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Community Based Tours — a growing travel trend

Since starting Journeys Within, Andrea has prioritized the communities she works in, which lead to Conde Nast calling her a pioneer in philanthropic travel. It seems the rest of the travel industry is finally catching up…

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Last month the Journeys Within team was proud to attend a conference hosted by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). The International Conference on Community Development through Tourism, co-sponsored by UNESCO and the United Nations World Tourism Organization, was a meeting of tour operators, hotels and Cambodian ministry officials, among others. All of these stakeholders were brought to the table to discuss how those of us working in the region can help use tourism to support sustainable development and work towards alleviating poverty.

Much of the conference focused on how to promote the positive influences of travel while educating and mitigating against the negatives. When done with thought and care, travel can be an eye opening, informative and enriching experience both for the visitors and the host communities — a belief that is held at the heart of our  company.

One of the overriding ideas of how to accomplish this was through the continued development and support of Community Based Tourism (CBT) — projects that work directly with communities to provide the economic benefits of tourism while protecting cultural, historic or environmental assets.

While a new trend to some, this has been a Journeys Within focus from the beginning. We are always looking to enrich a travel experience and spread the wealth as much as possible. While our guests love to see the Ankorian temples, it is experiences like the community Baci ceremony in Laos or dinners with a local family that they rave about.

By helping to funnel tourist dollars in a positive way, the private sector can help local governments and NGO’s achieve their goals. As Martin Craigs, PATA CEO, puts it is can also help develop cross border empathy — an understanding of the unique and sometimes difficult situations others face.

For Community Based Tourism projects to work we must consider:

  • if communities are being empowered — tours must include input and respect the boundaries of the communities they visit.
  • if there is fair and transparent benefit sharing — does the money you pay for the tour go to the families involved?
  • if there is an integration of partners and stakeholders
  • if economic links are strengthened — is the community being included in the economic process.
  • if the overall well being of the communities is improved
  • if there is a meaningful and interactive host visit — tours should be designed to make guests feel welcome
  • if local culture and traditions are respected
  • if the project is financial sustainable

The fact is that most authentic and positive experiences revolve around people. After 10 year working on one-of-a-kind tours, we know this to be true. We love peppering itineraries with tours like the Reach Dak Baray, the Kulen Mountain Forest Discovery Trail or one of our own JWOC experiences because the people involved are truly passionate about showing off their communities and preserving their heritage.

While many of our guests want to volunteer or give back, they aren’t sure how due to the short nature of their stays. One of the most effective ways to help a community can be by supporting established projects that meet all of the above criteria — projects we are happy to help guests access.

These hands-on kinds of activities are always guest favourites and at the conference we learned that they are the next trend in responsible travel, something we readily welcome.

Interested in learning more about Community Based Tours or taking one yourself? We are happy to add them to any Southeast Asian itinerary!

Vietnam Bucket List

It’s that time of year again! With the madness of high season finally passed and the rains bringing a slower pace, it is finally time to reflect. Having already seen much of Vietnam on the job, including the mystical Halong Bay with her parents, Operations Manager Anna shares what is left of her personal Vietnam bucket list…

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I can’t believe a whole year has gone by since our big Guide Training adventure, which took me and Andrea through some of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful and exciting regions, visiting our amazing teams in the different cities, and giving us the chance to not only refresh our memories but introduce ourselves to some of the area’s more hidden gems.

Looking back on this great journey, naturally I can only start to think about all the other amazing places I have yet to explore in this beautiful part of the world!

The list is long and ever growing so for today I’ll focus my dreams on just one of my gorgeous neighboring countries. Here is my compressed Vietnam Bucket List.

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Mekong Delta

Honestly, I am ashamed to admit that this has not been crossed off the list yet. Vietnam’s “rice basket” is without a doubt one of the biggest must-sees in the area, and one which so often slips through due to limited travel schedules.

From floating markets and fish farms, to bicycle rides and sunset cruises, the variety of sights and activities in the area is endless. A long day trip from Saigon is possible to give you a good introduction, but for those who can stretch out their time a little bit more can immerse themselves in this one-of-a-kind environment. You can take a few days to get lost in this agricultural labyrinth of paddy fields and marshlands, Travel on a rice barge, experience true Vietnamese hospitality by staying in the home of a local family, and you can even travel all the way down the Mekong to Cambodia! For those who have the time, this is much more fun than flying. Check out our sample itinerary here.

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Phu Quoc Island

For me, one of the many highlights of living in Southeast Asia is having access to some of the most stunning beaches and seascapes in the world. With its neighbor Thailand hogging most of the sandy spotlight, Vietnam has until recently avoided many of the international crowds, leaving much of its 3400km-long coastline open to only local tourists and developers.

The hunt for that “secluded spot” is more in demand than ever before, and with international interest growing, these beaches won’t stay secret for much longer.

Top of my list – Phu Quoc. Spotted with plantation and rimmed with gorgeous sandy beaches, this Island off the southern coast of Vietnam still has that unspoiled feel. Bai Khem is rumoured to be the island’s prettiest beach. November to March is the best time to visit, when the sunny skies dominate and temperatures hover around 25-28 Celsius. That being said April – June can offer less crowds, cheaper prices and fairly good odds of reasonable weather.

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Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

Saving the best til last – the magnificent and magical Son Doong Cave! It is no secret that the caves of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park (located near the Laos border) are pretty much the most exciting geographical discovery in Vietnam’s recent exploratory history. Now claiming to hold the “largest cave passage in the world”, this area is only now just opening up to the public with a strict limit on the number of visitors it will allow in per year. Having grown up with a strong interest in geology, and generally just associating the word “cave” with the word “explorer”, this has been top of my Travel Bucket List ever since it came to light. Read more about these stunning formations here.