From the Ground- Siem Reap, Cambodia’s- Cultural Bambu Puppet shows-

By Jay Austin

Khmer Shadow Theatre is an ancient art-form known locally as Lakhaon Nang Sbek which sees a troupe of highly trained puppeteers performing multiple roles in a show, using hand-crafted leather puppets. The more traditional shows tell the stories of ancient folk tales by silhouettes and are available in varying levels of quality throughout Cambodia’s tourism centers.

Bambu Stage performers have spent the better part of 12 months working with their own troupe of young Khmer artists. These shows highlight the traditional, ancient art forms while telling modern-day Cambodian stories. These complex puppet shows are accompanied by live Cambodian music. The themes are entertaining and full of cultural charm.

What makes this a well-rounded evening experience in Siem Reap is the location. You are invited in at 6:46pm for welcome drinks before moving to the outdoor screening area, set in a lush tropical garden. At the conclusion of the show you have the opportunity to partake in a home style Cambodian meal with your fellow guests, somewhat resembling the western dinner party. The artists remain available for you to ask questions and discuss their art form in more detail, though you may have to use a translator with some of them to bridge the language-barrier.

If you are looking for a unique Siem Reap experience in a lush tropical setting, away from the craziness of Pub Street, this is the perfect way to escape and spend a relaxing evening enjoying the cultural traditions of Cambodia.

Beyond Angkor Wat – A Photography Tour

Journeys Within is now offering Photography Tours with professional photographer, Chris Cusick.

By Narla Phay

Taking photos is one of my favorite pass times in Siem Reap, whether I am using my DSLR camera or my iPhone. I don’t have a great deal of time to practice but I take the opportunity to head out on photography days whenever I have the chance. In the last few months I have spent some time with my younger Cambodian friends learning all about my DSLR, but spending the day with our pro-photographer, Chris Cusick really gave me the chance to increase my photography skill level.

On our photography tour, we visited 3 main locations around Siem Reap including Phsar Leu (Siem Reap’s largest local market) & Wat Bo Pagoda in the morning and in the afternoon we visited Kompong Phluk stilted village. Of course, I have visited all of these places before, but visiting them on a photography tour is different. You start to look closer at the small happenings around you, trying to choose the perfect moment to take the shot. Chris helped me to understand a little more about photographing people and taught me all about what moments and the best angles to look for.

This was especially helpful to me since I have always had more of a focus on portrait photography, but spending the day with Chris I learned more about photographing life and landscapes. One of the biggest things I had learned on this day is,  what is happening in the background is sometimes just as important as what is going on in front of you. Chris worked with me on some of the more technical settings on my camera, which really helped me to achieve the kind of images I had in my mind.

Spending the day on a photography tour is a really interesting way to observe the local culture. I really think that seeing life through a lens puts a new spin on things. Spending a day as a photographer really shows you the value of the culture around you through the images you go away with and I would highly recommend this as a fun and different way to spend a day in Siem Reap!

Guest Review from Adam and Heidi’s Honeymoon in Thailand

A open letter to April Cole, our Journeys Within-Honeymoon specialist!
Dear April,
What a trip! Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Heidi and my two week Honeymoon to Thailand was beyond our wildest expectations. The culture, food, scenery, history, and most importantly people were all amazing.
And none of it would have been possible without Journeys Within. Heidi and I enjoy big cities, but we tend to get overwhelmed when we don’t know what we’re doing. But thanks to your fantastic activities and B’s knowledge (she was the best), we embraced Bangkok for the wild, crazy, and fascinating city it is. I liked the durian fruit a little more than Heidi did; she liked the bike ride through Ayuthaiya more than I. But we could both agree on a cocktail at the pool bar at Sofitel after a fun day of exploring!

 We both liked Chiang Mai more than we anticipated. Hotel Marndadee was a nice change of pace from the hustle of Bangkok. And many of our favorite activities came from these days: Patara Elephant Farm (don’t ask me how many pictures Heidi posted to Facebook on this day), alms giving and conversing with a monk, the Thai cooking class, and the hike exploration through the countryside. After the week of exploring, it was great to kick back and enjoy Koh Phangan. The villa and location was incredibly romantic; we felt like the world had given us this secret location just for us. And lastly, The Four Seasons on Koh Samui was paradise. The extravagance, beauty, and service was a hell of a way to end our perfect two weeks with a bang.

I often heard you use the word “magical” to describe different places and events in Thailand. As my friends and family have inevitably asked me “How was your trip?”, I have begun by describing it the same way: magical.
There were absolutely no hiccups logistically in the two weeks of travelling – an incredible feat! But even if there were, I knew that Journeys Within was always just within reach to help us out of any bind. That level of comfort was exactly what we needed for our first trip to Asia.
And more specifically, April, your personal touches in listening to how we wanted to spend our trip, combined with the utmost professionalism and knowledge, made a milestone event incredibly memorable. Thank you again for a flawless and truly once-in-a-lifetime journey.
With full hearts,
Adam and Heidi

From the Ground-Exploring Picturesque Countryside around Hoi An, Vietnam

Once a major spice port, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An, Vietnam, has managed to preserve its legacy and heritage for more than 2,000 years. This cities charm and impressively preserved architecture, lend to memorable travel experiences. But, for an adventure off the tourist loop, make time to explore the more laid back surrounding countryside.  Exploring by bike and boat you will attain a deeper sense of local life, in picturesque, rural Vietnam.

Hoi An’s is a culturally diverse port town that once controlled the ancient spice trade in the 7th and 8th century. This trade route spanned all the way to Indonesia. The prevailing religion at the time was Hindu until the 10th century when Muslim traders introduced and influenced the spread of Islam. These influences can be seen throughout the cities architecture today. The next major cultural influence was from the Chinese. They first arrived as traders and later as refugees, escaping the oppressive Ming Dynasty armies. Today, Chinese styled shop-houses flank winding lanes, as the sun goes down you feel as if you have been transported to another time.

Rice is at the heart of Vietnamese life. Not only is it a staple but a major economic resource. The farms and paddies around Hoi An are the lifeblood of the community. The best time to head into the countryside is morning, when the temperature is cool and the mist rises from the rice paddies. Begin your day with a visit to a local noodle shop where MiQuang, a famous local dish is prepared fresh. Traditionally, this noodle bowl is created with thick rice noodles in a broth with shrimp, chicken or pork. It is then topped with roasted peanuts and toasted sesame rice paper and a dash of locally prepared fish sauce. Enjoy a refreshing glass of sweet Vietnamese coffee and the vibrant sights and sounds of the day beginning on the paddies.

The peaceful countryside embraces a slower pace of life compared to the bustling larger cities. Verdant paddy fields and swaying water coconut farms dot the countryside and various river ways carve through the brilliant landscape. Traditional farming methods have been maintained over the centuries. It is not uncommon to find the majestic water buffalo tilling rice paddies, evoking nostalgia of a bygone era.

Fishing is also an important way of life here. This area is famous for creating flavorful fish sauces used in spicing local cuisine. This unique condiment is used throughout Vietnam and with Hoi An’s proximity to many rivers and the sea, it is a key fish sauce producer for the country.

An unforgettable highlight in the region is taking a ride on a Basket Boat, known traditionally as a Thung Chai. This is still the preferred method of transportation of local the fisherman in the central regions of Vietnam. Large nets are thrown from the boat to easily catch an array of fish sold in markets and for the making of fish sauce. These round, bowl shaped boats are wove out of bamboo reeds and given a yearly seal of tar to keep them afloat. It takes great practice to perfect navigating these spinning water vessels, but with patience and a great sense of humor, you can give it a try yourself.

If you prefer to stay on Terra Firma, maybe a gentle bike ride is more your style of transportation. Take your time exploring quiet country roads along local farms and hamlets. This will give you a chance to meet friendly locals who are happy to share stories and history with visitors from around the world. If you are interested in learning more about this vibrant culture, we can arrange a lunch at a local home, where you can share a delicious traditional lunch with a local family before your return to Hoi An town. No matter how you prefer to explore this enchanting area, Hoi An and its countryside will create memories and experiences of a lifetime.

From the Ground-Meet Cambodia’s lifesaving-Hero Rats

It’s not every day that you get to meet a real live hero. Now at the Apopo Visitor Center in Siem Reap, Cambodia, you will have an opportunity to learn about and meet the countries infamous Hero Rats. These cute little rodents have been working hard at detecting live war mines and saving countless lives throughout Southeast Asia since 2010.

In October of 1995, Bart Weetjens, a Belgian native and pet rat owner, came across a published article, where gerbils were being used as scent detectors for scientific research. Knowing that rats are intelligent, cheap and widespread over the world, an idea emerged. Could these bright animals be used to detect landmines that long ago were buried and forgotten? By 1998, with support from the Belgian Directorate for International Cooperation, the initial financial support was developed and the non-profit, Apopo Foundation was born.

By 2000, Apope developed training methods for the rats and the team began ground workd in Morogoro, Tanzania.  Here, they proved invaluable at cost-effectively detecting mines and addressing some of the country’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.

Ten years later, the Apopo Foundation began work in the mine suspected areas, in the provinces of Trat and Chantaburi, along the Thai-Cambodian border. The Cambodian chapter of Apopo works in conjunction with the Cambodian Mine Action Center and the German Federal Foreign Office.

According to Apopo, at least 26 million explosive sub-munitions were dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam War, mostly in eastern and north-eastern areas bordering the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam. The bombing is estimated to have left between 1.9 million and 5.8 million cluster munitions remnants. To date over 64,000 landmines and other explosive remnants of war have been recorded in Cambodia, since 1979.

With over 25,000 amputees, Cambodia has the highest ratio of mine amputees per capita in the world. A great hero was in need! It takes just one Hero Rat to search up to 200 square meters in 20 minutes; this would take a mine technician with a metal detector 1-4 days to cover the same ground.

The Apopo Foundation and these little rodents are dedicated to saving thousands of lives throughout Southeast Asia and the World. Now at the Apopo center in Siem Reap, you can join an hour long presentation and learn more about these little champions and the non-profits quest in making the World a safer place. Give us a call to book a tour or visit www.apopo.org for more information.