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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

Vietnam Offers E-Visas to Arriving Guests

By Jay Austin

In February 2017, the Vietnamese government began offering 30 day single entry visas electronically to entrants from 40 countries including the USA and Canada. The E-Visa (Electronic Visa) system requires travelers to complete an online form, upload a copy of their passport along with a passport photo. The process requires a non-refundable online payment of $25USD per person to be made by the traveler to complete the application.

 A Normal Tourist E-Visa on Arrival Approval Letter takes approximately 3 days from the date of application. Once approved, a visa approval letter will be forwarded to your specified email address. Guests traveling to Vietnam must carry a printed copy of the visa approval letter and their passport (with validity of at least 6 months from the date of arrival). Vietnam immigration officials will take your visa approval letter on arrival which includes a code, visa number and barcode and will place a stamp in your passport granting you entry into the country.

This new E-Visa application process replaces the previous process of applying through a Vietnamese Embassy and negates the need to send your passport to an Embassy as part of this process. This is a wonderful step in the direction of ease for travelers wishing to take care of their own entry requirements for the country. Our local Vietnam offices have noted a few warnings to be heeded by guests wishing to arrange their own visas through this new system:

E-Visas are only valid for a single entry of 30 days or less

Guests who have an itinerary that takes them into Vietnam on more than one occasion or for more than 30 days are not able to secure an E-Visa for entry. In this situation, the visa must still be processed via the nearest Vietnamese Embassy, or through an agent such as Journeys Within.

Guests have been experiencing long wait times on arrival at international airports

Our offices in both Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the country’s capital of Hanoi have both reported the E-Visa line being the longest line of arrivals in Vietnamese Immigration halls.

If there is the slightest mistake on your approval letter, you may not be allowed entry into the country

The Vietnamese Immigration office is a stickler for detail. As with many countries in the world, your visa information must match your passport exactly, without any variation. Even one letter, or number, out of place may see you denied access to the country.

E-Visas are valid for land border crossings & international airport arrivals

Below are the land border crossings and international airports that can process E-visa arrivals into Vietnam:

  • Can Tho International Airport
  • Danang International Airport
  • Noi Bai International Airport (Hanoi)
  • Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Ho Chi Minh City)
  • Phu Bai International Airport (Hue)
  • Phu Quoc International Airport
  • Cat Bi International Airport (Hai Phong)
  • Cam Ranh International Airport (Khanh Hoa)
  • Nam Can Landport
  • Song Tien Landport
  • Tinh Bien Landport
  • Xa Mat Landport
  • Mong Cai Landport
  • Moc Bai Landport
  • Lao Bao Landport
  • Ha Tien Landport
  • Huu Nghi Landport
  • Cau Treo Landport
  • Cha Lo Landport
  • Bo Y Landport
  • Lao Cai Landport
  • Ho Chi Minh City Seaport
  • Quy Nhon Seaport
  • Nha Trang Seaport
  • Hai Phong Seaport
  • Hon Gai Seaport
  • Danang Seaport
  • Vung Tau Seaport

You must have at least 3 blank pages in your passport to enter the country

Our Vietnam offices warn guests that in all circumstances, no matter how you obtain your entry visa into the country, every guest must have at least 3 blank pages in their passport on arrival. The Vietnam Visa stamp requires 1 full page in your passport. It is advised that guests have at least 3 blank passport pages available per country visited to ensure that no complications are experienced on arrival.

While the E-Visa process seems simple, we still recommend allowing Journeys Within to take care of your Vietnamese Visa on your behalf to ensure a smooth and hassle free arrival into the country. The Journeys Within visa service in Vietnam includes a fast track VIP arrival which includes a personal meet and greet on arrival, much less time in visa queues and personal support to ensure a smooth arrival process.

*Please note: All details were confirmed by Vietnam Immigration officials to be correct at the time of writing, however regulations may change without notice at the discretion of the Vietnam Immigration Office.

From the Ground: New Two-day Lamine Village Trek Near Inle Lake

By Nicole Long and Jay Austin

We wanted to introduce our new Kalaw to Lamine Village Trek, near Inle Lake in Myanmar.  This two day trip to Kalaw allows guests to get outside of the main tourist areas, but doesn’t require a lot of time commitment. The trekking portion of this tour is light in activity (only about 3 hours long) and allows access to nature and the picturesque countryside. Kalaw is at a higher elevation so the temperatures will be cooler and comfortable for trekking. This tour provides opportunities to connect with locals and witness traditional, simple lifestyles. This is a great option for families as it includes a train ride and elephants!

Note: For guests who want more, this itinerary can be extended a day with an additional day of trekking and another night in a village homestay.

Itinerary:

Kalaw: Trek to Lamine Village – Day 1

After breakfast, you will be transferred by van to the starting point of your trek. From here you will walk about three hours to Lamine, a Pa O Village, located about 10 miles from Kalaw. Explore this village where you will meet friendly locals and observe their traditional lifestyles. You will see the farmers hard at work as they plant or harvest wheat, ginger and a variety of other crops. Lunch and dinner will be prepared by your local trekking team and you will overnight in a village homestay.

Kalaw: Lamine Village to Inle Lake – Day 2

After a enjoying simple breakfast prepared by our team, stroll about the village to observe the local morning activities, before you will meet up with the car for your to transfer to Inle Lake. On the way, stop by at the villages for plantation of regional products. The drive takes approximately 3 hours to Inle Lake and once you arrive, check in to your hotel and enjoy a free afternoon.

Photos by Andrea Ross