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Top picks for 2018: Where our travel experts want to go this year

We asked our office mates for their dream 2018 trips now that Journeys Within & Wild Frontiers offers so many more destinations throughout the world. This is what they said…
 
April’s dream trips:
Heather’s dream trips:
Andrea’s dream trips:
Dudley’s dream trips:
  • Adventure with Philippa: I’ve been to Eritrea and found it fascinating with tremendous people, so I imagine Ethiopia (pictured above) is much the same. See the Ethiopia – Northern Explorer tour.
  • Multigenerational: We’d like to take the kids and the grandkids on a private tour to Costa Rica. See the Classic Costa Rica – Family tour.
  • Traveling with Andrea: Mongolia. On the ski lift I used to quiz her on the capitals of the world and she never got Ulan Bator! I would take Andrea to Mongolia so we could come full circle. See the Mongolia – Land of the Great Khan tour.

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

From the Ground: Lao Home Cooking

By Nicole Long and Jay Austin

We have a new cooking class option in Laos, and this is not your typical cooking course.  Our guests will have the chance to spend time in an authentic Laotian kitchen, and learn how to cook traditional dishes the local way. Anthony Bourdain recently was in this exact home learning to cook Lao-style by your hosts, Por and Mae Keo.  The tour is completely private so it works very well for small groups and families.

What to expect from this tour:

This morning you will be picked up from your hotel by your guide and transferred by private van to meet today’s Homestyle Lao Cooking instructor at the Phousi Market. You will stroll through Luang Prabang’s largest fresh market and learn about traditional herbs and spices as you pick up the ingredients for today’s menu. Once you have finished shopping at the market, you will head 15 minutes outside of town to Nong Kham Village. With the assistance of your guide, the instructor will go over the day’s menu and demonstrate some of the techniques useful in traditional Lao cooking. Then, just like a typical Lao family, you will be responsible for cooking one of the dishes for lunch. Don’t worry, your guide and Lao chef are nearby to provide any assistance needed! Once the staple dish, Lao sticky rice has finished cooking you will help to set up for lunch. Finally, enjoy your fruits of labor by having lunch the typical Lao way by sitting on the floor and eating family style from a small rattan tray. After lunch, sit back and relax under the breezy wooden and bamboo outdoor sala and enjoy some homemade rice whiskey with your hosts. Once you have had your fill of the pungent Lao Lao you will say goodbye to your hosts and be transferred back to your hotel.

A Day of Introspection and Healing: Siem Reap Spiritual Tour

By Andrea Ross 

After a whirlwind adventure in Thailand, the kids and I arrived in Siem Reap this week. As always there was a sense of “coming home” as we stepped off the plane, but rather than home we have been spoiled with staying at the amazing Jaya House River Park Hotel.  This property has earned a well-deserved blog of its own soon and has already been an amazing partner for Journeys Within. After getting settled and catching up on work emails on the first day, I had a special morning planned with our new Siem Reap Spiritual Tour. While of course the ancient temples such as Angkor Wat are the main draw in Siem Reap, there are also some amazing modern temples here, with unique experiences only available in Siem Reap.

Taking a tuk-tuk with Sina, one of our top guides

I was met in the morning by Sina and kid-free (they had a fun day with their dad), we set off the for the Fortune-teller’s. I have to start by saying that I’m not the Fortune-teller type…I believe we make our own destinies and I’m always scared that a Fortune-teller will tell me something that then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. BUT, my team swears by this man and I’ve felt lately like I could use some guidance! We arrived for our 8:15am appointment and in true Khmer fashion, he wasn’t there! My faith in his powers was severely diminished when he informed Sina he didn’t realize we were there yet and would be back as soon as he could! He showed up a few minutes later on his moto and showed us up to his house…a typical Khmer home on stilts with walls covered in framed photos of his family, him with various military and political leaders and of course, some landscape shots.

The Fortune-teller with his ipad
The Fortune-teller and his son at their home

He immediately sat down and asked me for my birthday and then, using his iPad (Is there a Fortune-teller app?) started writing numbers on a piece of paper. And then he started talking and things got real! It was incredible and scary and emotional all at the same time. He is not a palm reader or a clairvoyant; he literally uses birth numbers to tell him the story of your life…past, present and future. So for an hour, a man wearing cargo shorts, a plain white button up shirt, and glasses like my grandpa’s looked at a piece of paper covered in numbers and told me things that he couldn’t have known! It was an eye opening and unique experience and I’m so glad I did it, but I have to admit, I’m still a little shook up. (Good news, I’m going to live a long life and will not only be happy, but will help others and make them happy. Bad news, I’m going to get sick in 3 years and have to go to the doctor a lot. This would all seem silly if he hadn’t been so right on with everything else he said!)

The Fortune-teller and I after the reading

From here Sina took me to a local pagoda in town. The truth is I’ve driven past this pagoda hundreds of times, but never been inside and it was stunning. Still reeling from the fortune teller this was exactly what I need to reset myself and feel calm. A beautiful sitting Buddha fills the main pagoda room, but behind it, hidden away, is a much older reclining Buddha. Beautifully maintained and tucked away as it is, this Buddha is one of my favorites out of the countless that I have seen!

The Reclining Buddha
The Reclining Buddha

From here we headed to Wat Pho, the largest Wat in Siem Reap. Tiny kittens ran throughout the temple and beautiful carvings adorned the entrance, windows and doors. We explored through the temples and then went to the back where an older monk offered a water blessing. Here a monk chants while sprinkling you with water. At the end he tied a red ribbon around my wrist for good luck.

Wat Preach Prom Rath
Local Stupas – the ashes of local Buddhist families are contained within them

Our last stop of the day was to Sophie’s Healing. I’ve known Sophie for years, from when she was Callie’s French teacher at the International School. Now Sophie runs her own business offering her healing services. Sophie can help with spiritual, emotional and physical ailments and again, as an original non-believer, I have been converted as over the last three years she has helped with various issues I’ve had…a hurt foot, migraines and Couper’s nightmares. This time I needed her help to find peace and with a really sore shoulder…she doesn’t mind doing a little of each as part of the healing. For an hour I lay on her table and I can say that I left feeling at peace.

Exploring the local temples with Sina
Wat Bo

It was an incredible day, experiencing the modern spiritual side of my Siem Reap. We offer all these experiences to guests and while I’m a little nervous about it, I’m also excited. This tour offers a deeply personal day, and is not your typical tour, but at the same time, it was a powerful day and one only possible here. Travel is supposed to open up us and show us new experiences, today it did just that for me.

Me receiving a water blessing

From the Ground: Makara celebrates 2 years on the Local JWOC Advisory Board

By Jay Austin

Last month, JWOC Scholarship graduate and Journeys Within Cambodia Country Director, Makara Put, completed two years as member and Chair of JWOC’s Local Advisory Board (LAB). Using his in-depth understanding of the local travel industry, knowledge of local opportunities and understanding of JWOC’s values and mission to promote equal access to quality education, he was able to be part of a team that helped JWOC’s ground team to pursue opportunities and avenues that would not have otherwise access to.

When speaking of his achievement, he said, “For me, it is really important to be in the LAB, because you will be able to learn from other members and from JWOC staff. Moreover you can speak your thoughts and turn your ideas into practice, sharing information that helps to develop JWOC as well. We never know if our ideas work or not if we don’t put them into action!”