26 Feb 2014

Taking Timeout In A Yoga Retreat

There many awesome yoga retreats in South East Asia and of course, India but during our three months travelling these wondrous places we hadn’t visited a single one. After enjoying the beautiful countryside around Kampot we headed to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main beach resort which was actually a complete dive with dirty sea, dirty sand and a rather seedy nightlife scene for ageing men. We spent a couple of days tanning by our hotel pool near the underwhelming Victory Beach before eagerly hopping aboard a night bus to Siem Reap where the peaceful Angkor Zen Gardens and our first ever yoga retreat experience awaited us. 

Yoga retreat Siem Reap Cambodia
"Zen lives here..."

Yoga is definitely more Vicky’s thing back in the UK, especially Ashtanga yoga in a hot studio. Steve is more of a football and golf kind of guy so he approached the retreat with if I don’t like it I just won’t do any of it and vowed not to complain or be a fun sponge. We had no idea what to expect and Vicky was easily the most excited of the two of us. Of the yoga retreats in Siem Reap Angkor Zen Gardens appealed to us because of its cute garden bungalows and full activity schedule that included three yoga classes, meditation and tai chi - we hoped we wouldn’t get bored and booked the minimum three night stay package which included all activities, breakfast and dinner. 

Yoga Schedule Siem Reap Cambodia

All activities were optional so we felt comfortable knowing we hadn’t signed our bodies and minds up to anything we’d later regret, plus there was no enforced silent time or dancing which Steve refused to participate in! 

We arrived very early at about 8am to the retreat after a fairly comfortable night bus journey from Sihanoukville, our host Bruno gave us a warm welcome and showed us to our bungalow which was so much nicer than we had anticipated. It was furnished simply but  very spacious and light in comparison to the beach bungalows we’d rented in Thailand. We were also invited to join the other ‘guest’ and staff for breakfast of granola, fruit, bread and chai (yum, we hadn’t had Indian chai in months!) - we really appreciated this!

Yoga Retreat Siem Reap Cambodia

Our first impressions were that everybody was very relaxed and laid-back, our fellow guest was a young Canadian who’d been there a week already and she was very enthusiastic about all her classes. After breakfast and introductions we got to enjoy a much needed hot shower, there are about eight bungalows on site and a block of four showers and toilets for guests to share so it’s actually a bit like glamping. It was a great setup because the facilities were just a few steps from our bungalow, there was never a queue and there was always an interesting looking bug in the cubicle with you from a cricket that looked like a twig to a luminous green mantis type thing.

Once we were refreshed Bruno gave us a tour of his retreat and introduced us to his extended animal family who roam free everywhere: chickens (and their countless chicks), cats (plus 3 week old kittens), ducks and geese were all easy to find but our favourites were Blacky and Polly their two gorgeous dogs who were always up for a cuddle or play fight. 

Yoga Retreat Siem Reap Cambodia
"The resident family of geese."

Yoga Siem Reap Cambodia
"Polly getting acquainted with the new kittens."

At 3.30pm that afternoon it was time for our first yoga class with our teacher Alex and as there were only three of us in the class Steve didn’t feel too self conscious. Alex started by telling us he teaches Rocket Yoga, which is basically a more kickass version of Ashtanga yoga and by the end of your 60 minute class you’ve done about 40 press ups amongst other things such as the crow pose five times. It’s very challenging but really fun as we got too safely attempt new postures that you wouldn’t usually at our beginner level. Alex was an amazing teacher very insightful and he made the classes really fun, we never missed a class not even our 7am one. 

Yoga Retreat Siem Reap Cambodia
"Where the yoga happens..."

The yoga classes really made this retreat special for us and it was very satisfying for Vicky to see Steve realise that yoga is very challenging and not just for girls, the competitive side in him relished the challenge to master a difficult yoga pose. On our final day Steve mastered the crow, which as you can see from the picture is pretty difficult so not a bad effort afford three days.

Yoga Retreat Siem Reap Cambodia
"Real Crow (optional)"

Vicky also joined the Pranayama Yoga class every morning doing various breathing exercises for about forty minutes which left her quite lightheaded and exhausted afterwards. Its a great way to escape from your thoughts as you are so focused on your breathe and not passing out you think of nothing else!

We both joined the Tai Chi and Qi Gong class one evening too, this was a much slower pace than yoga and is a hugely popular for of meditation for the older Asian population. It was interesting but we were not instantly hooked. On our first evening Vicky also went to a 60 minute medication class, another interesting experience but sitting still and silent is difficult and uncomfortable. Again maybe meditation is something for a few years down the line...

Yoga Siem Reap Cambodia
"A Tai Chi demo from the toad."

There is also an organic herb and vegetable garden and of course that’s where their fabulous Indian chef gets a lot of his ingredients. Lunch and dinner were both Indian style dishes usually including a daal, vegetable curry, rice and chapati - all homemade, delicious and with plenty to go around. It’s definitely not the kind of food that will help you to lose weight though no matter how much yoga you do! Lunch was not in our rate and was $7 per person which we found quite expensive, a lighter option of a salad and fruit would have been better for us. Every mealtime was communal around one large table in the kitchen which was quite nice as it was sociable but there were not many other guests (we only met two others in three days) due to it being low season.

It’s also just a 15 minute bicycle ride from the retreat to the centre of Siem Reap and you can rent a bicycle for the day for just $2. We did this one day to venture out for lunch and get Vicky a much needed pedicure and Steve a much needed shave. Be prepared to get very hot and after a couple of hours amidst the noisy traffic in town you’ll be aching to get back to the tranquility of the retreat.

kitten siem reap cambodia
"Super cute!"

Overall we both loved this experience and were never bored, having an afternoon siesta before our second yoga class was wonderful and the days passed peacefully and quickly. After just 3 days we left feeling fully rejuvenated and would happily have stayed longer if we had the time. Taking timeout in a yoga retreat definitely gets the thumbs up from us!

1 comment:

  1. Cambodia's most beautiful place. Siem Reap is fully relaxed place and many types of games and adventures can be played there. Beautiful places and the ancient temples can be visited in Siem Reap.