Capturing Cambodia’s Spiritual Past & Present with Jaime Kowal and Chhon Chhea Yut

A Photography & Spiritual Journey to the Heart of Cambodia October 9 - 20, 2017

Photographers of every level are welcome on this journey to discover Cambodia’s rich spiritual legacy and learn how to authentically document the unique people and sense of place.

Cambodia has a rich spiritual history and is home to Animism, Buddhism, Islam, and has roots in Hinduism. The focus of this immersive and educational experience is to connect with Cambodia through the lens of its many religions. Travelling with photographer Jaime Kowal and former Buddhist monk Yut, you will have an opportunity to experience deeply the beautiful natural sites of this rich and varied land, and make real connections with local peoples. You will return with an inspiring travel story that captures the unique and varied essence of spiritual Cambodia. READ MORE

Tour Leader Jaime Kowal

Jaime Kowal is a professional photographer, author, teacher, and social entrepreneur. She specializes in travel photography and portraiture, masterfully capturing the beauty of all she encounters. 

Tour Leader Chhon Chhea Yut

Yut is an award-winning tour guide and brings with him a wealth of knowledge on Cambodian history, culture, and Buddhism philosophy.


Jaime, our intrepid photographer, was knowledgeable and positive and insightful in all her feedback. Sacred Earth Journeys were excellent in helping prepare for the trip. I would definitely consider future trips with them. Christine Hoyer, Victoria, BC


Our tour leader, Jaime Kowal, helped me advance my photographic knowledge in leaps and bounds. Thank you once again for the wonderful opportunity and experience.Teresa Hwang, Vernon, BC


Tour Description

The focus of this immersive and educational experience is to connect with Cambodia through the lens of its many religions. Cambodia has a rich spiritual history and is home to Animism, Buddhism, Islam, and has roots in Hinduism. As well as its varied landscape of belief systems, communities also follow fascinating superstitions. 

Cambodia spiritual travel
Explore Cambodia's rich spiritual history

Throughout this tour, you will be introduced to offbeat locations, enriched with meaningful connections to local people, and will visit some of the country’s more famed sites, such as the magnificent UNESCO protected Angkor Archaeological Park. You will participate in photography workshops with Jaime Kowal and learn how to create an eye-catching travel story. Jaime frequently shoots travel stories for magazines and she will discuss how she approaches an assignment and the critical elements to include. Workshops will comprise lectures, slideshows, constructive critiques, and creative assignments. Topics will include colour, composition, light and gesture, portraiture, storytelling, and technical considerations. We will also discuss the art of editing your story to have the most powerful visual impact and communicate the feeling of a place.

temple in cambodia
One of the stunning temples in Phnom Penh

Your tour will begin in Phnom Penh where you will be introduced to the history and culture of this multi-faith land. Next you will travel to the pretty colonial town of Kampong Cham, often overlooked by tourists, but a must-see heritage town. Here you will visit a mosque and meet local peoples to gain a better understanding of present-day Cambodia. You will then cross the Mekong River to experience one of the many highlights of this tour – a 2-night immersive homestay experience on the island of Koh Pdao. The amenities will be basic but the cultural and spiritual experiences will be rich. Here you will fully understand the beauty of the slower-paced island life and connect with the heart of the local peoples. Koh Pdao is well known for its fresh water dolphins living in the Mekong River, and you will be able to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and may even be lucky enough to photograph Irrawaddy dolphins swimming close by. You will work on developing your skills photographing people and sacred places and explore the idea of how to photograph an amorphous concept such as spirituality. Your journey will then continue on to Ratanakiri where you will learn more about indigenous beliefs, including Animist, before travelling to Siem Reap to explore the Angkorian temples. While in Siem Reap you will visit the holy site of Phnom Kulen, a spiritual mountain for Hindus and Buddhists, and absorb the spiritual wonders of the vast Angkor UNESCO park with its iconic temples. 

Angkor Wat
Looking out over Angkor Wat

Your tour leaders will skillfully and authentically guide you through this inspiring country. Yut will lead the group in meditation at key spiritual sites and will share his wisdom about Cambodia’s spiritual history and present-day belief systems. Jaime will teach you how best to capture the wondrous sites you will see and will send a list of suggested equipment and a workbook with assignments and photography tips in advance of the tour so you are well prepared.

(Thanks to Ayana Journeys for the use of their photos! Photo of Angkor with rainbow on Overview Page: Arian Zwegers/Flickr)

Welcome to Cambodia! Your guide will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your accommodation. Depending on your time of arrival, activities may vary. This evening you will join with the group for a welcome dinner and enjoy an introduction to Cambodian culture.
(Overnight in Phnom Penh at the Little Garden hotel or similar)


temple cambodia

Today you’ll be introduced to all things Khmer – the ancient kingdom of Cambodia. You’ll explore Cambodia’s multi-cultural community, and begin to understand how Theravada Buddhism co-exists with a variety of faiths. You’ll be connected to some of the most significant Buddhism temples in the country and meet the monks who call these places home. We will participate in a welcome blessing to start your journey with good wishes! 

Once dubbed the Paris of the East, Phnom Penh suffered greatly for many years through war, but now is well and truly making a comeback. We will also visit a Khmer Rouge memorial site and contemplate Cambodia’s tragic past, its bright future, and the role spirituality plays in that.

This evening Jaime will lead you in the first photography workshop of this journey with a focus on the components of a successful travel story. How do you communicate a sense of place? What information do you want to communicate? Both the technical and creative aspects of storytelling will be explored.
(Overnight in Phnom Penh at the Little Garden hotel or similar)

spiritual tradtions cambodia

Today we’ll travel to the colonial town of Kampong Cham. Overlooked by many tourists, this town has streets lined with pretty old buildings, but fewer visitors than other heritage towns in Cambodia. Kampong Cham is well known for its Cham population, a Cambodian ethnic group whose history has molded their interesting religious practices. Most Chams practice Islam, but they have roots in Hinduism.

Jaime will be available to you throughout each day to answer questions that may arise while shooting in the field and will support you in developing your photography skills.
(Overnight in Kampong Cham at the newly constructed BSDA retreat centre or similar)

Kg Cham

This morning we’ll start the day with a photography workshop and slideshow review of your work from the first three days of travel. Jaime will provide a constructive critique of each participant’s work and will discuss the creative importance of composition, light, and gesture in a photograph.

We will then visit a local mosque and meet local Chams to learn about their spiritual heritage, modern practices, and experiences as a minority group in a fast changing country.

In the afternoon, we’ll head north to the riverside town of Kratie where you will have plenty of free time to explore at your leisure.
(Overnight in Kampong Cham at the newly constructed BSDA retreat centre or similar)

Kratie in Cambodia

Early morning we’ll cross the mighty Mekong River to a rural island where we’ll stay in an authentic village home with a host family. Here, islanders still practice Animism. During your stay, you’ll learn about Animist beliefs and its interconnectivity with nature, as well as experiencing daily life in a rural Khmer village.
(Overnight in a homestay on Koh Pdao or similar)


cambodia homestay travel

This morning Jaime will lead a photography workshop exploring the art of portrait photography. We will be meeting and photographing so many incredible faces with stories to tell and there are some simple ways to authentically capture the essence of the amazing people you have met and will continue to meet. 

You’ll continue exploring the beauty of island life through bike rides and other cultural activities available. You can visit a community Spirit House in the forest and experience a traditional “Chol Neak Ta” ceremony, a possession of Neak Ta, a nature and community spirit, with a village elder. You can also wander to the village’s oldest Buddhist temple, before concluding your day with a sunset boat cruise to see fresh water dolphins (optional).
(Overnight in a homestay on Koh Pdao or similar)

cambodia countryside

We bid farewell to our homestay hosts and journey north east to the wilds of Cambodia and home of the largest population of indigenous groups in the country. 

As our hotel website puts it, “Ratanakiri is perhaps the best kept secret of the old kingdom! The population is sparse, mainly composed of tribes such as the Tampouns, the Kroeungs, the Jaraïs, and the Katchas whose culture and way of living have remained practically the same since prehistory. On these plateaus alternate bamboo forests, timber forests, clearings, and scrubland. The region has a lot of waterfalls, caves, lakes, and mines of gold and precious stones.

The elephant is a substitute for the truck and wildlife is plentiful: you can find bears, tigers, wild boars, gaurs, eagles, calaos and all sorts of birds. When you explore Ratanakiri it is almost as if you were going back to the origins of mankind. Nature is superb, landscapes impressive, culture authentic!”  

On arrival, we will have time to relax before meeting this evening for a photography workshop in the hotel where the group will discuss the power of light in creating a memorable photograph. We will discuss natural light vs. flash, directional light vs. diffused light, colour temperature, and how the quality and quantity of light makes or breaks an image. 
(Overnight in Ratanakiri at the Terres Rouges hotel or similar)

cambodia ratakankiri

Today we’ll learn about this region’s several indigenous groups, be introduced to their beliefs, and gain some insight into their life and challenges in Cambodia today. We’ll visit a Bunong minority community and connect with Animist beliefs still followed by indigenous communities. We’ll also visit a stunning volcanic crater lake and swim in its clean waters, which are believed by local people to be home to many spirits.
(Overnight in Ratanakiri at the Terres Rouges Hotel or similar)


Cambodia flowers

After breakfast, we voyage to Siem Reap, the city of Angkor. We’ll ensure there are strategic rest stops to stretch your legs and break for food on our mesmerizing journey.

This evening, after sufficient rest time, we will discuss the idea of what separates a good photo from a great photo. We will also discuss the editing process and how to select and present images that not only work as individual images but work together to tell a story.
(Overnight in Siem Reap at the Natura Resort or similar)

Buddhism in Cambodia

We’ll start the day early to catch sunrise at the mighty Angkor temples, and spend all day leisurely exploring this UNESCO World Heritage List site, including famous sacred places such as Ta Phrom, Bayon, and of course Angkor Wat, as well as lesser visited ruins and pagodas in the forest. 

For several centuries Angkor was the centre of the Khmer Kingdom, and Angkor Wat was originally established as a Hindu place of worship; today it is considered Buddhist. Angkor is one of the largest archaeological sites in operation in the world, and one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia, extending over approximately 400 square kilometres. 

Dinner at your leisure this evening.
(Overnight in Siem Reap at the Natura Resort or similar)

Angkor temples

This morning we will visit the holy site of Phnom Kulen, a spiritual mountain for Hindus and Buddhists. As we journey to the top of the mountain deep in the rich forest, we will explore a 16th century reclining Buddha, 1st century shivalingams carvings, Angkorian temple ruins, and a beautiful collection of waterfalls. It’s easy to lose yourself in this magical place and spend a whole day exploring. 

On our way back to the city, we travel through the outer-lying areas of the vast Angkor UNESCO park, and stop off at a couple of other iconic temples. 

For our final night in Cambodia, we’ll participate in a reflection meditation together and a special Farewell Dinner. 
(Overnight in Siem Reap at the Natura Resort or similar)

Kulen Angkor

Depending on your departure time, activities on this day may vary as you say a final farewell to this intriguing country. Airport transfer is included. 

(B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner)
Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to conditions beyond our control.

spiritual traditions in cambodia

Capturing Cambodia’s Spiritual Past & Present with Jaime Kowal and Chhon Chhea Yut

Tour Includes:

  • Airport transfers
  • All internal travel
  • 11 nights accommodation with a focus on a sense of place
  • Breakfast daily, 9 lunches, 8 dinners (including 1 Welcome and 1 Farewell dinner)
  • All activities as per itinerary 
  • Ethical donations to organizations and sites visited
  • 24-hour in-country support


Added Features:

  • Travel with photographer Jaime Kowal, and participate in regular photography workshops, constructive critiques, and creative assignments
  • Meditation & wisdom teachings with a former Buddhist monk & award-winning local guide, Yut
  • Culturally immersive homestay experience on Koh Pdao island
  • Visits to spiritually rich sites off the main tourist trails
  • Introduction to spiritual beliefs in Cambodia 

Tour Does Not Include:

  • Airfare to Phnom Penh and return from Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Travel insurance (proof of travel insurance with emergency evacuation cover must be provided prior to arrival. Contact us for more details.)
  • Visa ($30 on arrival)
  • Cancellation & medical insurance (ask us for a quote)
  • Meals and drinks not specified
  • Cost to obtain valid passport
  • Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls
  • Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final retreat itinerary

Tour Price:

    • Double Room: USD $3,400 per person
    • Single Supplement: USD $700
Book this Journey
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1-877-874-7922 to help you make your reservation

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