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How to help victims of Myanmar flooding

Journeys Within Myanmar Country Director Dar Le Khin helping organize relief supplies for flooding victims in Myanmar.
Journeys Within Myanmar Country Director Dar Le Khin helping organize relief supplies for flooding victims in Myanmar.

While monsoon rains flood portions of Myanmar every year, this year’s heavy monsoon season paired with the added rain caused by Cyclone Komen has been particularly devastating to vast tracts of the country. The areas around the state of Rakhine and Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River Delta are especially hard hit, and leaders of the country are calling for massive relocations and international aid to help victims of the flooding.

Here at Journeys Within, we’ve been monitoring the floods through our Country Director Dar Le Khin, who has been helping organize relief efforts in conjunction with Flood Aids Organization – a relief group comprised of travel industry professionals in the country.

We are also setting up a way for Journeys Within travelers and alumni to donate through Journeys Within Our Community, which will then funnel the dollars to organizations within Myanmar that are providing direct aid to flood victims.

Click here for JWOC’s Donate Now campaign to raise dollars for flooding victims.

 Media coverage:

Update from Dar Le (from Aug. 11, 2015):

Dear friends,

Our volunteer group, “Extend Your Helping Hands For The Flood Victims,” (composed of volunteer public-spirited members of our tourism community) is currently helping the victims of the recent catastrophic floods and associated landslides in various areas of our motherland. This unprecedented catastrophe had destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions of Burmese people, especially rural folks and disadvantaged people. Extend Your Helping Hands is requesting our friends, both overseas and in-country, provide donations to continue the assistance to these unfortunate victims as they rebuild their lives.

With Metta,

Dar Le

The group named “Extend Your Helping Hands for The Flood Victims” was founded on 29th July, 2015 by a group of tourism professionals in order to provide help to the flooding victims of Myanmar. A three-day campaign collected donations at some crowded areas in Yangon, and has since captured the public’s awareness on the need to provide a hand to the victims along with respect for the group’s activities. This enabled the group to have sufficient funds to perform the emergency relief in the flooded areas of three different states which were all declared as being in a “state of emergency.”

The 1st relief team set off on 3rd August to Sidoktaya village as a base in Magwe division where the villages were flooded by the Mon Creek which passes through Natmataung (Mt. Victoria) National park of Chin State. The overflowing water of Mon creek has receded, but not before swallowing the thousands of acres of crops and filling houses with mud. The relief team, lead by Min Than Htut (MD of Pro Niti Travel), has traveled as far as to the Pan-Chet Village (about 2 hours boat ride from Sidoktaya). Along the way, they witnessed the full scale of the disaster as all they could see was only the tip of palm trees poking out of the water. The team brought hope for the villagers and helped a total of 418 households with about 2,000 peoples at 5 villages along the side of Mon Dyke.

The 2nd relief team headed to Kale on the 5th August led by Bo Bo Kyaw (GM of Uniteam Travel) making their first night stop at Kale collecting data to be effective with their emergency relief efforts. With the help of volunteers, the team has reached the Aung-Myin-Thar village with emergency relief such as rice, kitchen wares, candles, lighters and detergents. It’s hard to express in words the sorrow in the eyes of villagers as their livelihoods have been destroyed and they’ve been physiologically stressed. Thanks to Bo Bo’s experiences with disaster management, he has brought letters to them and read to them of the care and love by the whole nations for the victims. In sum, the Kale team has helped a total of 653 households (about 2,500 people).

While the rescues teams were distributing emergency relief supplies to the victims, the volunteer team in Yangon has put more efforts in raising funds for the second phase of the recovery process focusing mainly on health and education.

Update from Dar Le (from August 6, 2015):

I am involved as a committee member in a group comprised of travel industry professionals which is collecting donations for flooding victims. So far we have been able to collect about 140,000,000 Kyats (about $166,666 USD). Two-thirds of the funds have been used in supplying aid to three locations (1) Minpyar at Arkan state (flooding caused by Cyclone Komen), (2) Pwin Pyu township in Magwe (flood caused by overflow of a few dams) and (3) Kalay in northern Sagaing (flood caused by Chindwin River).

Aid teams already left this morning in Yangon and we are waiting for updates on the situation. We are now discussing for aftermath focusing on: (a) Rebuilding toilet facilities in those flooded areas. (b) Clean water access, such as drilling tube well/ water ponds. (c) Cleaning/sanitizing public school/clinic facilities and reinforcing them with amenities (children should be able to go to school after all).

So, if there is something you can help us on those issues, we would be very appreciative. As we have seen that people in Myanmar are very active with providing supplies and aid now, but are not as aware of how important the aftermath and rebuilding efforts will be as well.

MyanmarFlooding_DarLeSign MyanmarFlooding_ReliefOrganization MyanmarFlooding_UnloadingSupplies

What is Buddhist Lent?


Photo by Pattayadays.com

This year, the eighth full moon of 2015 (in addition to being a Blue Moon) marks the beginning of a special time of year for Buddhists in Southeast Asia. Often referred to as “Buddhist Lent” or the “Rains Retreat” by westerners, this tradition corresponds to a three lunar month cycle when the region typically experiences heavy rains and farmers are planting their crops.

Monks and novices will stay in the same monastery or temple for the entire three-month period, venturing out only during the day (if at all) and always returning to the same temple to meditate and sleep. During this retreat, monks typically devote more time to meditation and deepening their understanding of the Dhamma – the truth taught by the Buddha.

Locals often practice a more ascetic lifestyle during this time period as well, often giving up meat, smoking or alcohol for a portion or all of the three months, spending more time giving alms on the streets, or visiting local temples to meditate.

To get a deeper understanding of this important Buddhist tradition, we asked our five country directors a few questions about how Buddhist Lent is observed in their countries. Below you will find answers from:

  • Houmphaeng “Phaeng” Phommaly, Country Director for Laos
  • Kanchana “Joy” Junglin, Country Director for Thailand
  • Michelle Nguyen, Country Director for Vietnam
  • Dar Le Khin, Country Director for Myanmar
  • Makara Put, Country Director for Cambodia

Journeys Within: What is this period of time called in your country?

Phaeng: In Laos we call it “Khao Phansa” which means all monks and novices must stay in the same place and focus on meditation.

Joy: In Thailand, we call it “Wan Khao Phansa.”

Michelle Nguyen: “Phat Dan” is the Vietnamese name for Buddhist Lent/Vassa/Rains Retreat. The Vassa tradition predates the time of Gautama Buddha (the founder of Buddhism). It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics* in India not to travel during the rainy season as one may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even oneself whilst travelling. (*As they walked from place to place, followers begged and relied on charitable donations as part of a vow for poverty in order to spend ones time and energy solely on preaching and serving the poor.)

Makara: This period of time we call “Chorl Vorsa” (Chorl means enter, Vorsa means raining). It is one of the biggest religious celebrations besides New Year and P’Chom Ben.

Dar Le: In Myanmar, we called it “War-Twin” meaning duration of the Buddhist lent.

Photo by Edna Kornberg

Journeys Within: For how long is it observed? Are there any particularly special days that are celebrated?

Joy: Wan Khao Phansa is observed for a period of three lunar months during the rainy season when monks are required to remain in one particular place or temple. This year it runs from July 31 to October 27, 2015.

Phaeng: It is observed for three months from July 31 – October 27 in 2015. For regular people, all activities remain the same, but on traditional Buddhist days of celebration like the full moon, even more people than usual would give alms on the streets and temples. And elders often go to the temples to listen to the Dhamma and join the monks in their chanting.

Makara: It is celebrated for a 3 months period, and there is a special celebration on the first two days. On the first day, most regular locals will bring many useful things like cloth, dry fishes, tea, milk, coffee, sugar and other offerings to the monks, especially the big candles that they will light every day. The second day the Head Monks will call all the monks to come together and give advice and take the role for this period.

Journeys Within: What do monks do differently during this time period?

Phaeng: All the monks and novices have to stay in the same places or temples and can’t travel this time of year. The (historical) reason for this rule is that it is the time period of hard rains and planting of new crops, so if monks were to travel they might step on farmers’ plants or on baby animals, or get stuck in the heavy rains (and mud). The head monks, and those in high positions, have to meditate for the entire period. These monks typically retreat to a center temple that is not open to the public during this time.

Michelle: For the duration of Vassa, monks remain in one place, typically in monasteries or pagodas. In the monasteries and the monks chant the scriptures, lead a period of meditation and give teachings on the themes of the festival in return for people’s offerings. At this period of time, the monks stay inside and they won’t go outside until the Vassa ends or unless there is anything urgent.

Joy: This tradition originates from old times when Buddha stayed in temples during the rainy season to avoid killing insects or harming the growing seeds. It is a period for study, meditation and teaching of new monks. The monks are allowed to go out during the day but they must sleep in the same temple every night during these three months.

Journeys Within: What do regular locals do differently during this time period?

Dar Le: People offer robes to monks which monks might need during the three-month time period. Since it is the rainy season, their robes can get wet easily while collecting alms and eventually need to be replaced. That’s why it is called a “vaso robe” which means “rain resistant robe.”

Michelle: Buddhist Festivals are always joyful occasions. Buddhists decorate their houses and streets with Buddhist flags and flowers. Buddhists often give up something for lent, e.g. meat, alcohol, smoking… It is a time to make special efforts to make people happy and review our personal progress for kindness and respect for everyone and everything around us.

A typical day during the festival people will:

  • Go to the local temple or monastery and offer food, candles and flowers to the monks and receive guidance, support and teaching from the monks.
  • Give food and support to the poor during the day.
  • Gather around statues of the Buddha when it is dark and walk around the statue with candles until all is covered in light.
  • End the day joining in with chanting of the Buddha’s teachings and meditation.

Joy: Mostly the activities o­n Wan Khao Phansa (Rains Retreat Entry Day) are the same as those o­n any other Buddhist holy days. Two main important things are presented to monks during Khao Phansa – candles and the garments worn by monks, specifically the bathing robes. In the old times there was only candle light to be used around the temples, and at the beginning of the rainy season, Thai people made large candles as offerings to be used during this season. Some believe that as a result of this custom, the givers become brighter and smarter – similar to the characteristics of the candlelight.

Makara: Regular locals will bring food on days they are free to offer to the monks because the monks cannot go out and receive morning alms like they normally do.

Phaeng: Devout Buddhists and most elderly locals would try to follow the five precepts below:

  • Abstain from killing
  • Abstain from lying
  • Abstain from alcohol and liquor
  • Abstain from stealing
  • Abstain from sensual misconduct

Besides following those rules, some people like go to the temple more often than usual.

Start of Buddhist lent - no drinking alcohol!
Photo by Nick Hubbard, Flickr

Journeys Within: Any tips for visitors who are in-country during this time period?

Phaeng: Most of temples are open as normal since they have a special place for monks to practice separate from the main temple sights, so there shouldn’t be any problem. However, visitors can talk to their guide or the staff at their hotel before going to any temples so as not to disturb any ceremonies that might be going on.

Joy: One important tradition for Wan Khao Phansa is the Khao Phansa Candle Making Ceremony where people bring white and yellow candles to make the Khao Phansa candles. There are also Candle Festivals celebrated in locations throughout Thailand on this day, the most famous of which is located in Ubon Ratchathanee province at Thung Sri Mueng Temple, which is the province’s most popular annual event. Local artists express their artistic talents and techniques through crafting and placing Thai patterns with the candle wax, and the magnificent candles also demonstrate the link of local custom and religious belief. After a procession, the candles are presented to local temples.

Michelle: Take the opportunity to visit pagodas with our guides (or even on your own if you wish) whenever the opportunity presents itself in holiday itineraries and meet with the monks. Everyone will be very happy to welcome you to join in the festival experience and explain more. Chat with your guide if you need him/her to be on hand to help with translations. It is best to keep clothes comfortable and tops covering shoulders with long trousers at a respectable length. Shoes are taken off and left outside homes and on the pagoda steps. Hats shouldn’t be worn inside pagodas or homes.

Dar Le: Perhaps, volunteer at night preparing food for next morning’s alms bowls for monks.

Journeys Within: What is your favorite aspect?

Dar Le: I think that the people of Myanmar are still strong Buddhist followers and it’s good to see the religious spirit of the people.

Michelle: The nurturing of the community spirit, the bringing hope to others and stopping to remind ourselves that we do not live in isolation and whatever we do on a daily basis has an impact on others and on our surroundings.

Joy: I am Buddhist and I am proud that this tradition has been passed on from generation to generation and it is still present today.

Phaeng: I think Buddhist lent is good for monks and novices who can stay in same place, and for regular people as well. I see that most people try not to drink and that they are trying to maintain the Lao traditions that have lasted over a thousand years. I hope they are still doing this in the future, even as the world changes.

Makara: My favourite aspect is to see Cambodian people maintaining this traditional religious celebration the same way they have been doing this for years.

Markets of Myanmar: A photo essay

Words and photos by Edna Kornberg

Fruit seller
Many exotic fruits are available.

The best way to know a country is through its people. Visiting the daily markets that each town has opens worlds. Myanmar was no exception.

Everything is sold from all types of foods (some of which Westerners would find extremely exotic, like fried ants!) to the basic vegetables, meats, fish and poultry. Colorful spices abound as well as a multitude of grains.

friend ants
Ready for a snack? How about some friend ants?

You could furnish a gourmet kitchen from all types and sizes of pots and pans, utensils, silverware, and drinkware.

The people (sellers as well as buyers) interact with each other as well as with the tourists which makes this a first class social event as well. It is a way of life that has been going on for decades even centuries.

The color and spirit and the din of everyone talking at the same time is infectious. The friendliness, warmth and humility of these people is contagious and so inviting.

Click here to view the photo gallery if not embedded below.

Ready to see Myanmar for yourself? Click here to have a Journeys Within regional specialist contact you, or call toll-free (877) 454-3672

A month worth of Southeast Asia memories

In the summer of 2014, Journeys Within guests Michele and Michael traveled through Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos on an epic month-long Southeast Asia trip that made a lasting impression on them. One year later, they sent us a few photos from their trip along with the note below…

Sjwedagon Pagoda at night
We visited this landmark sight twice during our time in Yangon, and dusk is definitely our favorite time to see it, though any visit there is one that will be seared into your memory. The gold of the pagodas reflects the light of the setting sun and is almost blinding. Whether it is beautiful or gaudy is in the eyes of the beholder – the temple had a bit of a feel of “Buddhism meets Disneyland”!

Hard to believe it’s been a year since our trip with you to Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos in May-July, 2014)! We have so many incredible memories of our trip, and an even larger collection of photos! You asked us to send along a few of our favorite photos.

We have referred numerous friends and colleagues to your travel company and to the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap – hopefully, at least some of them became clients. Definitely hoping we will be able to travel with you again some time!

Warmest regards,
Michele and Michael

Monk with dogs at temple
Scene at the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar, famous for housing the world’s largest book (729 marble slabs inscribed with the Buddha’s doctrine). This young girl was running through the temple, accompanied by four dogs, all of them with looks of sheer joy on their faces!


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Yangon: City Tour
Enjoy a full day tour of the city center, taking in some of the highlights such as the National Museum, Bogyoke Aung San Museum, Chaukhtatgyi (a colossal reclining Buddha), and Karaweik Hall on Kandawgyi Lake. You will also get the chance to explore the famous Bogyoke (Scott) Market, home to hundreds of stalls selling local souvenirs. No visit to Yangon would be complete without spending some time at the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda, one the most venerable places of worship in Myanmar. Take in the array of gold and gems which light up around the giant golden dome as the sun slowly sets around you. Watch as the locals come here to make offerings before they return home for the day. Return to your hotel in the early evening.

Bagan sunset
We waited patiently for sunset over Bagan, Myanmar at an acclaimed viewing spot requiring us to climb barefoot to the top of the ruins of a massive temple, but the sunset was mostly a bust. We finally gave up, climbed down the temple, and left. As we drove away, the light changed dramatically, so we pulled over quickly and I was able to get this shot. Not a bust after all, even if the intended location changed! (We loved our guide and driver, who never complained about my frequent requests for photo stops.)

Yangon: Yangon – Bagan
In the morning, you will be driven to the airport in time to catch your flight to the ancient city of Bagan where you will spend the day exploring the city. Visit Nyaung U Market, Shwezigon Pagoda (the prototype for later Myanmar Stupas), Kyansittha Umin, Wet-Kyi-Inn Gubyaukgyi Temple with its exquisite mural painting from the 13th Century, and Htilominlo Temple. After lunch visit a fascinating lacquer-ware workshop before continuing on to Manuha Temple, built by the exiled King Manuha, before stopping at Nanphaya, said to have been the residence of King Manuha. You will also visit Ananda Temple, an architectural masterpiece, as well as the Oakkyaung Monastery, which is decorated with multi-colored mural paintings. End the day with some breathtaking sunset views from the terraces of an ancient temple.

Bagan: Mt. Popa
After breakfast, head out on a side-excursion to impressive Mt.Popa, an extinct volcano known as the abode of the legendary nats (naughty spirits!); a one hour drive. Here a temple complex sits perched atop the summit where, for the energetic, there is time to climb the 777 steps to the top of the hill or, for the less energetic, an opportunity to join the local pilgrims and participate in the festivities at the base. Mt. Popa is a natural place to learn about the nat, or spirit, as people traditionally believe that the custom of nat worship started here and it is still practiced here as although Myanmar is a Buddhist country they also practice spirit worship in the belief that it will bring about prosperity. Depart Mt. Popa return to Bagan.

Who knew that ducks got herded? Scene from the famous wooden bridge at U Bein, outside of Mandalay, Myanmar.

Mandalay: Drive to Pyin U Lwin
Your driver will meet you at your hotel for your private transfer to the airport, where you will arrive in time for your onward flight to Mandalay. After arrival set off on a 1 ½-hr drive to Pyin U Lwin (formerly known as Maymyo, named after Colonel May, a veteran of the Indian Mutiny and commander of the Bengal Regiment temporarily stationed here in 1887). Located a good 1000m above sea level, this former British hill station is home to a range of red-brick colonial buildings, and also famous for its delicious coffee. Explore the area with its local market and cafes, before continuing on to the nearby Botanical Gardens, founded in 1915 by a British botanist, which cover an area of more than 170 acres of land and 70 acres of water. You will also have the option of riding in 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 for their expatriates. 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 U Lwin for the evening.

Pyin U Lwin – Mandalay
After an early breakfast your guide will meet you to transfer you back to Mandalay. Once you have arrived in town have lunch before you take a sightseeing tour which includes Mahanumi, a life like Buddha image; visiting a gold leaf making center, to see the gold leaf still being made by hand; marble sculpture and tapestry workshops and Zaycho Market. In the afternoon visit the Old Palace grounds; Kuthodaw Pagoda, known as the world’s largest book for its 729 marble slabs inscribed with the Buddha’s Doctrine; Golden Palace Monastery, noted for its exquisite wood carvings; Atumashi Monastery; and Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, where a huge image is carved out of a single block of marble. At sunset enjoy the panoramic view of the city from Mandalay Hill.

Mandalay: Amarapura and Ava with Sagaing Sunset
Drive to Amarapura where you will visit Mahagandayon Monastery and watch as a thousand monks take their last meal of the day at 10am in total silence. Then take a leisurely walk across U Bein, a 200 year old curved wooden bridge with beautiful views out over the lake and a superb destination for photography. Afterwards, take a walk to a nearby village to see the local’s process of dying silk and then visit a local silk weaving shop where you will learn how the Burmese silk weaving industry makes its fine cloth. Carry on to the Kingdom of Ava. After crossing a tributary via ferry with locals, you will travel by pony-cart through villages, farms and tree lined lanes of Ava. You will have the opportunity to see the leaning tower of Nanmyint and the hidden royal swimming pool nearby. Then venture to the picturesque Bagaya wooden monastery, surrounded by farmland and local sellers and artists. You will also go to see the newly revealed standing Buddha image at Aungmyaybonza Monastery also known as the residence of the Royal Abbot (some believe it to be haunted). Though the Royal Palace has gone, the Pagodas, Temples and Monasteries still remain and leave a feeling of a previous time. Proceed on to Sagaing Hill, which is famous for being covered with about 600 white-washed pagodas and monasteries. The Hill is famous for Buddhism and meditation, a home to over 3000-monks and 100-meditation centers. You will go to visit Soon-Oo-Pon-Nya-Shin & U-Min-Thonw-Sae Pagodas while taking in the setting sun over the below plains.

Heho: Arrival and drive to Pindaya
Fly to Heho with Air Kanbawza K7282, departing 8:55 and arriving at 9:30, and then proceed by road to Pindaya (60Km), a small, quiet town, about an hour and a half drive. Visit Pindaya caves famous for its thousands of centuries-old Buddha images of various sizes, some carved into the face of the rock and some deposited in niches in the walls. Next visit a home based paper and umbrella making industry where you will be able to see all of the steps in the process starting with the gathering of local plants to the finished product – beautiful, decorative paper umbrellas. Check into your traditional cottage hotel.

Pindaya – Inle Lake
Enjoy the drive through some beautiful scenery to Inle Lake, home to the Intha people who live their lives on the water. Upon arrival at Nyaung Shwe jetty, transfer directly to your beautiful floating hotel. Check in before taking a boat trip around the lake where you will see the unique method locals use to row their boats, fishermen with their own style of fishing, floating farms and gardens, and a handloom weaving cottage with its own showroom. You will visit Phaungdawoo Pagoda which houses the five most revered Buddha Images in the southern Shan States and Nga Phe Cheung Monestary, formerly known as the Cat Jumping Monastery, which got its name from formerly teaching cats to do tricks but has hence stopped this practice due to overly worked cats. You can still enjoy the many roaming cats while learning about the Shan style Buddhas at the beautiful mid nineteenth century teak monastery. It is a great location to capture monastery life on the lake with it located right on the outskirts of a massive floating garden.

Inle Lake: Indein
Your guide will meet you at your hotel and you will take a boat to Indein, a small village on the western bank of Inle Lake.  To get there you pass through a channel, one of the prettiest boat rides on the lake.  You can visit some of the village houses to see their day to day lives. It takes about 30 minutes to walk up the hill of Indein Pagoda complex, as you pass through the bamboo forest where you will see the ruined temples under renovation. Return the way you came, by boat, and once again enjoy the picturesque ride. On your way back you will stop along the way to learn and witness some of the local’s distinct handicrafts of lotus weaving, cigar rolling, blacksmithing and silverwares.

Bangkok: Half day City Tour and Phnom Penh: Arrival
Your guide will meet you at your hotel in the morning and take you to a famous flower market by private minibus. Enjoy the sights and smells there before visiting the pride of Thailand, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew housing the Emerald Buddha. Follow your guide to Wat Pho and you will see the Reclining Buddha. While at Wat Pho enjoy a relaxing 30-minute traditional Thai massage before heading for lunch at a local restaurant and after that take a stroll down to amulet market and return to your hotel in the afternoon.

Phnom Penh: City Tour
This morning take a tour of the Royal Palace, which to this day is still the royal residence. See the amazing royal collection and the beautiful architecture before heading to the National Museum, where you will be taken around by a trained museum guide who will show you some wonderful pre-Angkorean pieces as well as a number of special pieces from the temples. After your cultural morning, enjoy lunch at Friends, a restaurant benefiting at-risk street children. On the way back stop at a local organization that takes at-risk and orphaned children and provides them with education and dance training, sit in on a traditional dance class and be amazed at the grace and persistence of these students.

Phnom Penh: Toul Sleng and Killing Fields Tour
Head to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum where your guide will explain the history of the Khmer Rouge and walk you through the different museum displays. After watching the movie they show every day, head out to the Killing Fields, where a memorial stupa and shallow pits remind visitors of the thousands killed under the Pol Pot Regime. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch your guide will take you to central market, reported to be the biggest domed market in the world, and to the famous Russian Market where everything from souvenirs to car parts is on sale. Enjoy a shopping spree or just browse along with the locals out doing their shopping.

Siem Reap: Arrival and Village Tour and Sunset at Angkor Wat
You will be taken to the airport in time to catch your onward flight to Siem Reap. Set out on the Journeys Within Village Tour with our guide who will take you to his village, showing you rice paddies and typical homes along the way. Once there enjoy a fresh coconut drink and meet his family and neighbors. Walk from here to West Baray Lake where you can take a local boat around this picturesque area before returning to shore where your car will be waiting for you. Head out to the temples and watch the sunset from Angkor Wat.

Siem Reap: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom: Sunrise to Sunset
Wake up early and head out to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Return to your hotel for a delicious breakfast. After breakfast head back to Angkor Wat with your guide. Explore this majestic temple throughout the morning while it is still cool and has fewer tourists. Return to Journeys Within for lunch and a nap. In the afternoon head to Angkor Thom, the famous walled city and see the many temples within its borders, including the fascinating Bayon temple with its many magnificent faces smiling out. Watch the sun set over Angkor Wat, or climb Phnom Bakeng and watch the sunset from on high.

Siem Reap: Banteay Srei, Other Temples and JWOC Class
This morning set off with your guide to Banteay Srei, the intricately carved temple located just 30km beyond Angkor Wat. As you head towards your hotel you can stop at Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, two of the prettiest temples in the complex. Enjoy climbing through these smaller unique sites. Enjoy lunch in the temple complex overlooking Sra Srang. Many of our students at Journeys Within Our Communities (JWOC) have limited opportunity to speak and hear English in their everyday lives and we welcome you to come and help us out by conversing with our eager students. Helping these students practice their English for an hour is a rewarding and fascinating experience, and gives you a real insight into Cambodians’ perspectives on life. You will be amazed at their desire to learn about your culture, and the enthusiasm they hold to learn English. Your ability to speak English is the only qualification you need and by participating in the program you are playing a vital role in developing our students’ English skills.

Siem Reap: Tonle Sap Kompong Kleang Village
Upon arrival at Tonle Sap, take a boat ride to visit the village of Kompong Kleang and a Cambodian fish farm. Kompong Kleang is located on the northern section of the lake and is a less traveled village. During the dry season it is a forest of stilted houses and in the wet season a floating village. It is the largest community on the lake and, like all other lake communities, relies on fishing.

Siem Reap: Beng Mealea and Rolous Group and Artisans d’Angkor Silk Farm
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before leaving the crowds behind and heading to Beng Mealea, a temple only recently opened to the public, located about one and a half hours drive from the town center. After an hour you will leave the paved road and get onto a beaten track running through rice fields and villages of rural Cambodia. At the temple our guide will help you imagine how it once was as you pick your way through the rubble now surrounded by jungle. Head back towards Siem Reap, along the way stopping to visit the Rolous Group, a group of Angkorean temples located 15 minutes outside of Siem Reap in a beautiful area. In the afternoon take a walk around the old market where the locals and tourists shop side by side. Then head out to the Pua District, passing through Cambodian villages and countryside, until you reach the Artisans d’Angkor Silk Farm. Learn about the silk weaving process before seeing the beautiful finished products.

Luang Prabang: Arrival and Orientation Tour (pm)
In the morning visit the Land Mine Museum, a rather humble look at the land mine problem, past and present, in Cambodia. Return to your hotel and enjoy the afternoon at your leisure before heading to your evening flight departure. Your driver will meet you at your hotel for your private transfer to the airport, where you will arrive in time for your onward flight to Luang Prabang. You will be picked up from the airport and driven to the main part of town for a quick orientation tour. Your guide will give you an introduction to the city, showing you the main roads, some restaurants and the night market area, before dropping you off at your hotel to check in.

Luang Prabang: Sunrise to Sunset
Wake up at sunrise to give monks morning alms. You’ll be accompanied by your guide who can demonstrate the proper method of alms giving and explain this daily Buddhist ceremony. Return to your hotel for breakfast, after which your guide will take you on a tour of the city, including visits to The National Museum, Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visun, Wat Aham and Wat Sen. Enjoy lunch at the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center located on the Mekong River surrounded by a garden and artisans on the outskirts of town. Enjoy the early afternoon relaxing or walking around before you continue your tour, visiting the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum and finishing with a hike up Mt. Phou Si in the late afternoon to see a sweeping view of Luang Prabang and watch the sunset.

Luang Prabang: Temples and Villages on the Mekong
Today you will explore the villages and livelihoods of the locals living off of the Mekong River. After breakfast you will meet your guide and be transferred to the boat pier on the Mekong. You will cross the river for Xieng Mien, in the district of Chomphet. Even though the Mekong River creates a short distance between Xieng Mien and Luang Prabang, you will quickly be able to see the differences between the two. You will take a stroll through the village lanes and visit three historic temples Wat Xieng Mene, Wat Chomphet and Wat Long Khoune. Afterwards you will join your boat and pick up your picnic lunch on the Luang Prabang side of the river before heading down to the pottery village of Ban Jan. Take a walk around to observe this village which is centuries old and home to some interesting handicrafts. You might even want to further support the village and pick up one of the fun handmade trinkets sold by the locals. Afterwards, head down river and take in the lush hilltops and serene river while on the less traveled stretch of the Mekong. Once you reach the fishing village of Ban Chompjua you will transfer to one of the local families’ fishing boats to join as they check traps. The styles and traps will vary depending on the season and level of the Mekong. Learn how time consuming the art of fishing is from the locals as they demonstrate the making of one of their gigantic fishing nets. You will then return to your long tail boat for a picturesque coast while you enjoy your picnic lunch and head for Ban Xing, the Lion Village. Take a walk around this believed to be 16th century village and see the remnants of a previous time. This farming and fishing village holds some of the oldest traditional homes near Luang Prabang. You will then join your village hosts’ home for a Lao baci ceremony. Your guide will explain this traditional blessing ceremony as you receive well wishes from elders in the village. After the ceremony you will travel up river back to Luang Prabang while taking in the setting sun.

Luang Prabang: Shangri Lao Full Day Expedition
Relive the footsteps of the historic 19th century French explorer, Dr. P. Neis with this original and authentic colonial style expedition. You will be picked up early morning from your hotel and transferred to the Shangri Lao camp 15 km outside of Luang Prabang. On arrival, you will get an introductory tour of the camp, the elephants and their hospital. After you meet your elephant you will begin your hour and half ride in a traditional Howdah seat with roof through the river, jungle and mountain tops. You will want to have your camera handy to take pictures of the majestic landscape that surrounds you. You will then stop for a secluded lunch of traditional Lao food and wine in the jungle Sala beside the cascading waters of the Huay Sae River. After lunch you will trek through the jungle for an hour and half passing waterfalls, limestone cliffs, bamboo bridges and turquoise pools while learning about this important ecosystem. Once you leave the valley you will meet Hmong horses who will transport your belongings for an uphill section of the trek through fields and plantations. Once you reach the Nam Khan River you will board a luxury bamboo raft. Have a coffee break while you float down river for an hour and a half taking in the traditional village life of farmers and fishermen. When you reach the camp you will then be transferred by minibus back to your hotel in Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang: The Living Land: Rice Cultivation and Handicrafts
Today you will learn about Laos’s most cherished and cultivated crop – rice! The Living Land Company is a community enterprise that specializes in growing organic vegetables and rice for the development of the local community and seven families that live on the farm. You will arrive at the Living Rice Farm and be introduced to your guide and farming expert. You will learn the 12 steps of rice farming from the seeding of the soil to cooking the coveted sticky rice for everyday consumption. You will have the opportunity to truly experience the life of a farmer by trying your hand at some of the activities, like helping to plow the muddy soil by guiding Susan the farm’s water buffalo or husking the rice with a traditional foot rice pounder. You will also learn about some of the other traditional skills of the farmer like blacksmithing and bamboo weaving. Enjoy the breathtaking view of the expansive rice fields, organic garden of herbs and vegetables, and the fish pond from the balcony of the farm’s traditional Lao wooden house. You will not only have the opportunity to learn about rice farming, but you will have the opportunity to talk to Lao farmers and gain an understanding about their way of life and gentle friendliness. Enjoy learning the secrets of Lao cuisine in an early evening cooking class at the Tamarind Cooking School. You will have a hands-on opportunity to cook your own Lao feast, including how to make the local staple-Lao sticky rice. You will be instructed by the owners of Tamarind Restaurant in the lush and beautiful surroundings of their cooking center just outside of town. After you learn about local ingredients and preparation methods, you’ll cook your own version of these local dishes and afterwards sit to enjoy your well-deserved dinner.

Luang Prabang – Nong Khiaw
After breakfast check out of your hotel and head to the north of the Luang Prabang Province. First, you will drive up the Mekong to the village of Pak Ou. From here board a small boat and take a tour of the local fishing area, checking traps with the fisherman along the way and collecting any fish you might find. You will then cross the Mekong by small boat to visit the small village of Ban Mueng Keo, known for its production of Lao whiskey. Here you will receive a demonstration of the whiskey-making process by a local Lao Lao producer. And if you’re up for it, sample the finished product for an early morning punch! Then travel downstream to visit the Pak Ou Caves, famous for the thousands of Buddha statues left inside by passerby. Return to Ban Pak Ou, where the former village chief and his family will cook you a Lao-style lunch and you’ll learn about dining customs and etiquette. After lunch you will begin your three hour drive along the Pak Ou River, through some of the most picturesque rolling hills and valleys of the Luang Prabang Province until you reach Nong Khiaw and check into your riverside bungalow.

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How to incorporate your travel photos into your home décor

By Virginia Munsterman of Aspen Leaf Interiors

You’ve just arrived home from a fantastic vacation and your camera’s memory card is positively brimming with photos. If you’re like most people, you might post a few on a social networking site and upload the rest to the cloud or Dropbox, where they’ll more than likely sit unseen indefinitely.

Projects-Photo Display Rack 1
Photo by Jerry and Pat Donaho, Flickr

It’s easy for these images to be uploaded and forgotten, but in fact there really is no reason why these photos should not become a part of your home decor.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice for incorporating travel photos into a space is to focus on some element of congruity. When a similar element is repeated throughout a set of photographs, it pulls them together. And rather than having a disjointed array of images on your wall, the photos appear crafted into a tasteful collection.

Here a few ideas for finding congruity amongst your photographs:

Focus on a common color
You’ll always be able to find a background with some blues or yellows or pinks in your travels. Pick a color that you’re fond of or one that you’ll find often on your trip and turn that into a point of commonality. (See the photo above for a great example of color tying all the photos together.)

Black and white or sepia
If the color isn’t an option for you, another way to bring your photos together is to print them in Sepia tones or Black and White. This way, the visual chaos that can come from too many colors is removed, and what you’re left with is a pleasing, calm series of photos that draws your eye inward.

Framed !
Photo by Craig Sunter, Flickr

Print a variety of sizes of photos and don’t be afraid to mix up the frames to add interest. But again, focus on keeping a sense of congruity through these images, whether through color or theme.

Hallway - After
Photo by Kathleen, Flickr

Pick one, and make it a good one
The last and best piece of advice for travel photography is a bit more complicated, but results in a lovely arrangement. It requires a bit of planning beforehand:

  • Choose your composition: Before your trip, practice taking photographs using a certain specific composition of your choosing.
  • Take your photo carefully: Locate a striking scene on your trip and utilize your composition style. (Make an effort to ensure that the photograph is ideal – everyone’s eyes are open, the exposure is good, the composition is appealing and the photo is taken on your camera’s highest quality setting.)
  • Choose wisely: Pick a single image from each trip that has this similar composition.

Once you have enough of these photos, you can create a collage that highlights each image without feeling overwhelmed.

My Life In Pictures - 10th Nov, 6pm
Photo by Kris Williams, Flickr

About Aspen Leaf Interiors
Aspen Leaf Interiors is a full-service interior design firm with over 15 years of experience designing luxury residences in Lake Tahoe and Northern California. Our creativity, coupled with collaboration, puts our award-winning design team at the leading edge of exceptional interior design. Our style is influenced by architecture, as a firm believer that the structure and program will hint at what it wants to become. The inspiration for the different solutions we use in design comes from collaboration with the design team, traveling and exploration of arts and all forms of design.

We believe in designing spaces that reflect the lives of the people who will live in them. We are driven to create extraordinary designs that are personal and distinct, environments that inspire and delight you with detail, and rooms that envelop you in luxury and beauty. In our firm, we value showing up every day inspired and full of ideas, ready to explore and expand our resources, and eager to create unique design solutions for each challenge. We believe in listening closely to the client’s requirements, and then listening to the structure and programming, looking for hints at what it wants to become.