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From the Ground: Visiting a sea turtle hatchery in Con Dao National park, Vietnam.

Photo Credit: April Cole

With over 2,000 miles of pristine coastline, and thousands of off-shore islands, Vietnam is home to a wide arrange of endangered marine turtles. It’s a natural paradise that has been a nesting ground for many species over multiple generations. The protected, Con Dao National park is an archipelago situated less than 200 miles from the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. This island refuge is an important habitat for sea turtles that lay their eggs from April through September. The park presently protects 14 beaches which cover thousands of square miles of important turtle nesting locations. Some of the endangered turtles that nest here include the Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Olive Ridley.

Because sea turtles return to the beaches where they were hatched to lay their eggs, this park was critical in protecting marine turtles across the globe. This unique and diverse ecosystem also protects many species of specialized coral, dolphin and the endangered dugong, a cousin of North America’s manatee. In 2006 a delegation of Vietnamese UNESCO representatives surveyed the area and recognized the importance of saving this natural animal habitat, with future hopes of it becoming a World Heritage site.

During the breeding season, from July to October, the conservation rangers work day and night, protecting the sea turtle’s buried eggs and nests. Once the eggs are laid, rangers record their measurement and statistical information, attach tags to the mother’s fins and move the new eggs to a safe location for incubation. After 46 to 60 days of incubating, the rangers return the hatched baby turtles to the ocean.

Carefully controlled numbers of park visitors are able to witness the mother’s arrival throughout the laying season. Fortunate visitors may also be able to assist in the release of recent hatchlings. For every 1000 baby turtles, only one will grow old enough to continue the reproductive cycle. Hatchlings are released about 10 to 15 feet from the ocean. This rite of passage helps them find their way using sound and light from the beckoning water. This important step will help them to return to the same beach where they were born 30 years later to lay their eggs, just as their mothers did.

Here is a firsthand turtle account from Journey’s Within’s very own, April Cole.

Photo Credit: April Cole

——  I spent the morning relaxing at the beautiful Poulo Condor Boutique resort and Spa and met my guide at 3:30 in the afternoon to transfer to the Con Son Port. After a 45 minute wooden boat ride, I arrived at a sparkling patch of water just off the coast of Bo Dap beach for some snorkeling. The water was warm and the fish were plenty, and it was a great afternoon at sea.

Photo Credit: April Cole

After snorkeling, I was excited to continue my journey on to Con Son Island. This island is renowned for having some of the greatest concentrations of marine turtle nesting sites in the Con Dao National park archipelago. A short walk led us to the Bay Canh ranger station where visitors have the chance to learn about the mangrove forest, and its important role in the delicate environment on Con Dao.

Dinner was served at 6pm – and by dinner, I mean I paid $1 for a Cup of Noodles, and by 7:00; I joined an evening ranger talk on turtle nesting facts and etiquette for unobtrusively watching the mother turtles laying their eggs. The turtles give birth in the wee hours of the night, so sleeping was not much of an option. My rustic, off the grid accommodations, were set up at the park ranger station. Hammocks were hung in a shared sleeping space, but luckily I had the place to myself. I relaxed in my hammock, reading a book, letting the sound of the wave’s sooth me to sleep. It would have been much nicer if there was a mosquito net so the bugs weren’t so much a bother, but that’s something we’ll prepare for our guests in the future. The ranger station is the only human habitation on the island.  This authentic experience is not the typical night at the Four Seasons; realities of life in a wilderness national park reflect a simple life of few modern comforts and conveniences. This is a “Roughing It” real world experience. My excitement to see the turtles and the peace and quiet of no cell phones, radios or television, eclipsed my need for any luxury accommodations.

Photo Credit: April Cole

At about midnight, I was joined by a small group of tourists who came over for the evening and we were guided by a ranger out to the beach to await our first guest from the sea. Around 1am, the first mother pulled up onto the sandy beach. The ranger said she was the impressively sized Green Turtle, which can weigh in at roughly 650 pounds. These impressive creatures have the same lifespan as a human and will travel thousands of miles in open sea for over 80 years.

Photo Credit: April Cole

The ranger told us to wait until she had dug her hole to lay her eggs. We saw two mothers give birth that night and stayed up with the mama’s from about 1-4am. The ranger gently collected the soft eggs to bury them safely in the sand hatchery.

Thrilled and exhausted, I napped until about 5:30am when the ranger woke me to see a batch of turtle eggs hatch that had been incubating in the hatchery. The ranger gathered the little brood into a basket, and we each helped to release the little baby’s from the shore to the sea, to make their way in the world. Baby turtles are pretty much the cutest creatures ever. Watching the little turtles head out to the ocean for the first time was absolutely beautiful.

Photo Credit: April Cole

Guest Review from Kristine Janda and Kevin O’Grattan-Siem Reap is the perfect place to celebrate romance.

At Journeys Within, we are dedicated to custom designing memorable experiences throughout Southeast Asia.  We especially love it when we hear back from our guests who have had first class travel experiences, and are excited to share their photos and adventures.  This letter and these photos are from Journeys Within guests, Kristine Janda & Ken O’Grattan.  

We just returned home from our Asia trip. I just wanted to tell you what an unbelievably amazing experience we had with Journeys Within! Thank you for making our trip and anniversary extra special. We love the gifts, and we will be hanging the picture in our house as a memory of this great adventure.

Photo Credit: Kristine Janda & Ken O’Grattan

We loved all our guides. Mr. Sina and our driver were both wonderful. Mr. Sina is so kind, patient, attentive, and has such a great knowledge of Siem Reap and it’s many temples. He was in tune to our interests and made sure we had a great experiences. Our driver was also great, drove safely, and attentive to us. Our cooking class was a blast! We enjoyed every minute of it. We did not end up doing the bird watching due to the conditions, and we appreciated the change to ensure a great experience. Our trek on Mt Kulen was such an adventure! We’ve never trekked through a lush jungle like that.  Our guides were great, patient, very knowledgeable of forests plants and animals, and very attentive to our needs.

Photo Credit: Kristine Janda & Ken O’Grattan

We also had the most wonderful stay with Jaya House! Wow. They were so sweet and treated us like royalty. They made us feel very special in celebrating our anniversary with flowers and cake! The hotel grounds are so beautiful we didn’t want to leave. The entire staff was very nice and attentive to us and all their guests.

We are so amazed by Siem Reap and its people. Everyone we met was very kind and hospitable. We enjoyed all the food and loved all your restaurant recommendations.  Thank you again for helping us with our unforgettable adventure in Siem Reap. It’s become one of my favorite places in the world!


Kristine Janda and Kevin O’Grattan

Guest Review from Susan Fossum

An editor asked our guests for comments on whether they felt that travel agents are still relevant.  For us this is a bit of an existential question, but our guest and ambassador, Susan Fossum, sums it up very well – thank you Susan!

Dear Editor,

I am someone who has used the services of a travel agent and since I heard that you were looking for information on the subject of whether the use of these type of services were still relevant I thought that I would respond to you.

Honestly, until this past year, I have not used the services of a travel agent, but I must tell you that the services that I used this past year with Journeys Within were invaluable and I would use their services again.  In fact I have referred them already and they are being used by friends of mine as they also are impressed with what this company offers.

I am a frequent traveler -as not only do I love to travel- but I am also an RN who goes on frequent trips with 2 non-profit organizations, traveling throughout the world providing free reconstructive surgical care to children with cleft lips/palates and burns.  This past year I traveled with teams to Bangladesh, Cambodia and Tanzania.  I also am involved in organizing and putting on international nursing conferences around the world, last year one being held in Glasgow, Scotland and previous ones in Canada, Ireland and Denmark.  So lots of travel to the dismay of my 3 dogs and horses!

This past year my surgical trip took me to Takeo, Cambodia – a small village in the southern part of Cambodia.  My husband wanted to join me at the end of my 2 week surgical trip for a vacation in Southeast Asia.  As this was a different part of the world that we had not explored before, and the fact that I would be very busy up until the final day of surgery, we decided to look at using a travel agency to help us plan our trip.  Our plan was to travel not only to Cambodia but also to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.  My husband happened on information in a travel magazine that mentioned Andrea Ross and her company Journeys Within.  In reading about this company we found that Andrea had spent many years in Cambodia, was familiar with the land and culture and also was supportive of the people and agencies that helped the local towns and villages.  This was impressive to us – so we contacted Andrea to find out about her travel agency and whether this would be a good fit for us.  As I mentioned, we have done most of the planning and organization of overseas trips for many years – over 20.

We came up with an itinerary that we were looking at and then sent that off to Andrea – our goals included not only sightseeing, but adventures out in the countryside that would allow us to mingle with the local peoples and cultures.  The itinerary that we ended up with was perfect for us.  All aspects of our tour were covered – we were met at airports by our tour guides, movement through the airport was smooth, all transportation, cultural events were taken care of.  Our accommodations were beyond what we had expected and supported the local communities.  And – a plus – Andrea and her staff worked with me to coordinate my surgical 2 week trip schedule so it would coincide with flights and lodging for my husband.

Using Journeys Within saved me (us) much needed time and energy.  In looking at costs, which are always relevant, for the time in country, airline flights and the experiences that we had – our trip was within a budget that we had expected.

This is a long letter and probably more that you were expecting – but I wanted to get across the point that for someone who has not used a travel agency in more that 20 years of travel – using the expertise of Andrea Ross and her staff of Journeys Within exceeded my expectations.  Thank you for the opportunity to write you and provide feedback on my experiences.

Susan Fossum

Photos provided by Susan Fossum

Thank you from Wendell Alderson & Ken Nather

Photo Credit: Wendell Alderson & Ken Nather

Our mission is to make each and every trip a unique and memorable experience, so we especially love it when we hear back from guests and get to see their photos.  This note and these photos are from Journeys Within guests, Wendell Alderson and Ken Nather:

We loved our holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia.  You did a great job picking out hotels and things for us to do that matched the way we travel. There seemed to be enough down time for Ken and I to explore on our own which we love to do. Thanks for that.

We really enjoyed the moped tours of the HCMC and Hoi An. That was one of our highlights.

The staff at every place was stayed was above and beyond our expectation. Everyone so very nice and accommodating to us.  Ending our holiday at a beach resort was perfect. Loved the place we stayed.

I liked having some flexibility as well. When we got to Siem Reap it was very hot in the afternoons. After speaking with the guide we changed our bike ride to a morning ride instead of an afternoon ride. We drove to the village for the tour and that was great and the next am at 7 we did a bike ride around Angkor Tom and the jungle area. That was perfect. Each day there we were done touring/biking by 2pm and back at the pool with a drink in our hand.

The bike rides were leisurely and very beautiful. I know we would never have seen these areas without the bike rides. We loved our lunch the day we did our bike ride outside of Ha Noi. We learned how to make spring rolls and even shopped in the market for the ingredients.

Thanks again for wonderful holiday.

Best, Wendell & Ken

Thank you from Stephanie Whitehead

Stephanie, Heather and Michelle with Narla in Siem Reap

We love hearing back from our guests after they’ve traveled and we especially love seeing their photos!  Our goal is to make every trip amazing and perfect, and it really makes our day to see it happen.  Here is a quick note from Stephanie Whitehead about her trip last November:

Dear Andrea,

I’m not sure where the last three months have gone and I do apologize for not writing sooner.  I traveled with Journeys Within in November with two of my friends Michelle (U.S.) and Heather (Australia) and wanted to thank you and your staff for an absolutely amazing time!

From the time we landed in Bangkok to the time we left Siem Reap everything was so well organized and just fabulous.  Our guides, Well in Bangkok and Sina in Siem Reap could not have been more friendly and knowledgeable.  Although we are all independent gals, I have to say we felt very looked after and safe at all times.  We used the suggestions on your cheat sheets extensively for spa, restaurants, activities and shopping. Your friend Pisey at the market was lovely… bought several things at her stall as well as a couple of nice things from Douglas at Trunkh!  I especially enjoyed our time with JWOC and our evening with Narla, Makara and friends.

By the way, I have to mention that the staff at the Kralanh Petite Villa were so friendly and accommodating, a definite asset to your property list!  Everyone we met helped to make our stay so very special.

I hope to travel with Journeys Within again in the future… maybe Laos and Myanmar?  I’ll have to see if I can get the girls on board!


Stephanie Whitehead

(Vancouver, Canada)

Stephanie, Heather, Michelle and Well in Bangkok