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Traveling by Sound – Traditional Vietnamese Music

By Courtney Ridgel

Booking Coordinator, Courtney Ridgel traveled to Vietnam last May and reflects back on her interactive experience at The Truc Mai Music House:

Courtney tries her hand at playing the Ðàn Klôngpút, a rare instrument from the mountains of Vietnam
Courtney tries her hand at playing the Ðàn Klôngpút, a rare instrument from the mountains of Vietnam

Taking the time to listen and watch traditional music being performed is one of the best ways to really gain insight into a local culture.  For the Vietnamese, many stories and melodies are passed on and nurtured as part of their cultural identity.

Truc Mai House Music 1
Our hosts played a duet on bamboo xylophones, also known as ‘T’rung’ 
Truc Mai House Music 4
The stone lithophone, or Ðàn Ðá, is an ancient instrument that is believed to date back more than 3,000 years

One of the most unique and personal experiences for us in Vietnam was a visit the Truc Mai Music House in Saigon.   This family specializes in traditional Vietnamese music and performs all over the world.  They have a large collection of traditional instruments such as the monochord zither, bamboo xylophone, and stone lithophone in their home.  We were warmly welcomed inside and served hot tea, which we sipped while our hosts performed a private show for us in their living room.  This family studies and performs melodies from all across Vietnam and they really enjoyed explaining the origins and significance of each instrument.  As both of us come from a musical background, we were blown away when our hosts offered to let us try out the instruments ourselves after the performance!

Truc Mai House Music 5
Evan tries out the monochord zither or Đàn bầu

Thien Vien Truc Lam Bach Ma Pagoda

By Courtney Ridgel

Booking Coordinator Courtney Ridgel visited Central Vietnam last May and relflects back on visiting the Thien Vien Truc Lam Bach Ma Pagoda:  

One of the gilded rooftops of the Pagoda
The Pagoda is tucked into the White Horse Mountains 

During college I studied Zen Buddhism through some of my coursework so I was thrilled to have the chance to visit the Thien Vien Truc Lam Bach Ma Pagoda.  Zen Buddhism first came to Vietnam centuries ago, and was replaced by other forms of Buddhism in the 15th and 16th century.  This branch of Buddhism is now making a come-back and the Truc Lam Bach Ma Pagoda was built in 2006.

Pagoda 1
To reach the pagoda, you must first journey across the lake

Located in Central Vietnam, this hidden gem lies nestled into the White Horse (“Bach Ma”) Mountains, so named for the clouds resembling herds of horses.   Like something out of a legend, the temple sits on an island rising from the center of a man-made lake tucked into a valley.

Pagoda 4
Climbing a great number of stairs is believed to help clear the mind

One of the locals took us to the island in his small motorized boat where a group of nuns sat laughing and sharing stories.  The journey across the water and trek up the long steps to the entrance is meant to clear your mind and wash away guilt.  I found myself breathless, both from the views and from the deceptively long stairs.

Pagoda 7
Different halls house bells, drums, statues and other religious items
Pagoda 11
Behind the main pagoda, dedicated to the Buddha, is a second pagoda, dedicated to the founded of Chan or Zen Buddhism, the monk Bodhidharma

Passing through the impressive gate at the top of the island, we passed into the peaceful garden-like setting with various halls and traditional pagodas, complete with temple bells and carved dragons.   Inside, the halls are adorned with murals depicting the life of Buddha and the history of Zen Buddhism.

Pagoda 8
Dragons guard these sacred steps
Pagoda 9
Looking out at the main gate

Taking it all in, I just kept thinking, “I am so grateful to be here.”   This pagoda will definitely remain a magical place in my memory.

Year 10: 2013

We truly hope that our blog readers have had as much fun reflecting on the past 10 years as we have.  Through these pictures we’ve been able to show how Journeys Within embodies the slogan “Six Countries, One Team, Countless Experiences”. Thank you for taking the time to share these memories with us – here’s to the countless experiences over the next 10 years!

2013 cycling northern vietnam

Andrea is currently in Southeast Asia for touring and inspections and she’ll be blogging about her current trip. Although the 10 year blogs are done, stay tuned for blogs about what’s happening in Southeast Asia right now.

We wanted to end the 10 year anniversary blogs on a special note. With that, be sure to click the link and watch the video the team made for guide training 2013 here – Everybody Dance Now.



Launched Journeys Within Luxury Experiences

Andrea named a judge for the Conde Nast Traveler World Savers Awards


Conde Nast Traveler: The Dreammakers: Wendy Perrin’s Top 150 Travel Specialists

ArchetypeMe: Tomorrow’s Trips Today: Cambodia

Salon: Your vacation is unethical

Asia Newswire: Journeys Within extends its philanthropic reach underwater

Way Beyond Borders: ‘Pinch me’ moments in Southeast Asia

Your Travel Choice: A Sustainable Journey in Angkor Wat

Key Hires: 

Courtney Ridgel:

What year did join Team Journeys Within?: 


What were your thoughts of the company that first year?: 

I thought that this was a great opportunity to get into an International Company that still operates with the efficiency and comradery of a small company.  I really am interested in different people and cultures and I was so excited at the new adventure that Journeys Within presented.


Sokunna Chhe:

What year did join Team Journeys Within?:


What were your thoughts of the company that first year?:

I preferred to work in the tour company because it is my dream and I quite love this job.

Miranda Minassian:

What year did join Team Journeys Within?:


What were your thoughts of the company that first year?:

Over the year I have learned that what makes this company special is definitely the amazing cast of character we have working together. Everyone who works at Journeys Within, whether in California or on the ground in Southeast Asia is unique, passionate and giving of themselves. It makes for a great work environment and an unbelievable product.

Special Memories from 2013:

2013 andrea anna and binh
Andrea, Anna and Binh find the perfect temple
2013 andrea in cv
Andrea on a boat trip to the Cham Islands.
2013 anna and her boyfriend
Anna and her friend
2013 april and chris myanmar
April and Chris in Bagan
2013 bangko gt
Andrea and Ron head to Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkok
2013 bee
Bee, don’t jump!
2013 binh
Binh parasailing in Central Vietnam
2013 central vietnam
A picture perfect bike ride in Central Vietnam
2013 cnetral vietnam guides
Andrea, Anna and Binh at guide training in Central Vietnam
2013 elephants
A mama and her calf at Patara Elephant Farm, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
2013 flight of the gibbons
The Journeys Within team at Flight of the Gibbon in Siem Reap, Cambodia
2013 hoi an
The sunset in Hoi An
2013 jw at the circus
Team JW at Phare Circus, Siem Reap
2013 makara narla kanika and linda
Makara, Narla, Kanika and Linda at dinner after the circus
2013 myanmar
Ngapali Beach, Myanmar
2013 Rosie and Holly April
Rosie and Holly April, Khoa and Michelle’s daughters
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Regine and April meet the Bangkok team at Calypso Show in Bangkok
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Regine and April at Lebua State Tower in Bangkok
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A football game in the Shan state in Myanmar
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Songkran Festival in Bangkok
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Phare Circus performers, Siem Reap
Halong Bay 6
Courtney on a boat in Halong Bay

Employee Reflections: Thailand

Our Thailand office is always busy making sure all Journeys Within tours run as smooth as “Thai silk”! In our Employee reflections we’ve interviewed our Thailand office staff, Joy and Dream, as well as our top two guides, Ron and Bee.

bee and ron

You might be asking why Ron and Bee answered their questions together. The answer is, Ron and Bee do everything together! Not only are they two of our top Bangkok guides, but they once worked together in the booking office and they are the best of friends.

Ron Loonar & Chutimon “Bee” Sitthiwong:


What are your thoughts about Journeys Within now?:

JW has much more improved in every ways and growing constantly strong.

What are your thoughts on the next ten years (or just the future) for Journeys Within?:

Still the be the leading expert Indochina tour company.

What is your favorite memory working with Journeys Within?

We both have learnt a lot from the Journeys Within team, how to work as a good team. The happiest moment for us was when we traveled to Cambodia in 2012 to meet all our Journeys Within team.

Nichapat “Dream” Satthaton:


What are your thoughts about Journeys Within now?

Journeys Within offer best environment to work which will help me to give my best to you.

What are your thoughts on the next ten years (or just the future) for Journeys Within?

In next ten years, I want to see this company at the peak where I am also one of the responsible employee for this.

What is your favorite memory working with Journeys Within?

The memory about Journeys Within for me is I get the best colleague who can share experience with me.

Kanchana “Joy” Junglin:


What are your thoughts about Journeys Within now?

Ability to attract guests by serving them with the excellent services.

What are your thoughts on the next ten years (or just the future) for Journeys Within?

Hopefully the company will experience rapid growth .

What is your favorite memory working with Journeys Within?

I love that this is a family firm.

Year 9: 2012

In our 9th year big things happened at Journeys Within – National Geographic Magazine named our Mekong Experience tour a “Tour of a Lifetime”, JWOC partnered with the Cambodian Ministry of Education to provide 32 schools with clean water, Andrea was named as an A-List Travel Agent by Travel + Leisure, and so much more – read on to find out more milestones of 2012.




Journeys Within and The Marine Megafauna Foundation run the first Myanmar Culture and Conservation Tour

Mekong Experience tour was named a “Tour of a Lifetime” by National Geographic

Andrea named A List travel agent by Travel + Leisure Magazine

JWOC partners with Cambodian Ministry of Education to provide 32 schools with clean water.

Andrea, Callie and Couper moved to the US full time


National Geographic Traveler Magazine: 2012 Tours of a Lifetime

Conde Nast Traveler: 32 Trips of a Lifetime

Adventures All Around: Journeys Within Boutique Hotel

Trekaroo: Cambodia with Kids? Oh Yes!

Key Hires: 

Anna Baldwin:

What year did join Team Journeys Within?:


What were your thoughts of the company that first year?:

It was a pretty big move for me as I took over operations on the ground, almost immediately, so I’ll be honest it was all pretty daunting at first! But after no time at all I realized I had nothing to worry about. The reason Journeys Within is in my view one of the top tour companies in Southeast Asia is because it has one of the most talented and hardworking teams in the industry. Every single member of the company brings something new and exciting, with a unique passion and skill that develops every year. That first year I was introduced to some incredible people, from the guides that look after our guests on the ground,  to our amazing Country Directors who help us develop these unique tours that set us apart us from other companies. Working with these people has taught me more than I ever could have hoped for or imagined.

Michelle Crawford:

What year did join Team Journeys Within?:


What were your thoughts of the company that first year?:

A company that cares about their customers

Special Memories from 2012:

2012 andrea and nicole in klaos
Andrea and Nicole attend a Baci ceremony in Laos
2012 andrea and the girls
Andrea and the girls at the waterfall at Kulen Mountain, Siem Reap, Cambodia
2012 anna on a horse
Anna goes horseback riding at Happy Ranch in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
2012 april and kids song saa
April and her kids at Song Saa private island in Cambodia
2012 april and kids
April, Gavin and Scarlett at the waterfalls in Kulen
2012 directors meeting 1
Couper, Brandon, Jeab, Santhou, Bee and Ron on their way to a team building activity in Siem Reap, Cambodia
2012 directors meeting horseback riding
Team JW rides off into the sunset. Siem Reap, Cambodia
2012 directors meeting view
The sun sets into the flooded rice patties in Siem Reap, Cambodia
2012 dre and drea
Andrea Ross and Andrea Marshall lead the Myanmar Culture and Conservation tour
2012 dre and the lady
Andrea had the rare opportunity to see “The Lady” Aung San Suu Kyi speak in Myanmar
2012 drea truckee
Andrea makes Truckee, CA her new home
2012 drea
Andrea at the Directors meeting
2012 gavin and couper
Couper and Gavin playing games while picnicing at Kulen Mountain
2012 gavin
Gavin explores the temples in the Rolous Group
2012 helicopter narla andrea anna
Narla, Andrea and Anna take a helicopter ride above Angkor Wat
2012 kanika
Kanika at the Directors Meeting
2012 kiao scarlett callie and sabai
One of my all time favorite pictures. Scarlett, Callie, Sabai and Kiao at Kulen Moutnain
2012 leak and kanika
Sreyleak, Win Win and Kanika enjoy a picnic at Kulen Mountain
2012 linda and leak
Linda and Leak are ready to go horseback riding!
2012 linda
Linda’s got her eye on you. Watch out!
2012 luang prbanag
Catching the sunset in Luang Prabang
2012 monk 2
Anna always takes the most beautiful portraits on her travels. She shared this one she took of a monk at Angkor Wat.
2012 myanmar conservation tour
The Myanmar Culture and Conservation Tour group
2012 narla
Narla at the Directors Meeting
2012 nicole and andrea
Nicole and Andrea aren’t afraid to get muddy when they are out on tour in Laos!
2012 nicole
Nicole on a boat.
2012 phaneg
Phaeng on a boat.
2012 santhou
Santhou on a boat. (Have you noticed we have a theme going on here? Lots of boats in Southeast Asia!)
2012 scarlett
Scarlett loves the new Journeys Within Boutique Hotel Kidz CLub
2012 sina and scarlett
Sina and Scarlett explore the temples.
2012 song saa
The sunset at Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
2012 team jw 2
Team JW gathers for a group photo at a secluded temple after their horseback ride
2012 team jw 3
Journeys Within will make you, Jump! Jump!
JW Jr. hard at work in the Truckee, CA office
dre in truckee
Andrea enjoys the winter at her new California home.
2012 anna and andrea at the siam
Anna and Andrea at The Siam hotel in Bangkok, Thailand
2012 bangkok
Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand
2012 breakfast
Somebody’s got to try the breakfast to make sure it’s good enough for our guests. These waffles at The Siam hotel breakfast got the thumbs up from us!
2012 cambodia 2
Kids and water buffalo, as seen from a bike ride through Siem Reap, Cambodia
2012 nicole in laos
Nicole on a boat. Again.
2012 team bike ride
Team JW get some rest after a beautiful bike ride to the temples in Siem Reap.
2012 view of angkor wat
The view of Angkor Wat from the helicopter