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Experience Cambodia’s Temples… Decoded!


The team in Siem Reap spends a great deal of time researching cool new options to entertain our guests in the evenings and this season we have come across an exciting new experience which we think is nothing short of exceptional! Bambu Stage is a collaboration of artistic directors from around the world who now reside in Cambodia, bringing with them their flair for the unique.

Using a large interactive model, presenter Nicolas Coffil walks you through the architecture and design of the ancient temples of Angkor, in a show that will truly enrich your Siem Reap temple experience. As a traditional temple is constructed piece by piece before your eyes, you have the opportunity to understand more about the spiritual meanings and beliefs behind these impressive structures.

A dinner party style meal is served at the conclusion of the show which invokes great conversation with other patrons and allows the opportunity to discuss the features of the show further with your hosts. This is a wonderful compliment to any temple tour which truly rounds out your understanding of these ancient monuments.

The Temples Decoded show is presented every Tuesday evening during the high season months of September to March at Tangram Garden, a delightful outdoor restaurant offering a respite from the hot and dusty streets of Siem Reap. This is a truly unique experience to be had in Siem Reap in lush, tropical surroundings.

Journeys Within Merging with Wild Frontiers

Andrea video on merger

What a wonderful adventure life is!

Fifteen years ago when I first visited Southeast Asia, I could never have imagined the amazing journey I would go on; and now, another exciting chapter is being written and the adventure continues…

First, a little background: In March of 2017, I had hit a wall. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and I felt that my time as CEO and owner of Journeys Within should come to a close. So I did what any exhausted parent would do and headed to Disneyworld.

After being rejuvenated by the happiest place on earth, I came back to work and realized that I actually love what I do. I love working with clients, I love my team, and I love travel in general. The problem was, I don’t love spreadsheets or profit and loss statements and I felt that I needed and wanted a change.

Going out on a limb I called Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers Travel. I’ve known Jonny for years through the Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialists list and I’ve always admired his company, his tours and his dedication to the people and countries he visits. I explained to him that I wanted to offer our travelers more options and expand our trip offerings, but that I was also tired of running the show. A few phone calls and some in-person meetings later and Journeys Within is now a proud member of the Wild Frontiers family.

Wild Frontiers Travel is an adventure travel company based in the U.K. and Jonny had been looking to expand to the U.S. for the last couple of years. Happily for all of us, my phone call gave him the opportunity to do just that – using Journeys Within as his Wild Frontiers base in the U.S.

For me it means that my team can continue to do what we do – provide amazing tours to Southeast Asia – but our office is growing and we will now also host a sales team for the amazing Wild Frontiers trips around the world.

This last month I was lucky enough to visit India and actually kick the tires of a Wild Frontiers tour. India was astounding, the places we visited and the people I met added an amazing new chapter to my travel-life book and I honestly can’t wait to go back…with the kids this time! I also have a huge appreciation for the team Jonny has set up there and it reaffirmed to me that being part of the Wild Frontiers family is something to be proud of.

I’m thrilled to be working with Jonny and I’m excited to help Wild Frontiers expand to the U.S. Above all else, I’m glad that our team is here and we are now able to offer even more to you, our travelers.

Feel free to give me a call anytime so we can plan YOUR next adventure!<

Best,

Andrea Ross


If you haven’t read Jonny Bealby’s letter of introduction, you can do so here.

Journeys Within handing over Southeast Asia ground operations offices to our local staff

The Journeys Within team

When we founded Journeys Within Tour Company out of the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I had no idea what I was doing.

I remember early on a friend in the industry asked me, “Are you a ground operator or a tour operator?”

He was rewarded with a blank stare.

It turns out that ground operators have local offices on the ground, hire the guides and drivers, and book the various activities a traveler will experience. A tour operator is based in the U.S. and works with the clients to put together an itinerary, which, when ready to go, is booked through one or more ground operators. (Want more details? See April’s great blog post about the differences here.)

After having this explained to me I promptly replied, “Oh, I need to do both!”

In those early days while I was living in Cambodia, we were working directly with the guides, drivers, hotel managers and other elements of the trip and we hadn’t found any companies in Southeast Asia that we felt had the same standards we did – a high level of service, customization and a willingness to go above and beyond for every trip.

On the other hand, I loved working with the clients. I loved hearing what they liked and didn’t like, and putting together the dream itinerary for them. I couldn’t imagine not keeping that pie together, thus Journeys Within was born.

We opened offices in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and partnered with a friend in Myanmar. We trained guides and worked with drivers. We worked with our local offices to build capacity and to grow our team. We hired April and grew our U.S. office so clients could easily contact us and so we could have a presence here in the States.

Splitting my time between the U.S. and Southeast Asia, I ran one business, comprised of at least five different companies. (Oh, and we started and ran an amazing sister non-profit called Journeys Within Our Community.)

It has been a wonderful adventure and I think it allowed Journeys Within to become what it is today – a global family dedicated to creating incredible trips.

Now, as we look to the future, we are realizing it is time to evolve.

This year two things have happened simultaneously that have made the path forward become very clear.

The first is that more and more guests are asking us to book trips for them in other areas of the world – areas that we know and love, but we don’t have the time or energy to work on, as we are so involved in Southeast Asia. Our clients are asking us to be a true tour operator.

As we’ve seen this phenomenon happen, I have also realized the capacity of our ground teams. When we first started the offices in each country, it was because I needed to train our team and create the experience we wanted for our guests. Tourism in Southeast Asia was new and we moved there because we felt we were creating jobs, not taking them away from locals. Sure enough we’ve created those jobs and built these incredible local teams, and they are now at the point that they don’t need me.

Don’t get me wrong, they still want our amazing clients to come and travel with them; it’s me looking over their shoulders that they don’t need. So, with this in mind, I have decided to hand our local offices over to our local teams.

This won’t happen overnight, but in the next six months we will transition to them owning and operating their own ground operations offices. They’re ready to take over and I’m ready to let go!

I couldn’t be more proud of our teams on the ground and the fact that they are ready to run these ground operations businesses on their own. I’m excited to work with them to keep the standards as high as they are and to watch them grow. In Southeast Asia, ownership is king and my teams deserve to own their own slice of the Journeys Within pie!

In fact we’ve already tested this roadmap with Michelle and Khoa in Vietnam. Khoa has been a Journeys Within guide for over 12 years and his wife Michelle was our original Vietnam Director. Now, we have partnered with Michelle and Khoa and they have their own ground operation in Vietnam, running the Journeys Within tours and creating incredible experiences for our guests. We will use this model as we hand over the Laos and Cambodia offices to our teams on the ground there and we’re excited that we can keep the high level of service, but empower our local teams.

As for us in the U.S. office, the transition will allow all of us to embrace being a tour operator and continue providing the incredible customer service that has won us recognition as one of Travel + Leisure’s Top 10 Tour Operators in the World (thanks to your votes!). And we hope in the future to be able to add destinations and tours beyond Southeast Asia, with the same Journeys Within quality, service and adventure.

So when I’m asked now, I can answer quickly: “We’re a tour operator, but we work very closely with our amazing ground operators.”

Sincerely,

Andrea Ross

p.s. Nothing will change in terms of how you work with us here at Journeys Within. April and I will still be your points of contact in the U.S. office. Give us a call at 877-454-3672 anytime!

What our Southeast Asia staff are saying

Play video: Narla's reaction

Click here for a short video we shot with Narla about the transition. We also spoke with Michelle Nguyen of In Country Tours, the ground operator who will be working with Journeys Within to execute tours in Vietnam and Cambodia after the change in company structure…

Andrea Ross: After working for Journeys Within for so many years, how do you feel now that you’re running your own company and working with Journeys Within?

Michelle Nguyen: We are an extension of the team, whether it’s working with the guiding stars or with the unicorn warriors in the office. Having fun and working hard together for a common vision is a great motivator. It’s such a great opportunity to continue to work with people you know who share the same ethos and approach to experiential travel and customer care as we do.

Andrea: What does being in the Journeys Within family mean to you?

Michelle: We feel very blessed and fortunate. Over the years we have all established such a close bond, one built through an extensive time of learning together, understanding and supporting each other. It is rare to find a business that is so successful in proactively growing and enriching lives as Journeys Within is. You share time and experiences not only with your team, but also gathered under the Journeys Within umbrella are their family members. We feel the importance of people. Even this past summer, we all went away on holiday together and it was so special to feel everyone’s happiness.

Andrea: What does owning and running your own company mean to you?

Michelle: It is the opportunity to bring some “sunshine” to as many people’s lives as possible through doing something you are passionate about.

Introducing Aklile Mekuria – JWOC’s new Fundraising and Communications Manager

Aklile Mekuria

Here at Journeys Within, we are always excited to meet the new staff at our sister non-profit, Journeys Within Our Community, and share a little about them with our travelers who might pay them a visit on their next stop in Siem Reap. And we’re especially excited to introduce Aklile Mekuria, JWOC’s new Fundraising and Communications Manager, who comes to the organization with an interesting CV from around the world…

Coming from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aklile has joined the dynamic JWOC staff as the Fundraising and Communications Manager. Born and raised in Kenya and Ethiopia, Aklile is no stranger to working with cross-cultural programmes. Having graduated from St. Mary’s College in Hyderabad, India with a degree in Mass Communications and Political Science in 2015, it was only a matter of time before she was back in Asia.

Journeys Within: Where were your born and raised?

Aklile Mekuria: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. My family lived there for about 25 years. When I was about 7 years old we packed up and moved back to Ethiopia.

JW: What was your first memorable travel experience?

AM: Taking the train to Mombasa from Nairobi. I was perhaps 6 years old but I remember the commotion on the train so well. The trees rushing past the windows, the excitement of going to the beach! When we got there we had such a memorable time, from monkeys stealing our groceries, to camel rides along the beach, and delicious grilled fish by the ocean!

JW: What inspired you to get your degree from a college in India?

AM: India is such a melting pot of cultures, traditions, languages, and food! I could honestly think of no better place to learn how to work in a multi-cultural environment than incredible India!

JW: What did you study and why?

AM: I studied Mass Communications and Political Science. I’ve always been a lover of writing and I knew I wanted to work in the international field and these two subjects lined up perfectly for that.

JW: What other not-for-profits/NGOs have you worked with? And how were those experiences?

AM: I’ve always volunteered for NGOs, especially during summer holidays in high school, my parents would always encourage me to give back in any way, even if it was just one hour in a day. Well that grew with me and my first job out of university was the Programme Manager for Girls Gotta Run Foundation in Ethiopia, an organization that empowers young girls through running and education who are at risk of underage marriage in rural Ethiopia. It was such a privilege to work with these strong girls who have taken back ownership of their own lives.

Most recently I worked at the Sustainable Development Goals Centre For Africa in Kigali, Rwanda. It was interested to work at such a macro level and see the way policies were created and carried out after having worked at the micro level in communities. It was really cool to work alongside influential people that have been key to the development of Africa.

JW: When and why did you first visit Siem Reap?

AM: The first time I visited Siem Reap was in February 2017. For as long as I remember I have always wanted to visit Cambodia, but I never really acted on it. Then earlier this year I decided to pack my bags and go for a visit. I initially had plans to travel around South East Asia but I fell in love with the quiet town of Siem Reap and spent the entire month here.

JW: Why did you want to work at JWOC?

AM: The main appeal at JWOC was the solid stance on child protection in all their programs and operations. It’s unfortunate that children are sometimes used as bait to attract donations or guests, however at JWOC I respected the way in which the needs of the child is always prioritized. Additionally, I liked that this organization focuses on Cambodians working with Cambodians for Cambodia. The teachers, community leaders, and the majority of the staff are Cambodians. Who better understands the challenges of Cambodia than Cambodians?

JW: What JWOC projects/initiatives are you most excited about?

AM: I love the Community Support programs! They’re so specific to the challenges Cambodians in the villages face. I had the pleasure of joining the financial literacy training and was immensely impressed in the way Konthea, the Educational Manager, was able to relate and connect with the villagers and provide simple everyday tools that they can adopt.

JW: What’s your favorite cafe/bar in Siem Reap so far?

AM: The Siem Reap Food Co-op, the company is always great and it’s the perfect place to laze around and eat great food.

JW: What’s your favorite Cambodian food?

AM: I love love love amok curry with tofu! Oh, it’s just too good!

JW: What has surprised you the most about living in Siem Reap?

AM: It’s so interesting to view Cambodia through the eyes of someone living here opposed to being a tourist. Experiencing the everyday life beyond the Angkor Wat Temples and pub street has probably been my favourite so far. It’s the small comparisons that remind me of home and family.

JW: What other regions are you most looking forward to exploring?

AM: I have yet to see the Mekong River and I am so excited about it! I also can’t wait to visit Laos, it’s quite high on my list!

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.