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From the Ground: New Two-day Lamine Village Trek Near Inle Lake

By Nicole Long and Jay Austin

We wanted to introduce our new Kalaw to Lamine Village Trek, near Inle Lake in Myanmar.  This two day trip to Kalaw allows guests to get outside of the main tourist areas, but doesn’t require a lot of time commitment. The trekking portion of this tour is light in activity (only about 3 hours long) and allows access to nature and the picturesque countryside. Kalaw is at a higher elevation so the temperatures will be cooler and comfortable for trekking. This tour provides opportunities to connect with locals and witness traditional, simple lifestyles. This is a great option for families as it includes a train ride and elephants!

Note: For guests who want more, this itinerary can be extended a day with an additional day of trekking and another night in a village homestay.

Itinerary:

Kalaw: Trek to Lamine Village – Day 1

After breakfast, you will be transferred by van to the starting point of your trek. From here you will walk about three hours to Lamine, a Pa O Village, located about 10 miles from Kalaw. Explore this village where you will meet friendly locals and observe their traditional lifestyles. You will see the farmers hard at work as they plant or harvest wheat, ginger and a variety of other crops. Lunch and dinner will be prepared by your local trekking team and you will overnight in a village homestay.

Kalaw: Lamine Village to Inle Lake – Day 2

After a enjoying simple breakfast prepared by our team, stroll about the village to observe the local morning activities, before you will meet up with the car for your to transfer to Inle Lake. On the way, stop by at the villages for plantation of regional products. The drive takes approximately 3 hours to Inle Lake and once you arrive, check in to your hotel and enjoy a free afternoon.

Photos by Andrea Ross

A Unique Guest Experience at the Kulen Waterfalls

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“We have worked with our clients, Tania and her family, on trips to Cambodia in the past but this year we arranged an amazing trip to visit the dolphins in Kratie, the Koh Ker and Preah Vihear Temples, and Narla’s home village with an amazing homestay. The highlight, however, was a day we arranged for the orphanage where their daughter lived before she was adopted into their family. Below is Tania’s description of the day and some beautiful photos to illustrate it. This is what makes Cambodia so special, why my team is the absolute best, and why I love what I do!”

-Andrea Ross, CEO of Journeys Within

“We had a stunning day at Phnom Kulen with the kids from Happy Family Orphanage-I cannot even begin to tell you! ‘Ma’, who cares for the kids, had never been and so you can probably imagine her joy….this woman with so little, handing alms to the people on the stairs. That was just the first of many times I was tearful. Ma enjoyed her day thoroughly, the kids all stuck close to her as she swept them from blessing to blessing (and she swooped us in too, of course) for water blessings, and music blessings at the temple site. We’ve done this all before but it was so special this time, and really wonderful to have Narla there who added his own brand of warmth and cheer. Santhou was lovely as well and not only has knowledge but a calm demeanor, and somehow always appeared at the very moment he was needed (does JWTC have ALL the best guides in the country?? Every single one is a treasure with his own uniqueness).

The kids enjoyed the delicious (best.chicken.ever) food and best of all for them, the swimming!

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Sophia and the other kids finally were able to play when it came time for the water. She was glowing by the end of a day filled with connection with her ‘second’ family.”

Tania, Guest

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The following tours are some highlights from Tania’s trip. Contact us to help you plan your own trip to Cambodia!

21 Dec 15   Phnom Penh: Drive to Kratie

After breakfast, your driver will meet you at your hotel and you will drive to Kratie. This drive is approximately 8 hours, depending on traffic, and you will stop at a local restaurant for lunch along the way. When you arrive in Kratie, you will be introduced to your Journeys Within tour guide who will accompany you on the river crossing to the Rajabori Villas Resort for check-in. Enjoy your evening at leisure.

22 Dec 15   Kratie: Irrawaddy Dolphins, Mekong Turtle Conservation Center and Sunset at Sam Bok Mountain

After breakfast, you will be met by your guide and you will cross the river by boat before driving to the Irrawaddy Dolphin experience. Listed as critically endangered in 2004, the Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphin is part of Cambodia’s national heritage and symbolizes the magnificence of the Mekong River and its biodiversity. The Irrawaddy is a shy, small dolphin that is dark grey in color with a small rounded dorsal fin and a bluntly rounded head. You will take a small boat out on the Mekong River and sit quietly as the boat rests amongst the Irrawaddy Dolphins; watching them feeding and playing in their natural habitat. Return to town where your guide can assist in choosing a local restaurant for lunch, or you can return to the Rajabori Villas Resort hotel for lunch. After lunch, you will drive north of Kratie town to Sambor district where you will visit The Mekong Turtle Conservation Center (MTCC), located at the beautiful and historic 100 Pillar Pagoda (Wat Sor Sor Muoy Roy). The MTCC was opened by Conservation International to increase the wild population of the endangered Cantor’s Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) in the nearby Mekong River, through head-starting turtle hatchlings from the community-led turtle nest program. The facility has over forty indoor tanks containing juvenile turtles which are kept for a 10 month period before releasing into their natural habitat. There are also many other Asian turtle species at the facility to see. After your visit to the MTCC, you can wander the grounds of the magnificent 100 Pillar Pagoda – a priceless architectural structure built at the site of the old Royal Palace Temple of Sambor District. As dusk approaches, you’ll drive to Phnom Sam Bok (Sam Bok Mountain) and climb the steps to the Phnom Sam Bok Pagoda to watch the beautiful sunset over the mighty Mekong River and surrounding countryside.

23 Dec 15   Kratie: Drive to Kompong Thom

After breakfast, you will be met by your guide at Rajabori Villas Resort and you will cross the river by boat before driving to Kampong Thom. When you arrive in Kampong Thom, your guide will take you to your hotel for check-in. Say goodbye to your Journeys Within tour guide, as tomorrow you’ll be met at your hotel by a trusted local community guide. Enjoy your afternoon at leisure.

28 Dec 15   Siem Reap to Preah Vihear: Beng Mealea and Koh Ker 

Enjoy an early breakfast at your hotel before leaving the crowds behind and heading to Beng Mealea, one of Angkor’s more mysterious temples located 40km outside of the main temple complex. After an hour you will leave the paved road and head out on to the beaten track running through rice fields and villages of rural Cambodia. At the temple, your guide will help you imagine how it once was as you pick your way through the rubble now surrounded by jungle. After an early lunch, continue on to the dirt road that leads to Koh Ker temple. King Jayavaraman IV made this city the capital after he moved it from Angkor Wat. The temple itself has faced a lot of vandalism and many of the once beautiful sculptures are missing heads, but it still serves as a beautiful legacy to the Khmer Empire. If you have the energy, and aren’t afraid of heights, you can climb to the top of the temple, the second tallest in Cambodia, so you can see above the forest line and enjoy amazing views of the rural countryside and the border of Thailand in the distance.  Around mid-afternoon, continue the last bit of your journey to Preah Vihear, where you will check into your hotel.

29 Dec 15   Preah Vihear: Preah Vihear Temple and Drive to Siem Reap

This morning you will set off early to visit Preah Vihear Temple, a Khmer temple situated atop a 525 meter cliff in the Dangrek Mountains in Cambodia, close to the Thailand border, but most notably in Cambodian territory. This temple has long been the subject of intense ownership disputes between the two neighboring countries, Cambodia was officially awarded control of Preah Vihear in 1962 by the International Court of Justice and it is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  As a key edifice of the empire’s spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bares elements of several architectural styles. Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, it has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-century-long Khmer Empire. Spend a good few hours exploring this area before heading back to Siem Reap (a drive of about 5 hours).

03 Jan 16   Siem Reap to Thma Puok Village: Homestay with Narla

After breakfast, you will be met at your hotel by your driver and Narla at 9:00am. The drive to Thma Puok is approximately 3 hours, and along the way you will stop in a village for an opportunity to try local snacks such as fried crickets, water beetles and silk worms. You will also stop at Phnom Srok (District Mountain) to see a stone quarry and stone masons, carving stone as they have done for generations. When you arrive in Thma Puok, you will go straight to Narla’s family home which will be your homestay for the evening. A traditional family lunch will be served, and you will have some free time to relax and chat with Narla’s family. Later in the afternoon, you will take a village walking tour where you will meet some of Narla’s relatives and neighbors before walking to Prasat Kasen (Mote Temple), and ancient Hindu temple located next to the village. In the evening, return to your homestay and enjoy a traditional dinner with Narla’s family and friends.

Discovering Vietnam- Part 2: Sapa

By: Anna Baldwin- Operations Manager

My next stop after Hanoi was to jump on the night train in search of the stunning paddy fields of Sapa. As the train pulled out of the station I said goodbye to the noises, lights and smells of the bustling Hanoi streets and settled into my cosy cabin as we set off north towards China. The cabins are generally made up of four beds- 2 sets of bunk beds- but often if travellers want a bit more privacy and space we are able to book the whole cabin for them. I was lucky enough to be joined by a lovely German couple, along with their local guide, and we spent the next couple of hours talking and exchanging food as the train made its way deeper into the vast countryside.

The train soon lulled me into a deep sleep, and before I knew it we had arrived at Lao Chai station, our last stop on the train before it returned south to Hanoi.

Overnight train from Hanoi

Although it was barely dawn, the station exit was surrounded by taxi drivers, guides and hawkers ready to pounce, but I soon found my local guide, Dong, who pulled me through the crowds and into our 4X4.  Within a few minutes we were off on the hour-long drive to Sapa town. It was a stunning drive as we slowly climbed higher and higher towards Sapa, where we soon reached a height of 1,600m! Surrounded on all sides by paddy fields dotted with numerous tribal villages, Sapa is very much a mountain town, with its steep roads filled with shops selling trekking gear and rows of balconied wooden houses overlooking the dramatic landscape beyond.

Rice paddies of Sapa

After some breakfast and last minute tour preparations we set off with our wonderful local porter Sing, who was to carry all our food and drinks for the next three days, and we drove to the beginning of the trek – Ta Van village.

We soon left behind the Dzay village of Ta Van and set off along the valley. This is where I truly tested my balancing skills, as we made our way along narrow paths and the edges of the paddy fields which lined the mountainside. Luckily two lovely local ladies came to my rescue; half my size and twice my age, they obviously make a habit of adopting the most hopeless-looking trekker to make sure they don’t fall face first into the flooded paddy field below.

Black H'Mong ladies who came to my rescue

The route took us through a number of different tribal villages, from Red Dao to Black H’Mong, who wear mainly black clothing as their name suggests.  The dye in their clothing often runs and so, as a result, their hands are also stained a little black.

Every so often the route would take us through wonderful bamboo forests

After a long but stunning trek, we eventually arrived at Seo Trung Ho Village, our base for the night. Never before had I seen such a dramatic, remote location for a village. In one direction you will find a magnificent waterfall thundering away behind the village, and the other provides breathtaking views across the valley with the misty mountains in the distance. There’s not a tourist in sight…

View of the misty mountains from my homestay

After an evening of rice wine and delicious home-cooked food, I went to sleep in my homestay with the sound of the waterfall and the light patter of rain.

Rice wine and home-cooked food, not a bad combination after a good day's trekking
My homestay family

This light patter was hugely magnified by morning as I woke to find we’d had heavy rainstorms all night and the waterfall was twice the size!

The waterfall...

This resulted in making our morning route a little too unpredictable with the wet conditions, so it was decided we would do that morning by motorbike. Another unforgettable experience – driving down from the village into the valley, through the river, and up onto the other side, slowly picking our way through the roads with awesome views all the way down the valley to the distant mountains. Suddenly the sun came out and the clouds disappeared, and I could see for miles. As we drove further along the valley I looked back and was thrilled to see the magnificent ‘’Roof of Indochina,’’ Fansipan Mountain, the tallest mountain in all of Indochina. I thought – I’ll save that one for next time…

My trusty motorbike driver and Sing, our porter

Interested in hearing more about Anna’s adventures in spectacular Vietnam?  Check out her other blogs and look for more to come: https://www.journeys-within.com/2012/04/27/4354/

Top 10 Things to Pack for a Homestay

1. Earplugs: It is a myth that roosters crow in the morning, in truth they crow all darn night!

2. Eye mask: Without curtains the moon can be very bright which could be romantic, if you weren’t sharing the house with 10 other people all sleeping within 10 feet of you.

3. Sheets: blankets are often provided, but aren’t always that clean, so we travel with a set of sheets or you can use a sewing machine and turn a king sheet into a cool sleeping bag that’s great for trains as well!

4. Pillow: For some reason the pillows in Asia are a mile high. I know packing your pillow from home isn’t always possible, but there are great traveling pillows that are clean and won’t strain your neck.

Bringing your own bedding is usually a good idea!

5. Towels: most people in the village air dry, I like a nice towel so I pack my own.

6. Sarong: this is great for everything! If you forgot a sheet, no worries, forgot a towel, here you go, no pillow, fold it up, nowhere private to change, you can get good at changing under a sarong. It’s also great for wearing to and from the shower/bathroom as a sarong!

Callie using the "shower" at a recent homestay

7. Coloring books and crayons: Whether you’re traveling with kids or not you are sure to find kids at or around your homestay and it’s fun to interact with them. Callie and Couper have colored with kids in over 8 countries and art has no language barriers.

8. Your photo album: Because we’re so interested in their culture, we often forget how interesting our home life is to them. Before you leave home put together a quick photo album of your house, your car, your friends, you doing your hobbies, even your dog. Your hosts will love flipping through it and it gives you a conversation starter and means you both get to check out each other’s lives.

Coloring works in any language

9. Snacks: No one will take offence if you have a Kit Kat or a pack of chips after dinner, bring enough to share or sneak off and have a little treat…meals at homestays aren’t always as big as we’re used to and it’s nice to have a comfort food.

10. A gift: This doesn’t have to be big or fancy, but bring something from home that is a fun treat for the hosts. We have had people bring pins with their countries flag, baseball hats for their favorite teams or just some fun magazines to flip through.

A Homestay in Kompong Thom at the famous Sambor Prei Kuk Temples

Our homestay and hosts

A few months ago I heard about a new homestay experience in Kompong Thom,  a rapidly growing city about half way between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. It was just recently, on our way back from Phnom Penh that Brandon and I had a chance to stop in Kompong Thom and try this new experience.  It was…interesting.

The truth is that everyone has a romanticized idea about the homestay experience…it involves delicious local food, conversations about life and values with your hosts long into the night and a wonderful nights sleep in the peace of an electricity-free village. Unfortunately, most homestays in our experience have none of these things. In fact they usually involve mystery meat, a lovely family that speaks not a word of English and a rather restless night of bugs, roosters and babies!

Brandon and I have an advantage, we both speak at least enough Khmer to chat, albeit briefly, with our hosts, but we both agreed, that put into Western travelers shoes the homestay experience could be a rather scary one.

With that said, I loved Sambor Prei Kuk and the amazing 7th century Pre-Angkorian temples it houses. After checking in to the homestay we headed by tuk tuk to the temples. Here we were met by our guide Bunteng, and had a delicious lunch of noodles and vegetables. We then set out on bicycles to explore the temple complex. Though there were more travelers here than I had thought there would be, it was still a very peaceful experience compared to the temples at Angkor Wat. Our guide pointed out fantastic details and I have to say that riding on dirt tracks on our bicycles from temple to temple was a real highlight for me. In the evening we even rode our bikes back to our homestay and when mine got a flat tire (I’m on a diet, I swear!) he just dropped it at the nearest house and borrowed their bicycle…it was a nice community moment!

The next morning we took an oxcart ride to some more distant temples, not the most comfortable form of transportation, but it did feel local and an adventure and I got to drive!

All in all, it was a fun experience and I liked being able to see the temples without feeling rushed and knowing that we didn’t have another long drive after, BUT, make sure you look at the photos below of the toilet, “shower” and keep in mind the things not pictured…crying babies, very loud roosters and rather large bugs!

We are offering the two-day Kompong Thom Experience and we are also offering a great Siem Reap to Phnom Penh one day tour that stops in Kompong Thom and visits the amazing temples there, but doesn’t spend the night. Email cambodia@journeys-within.com to find out more.

Arriving at the temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk
The trees taking over after 1300 years
An interesting detail, since this is clearly not modeled on Khmer features there is intrigue into who was visiting Cambodia at this time
Biking through the temples, literally!
Ancient temples in trees
The floating temple. I am amazed at the durability of these amazing carvings, they truly have stood the test of time.
Driving an ox cart, I couldn't get the noise right to make them go faster so it was leisurely!
Enjoying lunch at the homestay
The shower room. The shower head didn't work anymore so you use that little green bucket to pour rather chilly water out of the water trough and onto your head!
The toilet...we were excited not to have to squat!