambodia. Return to your hotel and enjoy the afternoon at your leisure before heading to your evening flight departure. Your driver will meet you at your hotel for your private transfer to the airport, where you will arrive in time for your onward flight to Luang Prabang. You will be picked up from the airport and driven to the main part of town for a quick orientation tour. Your guide will give you an introduction to the city, showing you the main roads, some restaurants and the night market area, before dropping you off at your hotel to check in.

Luang Prabang: Sunrise to Sunset
Wake up at sunrise to give monks morning alms. You’ll be accompanied by your guide who can demonstrate the proper method of alms giving and explain this daily Buddhist ceremony. Return to your hotel for breakfast, after which your guide will take you on a tour of the city, including visits to The National Museum, Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visun, Wat Aham and Wat Sen. Enjoy lunch at the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center located on the Mekong River surrounded by a garden and artisans on the outskirts of town. Enjoy the early afternoon relaxing or walking around before you continue your tour, visiting the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum and finishing with a hike up Mt. Phou Si in the late afternoon to see a sweeping view of Luang Prabang and watch the sunset.

Luang Prabang: Temples and Villages on the Mekong
Today you will explore the villages and livelihoods of the locals living off of the Mekong River. After breakfast you will meet your guide and be transferred to the boat pier on the Mekong. You will cross the river for Xieng Mien, in the district of Chomphet. Even though the Mekong River creates a short distance between Xieng Mien and Luang Prabang, you will quickly be able to see the differences between the two. You will take a stroll through the village lanes and visit three historic temples Wat Xieng Mene, Wat Chomphet and Wat Long Khoune. Afterwards you will join your boat and pick up your picnic lunch on the Luang Prabang side of the river before heading down to the pottery village of Ban Jan. Take a walk around to observe this village which is centuries old and home to some interesting handicrafts. You might even want to further support the village and pick up one of the fun handmade trinkets sold by the locals. Afterwards, head down river and take in the lush hilltops and serene river while on the less traveled stretch of the Mekong. Once you reach the fishing village of Ban Chompjua you will transfer to one of the local families’ fishing boats to join as they check traps. The styles and traps will vary depending on the season and level of the Mekong. Learn how time consuming the art of fishing is from the locals as they demonstrate the making of one of their gigantic fishing nets. You will then return to your long tail boat for a picturesque coast while you enjoy your picnic lunch and head for Ban Xing, the Lion Village. Take a walk around this believed to be 16th century village and see the remnants of a previous time. This farming and fishing village holds some of the oldest traditional homes near Luang Prabang. You will then join your village hosts’ home for a Lao baci ceremony. Your guide will explain this traditional blessing ceremony as you receive well wishes from elders in the village. After the ceremony you will travel up river back to Luang Prabang while taking in the setting sun.

Luang Prabang: Shangri Lao Full Day Expedition
Relive the footsteps of the historic 19th century French explorer, Dr. P. Neis with this original and authentic colonial style expedition. You will be picked up early morning from your hotel and transferred to the Shangri Lao camp 15 km outside of Luang Prabang. On arrival, you will get an introductory tour of the camp, the elephants and their hospital. After you meet your elephant you will begin your hour and half ride in a traditional Howdah seat with roof through the river, jungle and mountain tops. You will want to have your camera handy to take pictures of the majestic landscape that surrounds you. You will then stop for a secluded lunch of traditional Lao food and wine in the jungle Sala beside the cascading waters of the Huay Sae River. After lunch you will trek through the jungle for an hour and half passing waterfalls, limestone cliffs, bamboo bridges and turquoise pools while learning about this important ecosystem. Once you leave the valley you will meet Hmong horses who will transport your belongings for an uphill section of the trek through fields and plantations. Once you reach the Nam Khan River you will board a luxury bamboo raft. Have a coffee break while you float down river for an hour and a half taking in the traditional village life of farmers and fishermen. When you reach the camp you will then be transferred by minibus back to your hotel in Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang: The Living Land: Rice Cultivation and Handicrafts
Today you will learn about Laos’s most cherished and cultivated crop – rice! The Living Land Company is a community enterprise that specializes in growing organic vegetables and rice for the development of the local community and seven families that live on the farm. You will arrive at the Living Rice Farm and be introduced to your guide and farming expert. You will learn the 12 steps of rice farming from the seeding of the soil to cooking the coveted sticky rice for everyday consumption. You will have the opportunity to truly experience the life of a farmer by trying your hand at some of the activities, like helping to plow the muddy soil by guiding Susan the farm’s water buffalo or husking the rice with a traditional foot rice pounder. You will also learn about some of the other traditional skills of the farmer like blacksmithing and bamboo weaving. Enjoy the breathtaking view of the expansive rice fields, organic garden of herbs and vegetables, and the fish pond from the balcony of the farm’s traditional Lao wooden house. You will not only have the opportunity to learn about rice farming, but you will have the opportunity to talk to Lao farmers and gain an understanding about their way of life and gentle friendliness. Enjoy learning the secrets of Lao cuisine in an early evening cooking class at the Tamarind Cooking School. You will have a hands-on opportunity to cook your own Lao feast, including how to make the local staple-Lao sticky rice. You will be instructed by the owners of Tamarind Restaurant in the lush and beautiful surroundings of their cooking center just outside of town. After you learn about local ingredients and preparation methods, you’ll cook your own version of these local dishes and afterwards sit to enjoy your well-deserved dinner.

Luang Prabang – Nong Khiaw
After breakfast check out of your hotel and head to the north of the Luang Prabang Province. First, you will drive up the Mekong to the village of Pak Ou. From here board a small boat and take a tour of the local fishing area, checking traps with the fisherman along the way and collecting any fish you might find. You will then cross the Mekong by small boat to visit the small village of Ban Mueng Keo, known for its production of Lao whiskey. Here you will receive a demonstration of the whiskey-making process by a local Lao Lao producer. And if you’re up for it, sample the finished product for an early morning punch! Then travel downstream to visit the Pak Ou Caves, famous for the thousands of Buddha statues left inside by passerby. Return to Ban Pak Ou, where the former village chief and his family will cook you a Lao-style lunch and you’ll learn about dining customs and etiquette. After lunch you will begin your three hour drive along the Pak Ou River, through some of the most picturesque rolling hills and valleys of the Luang Prabang Province until you reach Nong Khiaw and check into your riverside bungalow.

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