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King Bhumibol Adulyadej

By Courtney Ridgel

We are all saddened by the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty.  He was also known as Rama IX, and in his memory, we wanted to write up a brief synopsis of his rich life and accomplishments.

The King depicted sailing on a mural near the Grand Palace – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

King Bhumibol was on 5 December 1927, and has the distinction of being the only monarch to have been born in the United States, in Cambridge Massachusetts, as his father was studying at Harvard at the time.  After his family received his certificate, they returned to Thailand for a few years before moving to Switzerland in 1933.  His uncle abdicated in 1935, so Bhumibol’s older brother Ananda became king at nine years old.  Bhumibol attended school in Switzerland and eventually graduated from the University of Lausanne.

Bhumibol often visited Paris while in college, and in Paris he met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, the ambassador’s daughter.  She moved to Switzerland to be near Bhumibol when he was hospitalized from a car accident in 1948, and lost the use of his right eye.  Bhumibol and Sirikit fell in love and were married in 1950.  Sadly, Bhumibol’s older brother was killed from a gunshot wound in 1946 and Bhumibol was officially crowned king in 1950, a week after his marriage.

During his youth, Bhumibol developed a keen interest in photography and a love for jazz.  He has played saxophone throughout his life (in addition to the clarinet, trumpet, guitar, and piano), founded a jazz band and performed both in the US and Thailand, and was honored by Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts, the University of North Texas College of Music, and Yale School of Music for his accomplishments and compositions.

A mural outside the Grand Palace depicting scenes from the life of the King – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

Bhumibol was deeply interested in science and technology, and is the only monarch to hold several patents.  His father was a military naval engineer, and Bhumibol also designed and built various sailboats in the International Enterprise, OK, and Moth classes.  He regularly competed in sailboat races with his designs and won a gold medal in the 1967 Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games.  In addition to his musical and engineering talents, Bhumibol was also an author and wrote Phra Mahachanok and The Story of Thong Daeng.

As King, Bhumibol encouraged Thailand to transition to a democratic system, and through the various dictatorships and coups that have taken place since his coronation Bhumibol encouraged peaceful resolutions.  He was outspoken against drug use, and called for a ‘War on Drugs’ in 2002.  Additionally, he has been involved in many social and economic development projects, such as funding an operating a radio station, producing several films, large-scale irrigation projects and rural development, and establishing the Chaipattana Foundation, whose goal is to ‘to provide prompt, timely, and necessary responses to problems affecting the people of Thailand’.

King Bhumibol was the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 70 years, and was the seventeenth longest-reigning monarch of all time.  He has been a pillar of stability for his country, and his people love him dearly.  His guidance will be sorely missed.

Dana’s Mondulkiri Adventure

Photo Credit: Dana Di Labio

By Dana Di Labio

Pchum Ben falls in September each year, and most Khmer people spend the holiday visiting the temples (wats or pagodas) to honor their ancestors, make offerings, and receive blessings from the monks. We took the opportunity to head to Mondulkiri, a province in North Eastern Cambodia that was a full 10 hour bus ride from our home in Siem Reap. So kindles, ipods and books at the ready, we set off in our 11-seater minibus, ready to face our holiday. Aside from one of us forgetting her shoes (a serious problem when embarking on embarking on a jungle trek!), the journey north to the small town of Sen Monorom was largely uneventful. Although it was dark and quiet, it felt safe and we could see the edges of mountains, jungles and forests.

Photo Credit: Dana Di Labio

A staff member from Tree Lodge met us and drove us to the hotel in the back of a pick-up truck to the wooden lodge. We were introduced to the couple who run the lodge – Mr. Tree and his wife, who spoke English well, but allowed us to practice our questionable Khmer. After stuffing ourselves with some fried rice and noodles, Mr. Tree led us to our small wooden bungalow – a ‘family room’, which had 3 double beds squashed in together. It felt rustic and cozy; we each had our own mosquito net and a shared hot shower – all for only $15 for the night! (The Lodge also had a supply of leftover shoes we could borrow, which luckily meant no jungle trekking in Birkenstocks!)

Photo Credit: Dana Di Labio

The next morning, bright and early, we headed off with Mr. Tree, and a group of around 20 others. We got into the truck again and drove around 30 minutes to just outside the jungle, where Mr Tree dropped us all off and instructed us to follow the path until we reach the ‘Jungle Lodge’. He drove the car down the hill and into the jungle. A walk of 20 minutes or so brought us up and down a few muddy hills (it was the rainy season after all), to a small wooden hut with canvas sides overlooking the forests and misty rivers. Mr. Tree met us at the hut and introduced The Mondulkiri Project:

Photo Credit: Dana Di Labio

In October 2013 the Mondulkiri Project signed an agreement with Bunong indigenous elders from the Putang Village and the Orang Village. They agreed to end logging in a large area of the beautiful Mondulkiri forest near Sen Monorom, in order protect this beautiful forest and the plentiful wildlife here. As the population of Cambodia grows, the demand for rice also grows, so more and more of the forest is being destroyed to make room for small rice farms. The Elephant Sanctuary experiences and jungle trekking is designed to help to bring income to the Bunang indigenous people while protecting the native habitat of Asian elephants and other endangered species. As part of this agreement, The Mondulkiri Project started an elephant sanctuary with 7 retired elephants who are free to wander through the forest. All of these elephants have been rescued from other provinces, where they were treated unfairly. In the future, Mr. Tree explains, he hopes to start a natural breeding program to help with the long term survival of elephants in Cambodia. Currently the elephants are all female, so the project is trying to raise money to buy a male in order to breed.

After the briefing, we started off into the jungle to meet the elephants. We fed them bananas and learned that there is a trick to doing so – you should hold out 1 banana towards the end of their trunk, while hiding the others behind your back – otherwise the elephants steal the whole bunch! The elephants seemed very at ease around us, and Mr. Tree emphasized that we should let the elephants lead the interaction. After our banana supply had been depleted, we walked back through the rain in our nifty multi colored rain ponchos, across a rickety old bridge. Just as we were crossing, one of the elephants named Princess came bounding through the river and decided to give herself a mud shower. She led the way for us and we followed her into a clearing, where we were joined by several other elephants. We played with them, fed them some more, and marveled at how peaceful they seemed. We headed back to the hut, clad with mud and rain, and sat down for a delicious lunch of rice, vegetables and fish soup. A celebratory beer or two was also a necessity! After a little relaxing, we headed back off into the jungle and down to a river, where we were told we would be able to bathe the elephants. Some of us scrubbed the elephants with long brushes, whilst the others fed them bananas.

Photo Credit: Dana Di Labio

When we returned to the hut for the evening, and were introduced to our guide for the next day – Leung. He and several local Khmer women cooked up a delicious feast for our dinner. We ate on the wooden floor, by candlelight, and spent the evening chatting with Leung. He is from one of the tribal villages, on the other side of the jungle, and he leads the guided treks for the Mondulkiri Project. He told us that we would finish our trek in his village and he explained about his religion – a form of Buddhism that entails ritual animal sacrifice. We played cards, drank bamboo rice wine, and retreated to our hammocks for the night.

Photo Credit: Dana Di Labio

After breakfast the next morning, we headed off on our 18 kilometer trek. Luckily, the weather managed to stay dry for the whole day, as we hiked over tough terrain, steep hills and had some very slippy moments. Eventually we decided to just succumb to the mud and stop trying to stay clean and dry! We stopped at 3 waterfalls along the way, and at the first we jumped off the top of the waterfall into the cold water and hung from the tree branches. The second waterfall was enormous and soaked us in spray, and at the third waterfall, we trekked behind it into a cave where we sat to eat our lunch of rice and vegetables.  As we continued on, Leung pointed out different kinds of plants, flowers, frogs, insects, and various mushroom breeds.

Finally, around 8 hours after we took off, we arrived in Leung’s village, exhausted and muddy, but beaming with pride. (Leung told us he does this trek 4 times per week!) He introduced us to his family (he has 8 brothers and sisters, which is quite common among the 43 families who live in this village), and his family have several pigs and lots of piglets, chickens, cows and buffalo. There were some young children playing football just down the path, everybody stopped to say hello to us and offered us rice wine. Leung told us that they all rear animals and share the meat among the families. He said that whilst he has his immediate family (who all live in a small wooden house, with an old retro caravan attached!), he feels as though the whole village is his family, as they have all grown up together.

Photo Credit: Dana Di Labio

When it came time to say goodbye to Leung and the village, it seemed strange after such a meaningful and intense 24 hours getting to know him. While we all trickled back to our office jobs and city life, Leung would stay on the edge of the jungle in his hill tribe village, perfectly content to guide more jungle trekkers. Although we loved the elephants, and the trekking and the camping experience was so much fun, I would recommend this trip simply for the experience of meeting Leung, an uncomplicated 21 year old guy, with so much love for the jungle and keen to share his devotion to his beautiful home and people.

Reducing Environmental Impact in Halong Bay

Photo Credit - Andrea Ross
Halong Bay from the air – Photo Credit: Andrea Ross

October 5, 2016

By Jay Austin

A number of big changes have been made in UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong Bay Ecological Park this year in order to help preserve this pristine environment. Earlier in 2016 we saw the government, together with the People’s Committee of Quang Ninh Province, relocate a number of residents from the formerly active Vung Vieng Fishing Village to land-based accommodations, a move which was geared towards reducing the amount of waste released into the bay. The fishing village is still operational by day, offering guests the chance to see examples of daily life on the water, but the former inhabitants are now living on land in the evenings. The initial results of the move have seen the volume of waste significantly reduced, offering the water and surrounding environment a well-deserved break from the human effect. The relocation has had an interesting effect for tourism by creating an almost haunting emptiness to the village which is extraordinary to witness, as the village has gone from a living community to a living museum in mere months. As part of the relocation efforts, all residents were supported by the Vietnamese Government to find work on dry land and provided with substantially discounted housing as an incentive. Although this has been a big shift in the day-to-day lives of the former residents of Vung Vieng, the future ramifications for the environment are immeasurable.

Photo Credit - Andrea Ross
Vung Vien Fishing Village – Photo Credit: Andrea Ross

In September, 2016 the Management Board of Halong Bay released a new environmental initiative from the Vietnamese Government in relation to the Thien Son Cave in the northern region of Halong Bay where a few Junk companies formerly offered an evening meal inside the cave as part of their Halong Bay cruise experience. In order to preserve the cave and, of course, the scenery and the surrounding environment the People’s Committee has requested that all cave dining experiences are to cease as of 1st October, 2016. Unfortunately, this decision was made and executed quite quickly – a common trait of the Vietnamese Government – and many tours booked through Journeys Within had promised this incredible experience. Our partner cruise company in Halong Bay still offers the opportunity to tour the cave however the evening meal inside the cave has now been replaced with the chance to dine by candlelight on a beautiful untouched beach, before returning to your vessel for the evening. Although many are sad to see this rare and unique tourism experience come to an end, the decision by the joint forces of the government and the people will better the environment for years to come by preserving both the inside and outside of the cave area.

Cave Dinner - Photo Credit: Julia Cuthbertson
Dining Experiences will no longer be offered in Thien Son Cave – Photo Credit: Julia Cuthbertson

We are seeing a fantastic increase in environmental initiatives such as this in the Northern regions of Vietnam. We are happy to see the continuing efforts in Halong Bay to follow the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO, whilst balancing the growth of tourism in the region for this rare and truly special natural site.

The Advantages of Booking a Villa

Our hotel partner, The Bell Pool Villa Resort, is offering a special deal for travelers who book through Journeys Within for the month of November. Villas provide the perfect blend of ‘home away from home’ and a luxury getaway.  You have the flexibility to choose what you want out of your vacation.


Here are several of the reasons that we recommend villas to travelers, instead of booking hotel rooms or renting a house:

  • With a villa you tend to stay in one location longer. This means that you aren’t pressured to fit everything there is to do and see in one or two days.  You can relax and explore at your own pace.  You are on vacation after all!
  • Even with luxury villas which boast lots of amenities, you can actually save money by using the kitchen, rather than eating out for every meal. Heading to a local market to purchase ingredients also allows you the chance to experience the area through the local perspective.
  • If you don’t feel like cooking, you still have the option of full room service and a chef. You can pick and choose on a daily basis whether to opt out of the services offered (amazing breakfast or a massage in your villa) or you can decide to pamper yourself.  Unlike many large resorts, the Bell Pool Villa offers all of their amenities as ‘in villa’ – in other words, they bring their services to you.
  • Villas offer a lot more space than you would typically get in a hotel room. This is especially great for families or for groups of friends traveling together.  You can save on costs as you won’t be booking multiple rooms, but everyone can still enjoy their own space.  The Bell Pool Villa Resort offers an enormous combined living room and dining room space, separate bedrooms, a kitchen and a pool in each villa.

If this sounds like the vacation you have been dreaming us, give us a call and we can make it happen – it’s not too late for Fall and Winter trips!

Tours that support animal welfare in Southeast Asia

During our years of experience in Southeast Asia, Journeys Within has found that environmental protection and animal welfare throughout the region is in its infancy. Many struggling families make ends meet by catching endangered creatures to eat or sell. Others keep animals for labor, show and sport. Indeed, if you look closely at the many temples within the region, you can see evidence of animals such as elephants being used in farming, logging and warfare for hundreds of years, and these sacred animals are considered an integral part of the local culture.

As Journeys Within Tour Consultants and Directors personally inspect every tour and hotel, we have been witnesses to both best- and worst-case scenarios in regards to the treatment of animals. A core pillar of our company philosophy is that we believe that a tour company not only has a responsibility to its guests, but also a responsibility to the communities and environments within the countries in which we live and work. For this reason, we have been very careful to select tour and hotel partners that share this belief. We declined to send our guests to support tiger experiences, such the one at Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Temple (known as the Tiger Temple), more than 10 years ago because these tours did not (and still don’t) provide healthy environments for the tigers.

Animal welfare in Southeast Asia has understandably been featured in the media lately and there is a strong public outcry to cease and desist any activities associated with animals. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these are generally not wealthy communities, and without sustainable programs to support and protect animals such as elephants and tigers, these amazing creatures are in danger of being neglected, euthanized or hunted due to lack of funds to care for them.

We recommend a middle path and wanted to share a few animal experiences that are doing amazing work in helping to protect endangered species within Southeast Asia in a safe and sustainable fashion. Journeys Within offers tours specifically tailored for guests who have a strong interest in wildlife and conservation, such as the Cambodia Conservation Tour, where guests can be sure that the animal interactions that they are supporting truly give back to the local animals and people. Here are some of our favorites:

  • The Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri serves as a sanctuary and recuperation center for elephants in need and for retired elephants. The elephants are released back into a natural habitat. Guests can visit and observe the family groups as they forage in the jungle and the elephants choose whether or not to wander up and say hello to visitors.
  • Sam Veasna Center (SVC) provides wildlife viewing trips with exclusive access to Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) sites across Cambodia, where travelers can view a variety of rare birds native to Cambodia. This non-profit strives to provide an alternative sustainable livelihood based on eco-tourism for the local communities in return for no hunting and land use agreements.
  • The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Phnom Penh cares for and rehabilitates animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. We highly recommend the Bear Care Tour, run by the non-profit Free the Bears which offers a “behind the scenes” tour of the world’s largest Sun Bear Sanctuary.
  • The Nam Nern Night Safari in Laos is a boat-based tour into the core of the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area. This adventure provides a rare opportunity to view protected wildlife through a program that is designed to support alternative livelihoods for the locals who have grown up hunting and tracking by retraining them as naturalists and guides, and generate community support for conservation of tigers and other wildlife by donating a portion of the funds to the local community for schools.
A Sun Bear at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.
A Sun Bear at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.