Andrea Ross grew up in England, listening to her parents’ stories of colonial Africa and the Far East. Always one with an independent streak, she took her first solo international trip to Australia at the age of 8, and her passion for new experiences hasn’t diminished since.
That same spirit led Ross to open Journeys Within – a boutique hotel and tour agency – in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2003, long before most of the world had ever heard anything about the “kingdom of wonder,” other than possibly the existence of Angkor Wat.
At first specializing only in day trips for her hotel guests, Ross grew the tour company to include offices and tours in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar, as well as sales offices in Truckee, California and London, England. According to Ross, the growth of the tour company has been largely due to an alignment of her own personal travel philosophy of “active philanthropy”, combining expanded global interest in Southeast Asia with the trend towards more immersive travel experiences that still offer comfortable accommodations.
Jennifer Fernandez asked Ross a few questions about how travel in Southeast Asia has changed throughout the years, what travelers are currently looking for in trips to the region, and how she plans trips that benefit the local communities her clients visit.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Angkor Wat has now been consistently ranked as one of the world’s top travel destinations for a number of years in a row. But besides this well-known monument, what other must-see destinations do you recommend for first-time or more experienced Southeast Asia travelers?
Angela Ross (AR): The truth is Angkor Wat is amazing, but I think some of the lesser-known temples are really the highlights for me – Koh Ker and Preah Vihear are beautiful temples with a fascinating history, and you can often be the only tourists exploring them.
Myanmar is just opening up and there are so many areas still unexplored. I’m heading there in a month and I can’t wait to get away from the main sites and do some exploring.
I also recommend people look at their personal interests – whether it’s photography or conservation – and allow us to make that the focus of a trip to the region. That way, even well-known sites can be explored in a different way.
TRO: Has the type of traveler looking to explore Southeast Asia changed over the course of the past 13 years?
AR: Yes; when I first moved to Cambodia, it was a new destination and people were still nervous about their safety, so it tended to be more experienced travelers exploring the region. Now Cambodia, and Southeast Asia in general is such a safe and inexpensive destination that we see families, groups of friends, and all ages and levels of travel experience I love that it’s such a unique and different culture, but really open to every type of traveler.
TRO: You encourage your clients to give back to the communities they visit during their tours. Tell us a little about how that practice got started and how you facilitate those opportunities for your guests.
AR: The impetus of our philanthropic focus was our guests. My family was living in Cambodia and the poverty was very apparent. Because we were part of the community, when our guests asked us what they could do to help, we knew. And with those inquiries, the idea of “See a Problem, Solve a Problem” was born, and we started connecting travelers that wanted to help with projects that needed assistance.
From there it really grew, and we realized the opportunities these experiences gave our travelers to be a contributing member of the community and the opportunity it gave villagers and students to improve their lives. It is literally a win-win for everyone, and it is what drives me to keep doing what we do.
For more information on Andrea, visit her and her agency Journeys Within online at www.journeys-within.com.