877-454-3672

Search Tours

Is Vietnam safe to visit?

Hoi An, VietnamI get asked a lot if it’s safe to go to Vietnam. I always answer this question by talking about how you have to be careful of pickpockets and just use common sense, etc, but the truth is that this question goes much deeper than that. It’s about Americans wondering if those we used to see as enemies are now in fact welcoming hosts?

And the answer is yes, yes it’s safe and yes they’re gracious, kind and welcoming hosts. You see, the Vietnam war, while still rather raw for us, is something that Vietnam had to rapidly get over. Reunification caused a lot of pain, but it forced the country to pull off the bandaid and move on in healing their country. Also, if you’ve watched the Ken Burns documentary you know that the American war was just a continuation of a struggle the Vietnamese had faced for centuries. Post war Vietnam had to re-grow and they had to get past the past.

For America, our healing was different. As we were the ones that withdrew, it felt a little bit like a Band-Aid you could never take off, like a wound that would forever be on the collective American soul. Now as travelers, you can’t help but know about that wound. You can’t help but feel we had unfinished business in Vietnam and wonder if that business is going to become yours, as soon as you touch down on Vietnamese soil.

The answer is absolutely not. The healing that needs to be done isn’t actually on the Vietnamese side, but more on our side. It’s amazing to realize that this country has come an incredibly long way since the war, pulling more people per capita above the poverty line than any other country on earth, and truly come out of a brutal time in their history to be a stronger, more united, and quite honestly fascinating country.

The first time I went to Vietnam I was nervous, I remember checking in, going through immigration and realizing that I was for the first time in my life entering a communist country. That was a new experience for me and growing up had been something that we were taught to fear. After a few days in Vietnam I realized that these warm, open, dynamic people had gotten past the history that we as Americans were having trouble doing. I could ask questions, I could ask them to tell me about their experiences and I wasn’t in fact pulling off any Band-Aids for them, I was merely asking them about a small part of their history. I think they found it fascinating that we wanted to know, that we wanted to understand and that they were proud of the unified Vietnam they got to show us.

Mr. Nam is a perfect example of this, as a Vietnamese Vietnam war veteran he lived for years under the ground in the Cu Chi Tunnels – meeting his wife, making babies, having a family, having a life, all underground. He lost an eye and an arm in the war, but he didn’t lose his sense of compassion or his incredible hosting ability. Drinking rice wine with Mr. Nam and eating his daughter-in-law‘s famous spring rolls has led me to the realization that letting things go, letting the past go and moving on and finding those friendships, is really a key part to life, we all have our own wars in our past and we could use a lesson from Mr. Nam in getting over.

So to answer the question yes, you’re absolutely safe in Vietnam, but I wouldn’t put your wallet in your back pocket when you visit the market and I’d get ready to bargain hard! The people are kind and friendly and there’s a ton of energy in the country right now as it moves forwards in its development. Vietnam should be on everyone’s must-visit list and our history only makes it a more intimate experience!… Read more »

Journeys Within handing over Southeast Asia ground operations offices to our local staff

The Journeys Within team

When we founded Journeys Within Tour Company out of the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I had no idea what I was doing.

I remember early on a friend in the industry asked me, “Are you a ground operator or a tour operator?”

He was rewarded with a blank stare.

It turns out that ground operators have local offices on the ground, hire the guides and drivers, and book the various activities a traveler will experience. A tour operator is based in the U.S. and works with the clients to put together an itinerary, which, when ready to go, is booked through one or more ground operators. (Want more details? See April’s great blog post about the differences here.)

After having this explained to me I promptly replied, “Oh, I need to do both!”

In those early days while I was living in Cambodia, we were working directly with the guides, drivers, hotel managers and other elements of the trip and we hadn’t found any companies in Southeast Asia that we felt had the same standards we did – a high level of service, customization and a willingness to go above and beyond for every trip.

On the other hand, I loved working with the clients. I loved hearing what they liked and didn’t like, and putting together the dream itinerary for them. I couldn’t imagine not keeping that pie together, thus Journeys Within was born.

We opened offices in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and partnered with a friend in Myanmar. We trained guides and worked with drivers. We worked with our local offices to build capacity and to grow our team. We hired April and grew our U.S. office so clients could easily contact us and so we could have a presence here in the States.

Splitting my time between the U.S. and Southeast Asia, I ran one business, comprised of at least five different companies. (Oh, and we started and ran an amazing sister non-profit called Journeys Within Our Community.)

It has been a wonderful adventure and I think it allowed Journeys Within to become what it is today – a global family dedicated to creating incredible trips.

Now, as we look to the future, we are realizing it is time to evolve.

This year two things have happened simultaneously that have made the path forward become very clear.

The first is that more and more guests are asking us to book trips for them in other areas of the world – areas that we know and love, but we don’t have the time or energy to work on, as we are so involved in Southeast Asia. Our clients are asking us to be a true tour operator.

As we’ve seen this phenomenon happen, I have also realized the capacity of our ground teams. When we first started the offices in each country, it was because I needed to train our team and create the experience we wanted for our guests. Tourism in Southeast Asia was new and we moved there because we felt we were creating jobs, not taking them away from locals. Sure enough we’ve created those jobs and built these incredible local teams, and they are now at the point that they don’t need me.

Don’t get me wrong, they still want our amazing clients to come and travel with them; it’s me looking over their shoulders that they don’t need. So, with this in mind, I have decided to hand our local offices over to our local teams.

This won’t happen overnight, but in the next six months we will transition to them owning and operating their own ground operations offices. They’re ready to take over and I’m ready to let go!

I couldn’t be more proud of our teams on the ground and the fact that they are ready to run these ground operations businesses on their own. I’m excited to work with them to keep the standards as high as they are and to watch them grow. In Southeast Asia, ownership is king and my teams deserve to own their own slice of the Journeys Within pie!

In fact we’ve already tested this roadmap with Michelle and Khoa in Vietnam. Khoa has been a Journeys Within guide for over 12 years and his wife Michelle was our original Vietnam Director. Now, we have partnered with Michelle and Khoa and they have their own ground operation in Vietnam, running the Journeys Within tours and creating incredible experiences for our guests. We will use this model as we hand over the Laos and Cambodia offices to our teams on the ground there and we’re excited that we can keep the high level of service, but empower our local teams.

As for us in the U.S. office, the transition will allow all of us to embrace being a tour operator and continue providing the incredible customer service that has won us recognition as one of Travel + Leisure’s Top 10 Tour Operators in the World (thanks to your votes!). And we hope in the future to be able to add destinations and tours beyond Southeast Asia, with the same Journeys Within quality, service and adventure.

So when I’m asked now, I can answer quickly: “We’re a tour operator, but we work very closely with our amazing ground operators.”

Sincerely,

Andrea Ross

p.s. Nothing will change in terms of how you work with us here at Journeys Within. April and I will still be your points of contact in the U.S. office. Give us a call at 877-454-3672 anytime!

What our Southeast Asia staff are saying

Play video: Narla's reaction

Click here for a short video we shot with Narla about the transition. We also spoke with Michelle Nguyen of In Country Tours, the ground operator who will be working with Journeys Within to execute tours in Vietnam and Cambodia after the change in company structure…

Andrea Ross: After working for Journeys Within for so many years, how do you feel now that you’re running your own company and working with Journeys Within?

Michelle Nguyen: We are an extension of the team, whether it’s working with the guiding stars or with the unicorn warriors in the office. Having fun and working hard together for a common vision is a great motivator. It’s such a great opportunity to continue to work with people you know who share the same ethos and approach to experiential travel and customer care as we do.

Andrea: What does being in the Journeys Within family mean to you?

Michelle: We feel very blessed and fortunate. Over the years we have all established such a close bond, one built through an extensive time of learning together, understanding and supporting each other. It is rare to find a business that is so successful in proactively growing and enriching lives as Journeys Within is. You share time and experiences not only with your team, but also gathered under the Journeys Within umbrella are their family members. We feel the importance of people. Even this past summer, we all went away on holiday together and it was so special to feel everyone’s happiness.

Andrea: What does owning and running your own company mean to you?

Michelle: It is the opportunity to bring some “sunshine” to as many people’s lives as possible through doing something you are passionate about.… Read more »

Ban Kok village finishes school upgrades with donations from Journeys Within travelers

Journeys Within travelers who visited the village of Ban Kok, Laos will be excited to see the upgrades their donations have made possible at the Ban Kok school site.

A new sidewalk and fence have recently been completed, providing the kids with safer access to education in this rural village.

Read more »

Introducing the “Refill Not Landfill” campaign

Refill Not Landfill logo

From the very beginnings of Journeys Within in Cambodia, we’ve tried to find a solution to the thousands of plastic single-use water bottles that accumulate over time. Like in many developing countries, the tap water in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia is not safe to drink, thus single-use plastic water bottles become the norm for visitors, and our guests were no exception.

For years all of Journeys Within’s cars and vans had a cooler in the back full of these environmentally-devastating bottles. Cambodia doesn’t have any plastic bottle recycling, so every bottle was ending up in a landfill, or worse, in the Tonle Sap or Mekong rivers.

Exploring Angkor
Andrea, Callie and Couper explore the Angkor temples with their Refill Not Landfill reusable water bottles.

At the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel we offered glass water bottles in every room and at meals filled up glasses with water, rather than use more plastic bottles, but it was a small dent in a large problem. At one point we ordered BPA-free water bottles and gave them out to each guest, but we soon realized that our drivers and guides were filling these water bottles up from single-use bottles and the problem wasn’t being solved – it was merely being hidden from our guests.

Skip ahead to 2016… Christian De Boer, now the GM of the amazing Jaya House River Park Hotel, came up with and promoted the Refill Not Landfill campaign, and like we had done many years ago, printed up bottles for each of his guests. Here however, is where Christian was able to come up with a real solution to the problem.

Refill Not Landfill bottles in action

Not only did he partner with tour companies like Journeys Within, but he also got restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues to set up refill stations. These refill stations consist of larger water bottles that have clean, filtered water and can be used to refill the smaller reusable bottles. So now, guests can have a Journeys Within water bottle, but get it filled up at their hotel, at their lunch stop and even at the circus that night.

On my July 2017 trip to Cambodia, the kids and I loved having our bottles and we made the most of so many of the refill stations. More and more partners are joining the community initiative and Journeys Within is so proud to be a founding member. Check out this video that highlights how a day without single-use water bottles in Cambodia becomes a reality…

ABOUT REFILL NOT LANDFILL

Refill Not Landfill aims to cut down on the millions of plastic water bottles discarded in Cambodia each year by offering an alternative: reusable aluminum bottles. Our informal consortium hopes to revolutionize the way that tourists consume water in a country where few plastic containers are recycled, with most ending up in mountainous landfills or piling up beside roads, choking the Kingdom’s waterways and littering azure fields with waste. Click here to read more…

Refill Not Landfill bottles in action

Refill Not Landfill bottles in action

Refill Not Landfill bottles in actionRead more »

Introducing Knowmad Adventures

Knowmad Adventures team

Journeys Within is excited to announce that we are partnering with Knowmad Adventures – a boutique travel agency specializing in active, authentic and sustainable travel to South America and Antarctica, with destinations including Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Easter Island and the Galapagos.

Jordan Harvey, one of Knowmad’s co-founders, has been listed as a fellow Condé Nast Traveler Specialist and Travel + Leisure A-List Winner.  We recommend Knowmad to our guests because they embrace a similar philosophy to our own – the belief that ‘travel makes us better people’ and that having incredible guides transforms a trip into a life-changing experience.

Knowmad creates customized itineraries and can arrange tours that focus on family travel, adventure travel, honeymoons, treks, luxury travel, visiting the highlights or incorporate a mix of all of the above.  They take pride in providing connections to the local community with every unique experience, married with incredible accommodations.

We recently had the chance to ask Knowmad co-founder Tara Harvey a few questions about the company. Her answers are below…

Journeys Within: Tell us your story. When did you start Knowmad Adventures and what is your focus?

My husband Jordan and I started Knowmad Adventures 8 years ago. We hopped on a flight right after we got married and rented a cabin heated only by a wood-burning stove on a farm in Northern Patagonia, Chile. From there we explored the country, building trips that we envisioned family and friends would love. It was an incredible adventure!

A year later we landed back in Minneapolis, where we’re both from and are now based, and today we’ve grown to a team of 7 operating more than 500 authentic, custom trips annually to Chile, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Antarctica.

Call or email a Knowmad Trip Specialist to create your South America trip today: 1-877-616-8747 or travel@knowmadadventures.com.

Patagonia, Chile and Argentina

JW: When is the ideal time of year to visit and plan a trip to South America?

Patagonia & Chile or Argentina: If your journey to Chile or Argentina includes Patagonia, you’ll want to go during our winter and their summer (November through March).

Central Chile and Argentina (the vineyards, Buenos Aires & Santiago) have a climate similar to the Mediterranean and can be traveled to year round.

Easter Island, a Polynesian island off the coast of Chile, and Northern Chile and Argentina (the Atacama Desert, Salta, Iguazu Falls) are also great year-round destinations.

We recommend planning your trip to Chile or Argentina at least 6 to 8 months out for the most accommodation choices, and during the high, holiday season as much as one year in advance.

Peru

Machu Picchu & Peru: Travelers can visit Peru any time of year. Dry season starts in the second half of April and lasts until November. Daytime temps throughout the year are consistently moderate in the areas of Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, however nighttime temperatures are cooler during the dry season and can drop below freezing. June, July and August are the most visited months and the weather is pleasant, however it is more crowded. Our favorite time to visit is the ‘shoulder season’ coming just before and just following the rainy season (the second half of April, May, October, November) when the weather is fairly dry and visits aren’t at their peak.

We recommend planning your trip to Peru at least 4 to 8 months in advance. If looking to travel during the high season (May through August and the holidays) or hike the Inca Trail, we recommend 8 to 12 months in advance for the most choices and permit availability.

Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands & Ecuador: As Ecuador is located on the Equator, there is little seasonal differentiation and it is a great year-round destination. Although there is a slightly wetter season and a slightly drier season, there is little predictability and these variations differ from region to region, as Ecuador is so geographically diverse. There is never a bad time to visit the Galapagos. Talk to a Knowmad Trip Specialist for details on the best time of year to snorkel or dive, to see the bird’s mating rituals or sea turtles nesting.

We recommend planning your trip to Ecuador & the Galapagos at least 4 to 8 months out for the most accommodation or cruise choices. If looking to travel during the holidays or if working with a strict travel window, we recommend 8 to 12 months.

Antarctica

Antarctica: October to March is the only permitted time to travel to Antarctica. With that being said, the best time to plan your Antarctica travels is dependent on the wildlife you want to see, as penguins, sea birds, whales, and seals have specific time periods in which they mate, birth or are in the region to feed.

Plan your trip to Antarctica at least 6 to 8 months out, and during the holiday season as much as one year in advance.

Please note that Knowmad has planned trips with as little as 1 week of notice as well, so if you’re looking at planning a last-minute trip, please reach out and your Trip Specialist can check availability in the region where you are looking at traveling.

JW: What itinerary would you recommend for a traveler’s first trip to South America?

Peru is a great country to start with for your first visit to South America, offering a variety of landscapes and cultures, and it’s under a 7-hour flight from Atlanta. Our Classic Machu Picchu trip idea has you getting off the beaten path in the Sacred Valley, visiting vibrant traditional villages and markets and returning to charming accommodations as you journey through ancient ruins, ending at the famed Machu Picchu. There are a multitude of options to customize the itinerary with culinary experiences, active excursions such as stand up paddle boarding, trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting and camping, or luxury hacienda stays, and more!

Classic Machu Picchu tour

Classic Machu Picchu Trip Idea Highlights:

  • Experience a variety of vibrant indigenous Andean cultures
  • Ride the rails in an historic train along the ancient Inca Trail
  • Explore the famed Lost City of Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate
  • Wander the legendary Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Ollantaytambo
  • Meander the stone streets and bustling markets of Cusco
  • Get off the beaten path, discover the ancient ways of Amaru villagers, and bargain for colorful, hand-woven textiles in colorful Pisac market
  • Lunch in a centuries-old hacienda while relaxing in the Sacred Valley

Extension ideas include the Amazon, Lake Titicaca, or even combine your trip to Peru with the Galapagos Islands.

Click here for more details on the Classic Machu Picchu trip idea.

Knowmad typical travelers

JW: What type of travelers do you typically work with?

We work with independent-minded travelers looking for unique, custom, and private travel experiences in South America. Since we’re experts in the regions we operate (vs. specializing in one travel style worldwide) we’re able to maximize your time by planning a trip that is tailored specifically to your interests and dates. We offer:

  • Same or better pricing
  • Stress-free planning process
  • Pre-departure information and local on-the-ground support
  • Door-to-door trip planning services; Knowmad will navigate seasonality of a the destination, logistics in transportation, and coordinate your accommodations and excursions for a holistic, seamless South American itinerary

Don’t take our word for it though! See what our travelers and the press have to say about us:

“Harvey and his wife were living on a dairy farm in Patagonia when they founded Knowmad Adventures, and their friends – artists, chefs, architects, and photographers – became their network of insider contacts. The result? Many of the vineyards, haciendas and estates available to their clients aren’t typically open to the public.” – Travel + Leisure

“Quite simply the best trip we’ve ever taken. Destinations astounded, logistics and planning flawless, and your intimate knowledge and relationships made for a trip that was personal every inch of the way.” – Deanna and Rachel, Santa Barbara, CA

“Harvey focuses on customized travel to areas off the beaten path.” – Condé Nast Traveler

“The Knowmad team put together the trip of a life time for us. Everything was perfect, from the guides to the accommodations to the activities, and your extensive knowledge of the area and personal relationships with the people we met in Chile were invaluable. We can’t recommend Knowmad highly enough.” – Ben and Sarah, New York, NY

JW: What is your trip planning process like?

The process is easy. First is a quick call or email exchange that allows us to learn a bit about you and your group (custom trips can be for one or many people). If you have a general idea of where you want to visit that’s great, or if you don’t know when or where you’d like to travel we will discuss options.

We will learn about how physically active you want to be, how long you may travel, what activities interest you most, and some general info about your travel style and preferences. With this information we create a ‘skeleton’ or bare-bones trip flow or two that we send for you to look over, or we suggest a sample itinerary. After sharing with your travel partners we can collaborate on changes, or you may like the general outline of the trip.

From there we will create a detailed custom trip proposal with all suggested activities and lodging provided, as well as exact costing and inclusions. We can collaborate on any desired changes, or you may choose to confirm your trip. This process and detailed custom proposal is free and there is no obligation to confirm your trip.

We are the leader in custom travel to South America, and not only is this process easy, but it results in you having your perfect trip, one that is as dynamic and unique as you are.

Knowmad Adventures – 1-877-616-8747 or travel@knowmadadventures.com

JW: Are their any other favorite itineraries or excursions you want to share with us?

This is such a hard question to answer! It’s our job to be innovative with trips and we’re constantly seeking out new excursion options, foodie experiences, tucked away boutique hotels, and off the beaten path destinations.

Stand up paddle boarding paired with a Pachamanca feast on the shores of a high altitude lake in Peru has been a recent favorite excursion of mine. We’ve also come up with a variety of itineraries that explore the Galapagos Islands in a land-based way vs. on a cruise.

Combining Chile and Argentina by way of Patagonia like this luxury Chile and Argentina adventure trip does is a stunning way to experience the contracting cultures and landscapes of both sides of the Andes. Ice hiking on centuries old glacier, galloping up sand dunes in the Atacama Desert, wine tasting with the owner of a vineyard in Mendoza – you name it! They’re all favorites!

Let the Journey Begin – Call Knowmad at 1-877-616-8747

Planning a trip to South America might seem a little overwhelming at first and sometimes the easiest way to get started is to simply give us a call 1-877-616-8747. You’re likely to get company owners Tara or Jordan Harvey on the phone, and we’re happy to chat travel at absolutely no obligation to you. Or send us a quick email at travel@knowmadadventures.com and we’ll get back to you shortly.… Read more »