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Backstreet Academy — Connecting travelers with local talent

We love endeavours that give our guests earnest experiences — something that offers a true sense of local culture and customs. For people that want to do rather than just see, Backstreet Academy has put together a program of hands-on experiences both enlightening and entertaining…

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I am not particularly crafty, but I am adventurous and in that spirit some of Journeys Within’s Siem Reap team and I decided to try out a couple of recently launched Backstreet Academy experiences.

Working with NGOs and through word of mouth, Backstreet Academy locates talented crafts people willing to teach their traditional art-forms to the public. First up for our crew was bracelet making with a local Copper and Silver smith. One of the few left after the Khmer Rouge reign, Sam Orn and his wife Ms Chea Chan Sarouen run a shop just outside the centre of town. Friendly and engaging, as well as tremendously talented with metals, the pair guided the four of us to creating our own gorgeous wearable mementos.

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With a little help from our hosts, the entire team left with souvenir bracelets we were excited and proud to wear.

Guests are encouraged to connect with the local artist while learning their craft. Both friendly and approachable we learned the story of Sam Orn and his wife, with the help of a facilitator, who help translate for those artists who don’t speak English.

Backstreet Academy has gathered a wide range of talented people to teach their craft to willing tourists and have a workspace where this is possible. Want to learn about Cambodian boxing or the finer points of Apsara dancing? You can spend the afternoon testing your own co-ordination with well trained athletes. Want to try your hand at oil painting or sketching? Let a Khmer artist help you create your own Cambodian landscape keepsake. (I did and it was a blast!)

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Me quite proud of the final product of my oil painting class.

From palm hats and pottery to stone carving and cocktail classes, each activity is hosted by a local who has spent years perfecting their craft. Each visit takes guests off the beaten track, to the homes and work-spaces of these artists — a great opportunity to see a different side of town.  The classes range from approximately 1-4 hours making them the perfect addition to almost any itinerary.

Of course you aren’t going to learn how to be a professional oil painter in an afternoon but what you will get is a tonne of laughs, the opportunity to chat with local artists and a beautiful souvenir that you can brag about having had a hand in creating.

These kind of community based tours help the artists supplement their income while offering a meaningful experience (and in most cases a souvenir to take home) to visitors — exactly the kinds of programs that we love discovering!
Want to get arts and craftsy? Let us know — we would be happy to fit these in to any itinerary that visits Siem Ream, Phnom Penh or Luang Prabang!

Ta Prohm to lose iconic trees

Nicknamed the Tomb Raider temple, the Ankorian temple Ta Prohm is set to lose four of its iconic trees. Despite being famous for the trees that overrun this ruin, the government has found that it is no longer safe to let nature take its course…

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The Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA) has found that three of the  cotton-silk trees that intertwine with the temple’s ruins are already dead and rotting from the inside out. In addition, one of the larger trees that blankets on of the temple’s walls is no longer able to be propped up by its roots or the supportive ropes and wooden scaffolding.

“We’ve tried for many years to prop it up … but when the wind is strong, it is very dangerous,” APSARA spokesperson Kerya Chau Sun said to the Phnom Penh Post.

“We have to be very careful because if we cut the tree out, the wall will collapse; but if we rebuild the wall, the tree will die. It’s a difficult balance,” Chau Sun said.

The forestry department will be charged with removing the trees from the 12th century ruin. The temple will remain open to visitor as the trees are removed in pieces.

Earlier this week,a Buddhist ceremony was held for the trees. Many temples in Angkor are popular because of how the trees grow to become part of the temples. Chau Sun told the Post that these trees “are considered part of the cultural landscape and are only removed if they are damaged or diseased, potentially hazardous, spoil the landscape or threaten the monument’s structural integrity.”

“In this case, we have to cut before it becomes too dangerous and someone gets hurt,” she told the Post.

Cycling tour in Siem Reap gets green

Narla and Kanika did a cycling tour around Siem Reap over the weekend and loved it. Organized Siem Reap Cycling Adventure, this green adventure was a great way to get out of the city and into nature — added bonus, it ended with a community tree  planting. Here Narla talks about going green…

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Named one of Conde Nast’s Top Ten Cities in Asia,  Siem Reap and the surrounding are combines culture and nature in a unique way. The city is fun and full of amenities but we also love the green landscape here — from the ancient trees in Angkor Park to rice paddies of the nearby countryside. We love to keep this this way and help much as much possible make it more green.

There are many people from the younger generation who are now living in the city of Siem Reap. Many of them are students and workers from the countryside that come to Siem Reap to work in different sector such as NOGs, Hotels, Restaurants and more.

One of my favourite activities is cycling through the temples and the nearby villages — every weekend young residents (as well as tour groups) cycle into nature to get some fresh air after 5 or 6 days working in the city.

Kanika and the team

Last weekend, a big group of cyclist (about 400 people) gathered together for an event call “Cycling for Green Environment” with the purpose of planting tree at the local school — Ta Pang Primary and Secondary School.

Organized by Siem Reap Cycling Adventure this event was a great reminder of how lovely it can be to leave the  city and get back to nature.

The event is start at 7am so that we could cycle together to the school in a village about 20 km away. When we got there, the school director gave a speech to all of us to tell us how important the trees are and how they inspire the kids in this school to learn and get more engaged with nature. We have planted about 400 Koki and Teak Wood trees on the big school campus before heading back on our bikes.

It was also a great way to send a message to future generations that we all love nature and that we will do our best to protect it!

This tour reminded me how much more there is to Siem Reap than ancient ruins. Much of what makes this town, my new home, special is growing just outside the city limits, a message I look forward to sharing with our guests!

Discovering the Hidden Temples of Angkor

By: Anna Baldwin, Operations Manager- Cambodia

What a wonderful Directors’ Week we’ve had! Everyone got together from all over the world – the US, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and of course, Cambodia. It was wonderful to get the team together, throw ideas around and generally just have fun. The fun, of course, included getting to explore the local area in and around Siem Reap, and here is some info on one adventure I particularly enjoyed.

One early morning, I was lucky enough to venture out with Nicole, our Laos Director, and Santhou, one of our top guides here in Siem Reap, to go in search of the Hidden Temples. Although incredibly beautiful, the bigger, more well-known temples can sometimes get a little overcrowded depending on the time of year. It’s no wonder that our Hidden Temples tour is becoming more and more popular, allowing you to escape the crowds and really immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this magical place. The photos below provide a bit of an insight into our little secret adventure but to find out more you’ll just have to book our tour!

The road to...?
The only other explorer we came across
Spot the hidden temple!
We had the whole place to ourselves
Our wonderful guide Santhou explaining some of the history of the temples and their unique carvings
The busy weaver ants building their leaf-ball home
Even something this majestic can still be kept a secret...
And provides more than a day’s workout as Nicole soon found out!
One of the entrance gates to Angkor Thom which most visitors rarely get to see
Our only other companion was a young boy selling postcards