From the Ground: 2 Days in Mandalay

By Nicole Long and Jay Austin

If you find yourself visiting Mandalay with time for more than a typical city tour, we have a new two day itinerary that we love.  This area is known for the coffee plantations and dairy products, and this tour will take you away from the major tourist hubs and to higher altitudes with cooler temperatures.  And, who wouldn’t love taking a vintage train through the Shan Mountains?!

What you can expect from this tour:

Day 1 – Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin: Markets, Botanical Gardens, Thiri Myaing and Peik Chin Myaung Cave

After breakfast, leave the bustling city of Mandalay and set off on a 1 ½-hr drive through the countryside to Pyin Oo Lwin, formerly known as Maymyo. Located a good 1000m above sea level, this former British hill station is home to a range of red-brick heritage colonial buildings and provides a much-needed break from the city heat in Mandalay. Explore the town’s markets and quaint cafes, as it is known for fresh produce and delicious coffee. Head to the Botanical Gardens, founded in 1915 by a British botanist, which covers an area of more than 170 acres of land and 70 acres of water. Take your time strolling through the well-manicured gardens and learning about the indigenous plants and flora of the region. In the late afternoon, take 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. 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 Oo Lwin for dinner before settling in for the evening.

Day 2 – Pyin Oo Lwin to Mandalay: Gokteik Train Ride

After an early breakfast, you will be transferred to the train station for your 7am train departure. This morning you will be able to sit back and enjoy the scenery as you take this local train through the countryside for approximately 2 hours. The vintage train and worn wooden benches add to the experience of riding through the beautiful Shan mountains in what feels like a bygone era. One of the major highlights of the train ride will be passing over the 1000ft river gorge on the famous Gokteik viaduct. The bridge was built in 1903 and described as an engineering marvel. You will depart the train at Naungpein where your van awaits. Have lunch at a local restaurant before heading back to Mandalay in the afternoon.

From the Ground: New Culture and Cooking Tour in Duong Lam Village

By Jay Austin

We are excited to offer this new tour, located in Duong Lam Village, outside of Hanoi, provides guests with the rare opportunity to experience a more traditional part of Vietnam, away from the typical travel routes and provides a nice contrast to the frantic pace of bustling Hanoi. This tour offers a mix of culture, cooking and exploring which provides a well-rounded list of activities for the day!

What you can expect from this tour:

Duong Lam Village is located in a farming district of the Red River Delta region. Starting early, you will meet your local guide and take part in a quick workshop in Vietnamese language and market tactics, before you try shopping and bargaining to source the ingredients for your cooking session. Absorb the bustling atmosphere from the authentic village market, and then turn your attention to cooking and enjoying your traditional Northern Vietnamese home-cooked meal.  This village is well known for its tradition of candy-making and you’ll have the chance to try a selection of tasty treats, and perhaps try making some candy yourself! Our team favorite is Kẹo Lạc (peanut brittle) – delicious! After lunch, walk or cycle through narrow alleyways of the area’s villages and open roads of the countryside. Explore age-old ancient houses, observe the unique architecture, and meet the locals.

A Day of Introspection and Healing: Siem Reap Spiritual Tour

By Andrea Ross 

After a whirlwind adventure in Thailand, the kids and I arrived in Siem Reap this week. As always there was a sense of “coming home” as we stepped off the plane, but rather than home we have been spoiled with staying at the amazing Jaya House River Park Hotel.  This property has earned a well-deserved blog of its own soon and has already been an amazing partner for Journeys Within. After getting settled and catching up on work emails on the first day, I had a special morning planned with our new Siem Reap Spiritual Tour. While of course the ancient temples such as Angkor Wat are the main draw in Siem Reap, there are also some amazing modern temples here, with unique experiences only available in Siem Reap.

Taking a tuk-tuk with Sina, one of our top guides

I was met in the morning by Sina and kid-free (they had a fun day with their dad), we set off the for the Fortune-teller’s. I have to start by saying that I’m not the Fortune-teller type…I believe we make our own destinies and I’m always scared that a Fortune-teller will tell me something that then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. BUT, my team swears by this man and I’ve felt lately like I could use some guidance! We arrived for our 8:15am appointment and in true Khmer fashion, he wasn’t there! My faith in his powers was severely diminished when he informed Sina he didn’t realize we were there yet and would be back as soon as he could! He showed up a few minutes later on his moto and showed us up to his house…a typical Khmer home on stilts with walls covered in framed photos of his family, him with various military and political leaders and of course, some landscape shots.

The Fortune-teller with his ipad
The Fortune-teller and his son at their home

He immediately sat down and asked me for my birthday and then, using his iPad (Is there a Fortune-teller app?) started writing numbers on a piece of paper. And then he started talking and things got real! It was incredible and scary and emotional all at the same time. He is not a palm reader or a clairvoyant; he literally uses birth numbers to tell him the story of your life…past, present and future. So for an hour, a man wearing cargo shorts, a plain white button up shirt, and glasses like my grandpa’s looked at a piece of paper covered in numbers and told me things that he couldn’t have known! It was an eye opening and unique experience and I’m so glad I did it, but I have to admit, I’m still a little shook up. (Good news, I’m going to live a long life and will not only be happy, but will help others and make them happy. Bad news, I’m going to get sick in 3 years and have to go to the doctor a lot. This would all seem silly if he hadn’t been so right on with everything else he said!)

The Fortune-teller and I after the reading

From here Sina took me to a local pagoda in town. The truth is I’ve driven past this pagoda hundreds of times, but never been inside and it was stunning. Still reeling from the fortune teller this was exactly what I need to reset myself and feel calm. A beautiful sitting Buddha fills the main pagoda room, but behind it, hidden away, is a much older reclining Buddha. Beautifully maintained and tucked away as it is, this Buddha is one of my favorites out of the countless that I have seen!

The Reclining Buddha
The Reclining Buddha

From here we headed to Wat Pho, the largest Wat in Siem Reap. Tiny kittens ran throughout the temple and beautiful carvings adorned the entrance, windows and doors. We explored through the temples and then went to the back where an older monk offered a water blessing. Here a monk chants while sprinkling you with water. At the end he tied a red ribbon around my wrist for good luck.

Wat Preach Prom Rath
Local Stupas – the ashes of local Buddhist families are contained within them

Our last stop of the day was to Sophie’s Healing. I’ve known Sophie for years, from when she was Callie’s French teacher at the International School. Now Sophie runs her own business offering her healing services. Sophie can help with spiritual, emotional and physical ailments and again, as an original non-believer, I have been converted as over the last three years she has helped with various issues I’ve had…a hurt foot, migraines and Couper’s nightmares. This time I needed her help to find peace and with a really sore shoulder…she doesn’t mind doing a little of each as part of the healing. For an hour I lay on her table and I can say that I left feeling at peace.

Exploring the local temples with Sina
Wat Bo

It was an incredible day, experiencing the modern spiritual side of my Siem Reap. We offer all these experiences to guests and while I’m a little nervous about it, I’m also excited. This tour offers a deeply personal day, and is not your typical tour, but at the same time, it was a powerful day and one only possible here. Travel is supposed to open up us and show us new experiences, today it did just that for me.

Me receiving a water blessing

From the Ground: Prumsodun Ok & Natyarasa Debut in Siem Reap

By Jay Austin

Journeys Within will be co-hosting Prumsodun Ok & Natyarasa , a group of male Apsara dancers to visit Siem Reap and perform for 2 nights on 14th & 15th July.  All proceeds from the 2 shows will be donated to new LGBT NGO in Siem Reap, A Place to Be Yourself, which was set up to support the LGBT community in Cambodia by providing counselling, medical and support services.  Historically, Aspara Dances (the national Khmer style of dance) is only carried out by female dances.  Prumsodun Ok & Natyarasa seeks to pass on and perform this beautiful dance style while raising awareness of LGBTQ  people in Cambodia, and through awareness, elevate their opportunities and quality of life in a traditional society.

Tickets will go on sale shortly and will be $20.00. The cost of your ticket includes transport to and from the venue, as we all as a cocktail.  Jay and Naida will be

attending and representing Journeys Within and we’d love to meet you there!

You can find more information about Prumsodun Ok & Natyarasa in this article from Khaosodenglish.com, or watch a short documentary video showcasing the skills of the dances and an interview with Prumsodun Ok, the Director.

Jaya House Goes Above and Beyond for Journeys Within Guests

Jaya House making a donation to the Landmine Museum

By Jay Austin

Since the official opening of Jaya House River Park in November 2016 we have watched this boutique 5 star property quickly escalate to the Number 1 property on Trip Advisor for Siem Reap. Journeys Within has a long-standing relationship with Jaya House General Manager, Christian Do Boer, who heads up the sensational team at this property and is the inspiration for many social and environmental initiatives the property participates in. Being a new hotel, there are always a few small kinks to work out on the operational side of things and Jaya House River Park has been no different in this sense, but it was when we received a recent request from a Journeys Within guest that the team at Jaya House really showed us how they go above and beyond…

We received a request from a family of 5 who had older children and were looking for a twin room with the facility to add an extra bed and inter-connect to a double room. This was one of these starting out ‘kinks’ as we realized that the interconnecting twin room did not have the space to facilitate adding an extra bed. Where most hotels would have denied the booking, or simply told us that the booking was not feasible, Jaya House showed their true colors. Enter Hotel Manager Kol Koy.

Kol has a long history of working in some of Siem Reap’s finest hotels and is truly a master in the art of providing exceptional customer service. Where other hotel managers would not have become involved in the situation, Kol met with his Engineering Team to see how they could best service our request. As a result, Kol, together with his Engineering Team completely transformed one of their connecting twin rooms by removing beds from their permanently concreted bases in order to accommodate a third single. He tried using a standard rollaway bed, but quickly concluded that the comfort level was simply not to the Jaya House standard. This resulted in the property purchasing a brand new, Jaya House quality single bed in order to accommodate our request!

The Jaya House Team installing the new bed for a Journeys Within guest
The Jaya House team standing by the completed task

The beauty of Journeys Within having an active office ‘on the ground’ in Cambodia enables us to facilitate these exceptional relationships with our suppliers who constantly go above and beyond to take care of our guests. The team at the Journeys Within Cambodia office cannot speak highly enough of the team at Jaya House who do everything they can to ensure our guests are not only comfortable, but surprised and delighted during their stay at the property. This is evident from the recent comments from guests in their feedback to us:

“We loved every minute! They are brand new and working out some kinks, but bent over backwards to please and accommodate our every need. We could have stayed forever.”

“This hotel was amazing! The food was great, the service was incredible. They made a card and a bouquet of flowers for our son who was sick, and sent up Coconuts every few hours.”

Jaya House making a donation to Small Arts Schools

It is a pleasure to work with a property who cares as much for our guests as we do and Jaya House River Park fits this bill to a tee! They also have some wonderful community and sustainability initiatives at the property that align nicely with the Journeys Within ethos on responsible tourism. Jaya House River Park is attempting to be Siem Reap’s first plastic-free hotel by being a main partner of the RefillNotLandfill campaign; 5% of their profits are donated to local charities and organizations including The Cambodian Landmine Museum, Small Art School, Music & Art School of Siem Reap and the Green Gecko Project and they are also active participants in the Ten Thousand Trees Project and a leader in regular Siem Reap Clean Up activities.

This is a hotel that is making extremely valid attempts in the community and environment around them and an organization that we are proud to partner with. Be sure to include Jaya House River Park in your next Siem Reap itinerary to give yourself a truly exceptional experience.

Jaya House Manager Kol Koy making a donation to Green Gecko