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!”

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.

Thank you from Stephanie Whitehead

Stephanie, Heather and Michelle with Narla in Siem Reap

We love hearing back from our guests after they’ve traveled and we especially love seeing their photos!  Our goal is to make every trip amazing and perfect, and it really makes our day to see it happen.  Here is a quick note from Stephanie Whitehead about her trip last November:

Dear Andrea,

I’m not sure where the last three months have gone and I do apologize for not writing sooner.  I traveled with Journeys Within in November with two of my friends Michelle (U.S.) and Heather (Australia) and wanted to thank you and your staff for an absolutely amazing time!

From the time we landed in Bangkok to the time we left Siem Reap everything was so well organized and just fabulous.  Our guides, Well in Bangkok and Sina in Siem Reap could not have been more friendly and knowledgeable.  Although we are all independent gals, I have to say we felt very looked after and safe at all times.  We used the suggestions on your cheat sheets extensively for spa, restaurants, activities and shopping. Your friend Pisey at the market was lovely… bought several things at her stall as well as a couple of nice things from Douglas at Trunkh!  I especially enjoyed our time with JWOC and our evening with Narla, Makara and friends.

By the way, I have to mention that the staff at the Kralanh Petite Villa were so friendly and accommodating, a definite asset to your property list!  Everyone we met helped to make our stay so very special.

I hope to travel with Journeys Within again in the future… maybe Laos and Myanmar?  I’ll have to see if I can get the girls on board!

Cheers,

Stephanie Whitehead

(Vancouver, Canada)

Stephanie, Heather, Michelle and Well in Bangkok

Why we love Kralanh Petite Villa

Kralanh Petite Villa celebrating having been open for one year – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

At Journeys Within, we believe that philanthropic travel – where travelers actively contribute to improving the communities that they are visiting – not only helps the local communities in the countries we visit, but also creates incredible experiences for our travelers.  With this philosophy in mind, we seek out hotels, restaurants and experiences that support and give back to the local communities to include in our itineraries.

Ruat’s beautiful smile greets guests every morning at breakfast – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel
There are many lovely little touches around Kralanh Petite Villa that make it feel welcoming – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

So, it was with great pride that this philosophy allowed the tour company to grow to a point where the company was able to invest in the Journeys Within team members to make sweeping changes in their own lives.  One such investment allowed Linda Chhay to design and build her own boutique hotel from the ground up – Kralanh Petite Villa.

Guests celebrating Kralanh Petite Villa’s one year anniversary – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel
Kanha helps keep everything running smoothly at Kralanh Petite Villa – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

Linda has worked tirelessly at Journeys Within behind the scenes for over a decade, and she put her vast experience to use in planning the perfect retreat for travelers.  Chances are, if you’ve traveled with Journeys Within, then Linda helped put your tour together.  We are so grateful to have her as part of the Journeys Within team, and are so proud that she is now a business owner in her own right – with two enterprises!  Linda owns a flower shop and Kralanh Petite Villa.

Linda celebrating Kralanh Petite Villa’s one year anniversary – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

We love sending our guests to this hotel because it not only supports a local Khmer-owned and run business (and Linda of course!), but also because we know our guests will be treated like family.  They will be warmly cared for by the incredible staff, many of whom including Ruat and Kanha, originally worked for Andrea over a decade ago at the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel.  This small property is particularly great for families as the rooms are spacious and there is a Family Suite option.  A relaxing dip in the pool feels perfect after a warm day out at the temples.  For families with younger kids, there is a Kid’s Club with games, and baby-sitting services available.

Kralanh Petite Villa has large spacious rooms, perfect for families – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel
A dip in the pool is the perfect way to relax at the end of a hot day – Photo credit: Courtney Ridgel

And while the location is not centrally located downtown, we feel that this adds to the charm – you’ll be able to sit and enjoy breakfast while watching the local neighborhood come to life around you – children riding bikes to school in their neat navy and white uniforms, motos and tuk-tuks taking people to work, and neighbors fishing in the canal next door.  And in the evenings, Ly, the resident tuk-tuk driver will be standing by to take you into town to explore the night market and Siem Reap’s delicious food scene.

Looking out over the neighborhood canal in the early morning light – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel
Folded lotus blossoms – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

You can read more about Linda’s story in this Huffington Post article, where she, Kralanh Petite Villa and Journeys Within were featured.

Jay, Naida, Makara and Narla enjoying Kralanh Petite Villa’s one year anniversary celebrations – Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel
Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel