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Southeast Asia weather weirdness

Southeast Asia is experiencing a bout of unexpected weather at the moment which is entirely uncommon at this time of year. From Cambodia experiencing rain and significantly cooler weather, to Hue and Hoi An in Vietnam who are seeing both heavy rains and flooding, this strange weather phenomenon is taking its toll on what should be a warmer and dryer season for both countries.

2016 has seen a series of strange weather occurrences in the region. The year began with the longest drought in decades spreading from Thailand to Myanmar and through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos which destroyed crops and resulted in lower than anticipated rice exports for the year. April, 2016 was recorded as the hottest April ever, setting new temperature records for a number of countries in the region. This weather extreme has been followed by another strange occurrence later in the year with the end of the rainy season, typically occurring in early November, continuing throughout December bringing with it much cooler temperatures leading into the region’s high season for tourism.

This week we have experienced extreme flash flooding in Central Vietnam with sudden discharges from hydropower reservoirs due to excessive rains in order to avoid long term damage to hydropower stations in the area. The rains continue in the region and we are seeing weather warnings not only for flash flooding in low lying areas of Central Vietnam, but landslides in the mountains and riverbeds breaking. With these extreme weather warnings come safety warnings for local residents who are likely to be affected by the floods. In many Western countries, the main safety issues are concerned with hygiene and property damage in areas affected by flood waters, but in Vietnam these safety concerns are extended to the majority of the population who are unable to swim.

Recent statistics tell us that 16 people drown every day in Vietnam, half of which are children, a figure which has shown a positive decline in the last 5 years. This is a well-recognized problem in Vietnam and the reason that we have chosen to work closely with local NGO, Swim Vietnam, to tackle the issue. To date, Swim Vietnam has taught over 9,500 children to swim in Vietnam and are adding approximately another 5,000 children to this list every year. Looking sustainably at the project, in addition to children taught to swim, the organization has now educated 150 Vietnamese people as swimming teachers to widen the reach of swimming education. Water safety is the central point of focus for this incredible organization who also provide water safety training to 10-20,000 students per year in classrooms around the country.

As the flood waters from the most recent weather event begin to subside, we at Journeys Within like to keep our focus on the long term and working on ways that we can, together with our guests, affect a positive change in the countries we visit. For more information on Swim Vietnam you can visit their website at www.swimvietnam.com. If you would like to include a visit with this highly commendable organization during your next trip to Vietnam, speak with one of our Tour Consultants on the ways you can work with us to give back to this and other wonderful organizations like this during your vacation.… Read more »

Celebrating Narla’s 10-year anniversary

Every year at about this time, we tend to look back and remember all of the things and people we are thankful for. And this year, we’re especially thankful for Narla Phay, who is celebrating 10 years of working at Journeys Within Tour Company this month.

Over the last 10 years, Narla has made a huge difference in the tours of thousands of Journeys Within guests, and we can truly say the company wouldn’t be the same without him.

To celebrate his 10-year anniversary, we asked Narla to answer a few questions, solicited feedback from some of the longtime Journeys Within staff members, and put together a great slideshow of Narla’s tenure with Journeys Within here.


Journeys Within: When you first started working for Journeys Within, did you think you’d still be with the company 10 years later? If not, what did you think you’d be doing instead?

Narla: I stated working with Journeys Within in April 2006 as a front desk guy at the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel. I did think I’d still be with the company after the first year working there. I love the idea of how the company is run.

JW: What is your favorite memory from the past 10 years?

Narla: There are many favorite memories from the past 10 years, but there are a few that stick out. First, graduating from university through the JWOC Scholarship Project because I was about to drop out of school before I get the job at Journeys Within. Second, when Andrea gave the role of Tour Country Director to me in 2008. I was really nervous that I might not do the job right, but it turned out well. Third would have to be my first trip out of country for 16 days to Vietnam with Andrea’s family in 2008. It was the dream come true because I never thought I’d be able to be on the airplane and experience such an incredible trip.

JW: What has been the most difficult part of the job?

Narla: Studying English as a second language and being unable to write perfect English is the most difficult part of the job. I always want to do an excellent job, but when it’s time to write official emails to our suppliers, team or guests, sometime I worry that I might make some mistakes.

JW: How has Journeys Within changed over the past 10 years?

Narla: The company has changed so much during the past 10 years. I remember Linda was running the Tour Plan system and I was running the Ground Operations, while sharing the office on the ground floor of the main building at the hotel. Back then there were only a few people working in the tour company in Cambodia, and there was so much stuff for me to do including the hotel work, which I loved so much. We were small when we started and the package tours we provided were limited.

JW: What do you hope for over the next 10 years?

Narla: For the next 10 years I hope Journeys Within continues to be one of the best tour companies around for providing unique experiences with outstanding service to travelers from all around the world. I think one of the keys to our success will be more cooperation with overseas partners from the U.S., Australia and Europe. I also hope our company name will be well known by the big media outlets, helping us spread our name and expertise worldwide. And I hope we continue to have such a good time doing it.


What Journeys Within Staff are saying…

Andrea Ross: Because Narla is a scholarship student he often accompanies guests when they’re visiting and learning about JWOC. On one occasion we had a wonderful guest who had donated a microloan to a single mom. Narla came back from taking the guest to meet the loan recipient and I asked him how it went:

“Well, the loan recipient cried, because she couldn’t believe that her luck was changing, and the guest cried because she was so happy to change a life like that.” I looked at him and said, “oh wow, what did you do?”

His eyes got big, “Oh, it was amazing, I cried too!”

Narla has a heart of gold. I have also been lucky enough to travel all over the world with him, but my favorite trip I ever took was returning with him to his hometown and staying with his family in their house on stilts. He is as lovely and hardworking as he is because of his lovely family and my kids and I were honored to be their guests.

April Cole: When Narla first came to America he visited our office and we offered him a glass of water. I walked over to the sink and poured him a glass of water and he paused.

“You can drink water straight from the sink???!” he said. “America is awesome.”

I still think of that every time I pour myself a glass of water from the sink.


Anna Baldwin: Some of my happiest memories of working with Narla are when he came to visit me in the UK to help me exhibit at the World Travel Market. In addition to having his amazing support throughout the show, it was such a special experience being able to show him where I grew up and to reunite him with my family whom he had already met during their previous visits to Cambodia.

Throughout the trip we explored England’s cities and countryside, and he was continuously asking questions about everything from history to food to politics, as well as sharing his own experiences and knowledge about Cambodia and other countries he had travelled to.

Any friends or family that met him said the same thing about Narla – what an impressive and charming young man. His curiosity, intelligence and drive have led him to some amazing places, but it is his positive, generous and open-hearted personality that makes him one of the most loved and respected members of the Journeys Within team.

Click here for more photos of Narla through the yearsRead more »

Ten Tips to Stay Fit on Vacation

Jogging in the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar
Staying fit on vacation: YES, it is possible!

By Karen Caton
(photos from Karen & Andrea’s trip to Myanmar in 2016)

You have heard it: “I’m going to get so out of shape when I am on vacation!” Perhaps you have even had that happen to you.

It is true that vacations can add unwanted pounds and take away your preciously earned fitness, but only if you let it happen. Here is the good news: Vacations can be a source of fitness inspiration!

I recently traveled to Myanmar with Journeys Within CEO Andrea Ross. Our goal was to be fit and active while traveling and that is precisely what we did. Before the trip, we committed to being physically active for at least 30 minutes per day, in addition to our walking tours and excursions. Additionally, we were conscious of our caloric intake, stayed hydrated and rested.

Trekking in MyanmarSo if you are looking for ways to stay fit on vacation, here are 10 tips to keep in mind:

Take Advantage of Jetlag: One of the biggest challenges of travel and fitness is jet lag. Whether you are crisscrossing the globe or just a time zone or two, use the “off hours” to workout. It actually helps you adjust quicker to the time change and can re-energize you.

Run or Walk: One of the best options for fitness is to run or walk, especially when your accommodations do not have a fitness facility or pool. Running or fitness walking in the morning before you set out for your day is a great option. In addition, running and walking allows you to see more of the cities, towns and villages you are visiting which is a great reason in itself! It also requires no equipment other than a pair of athletic shoes.

Use the Pool: Another great fitness option is swimming. It is easy to pack a swim cap and goggles because they take up little space. Use the hotel pool to do a short workout. Below is a short ¼-mile swim workout for beginners which can easily be doubled for intermediate or advanced swimmers:

Beginner Swim Workout: 1/4 mile (400 yards or 16 laps)

  • Freestyle x 4 Easy Warm-Up
  • Breast Stroke x 4 (20 seconds between laps)
  • Freestyle x 6 (decrease each lap by one stroke and 20 second rest between laps)
  • Sprint Laps x 4 (decrease each laps time by 2 seconds and 30 seconds rest between laps)
  • Freestyle x 2 Easy Cool Down

If there is a Fitness Center at Your Hotel, USE IT: This one is a no brainer! If there is a gym at your hotel, carve out a half hour to use the elliptical, treadmill, or weights.

Exploring temples can be a workoutYou Don’t Need a Fitness Center: You are not out of luck if there is no fitness center at your hotel and you don’t feel like running or walking, you can do a short bodyweight workout in you hotel room that will energize you and help you maintain or increase your existing fitness. If you use exercise bands, jump rope or a heart rate monitor, you can easily pack those for in-room workouts. Below is an example of a few things you can do right in your hotel room. This beginner workout can easily be increased to an intermediate workout by increasing the number repetitions and sets or the addition of a jump rope or exercise bands:

Beginner Bodyweight Workout:

  • High Knees: 30 Seconds High Knees for 3 Sets
  • Squats: 3 Sets of 12 Reps
  • Squat Jumps: 3 Sets of 20 Reps
  • Push-Ups: 3 Sets of 12 Reps (on knees or feet)
  • Dips (off a chair): 3 Sets of 12 Reps
  • Suitcase Latissimus Row: 3 Sets of 12 Reps Per Arm
  • Crunches: 3 Sets of 12 Reps
  • Plank: 30 Second Planks for 3 Sets

Choose Fitness Related Activities and Excursions: When choosing adventures or excursions, try to pick a few activities that are physically active such a walking tours, kayaking, hiking, or trekking. Everything active counts toward your fitness.

rivercrossing_600x600pxRecruit Your Travel Partner: One of the most effective ways to stay fit while traveling is to recruit your travel partner. Fitness with a friend makes it more fun and easier to commit to spending a little time on your fitness.

Make It Part of Your Day: Build fitness time into your daily agenda. Wether before breakfast, late in the evening because of jet lag, after your daily excursions, or before dinner, set aside a half hour. It is a lot easier if you plan ahead.

Street food optionsBe Mindful of Your Nutrition: The addition of fitness on your vacation gives you a little more room to splurge on vacation food and drinks. Vacation, particularly when traveling to Southeast Asia, requires indulging in new and delicious cuisine. It’s part of a good vacation. Eat regularly during the day to keep from eating late night meals and large amounts of food at one time. It’s a good idea to pack a few healthy foods like trail mix, protein bars, oatmeal packets, dried fruits and veggies so that you have a few things to reach for when you are hungry. Remember to drink water and try to limit the amount of alcohol consumed.

RELAX! You ARE on Vacation: It is impossible to stick to you normal routine while vacationing. Do your best to add or continue your fitness pursuits while vacationing but don’t beat yourself up for missing a workout or eating Pad Thai. Make it fun and you will go home feeling fit, recharged, relaxed and ready for the next journey.… Read more »

Walk the Walk: Fitness and Training for Trekking in Southeast Asia

By Karen Caton-Brunings, CFT and owner of KCB FITNESS

So you are planning to go trekking on your trip to Southeast Asia? Fantastic! Wether you are trekking in the jungle, on volcanos or rain forests, adventure and beauty will find you. Now it’s time to prepare! Spending a little time physically preparing will ensure that your trekking experience will be positive and memorable.

Trekking, by definition, is journey taken on foot usually in areas that have no other means of transportation. It typically involves quite a few miles over challenging or moderately challenging terrain, usually for more than one day. Preparing by walking for longer periods, on varied terrain, using varied levels of excursion is a great start. Strengthening your legs, feet, core, upper body, balance as well as your cardiovascular fitness will help you get ready for the demands that trekking requires.


Getting prepared is fun, exciting and very simple. There are a few things to keep in mind as you plan and prepare for your trek. These tips will help you put one foot in front of the other on your adventure:

  1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT TREK: Pick an adventure that will be challenging but not totally over reaching. If you only walk a mile twice a week, you wouldn’t sign up for a marathon. The same rule applies to choosing your adventure.
  1. GIVE IT TIME: Depending on your current level of activity, fitness and the type of trek you’ve chosen, it can take between 6-12 weeks to physically prepare for the demands of trekking. Taking the time to slowly build your strength will aide in injury prevention while you train and on your trek.
  1. WALK THE WALK: How many miles will you be walking? How many hours will you be trekking per day? What is the terrain like? This is so important to know! Your training should mimic your trek. You should be able to hike/walk the amount of time and distances that you will be doing on your trip.
  1. TAKE THE WEIGHT: How much weight will you be carrying with you? Be sure to carry a backpack on most of your conditioning hikes so that the extra weight is not a surprise to you when you trek. Even if you will only be carrying a daypack with your camera, water and snacks…take it with you.
  1. SWITCH IT UP: Cross training is a great way to improve your cardiovascular and muscular strength. Any leg-based cardio like, cycling, soccer, and swimming are effective methods of boosting cardiovascular fitness.
  1. EVERYTHING COUNTS: Walk to the market. Park in the far corner of the mall. Ride your bike into town instead of driving. Walk the dog. Work in the garden. Stand on one leg while cooking dinner to work on balance. Find fitness in your day-to-day life! It all adds up.
  1. IF THE SHOE FITS: Wear them! Make sure that you have comfortable hiking boots. You will be spending hours on your feet and in your shoes. If you choose to purchase new shoes for your trek, use your training time to break them in. Blisters and hot spots can stop you in your tracks so trek in a pair of shoes that you know and love. The same idea goes for your other equipment. Using poles, daypack, backpack? Use them while training. Make sure that none of your equipment rubs you the wrong way. You can even wear the clothes that you will be trekking in to check comfort and fit.

Your 8-week plan

So let’s say you a lightly active now. How do you plan to be prepared for a moderately challenging trek in 8 weeks? Click here to download an 8-week training plan.


It is a roadmap. You can use it as a guideline. Adjust the plan and exercises to fit YOUR physical fitness and always check with your physician before beginning any new physical fitness routine. This is particularly important if you have any injuries or health issues of any kind. Do not substitute the advice provided here for the advice of your physician.

You can use the Borg Scale (Rate of Perceived Excursion) when hiking/walking to train for you trek. The scale was created to help individuals measure their levels of excursion when engaging in physical activity. The scale helps you understand if you should speed up or slow down to meet the desired level of excursion. It is very individualized and allows all levels of fitness to have a better understand their cardiovascular/physical effort. The attached training schedule uses this scale to change the effort level during each week.



The goal of cool-down is to reduce heart and breathing rates, gradually cool body temperature, return muscles to their optimal length-tension relationships, prevent venous pooling of blood in the lower extremities (which may cause dizziness or possible fainting), and restore physiologic systems close to baseline. So take 5-10 minutes to cool down after your training sessions. Walk slowly until heart rate returns to normal.

Stretching regularly and after exercise is an important component in any exercise regimen. Stretching helps prevent injury by:

  • Reducing muscle tension
  • Increasing range of movement in the joints
  • Enhancing muscular coordination
  • Increasing circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
  • Increasing energy levels (resulting from increased circulation)

Spending 5-10 minutes stretching after your training session helps muscles return to normal ranges of motion. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds, and never stretch to the point of pain. Be sure to stretch all of the major muscle groups of the body. Take a look at this article on Active.com for stretches to address every muscle group in your body: http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/12-post-workout-static-stretches


Dehydration caused by excessive sweating can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The heat and humidity are big factors in Southeast Asia. It is important to consume 2 liters of water per day for proper function of all of your body’s systems. Consume an additional half liter or liter of water when exercising. Juice, coffee, tea and alcohol don’t count toward your daily consumption requirements.   Drink water before you are thirsty while training and trekking.


Nutrition is also important to feeling strong and healthy when training and trekking.

The body breaks down most carbohydrates from the foods we eat and converts them to a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for our cells. When the body doesn’t need to use the glucose for energy, it stores it in the liver and muscles. This stored form of glucose is made up of many connected glucose molecules and is called glycogen. When the body needs a quick boost of energy or when the body isn’t getting glucose from food, glycogen is broken down to release glucose into the bloodstream to be used as fuel for the cells. A healthy diet with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat is important for the production of glycogen to keep you going on your adventure.

Be sure to fuel your body 2 hours before exercise with foods containing complex carbohydrates and protein. During exercise, it is important to prevent drops in blood sugar and low glycogen/glucose stores by consuming easily digestible carbohydrates (bars, raisins, dried fruit, gels, trail mix, etc.) while you are trekking. This will help prevent fatigue. After exercise, rehydrate and fuel your body with carbohydrates and proteins used by your body during activity.

For more information on sports nutrition and how to better prepare nutritionally I recommend: http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/content/sports_medicine/art3224.html


Preparing your body will ensure that your trek will be as beautiful as Southeast Asia.

Keep trekking, get stronger and have fun. Your adventure awaits.

Karen Caton-Brunings, CFT is a personal friend of Andrea Ross and the owner of KCB FITNESS. She will be joining Andrea on a trip to Southeast Asia in August of 2016 during which they will put these tips into action as they trek along some new routes in Myanmar.Read more »

An Amazon Adventure

Journeys Within’s New Experiences Director Philippa Nigg recounts her experiences on a bucket-list Amazon River cruise in May…

EstrellaAmazonicaShipIt’s not everyday one gets a telephone call asking if you would like to go on a river cruise on the Amazon; but this is how Dudley’s and my latest adventure started.

Andrea called me from a travel conference and said there was a silent auction for such a trip and would we like to go? The Amazon was on my bucket list but I had not even considered where or how to start planning, so when she came back and told us the trip was ours, I went into top gear checking out what we had in store.

EstrellaAmazonicaCabinAnd now, having just returned, I would like to share a little about the incredible adventure we had…

While most probably think of Brazilian rainforests when hearing about an Amazon River cruise, ours took place on the upper Amazon in Peru. Upon arrival in Lima, Peru we were met and taken to the lovely Swissotel for the night before meeting up with the rest of our tour group the next morning and heading out to catch our flight to Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon.

AmazonTreeFrogOnce at the river, there were many surprises in store for us. For example, who knew the Amazon had manatees? At the Amazon Manatee Research center not only did we learn about them but we got to feed them too. And then we visited the Indigenous Cultures Museum to learn about the people who have lived in the Amazon forests for hundreds of years.

AmazonTarantulaOnce onboard our boat – the beautiful La Estrella Amazonica – we settled in to our very comfortable cabin with en-suite facilities and private balcony before meeting the staff and having a tour of the ship. Carrying up to 31 guests, the atmosphere on board is very relaxed and the focus is to learn about and interact with the environment. There were no TVs, but if you had time you could watch a movie in the lecture room. (We didn’t have time!) There were no mini fridges in the rooms but there was always tea, coffee and water in a cooler nearby. The Wi-Fi was via satellite and thus expensive, so guests chatted and interacted instead of staring at their phones.

Thinking there would be some downtime, I had filled my Kindle with books to read as I sat cruising downstream. But with everything to see and do, I just managed to finish one book… We were busy!

AmazonFlockOfBirdsEach day the crew had plans for us: We would leave the Estrella in skiffs to explore tributaries, take a walk ashore, visit local villages and spot for wildlife. Each of the two skiffs had a wonderful naturalist onboard who kept us fascinated with tales and information about what we were seeing. As an indication of how enjoyable these trips were, my husband and I were the only passengers who opted out of any of the outings for non-medical reasons – Dudley because he does not enjoy village visits, and me (once) because as a vegetarian, fishing was not for me.

AmazonGiantLilipadsA couple of our fellow passengers did miss excursions for health reasons, one because the anti-malarial tablets were affecting him badly (we did not take anti-malaria tablets and saw next to no mosquitoes) and one because of an on-going medical issue. However, with bottled water always available and meticulous food preparation onboard, no one experienced any stomach issues.

While on the ship, the kitchen staff kept us well fed with regional fish and chicken dishes featuring locally-sourced fruit and vegetables, based on recipes from around the world – with options for vegetarians and even my gluten-free diet.

AmazonLizardI cannot say enough good things about the crew. They appeared to be an amazingly happy team, all Peruvian, very professional and dedicated to making this a once-in-a-lifetime trip for everyone onboard, from the youngest guests – we had a family with young teenagers aboard – to the oldest. You do have to be able to navigate the stairs between decks, otherwise age is no limitation for this trip. The staff’s joy and vitality was expressed each evening in the fun hour when a crew band would entertain us with Peruvian and Amazonian folk songs, with an odd western tune thrown in for an enthusiastic audience now and then.

AmazonBirdTo end with one more piece of information we learned: The height of the Amazon River in this region drops up to 50 feet between its peak – when 80% of the surrounding land is flooded – and its lowest level during the dry season. So when you go on this type of cruise does make a difference. We went in May when the villages were no longer flooded but the river was still relatively high and we loved it!

If a trip like this sounds right for you, reach out to Journeys Within and we can help you make it happen. You will come back with marvelous photos and memories and one more trip checked off that bucket list!

AmazonMonkeyI will never forget the monkey, silhouetted against the skyline, breaking open a large nut by bashing it against the branches high up in a magnificent Amazonian jungle tree.

Please call me if you have any questions, I am more than happy to share our experiences in more detail.


Journeys Within Tour Company

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