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

Dar Le Visits the US!

By Courtney Ridgel

Dar Le, our Myanmar Country Director, is currently traveling on her first tour of the United States with one of the busiest itineraries we’ve ever seen. That said, she left enough time in her schedule to come visit the US office on Monday, and the US office team took her out to see Lake Tahoe and enjoy an American BBQ lunch. Our Spring weather this year is very temperamental, so we missed the typical stunning Tahoe-blue colors and warm sunshine, but Dar Le did get to experience our famous frigid winds and snow! She even made a snowball to celebrate the occasion! On this trip Dar Le has visited Niagara Falls, flown in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, attended a baseball game, rode the gondola up to the top of Squaw Valley, visited national historical national monuments on the East Coast and enjoyed shopping at Scheels, among many other highlights.  We are so glad that she had the chance to visit and say ‘hi’ in person!

  • Dar Le and the US team visiting Emerald Bay

Special Summer Discounts for Educators!

We believe travel can teach us so much about the world and we want to celebrate those who help teach others, which is why Journeys Within will offer all school teachers and college professors a 10% discount off a customized independent tour in Southeast Asia this summer (travel must take place between June 1 – Aug. 31, 2017). Please feel free to pass along this offer to any teachers who’ve made an impact in your life!  Call 877-454-3672 to start planning your summer adventure.

Sample Tour Itineraries

First Time Asia Tour

This tour is designed for first time Asia goers. Through experience we’ve determined how people imagine Asia and the kind of trip they enjoy on their first visit. Fly into Bangkok and spend some time getting to know this amazing city before heading for the hills. Chiang Mai is the epitome of Thailand, a bustling city surrounded by beautiful countryside and interesting hill tribes. (We also have First Time Asia for Families option.)


Give As You Go: Laos & Cambodia Tour

At Journeys Within, we’ve specialized in custom Southeast Asia tours for philanthropically minded travelers from the very beginning – what we call “active philanthropy.” So for us, the 15-day “Give As You Go: Laos & Cambodia” tour is our holy grail – each hotel, restaurant and experience included in this itinerary was chosen with the idea of giving back and supporting local community development efforts.  At Journeys Within, we believe that this type of travel not only helps those countries we visit, but also creates incredible experiences for our travelers.


Cambodia Highlights – Green Season Special

Cambodia has a lot more to show for itself than just temples, and witnessing everything the country has to offer during the “green season” (May – October) is an adventurous and affordable way to get a glimpse of life in this fascinating country with few other travelers around. From the bustling capital with its tree-lined boulevards, to visiting the amazing 4 Rivers Ecolodge and eating pepper crab on a deserted beach… With this itinerary, we can guarantee you’ll love the temples, but we can’t guarantee they’ll be the highlight of your trip.

Enjoy the new Phnom Penh nightlife, be amazed by the temples of Angkor Wat, soak up the beauty of the amazing national parks and relax with the locals on white sand beaches. This tour will take you beyond the tourist traps so you can get a true sense of this incredible country.


Backstage Pass to Vietnam Tour

Our 16-day “Backstage Pass to Vietnam” tour begins in Saigon, exploring the cultural and culinary heritage of the city. You will will continue their exploration of southern Vietnam with a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where guerilla fighters constructed an amazing underground base and village during the French Resistance and Vietnam War, followed by dinner in the home of a veteran of the Vietnamese-American war.  In the historic port city of Hoi An, you’ll ride bicycles around Cam Kim Island where families still produce traditional crafts such as ornate furniture, coracle basket boats and sleeping mats by hand. In Hue, witness the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hue’s Imperial City and Citadel, and enjoy dinner in the home of former Nguyen Dynasty princess Ngoc Son – now occupied and preserved by a multi-generational family of Vietnamese historians and feng shui experts. Pass through the infamous DMZ on the way to Phong Nha where a three-day underground caving adventure in the mountainous region awaits. In Hanoi, You will have the opportunity for an intimate look at the city via bicycle tour along the banks of the Red River, stopping along the way to learn about local village life, traditional handicrafts, and agriculture in the area.  Finish your tour with an overnight trip to Halong Bay – another UNESCO World Heritage site aboard a private junk boat sailing amidst the limestone islands jutting out of the bay is the perfect way to end this insider’s look at the highlights of Vietnam.


International Travel: How to Pack for Your Personality Type

As we welcome home our team across Southeast Asia, the UK, and the US from annual inspections and travel conferences, we reflect on the things we’ve learned, the experiences we’ve had, the new friends we’ve made, and ponder one of the most disputed travel musings to have ever been pondered…how should one prepare and pack for an intercontinental journey?

We’ve concluded that there is no one-size-fits all method because all people have different priorities while traveling. However, we asked some of our team how they packed this year, and provided below are a few examples of packing by personality type. Follow the links for full packing details.

The ‘Strategic Last-Minute’ Packer

Anna – JWGO Business Development Director and Tour Consultant, UK Office

Anna.Photo

The ‘Packs for Options’ Packer

April – VP of Sales, California Office

April.Photo

The ‘Turns Packing into an Experience’ Packer

Nicole – Regional Director of Operations – Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar, Bangkok Office

Nicole.Photo

The ‘Organized Minimalist’ Packer

Naida – JWGO Tours Manager and Tour Consultant, Siem Reap Office

Naida.Photo

The ‘Overthinks Everything and Packs Two Weeks in Advance’ Packer

Kena – Marketing and Booking Coordinator, California Office

Kena.Photo

How do you prepare for travel? What are the items you can’t live without while traveling? Share your tips in the comments or share this post with your travel tips to your social media platform of choice with the hashtag #JourneysWithin. Follow us for more information about travel in Southeast Asia on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.  

On Tour with Journeys Within: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Journeys Within is on our annual inspection tours this spring and some of the team traveled on from Laos to Cambodia. Read about our recent experiences in our last update On Tour with Journeys Within: Phonesavanh, Vientiane, and Pakse to learn about some of our guests’ favorite tours throughout Laos.

Follow our journey for updates and travel tips on some of our key locations and tours throughout this spring, and get inspired for your own next adventure.

For travelers who seek to acquaint themselves with highlights of Siem Reap, these Journeys Within tours are ideal:

Day 1: Angkor National Museum, Quad Bike Tour, and Phare Circus

Day 2: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom Temple Tours

Day 3: Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea Temple Tours

Day 4: Village Tour and Artisan Angkor Silk Farm

These tours are customizable to the guest’s preferences and schedules, though Journeys Within can make recommendations on the best timing to schedule certain tours and activities to beat crowds and the sun on hot days.

Day 1: Angkor National Museum, Quad Bike Tour, and Phare Circus

The ideal introduction to people visiting Siem Reap is a visit to Angkor National Museum. Visitors have the option of a guided tour using head phone with recordings available in a number of different languages. Guests may also tour the museum without head phones, however, the headphones are recommended as the narration provides greater detail in addition to signage provided by the museum. Photos are not allowed inside of the museum, but click here for more information.

Angkor National Museum consists of five galleries, starting with details about Buddhist worship, Buddhist and Hindu iconography collections, details about the history of Khmer civilization, a multimedia presentation about Angkor Wat, and finally, extensive galleries dedicated to Siem Reap’s temples with informative details about the temples’ art and architecture.

For example, the type of material a Buddha statue is made from (stone, gold, bronze, marble, copper, or wood) indicates the time period and other historical factors that impacted how statues were produced. The postures of Buddha explain the unique individual purposes for each statue, which correspond to significant moments throughout the life of Buddha.

Further, the sculptures are more than artifacts, but passageways to Buddha himself and to receive his teachings. This can help visitors to understand why the image of Buddha is treated with utmost respect throughout Buddhism practicing countries. The museum also provides insight to how the practice of Buddhism has developed over hundreds of years as a method of worship that focuses on letting go of strife in order to gain peace of mind. Stylistic changes not only in the Buddha statue but also in temple architecture and ornamentation indicate the integration of different styles and religious ideologies as empires merged throughout the civilization’s history.

This experience provides visitors a foundation and context to Khmer history and culture. A visit to the Angkor National Museum will ideally be done prior to visiting temples in and around Siem Reap so visitors may have an established understanding of the culture before visiting the area’s main points of interest. Insider tip: Beautiful batik artwork by local artists and celebrated professionals is for sale inside the museum.

After a morning at Angkor National Museum, guests enjoy the opportunity to go on a quad bike tour around the rural villages and outskirts of Siem Reap. This experience gives visitors a look at rural Siem Reap and the lives of farmers. People and children wave and greet visitors as they pass by, which conveys the warm nature of these kind people. The quad bike tour stops along the way at a modern temple, where visitors may see monks and nuns going about their daily lives. The tour concludes with a view of the sunset over Siem Reap. Insider tip: This tour is a great opportunity to bring a Go-Pro for unique video footage of Siem Reap. The guide also makes several stops along the way to film guests with their smart phones.  

Kena (left), and Naida (right) on the quad bike tour in Siem Reap.
Kena (left), and Naida (right) on the quad bike tour in Siem Reap.

Another favorite of our guests as an introduction to Siem Reap is the Phare Circus. The circus is located near the heart of Siem Reap under the ‘big top’. It is a world-class act of acrobatics and by local signature artists as well as international traveling ensembles. The shows include light-hearted and comedic entertainment and poignant performance art interpretations of the profound impact of war on Khmer people. Performances are scheduled every night of the week.

Phare Circus.Image
Local acrobats of Sokrias (Eclipse) at Siem Reap’s Phare Circus.

Insider tip 1: Look up the performances you will see in advance and seek out a little background on the topics of each story for context. Visitors will get more from the shows if they have an understanding of the show’s influence.

Insider tip 2: There is a small gift shop located just outside of the tent that features unique handcrafts from local artisans that make for great souvenirs.

What to wear for this tour:

Comfortable, breathable clothes

Sneakers for the quad bike tour

Hat for the quad bike tour

Sunscreen and insect repellant for the quad bike tour

Bring a beverage inside the tent so you have something to drink throughout the show, as guests are not allowed back into the tent if they leave mid-show.

Day 2: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom Temple Tours

Tours of Angkor Wat and  Angkor Thom are great adventures following a visit to Angkor National Museum, as the museum tour concludes with information and exhibits that relate to Siem Reap’s nearby temples.

Angkor Wat is an iconic symbol of Cambodia and tours are offered throughout the day, including options for sunrise and sunset. Journeys Within tour guides stay on top of the best times to arrive, changes in location of where to obtain tickets and entrance, and how to beat the crowds using little known access points. Insider tip: There are two pools located in front of Angkor Wat, and the majority of visitors inexplicably choose to view the temples from the pool on the right side. The pool on the left side is always far less crowded.  

Angkor Wat has become more strict this year about dress code and behavior while visiting the temple sites. It is important the visitors of temple sites respect temples by abiding by a recently established code of conduct, particularly dress code. View the Angkor Visitor Code of Conduct for more details. Visitors who do not abide by the code of conduct risk the potential of having their temple passes revoked.

Visitors have the opportunity to explore inside most temple areas, and exploring includes climbing some steep stair cases. Visitors should assess their ability to climb these stair cases. The temples located atop steep staircases are closed to pregnant women and small children for safety purposes.

Angkor Thom is a temple complex that houses Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Bantey Kdei. Bayon is known for its many massive three-dimensional faces carved into the temple walls. Ta Prohm is known for the trees that have overgrown around the temple over the centuries and make for unique photo opportunities. Ta Prohm is also sometimes referred to as the “Tomb Raider” temple, where the feature film was shot in 2001. Bantey Kdei is a fun temple to explore with many fallen temple stones.

Faces of Bayon, housed on the temple complex of Angkor Thom.
Faces of Bayon, housed on the temple complex of Angkor Thom.

Siem Reap’s temple tours can be coordinated as the guest desires, with additional temple tour options making the trek a half-day or all day experience.

What to wear for this tour:

Appropriate attire for visiting temple sites, with the legs and shoulders covered

Hat or umbrella, but ideally a hat as umbrellas take up more space and may obstruct the views of other visitors

Sunscreen and insect repellant

Walking shoes – no sandals. Some of the temple areas are uneven or require climbing and it’s best to have the feet covered

Day 3: Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea Temple Tours

Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea are located about an hour and a half outside of Siem Reap. Visitors stop along the way at an ancient sandstone quarry in Kulan to see where the stone was once sourced for all of Siem Reap and how stones were cut.

In fact, Beng Mealea is a Hindu temple built over 1000 years ago for quarry workers. The sandstone quarry was too far from Angkor Wat for workers to visit to worship, so Beng Mealea was built to provide quarry workers a place of worship within a close enough distance to the quarry site. Beng Mealea is a fun temple for trekking, with many different areas to climb and explore. Visitors at this temple should be careful to watch their footing on uneven areas, with many fallen stones to climb. There are also many low archways, so watch your head!

Fallen temple stones at Beng Mealea.
Fallen temple stones at Beng Mealea.

Banteay Srei was built in 967 CE, and is unique to the other temples in the area because it is carved from red sandstone, so the temple appears to have a pink hue. Local people also say that the temple must have been carved by women, due to the intricacy of the carvings. For these reasons, the temple it also sometimes referred to as the “Lady Temple” or “Pink Temple”. These characteristics make the temple special, and it is also one of the oldest temples in the area. Banteay Srei’s ornate design, color, and attention to detail make it a site well worth the trek outside of Siem reap.

Banteay Srei.Image
Banteay Srei, a temple carved from red sandstone, located outside of Siem Reap.

Insider tip: Visitors may also opt to see the Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre and the Cambodia Landmine Museum, both located on the way to Banteay Srei.

What to wear for this tour:

Appropriate attire for visiting temple sites, with the legs and shoulders covered

Hat or umbrella, but ideally a hat as umbrellas take up more space and may obstruct the views of other visitors

Sunscreen and insect repellant

Walking shoes – no sandals. Some of the temple areas are uneven or require climbing and it’s best to have the feet covered

Day 4: Village Tour and Artisan Angkor Silk Farm

On this tour day we visited Kok Tnout Village, which translates to ‘palm tree’. This is the home village of the guide for this tour, Mr. Sotay.

This tour gives visitors a glimpse into the rural village lives of people on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Kok Tnout  is comprised of 800 families, or roughly 1000 people. Mr. Sotay, like most Cambodian families of his generation, comes from a family of 11. Mr. Sotay says that while many Cambodians have large families in order to help farm, new families have begun to have less children, perhaps about 5 children per family.

My guide, Mr. Sotay, stands at the end of a bridge leading us into the village of Kok Tnout.
My guide, Mr. Sotay, stands at the end of a bridge leading us into the village of Kok Tnout.

Fifty percent of the villagers work jobs in Siem Reap, while the other half make a living as construction workers, farmers, and artisans of sorts. We passed Mr. Sotay’s mother in the village as she was on her way to sell rice noodles, which she makes herself every day and sells to people in town and passersby. We passed by a man who makes rice wine at his home and once the rice has been used in the process he feeds it to his pigs, which he raises and also sells in town.

In regard to infrastructure, the village of Kok Tnout still does not entirely have electricity, so some families use car batteries, kerosene lamps, and candles to have light in the night time. The village chief collects $15 dollars from every family to maintain the main village road.

This is a walking tour, and Mr. Sotay offers many details about Kok Tnout and its villagers’ way of life.

Once back in Siem reap, we visited Artisan d’Angkor, a silk farm and textile workshop that employs young women of Siem Reap, providing an opportunity for gainful employment and to preserve silk production and weaving as an artform.

Visitors get to see silk production from the very beginning of the process with a private tour from an Artisan d’Angkor guide. Exhibits show silkworms feeding on mulberry leaves, silkworms spinning their cocoons, the harvesting and cleaning process of the silk, the silk dyeing process, and various weaves of silk in textiles. Insider tip: Don’t forget to tip your guide!

Dyed and raw silk at Artisan D'Angkor.
Dyed and raw silk at Artisan D’Angkor.

The gift shop located on the farm is an ideal place to purchase beautiful souvenirs offering annual collections of home decor, clothing, accessories, stone, lacquerware, polychrome, wood, silver plating, painting, ceramics, and jewelry by local artisans.

What to wear for this tour:

Comfortable, breathable clothes

Sneakers or sandals

Hat for visiting the village

Sunscreen and insect repellant for visiting the village

See more photos of this spring’s journey throughout Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia on our Instagram account. Stay tuned to get an insider account of more of our tours throughout Southeast Asia!

Additionally, some of the Journeys Within team will be attending this year’s Thailand Travel Mart (TTM) this week! TTM works in cooperation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Thai tourism industry, making TTM the largest business-to-business event in Thailand. Journeys Within proudly participates in this event to stay in-the-know and aid in the promotion of tourism in Thailand and its Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) counterparts.  

Follow us on Instagram during our experiences at TTM and stay tuned for new travel information and industry updates!