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From the Ground: The New Siem Reap Boutique Shopping Tour

By Jay Austin

We always provide our guests with ‘Cheat Sheets’ that list our favorite shopping and restaurant suggestions.  However, we’re taking it to the next level!  Our new Siem Reap Shopping Tour is a great way for guests to experience the boutique side of Siem Reap.  This tour provides the perfect ‘girls’ day out’ which begins with cocktails before stepping out for some serious shopping, and is led by either Jay or Naida – Siem Reap’s shopping experts!

Here’s what the new Shopping Tour looks like:

Your driver will collect you from your hotel at 2pm to begin your boutique shopping experience.  This afternoon you will have the opportunity to visit some of Siem Reap’s finest boutique stores and experience creativity inspired from across the globe. You will begin your afternoon with a visit to the trendy Kandal Village, a street lined with boutique stores of all types and tastes from clothing to homewares. From here you will move on to visit the Eric Raisina Couture House where you will find some of Asia’s finest textiles.  Eric Raisina is a world renowned textile designer born in Madagascar whose career has included highlights such as producing textiles for Yves Saint- Laurent and Christian Lacroix. From here you will return to the center of Siem Reap city to visit the well populated Alley West, a small laneway in the center of town offering a diverse range of boutique stores from fashion, to ceramics, to swimwear. Your final stop on this boutique exploration is the Kings Road complex, a newly developed shopping area housing photography galleries, vintage stores and in the center of it all lies the Made in Cambodia Market offering a range of individually styled souvenirs to suit all tastes. The Kings Road complex is home to some of the restaurants on our cheat sheet if you would like to stay for dinner or you can have your driver take you back to the hotel with all of your purchases.

Khmer New Year & Angkor Sankranta – 2017

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

April holds special significance for the Journeys Within team as Khmer New Year, or Choul Chnam Thmey, falls during this month.  Khmer New Year falls at the end of the dry (harvest) season in Cambodia, before the rains return.  Many locals head home to their villages to be with their families during this time, although hundreds of thousands of local people also flock to the Angkor Park to celebrate their heritage.  If you are visiting Cambodia, you may notice decorations such as stars and lights hung out in front of each house.  Khmer New Year represents a special opportunity for travelers to partake in the local culture and customs, but be advised that destinations such as Siem Reap will be particularly busy, and many businesses (such as banks) will likely be closed for the holiday.

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

Here is a brief overview of the three main days of Khmer New Year:

 Day 1: Maha Sangkran

Maha Sangkran is the first day of the Khmer New Year.  Locals dress up formally, and visit their local temples to offer thanks to Buddha for his teachings by lighting candles, burning incense, and kneeling three times before a statue of Buddha. To bring good luck in the New Year, Khmers wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening.

 Day 2: Virak Vanabat

Vireak Vanabat marks the second day of the New Year and this day set aside to help others by donating to charity, and paying respect to elders, parents, teachers by giving gifts.  Many families also attend dedication ceremonies at their local temples to pay respect to their ancestors.

 Day 3: Vearak Loeng Sak

The third day of the Khmer New Year is T’ngai Loeng Sak.  In order to wash away past negative deeds and to bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life, Buddha statues and family elders are washed with perfumed water.

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

Although Khmer New Year has been celebrated in the month of April since the end of the Angkor Period, this will only be the 5th year that the special celebrations at Angkor Wat will take place.  These celebrations are known as Angkor Sankranta, and the festivities are becoming more and more spectacular each year.  Last year, more than a million visitors took part in these celebrations, which include traditional dances, Bokator (Khmer martial arts), games such as rope-pulling, Bas Angkulh, Haol Chhoung  and Leak Kanseng, along with exhibitions and concerts.  You can catch a sneak preview of what to expect with this YouTube clip.  Travelers can also visit the Angkor Park after hours during the New Year to see the temples lit up at night, which is not permitted throughout the rest of the year, and no temple passes will be required for night entry.  During the day, guests can celebrate the New Year with the throngs of locals partaking in the traditional games.

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

If you are interested in partaking in the festivities – let us know and we can incorporate Khmer New Year into your tour, with a Journeys Within guide to explain the significance of each cultural activity, and to help translate for you.

Here is a quick overview of the Angkor Sankranta schedule this year:

April 13th:

8:00 am – Blessing Ceremony (Boung Soung)

April 14th:

3:12 am – Reception of the Arrival of the New Year Tevada

8:00 am – Opening Ceremony

4:00 pm – Angkor Sankranta Friendship Tug of War (Teanh Proat)

5:00 pm – Khmer Popular Games and Traditional Dance Show

6:00 pm – Floating Lanterns Ceremony

7:00 pm – Khmer Classical Theater: “One Century of History of the Cambodian Royal Ballet”

April 15th:

8:00 am – Visiting Pagoda and Sand Mounding Ceremony (Poon Phnom Khsach)

4:00 pm – Angkor Sankranta Parade “Sabathrath Khemara”

30 pm – Mask Theater (L’khoan Khaol) “Heroic of Hanuman”

April 16th:

8:00 am – Angkor Sankranta Chess Championship Final

11:00 am – Awarding Ceremony: Photo Competition “Selfie@ Angkor Sankranta”

2:00 pm – Bathing of Buddha Statue Ceremony (Srang Preah)

3:00 pm – Awarding Ceremony: Oxcart/Buffalo Racing at Road 60 Market – Kyung Yu Fun Fair

5:00 pm – Khmer Popular Games and Traditional Dance Show

6:30 pm – Angkor Sankranta Concert “We Believe in Cambodia”

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

These events will be ongoing from the 14th – 16th, from 8am to 8pm:

  1. Nearyrath Garden
  2. My Village
  3. “Happy Khmer New Year” Concert
  4. Khmer Popular Games
  5. Wet Zone
  6. Cambodian Product Fair
  7. Cultural Heritage Preservation
  8. Chess Tournament
  9. Floating Lanterns
  10. Bokator Martial Art Performance
  11. Classical, Traditional & Popular Games
  12. Kids Zone
  13. Live Painting
  14. Desert of Love “Bun Dalean Phumi Knhom” at Siem Reap’s Royal Gardens
  15. Oxcart/Buffalo Racing at Road 60 Market / Kyung Yu Fun Fair

You can find out a bit more about local Khmer New Year traditions in our previous blogs:

Khmer New Year Rolls Around Again!

Happy New Year — the remix

A Regional Celebration

Southeast Asia 2011: Cambodian festivals and events

Photo Credit: Narla Phay

From the Ground: New Siem Reap Spiritual Tour

The Fortune Teller in Siem Reap – Photo Credit: Anna Baldwin

We are thrilled to announce Journeys Within’s new Siem Reap Spiritual Tour, which will give you a brief glimpse into Cambodia’s deeply spiritual culture.  Fortune Tellers, alongside monks, are deeply respected in the community and are frequently visited for advice about life, and to ask guidance from the spirits. On the Journeys Within Spiritual Tour, you will begin with visit to a local fortune teller for a session. As he does a reading for you,  the Journeys Within guide will translate his words into English.

Afterwards,  you will move on to visit the pagodas of Siem Reap – Wat Bo, Wat Preah Prom Rath and Wat Damnak. Most Khmers (Cambodians) visit their local pagoda (also known as wats or temples) regularly to receive blessings and give alms to the spirit world – a very important part of the Buddhist religion, and pagodas become extremely busy around religious holidays, especially Khmer New Year and Pchum Benh.  You will receive a blessing performed by a monk from the pagoda to cleanse your spirit from which you will take away a small red ribbon tied around your wrist to protect you for the rest of your travels.

Note: If Spiritual Readings interest you, you may also be interested in meeting with Sophie Ferry.  Sophie originally hails from France but was trained in the healing arts in Laos before moving to Siem Reap.  She specializes in moving energy, and works with expats, travelers, locals and animals to heal both mind and body.  While not part of our Spiritual Tour, if you are interested in meeting with Sophie, let the Journeys Within team know, and we can help arrange this for you.

Celebrating Narla’s 10-year anniversary

Every year at about this time, we tend to look back and remember all of the things and people we are thankful for. And this year, we’re especially thankful for Narla Phay, who is celebrating 10 years of working at Journeys Within Tour Company this month.

Over the last 10 years, Narla has made a huge difference in the tours of thousands of Journeys Within guests, and we can truly say the company wouldn’t be the same without him.

To celebrate his 10-year anniversary, we asked Narla to answer a few questions, solicited feedback from some of the longtime Journeys Within staff members, and put together a great slideshow of Narla’s tenure with Journeys Within here.

Narla

Journeys Within: When you first started working for Journeys Within, did you think you’d still be with the company 10 years later? If not, what did you think you’d be doing instead?

Narla: I stated working with Journeys Within in April 2006 as a front desk guy at the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel. I did think I’d still be with the company after the first year working there. I love the idea of how the company is run.

JW: What is your favorite memory from the past 10 years?

Narla: There are many favorite memories from the past 10 years, but there are a few that stick out. First, graduating from university through the JWOC Scholarship Project because I was about to drop out of school before I get the job at Journeys Within. Second, when Andrea gave the role of Tour Country Director to me in 2008. I was really nervous that I might not do the job right, but it turned out well. Third would have to be my first trip out of country for 16 days to Vietnam with Andrea’s family in 2008. It was the dream come true because I never thought I’d be able to be on the airplane and experience such an incredible trip.

JW: What has been the most difficult part of the job?

Narla: Studying English as a second language and being unable to write perfect English is the most difficult part of the job. I always want to do an excellent job, but when it’s time to write official emails to our suppliers, team or guests, sometime I worry that I might make some mistakes.

JW: How has Journeys Within changed over the past 10 years?

Narla: The company has changed so much during the past 10 years. I remember Linda was running the Tour Plan system and I was running the Ground Operations, while sharing the office on the ground floor of the main building at the hotel. Back then there were only a few people working in the tour company in Cambodia, and there was so much stuff for me to do including the hotel work, which I loved so much. We were small when we started and the package tours we provided were limited.

JW: What do you hope for over the next 10 years?

Narla: For the next 10 years I hope Journeys Within continues to be one of the best tour companies around for providing unique experiences with outstanding service to travelers from all around the world. I think one of the keys to our success will be more cooperation with overseas partners from the U.S., Australia and Europe. I also hope our company name will be well known by the big media outlets, helping us spread our name and expertise worldwide. And I hope we continue to have such a good time doing it.

Narla

What Journeys Within Staff are saying…

Andrea Ross: Because Narla is a scholarship student he often accompanies guests when they’re visiting and learning about JWOC. On one occasion we had a wonderful guest who had donated a microloan to a single mom. Narla came back from taking the guest to meet the loan recipient and I asked him how it went:

“Well, the loan recipient cried, because she couldn’t believe that her luck was changing, and the guest cried because she was so happy to change a life like that.” I looked at him and said, “oh wow, what did you do?”

His eyes got big, “Oh, it was amazing, I cried too!”

Narla has a heart of gold. I have also been lucky enough to travel all over the world with him, but my favorite trip I ever took was returning with him to his hometown and staying with his family in their house on stilts. He is as lovely and hardworking as he is because of his lovely family and my kids and I were honored to be their guests.


April Cole: When Narla first came to America he visited our office and we offered him a glass of water. I walked over to the sink and poured him a glass of water and he paused.

“You can drink water straight from the sink???!” he said. “America is awesome.”

I still think of that every time I pour myself a glass of water from the sink.


Narla

Anna Baldwin: Some of my happiest memories of working with Narla are when he came to visit me in the UK to help me exhibit at the World Travel Market. In addition to having his amazing support throughout the show, it was such a special experience being able to show him where I grew up and to reunite him with my family whom he had already met during their previous visits to Cambodia.

Throughout the trip we explored England’s cities and countryside, and he was continuously asking questions about everything from history to food to politics, as well as sharing his own experiences and knowledge about Cambodia and other countries he had travelled to.

Any friends or family that met him said the same thing about Narla – what an impressive and charming young man. His curiosity, intelligence and drive have led him to some amazing places, but it is his positive, generous and open-hearted personality that makes him one of the most loved and respected members of the Journeys Within team.


Click here for more photos of Narla through the years

On Tour with Journeys Within: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Journeys Within is on our annual inspection tours this spring and some of the team traveled on from Laos to Cambodia. Read about our recent experiences in our last update On Tour with Journeys Within: Phonesavanh, Vientiane, and Pakse to learn about some of our guests’ favorite tours throughout Laos.

Follow our journey for updates and travel tips on some of our key locations and tours throughout this spring, and get inspired for your own next adventure.

For travelers who seek to acquaint themselves with highlights of Siem Reap, these Journeys Within tours are ideal:

Day 1: Angkor National Museum, Quad Bike Tour, and Phare Circus

Day 2: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom Temple Tours

Day 3: Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea Temple Tours

Day 4: Village Tour and Artisan Angkor Silk Farm

These tours are customizable to the guest’s preferences and schedules, though Journeys Within can make recommendations on the best timing to schedule certain tours and activities to beat crowds and the sun on hot days.

Day 1: Angkor National Museum, Quad Bike Tour, and Phare Circus

The ideal introduction to people visiting Siem Reap is a visit to Angkor National Museum. Visitors have the option of a guided tour using head phone with recordings available in a number of different languages. Guests may also tour the museum without head phones, however, the headphones are recommended as the narration provides greater detail in addition to signage provided by the museum. Photos are not allowed inside of the museum, but click here for more information.

Angkor National Museum consists of five galleries, starting with details about Buddhist worship, Buddhist and Hindu iconography collections, details about the history of Khmer civilization, a multimedia presentation about Angkor Wat, and finally, extensive galleries dedicated to Siem Reap’s temples with informative details about the temples’ art and architecture.

For example, the type of material a Buddha statue is made from (stone, gold, bronze, marble, copper, or wood) indicates the time period and other historical factors that impacted how statues were produced. The postures of Buddha explain the unique individual purposes for each statue, which correspond to significant moments throughout the life of Buddha.

Further, the sculptures are more than artifacts, but passageways to Buddha himself and to receive his teachings. This can help visitors to understand why the image of Buddha is treated with utmost respect throughout Buddhism practicing countries. The museum also provides insight to how the practice of Buddhism has developed over hundreds of years as a method of worship that focuses on letting go of strife in order to gain peace of mind. Stylistic changes not only in the Buddha statue but also in temple architecture and ornamentation indicate the integration of different styles and religious ideologies as empires merged throughout the civilization’s history.

This experience provides visitors a foundation and context to Khmer history and culture. A visit to the Angkor National Museum will ideally be done prior to visiting temples in and around Siem Reap so visitors may have an established understanding of the culture before visiting the area’s main points of interest. Insider tip: Beautiful batik artwork by local artists and celebrated professionals is for sale inside the museum.

After a morning at Angkor National Museum, guests enjoy the opportunity to go on a quad bike tour around the rural villages and outskirts of Siem Reap. This experience gives visitors a look at rural Siem Reap and the lives of farmers. People and children wave and greet visitors as they pass by, which conveys the warm nature of these kind people. The quad bike tour stops along the way at a modern temple, where visitors may see monks and nuns going about their daily lives. The tour concludes with a view of the sunset over Siem Reap. Insider tip: This tour is a great opportunity to bring a Go-Pro for unique video footage of Siem Reap. The guide also makes several stops along the way to film guests with their smart phones.  

Kena (left), and Naida (right) on the quad bike tour in Siem Reap.
Kena (left), and Naida (right) on the quad bike tour in Siem Reap.

Another favorite of our guests as an introduction to Siem Reap is the Phare Circus. The circus is located near the heart of Siem Reap under the ‘big top’. It is a world-class act of acrobatics and by local signature artists as well as international traveling ensembles. The shows include light-hearted and comedic entertainment and poignant performance art interpretations of the profound impact of war on Khmer people. Performances are scheduled every night of the week.

Phare Circus.Image
Local acrobats of Sokrias (Eclipse) at Siem Reap’s Phare Circus.

Insider tip 1: Look up the performances you will see in advance and seek out a little background on the topics of each story for context. Visitors will get more from the shows if they have an understanding of the show’s influence.

Insider tip 2: There is a small gift shop located just outside of the tent that features unique handcrafts from local artisans that make for great souvenirs.

What to wear for this tour:

Comfortable, breathable clothes

Sneakers for the quad bike tour

Hat for the quad bike tour

Sunscreen and insect repellant for the quad bike tour

Bring a beverage inside the tent so you have something to drink throughout the show, as guests are not allowed back into the tent if they leave mid-show.

Day 2: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom Temple Tours

Tours of Angkor Wat and  Angkor Thom are great adventures following a visit to Angkor National Museum, as the museum tour concludes with information and exhibits that relate to Siem Reap’s nearby temples.

Angkor Wat is an iconic symbol of Cambodia and tours are offered throughout the day, including options for sunrise and sunset. Journeys Within tour guides stay on top of the best times to arrive, changes in location of where to obtain tickets and entrance, and how to beat the crowds using little known access points. Insider tip: There are two pools located in front of Angkor Wat, and the majority of visitors inexplicably choose to view the temples from the pool on the right side. The pool on the left side is always far less crowded.  

Angkor Wat has become more strict this year about dress code and behavior while visiting the temple sites. It is important the visitors of temple sites respect temples by abiding by a recently established code of conduct, particularly dress code. View the Angkor Visitor Code of Conduct for more details. Visitors who do not abide by the code of conduct risk the potential of having their temple passes revoked.

Visitors have the opportunity to explore inside most temple areas, and exploring includes climbing some steep stair cases. Visitors should assess their ability to climb these stair cases. The temples located atop steep staircases are closed to pregnant women and small children for safety purposes.

Angkor Thom is a temple complex that houses Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Bantey Kdei. Bayon is known for its many massive three-dimensional faces carved into the temple walls. Ta Prohm is known for the trees that have overgrown around the temple over the centuries and make for unique photo opportunities. Ta Prohm is also sometimes referred to as the “Tomb Raider” temple, where the feature film was shot in 2001. Bantey Kdei is a fun temple to explore with many fallen temple stones.

Faces of Bayon, housed on the temple complex of Angkor Thom.
Faces of Bayon, housed on the temple complex of Angkor Thom.

Siem Reap’s temple tours can be coordinated as the guest desires, with additional temple tour options making the trek a half-day or all day experience.

What to wear for this tour:

Appropriate attire for visiting temple sites, with the legs and shoulders covered

Hat or umbrella, but ideally a hat as umbrellas take up more space and may obstruct the views of other visitors

Sunscreen and insect repellant

Walking shoes – no sandals. Some of the temple areas are uneven or require climbing and it’s best to have the feet covered

Day 3: Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea Temple Tours

Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea are located about an hour and a half outside of Siem Reap. Visitors stop along the way at an ancient sandstone quarry in Kulan to see where the stone was once sourced for all of Siem Reap and how stones were cut.

In fact, Beng Mealea is a Hindu temple built over 1000 years ago for quarry workers. The sandstone quarry was too far from Angkor Wat for workers to visit to worship, so Beng Mealea was built to provide quarry workers a place of worship within a close enough distance to the quarry site. Beng Mealea is a fun temple for trekking, with many different areas to climb and explore. Visitors at this temple should be careful to watch their footing on uneven areas, with many fallen stones to climb. There are also many low archways, so watch your head!

Fallen temple stones at Beng Mealea.
Fallen temple stones at Beng Mealea.

Banteay Srei was built in 967 CE, and is unique to the other temples in the area because it is carved from red sandstone, so the temple appears to have a pink hue. Local people also say that the temple must have been carved by women, due to the intricacy of the carvings. For these reasons, the temple it also sometimes referred to as the “Lady Temple” or “Pink Temple”. These characteristics make the temple special, and it is also one of the oldest temples in the area. Banteay Srei’s ornate design, color, and attention to detail make it a site well worth the trek outside of Siem reap.

Banteay Srei.Image
Banteay Srei, a temple carved from red sandstone, located outside of Siem Reap.

Insider tip: Visitors may also opt to see the Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre and the Cambodia Landmine Museum, both located on the way to Banteay Srei.

What to wear for this tour:

Appropriate attire for visiting temple sites, with the legs and shoulders covered

Hat or umbrella, but ideally a hat as umbrellas take up more space and may obstruct the views of other visitors

Sunscreen and insect repellant

Walking shoes – no sandals. Some of the temple areas are uneven or require climbing and it’s best to have the feet covered

Day 4: Village Tour and Artisan Angkor Silk Farm

On this tour day we visited Kok Tnout Village, which translates to ‘palm tree’. This is the home village of the guide for this tour, Mr. Sotay.

This tour gives visitors a glimpse into the rural village lives of people on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Kok Tnout  is comprised of 800 families, or roughly 1000 people. Mr. Sotay, like most Cambodian families of his generation, comes from a family of 11. Mr. Sotay says that while many Cambodians have large families in order to help farm, new families have begun to have less children, perhaps about 5 children per family.

My guide, Mr. Sotay, stands at the end of a bridge leading us into the village of Kok Tnout.
My guide, Mr. Sotay, stands at the end of a bridge leading us into the village of Kok Tnout.

Fifty percent of the villagers work jobs in Siem Reap, while the other half make a living as construction workers, farmers, and artisans of sorts. We passed Mr. Sotay’s mother in the village as she was on her way to sell rice noodles, which she makes herself every day and sells to people in town and passersby. We passed by a man who makes rice wine at his home and once the rice has been used in the process he feeds it to his pigs, which he raises and also sells in town.

In regard to infrastructure, the village of Kok Tnout still does not entirely have electricity, so some families use car batteries, kerosene lamps, and candles to have light in the night time. The village chief collects $15 dollars from every family to maintain the main village road.

This is a walking tour, and Mr. Sotay offers many details about Kok Tnout and its villagers’ way of life.

Once back in Siem reap, we visited Artisan d’Angkor, a silk farm and textile workshop that employs young women of Siem Reap, providing an opportunity for gainful employment and to preserve silk production and weaving as an artform.

Visitors get to see silk production from the very beginning of the process with a private tour from an Artisan d’Angkor guide. Exhibits show silkworms feeding on mulberry leaves, silkworms spinning their cocoons, the harvesting and cleaning process of the silk, the silk dyeing process, and various weaves of silk in textiles. Insider tip: Don’t forget to tip your guide!

Dyed and raw silk at Artisan D'Angkor.
Dyed and raw silk at Artisan D’Angkor.

The gift shop located on the farm is an ideal place to purchase beautiful souvenirs offering annual collections of home decor, clothing, accessories, stone, lacquerware, polychrome, wood, silver plating, painting, ceramics, and jewelry by local artisans.

What to wear for this tour:

Comfortable, breathable clothes

Sneakers or sandals

Hat for visiting the village

Sunscreen and insect repellant for visiting the village

See more photos of this spring’s journey throughout Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia on our Instagram account. Stay tuned to get an insider account of more of our tours throughout Southeast Asia!

Additionally, some of the Journeys Within team will be attending this year’s Thailand Travel Mart (TTM) this week! TTM works in cooperation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Thai tourism industry, making TTM the largest business-to-business event in Thailand. Journeys Within proudly participates in this event to stay in-the-know and aid in the promotion of tourism in Thailand and its Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) counterparts.  

Follow us on Instagram during our experiences at TTM and stay tuned for new travel information and industry updates!