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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.

First impressions of JWOC

JWOC team

Standing in the visa line in Siem Reap after arriving in a swathe of sunshine and tourism, I knew Cambodia was going to be very different from my previous country of residence, Bangladesh. Having traveled through Cambodia before, I knew a little about the country’s history and culture; and as the nostalgia pulsed through my veins in the immigration queue and my passport was being stamped, I was very much ready to make Siem Reap my home and take on a new challenge.

I was excited.

Let me provide some context: Siem Reap is a town built upon tourism. The temple complex of Angkor Wat draws in visitors from around the world to come and view its spectacle. This is great for the local economy, bringing in what I imagine is millions of dollars, which in turn should have a positive impact on the socio-economic development of those living in and around it. However, given that Cambodia is a developing country, we know that is not always the case.

Those who have visited Siem Reap know that as well as the five-star hotels and resorts, there is still visible poverty and inequality amongst many Cambodians who are looking to benefit from a portion of the millions available.

Josh

This is where Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) comes in, providing a range of services and programs in and around Siem Reap, to make sure local residents can improve their quality of life. Through innovative programs based in the heart of the community (Scholarships, Free Classes and Community Support), JWOC has managed to create a rapport and understanding within the community beyond any traditional NGO.

Knowing this, I was still quite nervous on my first day (as most of us are); however, after walking into the community center for the first time, all my nervousness quickly subsided. Students were playing tag. What could be more natural? Phew!

This initial experience perfectly sums up JWOC and the aura that exists here – the enthusiasm and professionalism of the scholarship students and staff we have is exemplary and clear to see by all involved. I was lucky enough to arrive in Cambodia just in time to ride with the students on the 30 km “Race 4 Change” Angkor Bike Ride and to then celebrate their achievements at the graduation party. I have since experienced their fieldwork in villages, their classroom teaching and witnessed JWOC’s ability to transfer such enthusiasm and work ethos into the programs.

You may walk into JWOC with a frown, but nobody walks out with one!

Josh Layton

From the first day at JWOC up until now I have found myself engaged in every aspect of an exciting and vibrant organization filled with youth enthusiasm and spirit; and, with the 10th anniversary of the organization coming up next year, a celebratory mood.

As the Communications and Fundraising manager, I have the responsibility of highlighting and showcasing JWOC in the best way possible, both outside and inside our walls. And as far as I can tell, JWOC is already doing this for me!

So as the nostalgia in my veins runs out, I find it being replaced with optimism and anticipation for the coming months.

Josh Layton is the new Communications and Fundraising Manager for Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC). Click here for more information about the staff of JWOC.

Last Call to Support JWOC’s 2015 Race 4 Change

As we enter into the season of giving, our thoughts turn to ways we can help improve the lives of others. With the recent conclusion of our second annual Race 4 Change, our hearts are warmed by the impact we have made as a team through our efforts for JWOC.

Our team collectively ran and cycled over 900km to raise awareness for JWOC’s initiative to promote economic, educational, and improved health opportunities for Southeast Asian communities in need. The opportunity to impact the lives of the people who live in the places where we have the privilege to visit and work has been a gift to us. Read on to learn more about why our team participated in the Race 4 Change and what it means to them.

Andrea Ross, CEO

“I decided to participate in the Race 4 Change for a few reasons. Most importantly, I wanted to fundraise for JWOC to help us to continue into 2016 with all of our projects running strong and supported. I also wanted to train and run with the amazing team I have here in the US so we could not only come together as a team, but feel connected to our amazing team in Cambodia as well!”

“JWOC has come so far in the last 10 years and we have had an impact on so many lives. Just seeing our scholarship students and what they have accomplished inspires me to want even more for our community and our country.”

(From left to right) Courtney, Andrea, and April of the Journeys Within Truckee, Calif. office. Daisy, our Boston Terrier, was there too!
(From left to right) Courtney, Andrea, and April of the Journeys Within Truckee, Calif. office. Dazy, our Boston Terrier, was there too!

April Cole, VP of Sales

“I ran in the Race 4 Change for JWOC because I am inspired by the work JWOC does in the community, and even more so by the students who attend the JWOC education programs. These individuals know and appreciate the value of education. I have noticed that many of the younger scholars even head to JWOCs free classes after attending their government school! They are incredible children and adults who work very hard and are so grateful for the programs/opportunities that JWOC provides. I love JWOC’s new motto – Learn today, Lead tomorrow – this is what these scholars are doing. I will continue to ‘race’ however many miles it takes to keep supporting JWOC and the students!”

Courtney Ridgel, Booking Coordinator

“When I visited JWOC I was struck by how each person attending the free classes was determined to make a change in their own life for the better.  Aside from fundraising to help further these opportunities for people in Cambodia, I wanted to make a positive change for the better in my own life.  Running has never been my strong suit so I felt that running a half marathon would really help me to grow in an area that challenges me, in addition to improving my overall health.  So, here’s to health and self-improvement!”

Vin Kebblewhite, Regional Director of Operations – Cambodia & Vietnam

“I chose to cycle in the race because it’s a fun way to support JWOC and a beautiful way to experience Angkor – an early morning bike ride with the sun rising over ancient temples! Not a bad Saturday morning! For me, JWOC is not just an awesome organization doing amazing work; it’s also one of the great benefits of working for Journey’s Within Tour Company. I moved to here to work towards positive change for Cambodia, so it’s great working for a tour company with an active focus on philanthropy.”

Narla, Vin, Naida, and Kanika of the Cambodia office.
Narla, Vin, Naida, and Kanika of the Cambodia office.

Naida Dizdarevic, Ground Operations Manager (JWGO)

“The reason I chose to ride in Race 4 Change is because it was a good way to show support for JWOC. I think that JWOC is doing amazing work and I’m proud to be working for a company that takes responsibility to support the countries it works in.”

Narla Phay, Concierge and Customer Service Director

“The reason I chose to ride in Race 4 Change is because JWOC gave so much the local Cambodia communities. I was a scholarship student who graduated from the JWOC Scholarship Program. I continued on to a very successful life after I graduated from college and was enabled to support my family. The program itself helps its students directly and as an indirect result, their families as well.”

“There are many wonderful programs that JWOC is doing to make the local community in Cambodia better, so I believe giving back is the key to setting a good example for younger generations. Without JWOC my life would not be as good now!”

Narla riding his bike through the finish line in Cambodia.
Narla riding his bike through the finish line in Cambodia.

Makara Put, Country Director – Cambodia

“I like all kind of sports, especially running. I ran in the Race 4 Change for the second time because I am a former scholarship student of JWOC. Race 4 Change is a way that I can help JWOC in return by helping to raise funds. I wanted to show the people who donate and other scholarship students that as humans we need to understand the cycle of life – by this I mean that we should live for others as others should live for us. When we help each other, we smile together, and that is the real happiness!”

Makara of the Cambodia office.
Makara of the Cambodia office.

Kanika Peou, Accounts Manager

“The reason I chose to ride for Race 4 Change is because it was a good way to show support for JWOC and to thank JWOC for their hard work in Siem Reap to help our community, local people, and children. I think that JWOC is doing amazing work to help and develop education for our younger generation and local villagers. I am so proud to be a part of the company and the amazing Journeys Within team.”

Kanika and Narla of the Cambodia office.
Kanika and Narla of the Cambodia office.

Donations for the Race 4 Change will be coming to a close soon. We invite your support of JWOC’s wonderful cause and sincerely thank you for contributing to an effort that can truly change the world.

To donate or for more information about JWOC and the Race 4 Change, visit www.journeyswithinourcommunity.org. For more information about Journeys Within, visit www.journeys-within.com and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Presentation: Socially responsible tourism in the 21st century

Volunteers with Journeys Within Our Communities
Dan and Monica at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

On Sunday, April 19, 2015, Journeys Within travelers Dan Hanson and Monica Weiss gave a Sunday Platform presentation to the members of the New York Society for Ethical Culture all about their “voluntourism” travels through Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, and their involvement with the non-profit Journeys Within Our Communities in January of 2015.

With an itinerary that began in Bangkok and continued through Chiang Mai (including the Elephant Nature Park), Luang Prabang, Vientiane, the Mekong River and Siem Reap, the Hansons were able to speak to their unforgettable experiences and the impact they were able to have while in this special part of the world.

While in Siem Reap, they participated in the JWOC Clean Water Program which provides rural villages with a holistic clean water solution by installing and repairing wells, providing hygiene training and distributing water filters and hygiene kits, all of which you can see in their presentation below.

Video slideshow of their talk (skip to 15:27 into the video):

Click here to skip to their talk

Click here to skip ahead to their involvement with Journeys Within Our Community

Out and about with JWOC’s Clean Water Project

There is something about the Cambodian countryside – the dusty streets, the tropical trees and the wooden houses – that captures the imagination. You never know what to expect…

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Over the weekend, Operations Manager Anna and I had the opportunity to get out of the city and into the country to experience one of the Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) tours. The experience is designed to give guests the opportunity to learn more about the project while getting off the beaten track (and I mean off.) For our morning out, we ventured to the village of Kouk Srama with Clean Water Project Manager Seng and a team of scholarship students.

While the scholarship students zipped around the village collecting information for the Clean Water baseline survey, Seng, Anna and I walked through the village discussing its design and the different kinds of wells currently in use to provide water. Kouk Srama is home to 150 families and was chosen for the Clean Water Project after JWOC assessed the communities needs.

JWOC’s Clean Water Project is a 12 step program that was designed to give villages the opportunity to have and maintain access to a clean water supply. In addition to assisting them secure this necessary resource, the project also provides sanitation and hygiene training that encourages the villagers to learn basic techniques that can help prevent illness.

While inspecting one family’s pit well – a deep hole in the dirt dug by hand – we met Yeay (Khmer for grandmother), a sweet elderly woman with an easy smile. The matriarch of her family and owner of the well, I was eager to have Seng facilitate a conversation about her time in the village. After brief introductions she appeared with a four metre long bamboo pole with a bucket hanging from a nail that she adeptly used to bring water up.

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Yeay sitting in front of her pit well in front of her family home.

After she emptied the bucket of water into a larger one, I asked Seng if it would be alright if I gave the process a try. He seemed hesitant to ask, but Yeay was happy to let me give it a shot.

My first attempt ended rather embarrassingly, with the bucket floating around the bottom of the well after become unhooked. With a bit of a giggle, Yeay caught the lip of the empty bucket, brought it up and hung the handle back on the nail. On my second try I managed to get the bucket to the water while it was still attached to the bamboo pole. Seeing that I was clearly clueless on the next step, Yeay took control and with one fluid sweep of the pole in she was able to sink the lip of the bucket, swoop it around and fill it with water.

Thinking myself strong and able bodied, I then tried to hoist the full bucket out of the well buy pulling up the pole hand-over-hand, only to realize I wasn’t as mighty as I thought. With great effort, plenty of groaning and a little help from my new 65-year-old friend I was able to get the bucket out of the hole.  I did, however, fill the water with sand I scraped off the side of the well along the way.

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Yeay and I after pulling up the water — our faces say it all!

All the onlookers, Anna, Seng and I had a good laugh about my general lack of skills while Yeay got to show off her own impressive abilities. For me the experience demonstrated the adaptability of people to their environment and maybe also how soft I have become since my childhood days outdoors.

It wasn’t a forced moment, but a natural one – a memory that could have only been created by opening myself up and stepping out of my comfort zone with the help of the JW team.

A need for clean water

In addition to offering the opportunity for such unique experiences to guests, the tour is designed to help raise awareness regarding the countries water issues and spread the word regarding JWOC’s community involvement.

Ventures like JWOC’s Clean Water Project are an unfortunate necessity for those living in the Cambodian countryside. One of the most pressing resource issues facing rural villagers in Cambodia is a lack of clean drinking water – over 50 per cent of rural households don’t have safe drinking water. Currently, many villagers drink from open wells or streams and canals; in both cases, the water is often contaminated with bacteria and polluted with waste.Sickness from dirty water impacts on the lives of the already poor by preventing adults from working and children from attending school and in extreme cases leads to death.

We really encourage our guests to incorporate these tours into their itinerary, ideally on weekends when scholarship students are available to attend and chat about their personal experiences.