With a rich, but complicated history, Cambodia is not the easiest country to travel around, but those that choose to visit are rewarded with incredible beauty and fascinating culture. This Southeast Asian gem has such a diverse landscape, you can go straight from the jungle to the beautiful beaches.
A trip to Cambodia isn’t fulfilled without visiting the incredible ruins of Angkor Wat. Just standing amongst these ancient temples transports you to a time in the distant past. To the south, Cambodia’s islands are underrated but absolutely worth visiting. Check out our Koh Rong vs Koh Rong Samloem guide to see which one fits you best!
From the coastline to the countryside, you’ll find something to love in Cambodia!
When we finally hit Cambodia we were pretty keen to wander off the tourist trail. Thailand was awesome (we certainly lived it up for theHalf Moon Partyon the islands), but it was time to take a step back from the easy travel life and jump into something a little more challenging. Backpacking in Cambodia certainly gave us that, and we loved it! No more easy vegetarian tofu meals or cruisey transit options, it was time to pull up our socks (or fasten our flip-flops) and get back to what we do best! Backpacking!
Stepping into Cambodia kind of felt like we were stepping into Thailand 20 years ago, or maybe even more. This was mostly an observation, but there’s a little comparison to go off as I first backpacked this region in 2006. Even since that time Thailand has steadily continued to develop their tourism trade, while Cambodia feels very much the same as where I last left it.
From the moment we started backpacking in Cambodia we knew it was going to be different. We swapped a friendly train driver for a couple of dodgy transport moguls who literally fought for our business. Seriously, one dude who was trying to undercut his companion learned the hard way with a swift kick in the back and a flurry of punches. The man who eventually secured our business was super friendly and a good guy. On the way back to Siem Reap he stopped past his mother’s roadside food stand so we could purchase some beers, before giving her a quick kiss and taking off again.
We made it to Siem Reap safely, but were immediately confronted with the same one-sided scene that we were trying to escape in Bangkok. The city was dotted with tacky weed pizza shops, seedy bars, and a gritty and slightly depressing nightlife of boozy backpackers and prostitution. Needless to say we enjoyed a couple of nights out with some new friends, but after a while it felt like the hordes of tourists (ourselves included) were squeezing the last drops of life out of whatever local culture was left.
Visiting the ancient city of Angkor was an experience like no other (even better the second time round for me), but it’s obvious the small town of Siem Reap has strictly evolved around the tourism demand. Everyday BUS LOADS of tourists arrive at the scene, ready to wear down the stones and extend their selfie-sticks like they’re going out of fashion. Actually, were they ever in fashion? Regardless, the temples are amazing and should not be missed if you’re around Cambodia! After a couple of days on site we were ready to hit the road. We couldn’t wait to get out into the fresh air of North-eastern Cambodia, surrounded by lush forests and streaming waterfalls.
We found exactly that in the quiet and extremely underrated town of Banlung in the Ratanakiri Province. A $5USD a night private room between the two, with some cheap and easy vegetarian noodles, saw us set up for the good part of a week. We rented a scooter for $6USD a day and explored the nearby waterfalls (Cha Ong Katieng, and Kah Chhang) and small villages. We went all the way out to Veun Sai to find some of the famous indigenous cemeteries, but without a local guide we were out of luck. The countryside was stunning, but unfortunately there’s also a lot of deforestation stripping away the landscapes and natural habitats. Dense fields of trees and shrubbery are being swiftly replaced with rubber and palm oil plantations, which is a real bummer because it’s destroying the local eco-systems and the territory of indigenous inhabitants.
Aside from that disappointing aspect, the countryside is still pretty unique. During the day the harsh sun beats down hard on the parched ground, which kicks up a swirling cloud of red every time a motorbike zooms by. If you go out on the bike for a day wear some old clothes. After a long days ride you come back covered in rich red earth, which is hard to wash out. It’s a pain, but better than being there in the wet season as sludges of mud gather when the rains set in. The days are hot, but you can take refuge at the Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake. A picture perfect backdrop lines the lake from whichever point you look at it. There are plenty of little coves and spots to string up a hammocks and swing lazily in the shade as the sun blares above. For a nice treat pack an afternoon lunch and stick around as the sun sets over the crater.
The small city of Banlung doesn’t have a lot of activities, but that’s not really the reason why you travel there. It’s not a well known spot while backpacking in Cambodia, and only has a handful of nice accommodations and restaurants. Rather, it’s an escape from the monotony of the backpacking trail and it can be exactly what you need to hit the reset button. Even though Siem Reap is fun, everybody needs a break sometimes. When that time comes, this is definitely the place to check out!
What’s your favorite part about backpacking in Cambodia? City or country? Drop us a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter!
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Koh Rong Samloem Island is one of those places that you want to run out and tell the world about, but at the same time keep your own little secret. With just a smattering of low key accommodation, the island is still very underdeveloped, and its pristine beauty is completely unspoiled by tourism. Besides the standard water activities of diving and snorkeling, the biggest draw on Samloem is the gorgeous beach and the opportunity to disconnect from “real life.”
After experiencing the damage that over tourism has left on the islands of Thailand, we were looking forward to somewhere off the grid. As our boat pulled up from the pier, we were pleasantly surprised at the sheer lack of people. It was almost eerily quiet. Coming from the mainland, it took us some time to transition from the busyness of city life to quiet island living. In a few hours though we were happy to float around in the calm water, read a book on the shore and just enjoy the serenity of doing nothing.
How to Get to Koh Rong Samloem Island (Koh Rong Sanloem)
Traveling to Koh Rong Samloem from mainland Cambodia isn’t difficult when going via Sihanoukville. There are now 5 ferry services that can take you by boat from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem. They all charge around $25USD and take about 40 minutes to an hour depending on stops.
All ferries leave from Ochheuteal pier (also known as Serendipity) in Sihanoukville and will either drop you off at Koh Touch on Koh Rong or Saracen Bay on Koh Rong Samloem. There are two piers on Koh Rong Samloem, so check with the ferry service to make sure they are dropping you off at the pier closest to your hotel.
Koh Rong Samloem ferry timetables often change, so the easiest way to find out departure times to to check closer to your arrive in Sihanoukville, or even when you arrive in town.
Once you arrive at Koh Rong Samloem your hotel or hostel may have free transportation from the ferry pier, so be sure to check before you arrive. Otherwise you might be walking for a while in the sun like we did!
Getting to Sihanoukville
Depending on where you’re coming from, you may be able to find an inexpensive flight directly to Sihanoukville. You can fly internationally from Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and Macau. You can fly domestically to Sihanoukville from Cambodia hot spots like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
There are also plenty of buses and tourist shuttles that can get you to Sihanoukville from all over Cambodia. We bussed it in from Phnom Penh, which is a 5-7 hour journey depending on traffic. Overall the bus to Sihanoukville was relatively easy and a comfortable and cheap way to travel. Since we took our bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville there is also a new service now running from Giant Ibis. Here is the schedule:
Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville: 8 am and 12:30 p.m
Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh: 8:30 am and 3:30 pm
What To Expect on Koh Rong Samloem
Unlike Koh Rong Island, its more touristy neighbor, Koh Rong Samloem Island has not been completely spoiled by the backpacker party culture. This means quiet days, even quieter nights and the chance to feel like you’re part of the natural landscape. Those that are looking for a break from the party in Koh Rong or Sihanoukville will enjoy the laid back atmosphere. Be ready for some rustic living, though.
Electricity runs on generators and only certain hotels will have electricity running 24/7. When we first visited, we didn’t even bother asking for wifi. Wifi on the island was like hearing an urban legend, we’d heard of a friend of a friend who has used it, but never never saw it ourselves. Now most accommodation will advertise that they have free wifi, but who knows how reliable it is. Our advice? Give in and enjoy the chance to completely unplug.
Where To Stay on Koh Rong Samloem
There are a few main areas on the island that you can stay at. Now, many new hotels and hostels have popped up all around the island. These are the main areas you can stay at:
The most populated area is Saracen Bay, where the ferry drops you off. When we first visited the island, all of the accommodation was located here. There are a variety of hostels, hotels and resorts along the beach, as well as adjoining restaurants and bars.
M’pai Bay (also spelled as M’pei Bay or M’phey Bei)
With a more backpacker feel, M’Pai Bay has a good selection of hostels and budget accommodation. This is where you’ll find a bit more of an active nightlife, that accompanies the backpacker crowd.
A much quieter area with just a few options for accommodation and food. This is a good option if you’re looking for the undeveloped, rustic vibes of Saracen Bay from a few years ago.
If you’ve been traveling around Southeast Asia you surely recognize this chain of hostels. The Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem has its own private bay (Monkey Bay) and is only reachable by boat. Like most Mad Monkey hostels, there’s definitely a party vibe here.
They’ve set up some cool swings and hammocks suspended above the water for that perfect Instagram shot. Each room has a balcony with a sea view. There’s no wifi, so you have no choice but to make friends and enjoy the relaxing island life. A single bed in a mixed dorm costs $9USD/night.
One of the cheapest hostels on the island, Coast 23 is located in M’Pai Bay on Koh Rong Samloem. This hostel is pretty basic. Rooms come with mosquito nets, towels and a fan. Perfect for backpackers who don’t need anything fancy, but want a bit of a social vibe. A 12 bed dorm will cost you $7 USD/night.
This highly rated beach side hostel is located on the main strip of Saracen Bay. Onederz has plenty of hang out space to chat with other travelers and a bar for some nighttime fun. Despite being on the beach, the staff here keep the hostel super clean. A bed in an 8 person dorm room will run you about $11 USD/night.
Another highly rated hostel located in M’Pai Bay. Guests have said that the rooms are clean and the beds are large and comfortable. There’s also a restaurant on site. Rooms come with a balcony overlooking the stunning bay below. A double room will cost you about $15 USD/night.
These set of bunglows on Sunset Bay, the more secluded side of Koh Rong Samloem. The bay is calm and perfect for swimming and snorkeling. A bungalow for two with garden view will cost about $55USD/night.
When we first visited this accommodation, it was mostly a few tents scattered along the sand that you could rent for $5/person. There was no electricity or running water, but But when you woke up in the morning, one unzip of the tent revealed a stunning view of turquoise water. Doesn’t get much better than that. With more development, Sweet Dreams has now become a cluster of bungalows
If nothing’s changed, the business is run by a few Russian couples. Say hi to Alex for us, he’s the tan Russian in short shorts and a fanny pack happily chatting away with customers. A standard bungalow with a fan for 2 people will cost you $50USD/ night.
Located on Saracen Bay, Pear Resort is definitely one of the swankier hotels on Koh Rong Samloem. Their modern bungalows each have air conditioning, a TV and some even include a private plunge pool. Like any good luxury resort, Pearl has an infinity pool overlooking the beach complete with swim up bar. A king room with balcony and private plunge pool costs $188 USD/night.
For something a bit more upscale, Bounty Boutique on Saracen Bay has the standard amenities you’d find at a four star hotel. Air conditioned rooms come with a mini fridge and guests have access to the outdoor pool and private beach area. A beachfront bungalow for four guests will cost you $180USD/ night.
Food on the island is a little pricey compared to other parts of Cambodia, because it all needs to come in by boat. That being said, you can still eat at an affordable price if you’re on a budget. There are a couple of small stores on the island where you can buy snacks and supplies, but nowhere for a big grocery shop.
Hostel By The Sea Cafe & Restaurant
This veggie friendly cafe located on the sand in Saracen Bay, is a great option for yummy healthy food. From falafel wraps to Turkish pizza you’ll get a taste of mediterranean and Western food that just may be better than back home. A bit pricey for Cambodia standards at about $5-7USD for a meal, but it’s well worth it.
A crowd favorite on the island, the Fishing Hook is located on M’Pai Bay. They have a seafood buffet every night for $6USD. And the seafood is always fresh!
The Big Easy
Delicious home cooked food with the usual selection of international dishes. Great place to grab a pint and watch the waves roll in or stop by for a 75 cent beer during happy hour!
Mom’s Home Cooking
This local spot on M’pai Bay is a favorite for budget travelers because most menu items are only $2! If you’re on a budget, this is the spot to go!
The One Resort
If you’re looking to splash out on a meal for special occasion, The One Resort is probably the fanciest place on the island. They have a selection of local and Western food and a good variety of cocktails which can you sip in the bar overlooking the pool.
If you’re hungry as soon as you step of the boat, grab a feed at Orchid Restaurant in Saracen Bay. We enjoyed their fish sandwich and their seemingly never ending supply of cold beers. They also have bungalows and rooms available.
What to Do on Koh Rong Samloem
Diving on Koh Rong Samloem Island
Koh Rong Samloem Island is a popular choice for divers. There are a few diving shops on the island and the experience is supposed to be really special. Unlike some areas of Southeast Asia, this spot has been well preserved, so there’s a better chance of seeing a greater variety of sea life. Whether you’re getting PADI certified or you’re an experienced diver, you’ll definitely find a spot under the surface that peaks your interest. EcoSea Diver in M’pai Bay has come recommended as a safe and eco-friendly dive shop.
Water Sports on Koh Rong Samloem
For non-divers, there are some good spots for snorkeling. Most hotels will rent snorkels for about $5. You can walk across the island for about 20 minutes, through the jungle to Lazy Beach or organize a boat trip to offshore along Saracen Bay or Koh Koun. The best snorkeling is found on the Western side of Samloem. The Dive Shop in Seracen Bay has daily snorkeling trips for $25, including lunch. Travelers that prefer to stay on top of the water can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board and explore the bay. Most hotels will have kayaks or SUP boards available for free or a small rental fee.
Explore the Interior
If you get sick of the beach (just kidding! That’s not possible), head into the interior of the island. You can take a few different trails and explore other parts of the Samloem. The middle of the island is a thick, lush jungle and is even more undeveloped than the coast. A popular trek is hiking from Saracen Bay to the Samloem lighthouse. It takes about 4 hours round trip but the reward is stunning views from the lighthouse. Make sure you time your trek to get back before dark. It can get confusing in there!
Koh Rong Samloem Full Moon Party
Koh Rong Samloem may still be a somewhat undiscovered island, but there’s no shortage of backpackers. And where there are backpackers there is always a party! The Koh Rong Samloem full moon party takes place at Camp Good Vibz in the jungle, not far from the Beach Island Resort, in between Sunset Beach and Saracen Bay.
It’s chill, and has a more low key, rustic vibe compared to the Koh Phangan half moon party and full moon party in Thailand. The organizers also throw a black moon party, so you can get your big party fix twice per month.
Lay on the Beach
The beach along Saracen Bay is a long strip of white sand dotted with swings, beach beds and chairs to spend your day relaxing in the sun. The ocean is so flat you can walk in the water for a hundred meters before actually getting your hips wet. Your accommodation may not have strawberry daiquiris or an infinity pool, but Koh Rong Samloem Island is as close you’ll get to a luxury beach resort for $9 per night.
Although it’s grown much more touristy since our first visit, Koh Rong Samloem island is still an undiscovered treasure in Southeast Asia. Compared to the overcrowded beaches of Thailand, Samloem is quiet and relatively untouched. The underdevelopment gives you a feel for the raw natural beauty of Cambodia. There’s no high-rise resorts to block your view of the ocean and at night when some of the hotels turn off their electricity, you’re left with a sky full of brilliant stars.
Sure, compared to Thailand, Cambodia isn’t known for its tropical beaches and turquoise coastline. But, don’t discount the islands of Cambodia. A welcome break from the overdevelopment of Thailand, the islands of both Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem are still relatively unknown. Koh Rong, the bigger of the two, is backpacker paradise. Stuffed with enough kickback party hostels and bars to line the entire beach, this spot screams gap year. Koh Rong Samloem, on the other hand, is like Koh Rong’s more serious big brother. Just a 45 minute boat ride away. If you’ve ever dreamed of washing ashore on a beautiful deserted island, this is probably as close as you can get.
Both islands are beautiful and each has its own draws, so here’s the down low on Koh Rong vs Koh Rong Samloem and you can choose which is right for you!
Koh Rong Island
Koh Rong is by far the more developed of the two, yet it’s still pretty rustic. You won’t find any fancy resorts or restaurants here. They definitely cater to a backpacker crowd and the island seems to be brimming with twenty-somethings that keep extending their stay by one more day. We can see how this island would have that affect. The main beach by the dock isn’t much to look at, but there are enough hostels to guarantee you a space even in high season. The bars and restaurants are all packed in together along the beach. There are plenty of delicious spots to eat and fun bars to have a sunset beer on the sand. Live music in the evening transitions to bumping top 40 for those that are looking to party the night away.
The real beauty is on Long Beach, an hour hike through the jungle and up over the hill to the other side of the island. This beach is, as the name suggests, long and even when it’s crowded with people you can find a decent slice of sand to yourself. Shade is scarce in the afternoon so if you see a tree, snag it. The beach itself is beautiful and the water calm enough for a leisurely swim. The only disappointing thing was the amount of trash thrown into the bushes on the beach. Not cool! We didn’t see any locals on the beach, so it’s pretty evident backpackers come for the day and leave their trash. It’s popular to stay the night on the beach in hammocks. We only had a coupe nights here so we didn’t sleep on Long Beach, but we heard it gets chilly and there’s lots of bugs, so bring something to cover up!
Most hostels don’t have wifi, although a few restaurants do, and electricity does not run 24 hours. It sounds rustic, but nothing compared to the underdevelopment of Koh Rong Samloem.
Koh Rong Samloem Island
This spot is like the Maldives on a budget. It is beautiful and serene, but very underdeveloped. When we got off the ferry in Koh Rong Samloem, we looked at each other and thought “where’s the rest of it?” The island itself is relatively big, but the development is still really limited. Walking down the main beach it’s almost eery how quiet it is. Because this spot is pretty secluded, the prices are a tiny higher than Koh Rong Island. Accommodation runs from $5 for a rented tent to $25+ for a simple cabana. There’s also a sweet new Mad Monkey Hostel on Samloem as of 2015 and it’s well worth a visit if you want some atmosphere and social life.
Electricity here is run by power generators and don’t even think of asking about wifi. If you do, you’ll probably end up getting a hearty laugh from one of the expat business owners here. Don’t expect a party either. Unlike Koh Rong, the island pretty much shuts down after dark. There are a couple restaurants to grab an evening beer, but most travelers on the island pack it in for an early night.
There’s really not much to do on Koh Rong Samloem. You can take a beautiful walk through the island to see the other beach or try your luck at some snorkeling. If you get antsy spending your day relaxing on the beach, this place is not for you. But if you’re looking from a refreshing break from the backpacking overload of Sihanoukville or Koh Rong, it doesn’t get much better than Koh Rong Samloem Island. We rate it as one of the best beaches we’ve seen in ALL our travels and our time their felt like a honeymoon.
What Would You Choose? Koh Rong Or Koh Rong Samloem? Drop us a comment below or find us onFacebookand Twitter!
So you’ve landed in Stung Treng, and you’re asking yourself the exact same question that I did, ‘what to do in Stung Treng?’ Luckily for you I’ve done all the ground work and discovered all the exciting activities you can get involved in while visiting this extremely underrated tourist location in Cambodia. Read ahead, book your trip and marvel in the natural wonders, beautiful landscapes, local culture and adventure activities!
Still not convinced? Let me throw a few examples to inspire your wanderlust. First there’s watching the sunset on the almighty Mekong River as extremely rare and endangered fresh water dolphins swim around you! Or maybe you’re more interested in grabbing a sea kayak and paddling your way down the Mekong and through the wetlands, home to the eery flooded forest and over 100 species of birds. Take a longtail boat all the way to the Sopheakmith waterfalls and on the way stop off at one of the local communities and get involved in a home stay. Wake up in the morning, lazily swinging side to side in a hammock as the sun rises above the Mekong and starts a new day. The list goes on!
“You might even be fortunate enough to come across an English class in the afternoon and be invited in to basically run the show.”
Stung Treng City
To visit this beautiful region it’s best to station yourself in the province’s namesake city. Most bus routes in Cambodia make their way through Stung Treng and there are a host of guest houses and hotels to choose from. The city is small, but there are enough interesting things to check out if you decide to stay the night. The main centre of Stung Treng City is situated along the Sekong River, an arm of the river that extends off the Mekong, which is a sweet spot to look out at over your balcony with a cold beer.
In town, close to the centre are a number of Buddhist pagodas. These religious sites are based around some craftily designed and constructed Buddhist architecture. It’s also home to many monks who are studying and living on the ground. Pop your head in and say hello, they’re generally pretty friendly, albeit a little shy. You might even be fortunate enough to come across an English class in the afternoon and be invited in to basically run the show. That’s what happened to me, and of course I willingly obliged.
Travel That Gives Back
When in town be sure to also check out the Le Tonlé Tourism Training Center, a youth program aimed at training disadvantaged Cambodian teens in the trade of ecotourism. As well as training the youth they also offer accommodation between $6-$8 and do meals, all which is prepared and organized by the students as part of their vocational training. Profits go back into the program and local projects, so it’s awesome to see a locally ran project having such a positive impact in the community.
And if you’re looking to help further support the local community (and pick up a beautiful handmade silk garment) try to get out and visit Mekong Blue. An extremely worthwhile nonprofit organization that helps women who suffer from domestic violence, sexual assault and poverty to develop workplace skills in textile manufacturing. They have a store inside the property, or you can visit them online. Visit their site for more information.
“Think of it like the 4,000 Islands, except many years ago, before tourism really set in and washed away some of the authentic exploring and thill seeking”
Heading Up The Mekong
After exploring the city for a day it’s time to get stuck into some real adventure activities. Head over to Xplore Asia to check out some of the trips you can do, or hire a motorbike/bicycle and take off on your own adventure. There’s a number of itineraries you can take depending on what you want to see. I recommend giving yourself at least two days to complete a trip. You’ll be heading up to northern Cambodia, so if you’re already on your way to the 4,000 Islands in Laos there shouldn’t be any excuses to skip this. Think of it like the 4,000 Islands, except many years ago, before tourism really set in and washed away some of the authentic exploring and thill seeking.
Whether you go by guide, or by yourself, the only ways to head up are by river or by road. Along the way stop at one of the many of the indigenous communities (such as O’Svay) for a homestay or continue on up to Preah Rumkel where you can get your dolphin, local community, waterfall and stunning sunset fix all in one.
If you want to do things a little different ask your boat driver to take you to some of the Mekong River islands that pop up all the way along the enormity of the river. You can camp at some of the deserted islands, especially in the dry season when the river is low, which is a cracking idea if you’ve got a crew together and want your own private island for the night!
“This trip, although costing a little more than you might budget for, is one of those times that you just need to pay it to experience it”
Details and Prices
Before exploring prices let me just say that this trip was one of the most memorable I’ve experienced in my many years of travel. As professional budget backpackers sometimes Christine and I get so hung up on stretching out the dollars that we forget to enjoy the places we visit. This trip, although costing a little more than you might budget for, is one of those times that you just need to pay it to experience it. After all, what are you doing on the other side of the world if you can’t get out and explore the place. Here’s a few different pricing options to see what works with your wallet;
If you go it without a guide you can find someone to organize a long-tail boat from Stung Treng to take you towards the Laos border: stopping along the way at indigenous communities, RAMSAR wetlands, flooded forest, fresh water dolphins and the waterfall). It’ll set you back $90USD, which seems pricey, but bare in mind that this cost covers up to 6 people, so it’s only $15 each, which is incredible value considering the trip literally takes all day!
If you want a more structured tour head over to Xplore Asia to see what’s on offer. Tours vary in price from $50 – $100, depending on the length of time and the activities you want to do, so it’s really much better to pop into their office and see suits you best.
If you make it up to the border at Preah Rumkel, and decide to stay the night, cost will be the last thing you worry about. It’s a very reasonably priced $11USD a day for three meals and a place to sleep. I’d recommend at least one night there just to slow it down and enjoy the serenity. From Preah Rumkel you can also organize transport and guides to the waterfall and other surrounding areas for your group or solo.
Don’t Forget To Move would like to thank the Stung Treng Province Department of Tourism for the invitation and opportunity to visit and write about such an amazing location in Cambodia! Although we received some discounts to participate in this trip all ideas and recommendations are based solely off the authors opinions.
As much as I adore traveling, sometimes the exhaustion of constant movement, jam-packed days and noisy hostels can really wear me out. With so many distractions it can be difficult to focus on any form of self-reflection. That’s why a yoga retreat sounded so appealing to me. Time to focus on my physical and mental wellbeing, as well as some damn peace and quiet! After some research I found the Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat Center, located just outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia. As a meditation newbie I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I quickly felt right at home, enjoying the yoga and mediation, clean living and the incredible group of people and staff at the retreat. All this located within the gorgeous Cambodian countryside. It was 6 days of Zen paradise!
The yoga at Hariharalaya catered to every level of experience. I can’t stress enough how experienced and helpful Mary and the other yoga teachers are! The morning yoga class was nice and gentle, perfect for waking up and putting us in the right mind frame for our meditation.
The optional afternoon classes were so much fun! Ranging from more energetic yoga, to Yin, to partner yoga (my favorite!), I enjoyed all of them from start to finish. Most importantly, I learned how to do the poses correctly without causing any injury. I signed up for a one-on-one class with Maike and it was definitely worth the extra $25 (imagine how much a private class would cost at home!). She is a very patient and helpful teacher, and just a super sweet person! Together we created a personal yoga sequence customized to the areas that I wanted to focus on. I’ve been doing my practice (almost!) every morning since the retreat and absolutely love it. Thanks Maike!
I can understand why some people would be hesitant to sign up for the retreat because they’re unsure of the meditation aspect. I get it. Meditation can seem a bit ‘new age hippy.’ But I would urge you to just give it a try. Whether you’re dealing with anxiety or depression, or just want to become more focused and productive, it can seriously help with everything! It can feel a bit weird at first and you’ll probably find yourself thinking “hasn’t it been 15 minutes already?!” but stick with it. It’s totally worth it.
6:30 am:Wake up to the sound of the gong (yes, an actual gong). Some of you who know me probably know that I’m not exactly a morning person. The struggle was real.
7 am:Morning Yoga Class. Although I was sleepy it was amazing starting the day with some deep stretches to get the blood flowing.
9 am:Breakfast. The food at Hariharalaya is ALL vegan and ALL delicious! Holy moly, I haven’t eaten so well on my entire trip. From delicious sauces and dips (hummus anyone?!) to tasty homemade desserts, the cooks are phenomenal!
10 am:Free time/ optional workshop. After traveling for so long I had forgotten what doing nothing felt like. Spending my days reading and relaxing is pretty much my dream life, so I was in heaven.
2 pm:Optional activities were usually available in the afternoon. Sometimes this would include a dharma talk giving by founder Joel on a variety of topics. Other times there would be a vegan baking session happening in the kitchen.
4pm:Optional extra yoga class every other day (highly recommended!)
6pm:Hour-long meditation session. Often times this would include chanting or a short talk before our silent practice.
8pm: Fun evening activity like game night, movie night, music, etc.
The Rooms and Facilities
The retreat offers a few different options for rooms. The cheapest option at $285 is a bed in the dorm, followed by the Open Air twin bungalow ($310) but book ahead because these options fill up quick. There are also shared ($690/2 people) and private ($420/1 person) bamboo huts, as well as shared ($640/2 people) and private rooms ($380/1 person) in the main house plus a few more options. For the most up to date prices check the Hariharalaya website. The retreat is a bit pricey if you’re on a backpacker budget, but I can attest that it’s definitely worth the price tag. You’re not only paying for the food, accommodation and classes, you’re paying for the whole experience. The staff works hard to create an incredible environment and pack as much as possible into your 6 days.
Outside the rooms, the retreat is like a gorgeous Cambodian wonderland. With a quiet reading room, cinema room, games room, a beautiful pool (!) and about a million hammocks for kicking back. You’ll never be bored here.
Hariharalaya has so much to offer in addition to yoga and meditation. The experience is a bit hard to describe, falling somewhere between a zen community and an adult summer camp. It’s wifi-free and has designated “digital detox” zones, which is a refreshing change from most hostels where everyone’s zoned out in front of their screens. The staff are incredible, knowledgeable and down to earth. The optional activities are super fun. I have two words for you: Dance. Journey. I won’t spoil it, but be prepared for a seriously good time. Sean, one of the staff, hosts a magic show one night and it was seriously the best magic show I’ve ever seen by far! He’s traveled the world doing magic so it’s a pretty special treat to see him perform.
The retreat has optional workshops at $25 each. These include a body language & communication workshop (super interesting) to a yoga alignment workshop (definitely regret not signing up for this!) to a yoga class on the ruins. There’s also massage packages you can do at ranging costs.
If you’re thinking about doing a retreat in Southeast Asia, definitely make it Hariharalaya. Even if you’re not huge on yoga and meditation, this experience will be a highlight of your trip. The friends that I made there were unlike any I’ve met during my travels. The retreat gives you a space to really open up and have meaningful conversations with other backpackers. I left with incredible new friends, a daily yoga and meditation practice and with a heart so full that it felt like it was going to explode.
Thank to Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat for an amazing experience and to everyone who made it such a special highlight on my trip!
Would you do a retreat during your travels? Let us know below or find us on Facebook and Twitter!
The longtail boat motor chugs away noisy, yet the boat gracefully glides across the mighty Mekong River in northern Cambodia. Cutting through the glassy surface like a hot knife through butter. Our driver cautiously navigates the countless rocks and trees poking out of the water. We’re coming towards the end of the dry season, so the water level is really shallow in some parts. From the edge of the boat I can occasionally see the bottom, and the obstacles on route pop up out of nowhere, with just enough frequency to make sure the boat driver stays alert.
Aside from the motor it’s very quiet along the river. Every time the driver slows down to navigate a rough patch the roaring motor quietens down and you remember just how peaceful it is out here. Nobody out here except the birds circling above, making their way to and from the wetlands.
Swirling whirlpools form around the rocky river bed. They twist and turn the boat as we approach them slowly. They’re only minor, but I’d hate to see them in the peak of the rainy season when the river flows full and fast. We continue on past them and then into another shallow section near one of the many islands that spring up along the Mekong.
Just when we’re about to come out of the shallow section we stop with a sudden halt and all of us lunge forward. We look over the edge of the boat and see that we’ve hit a big sandbank bang on in the middle of the river. We’re jammed up on the bank, so the only way out is to hop over the edge and push the boat.
“The sky dances between splashes of yellow, purple and orange before finally settling on a light pink haze that covers the sky”
The cool water feels very refreshing on my feet and I’m half tempted to jump in fully clothed. It wouldn’t matter, it’s so hot out that I’m going to dry quick anyway. The boat slowly moves itself off the bank, and just before I jump back in a splash myself down. We take off a bit faster now, and the feeling of the water on my face cools me down as it dries almost instantaneously.
The trip from the Laos border back to Stung Treng is about 4 hours, and the whole way I’m in awe of the natural beauty along the river. It’s truly stunning, especially towards the end of the trip as the sun starts to slowly set above the horizon of large trees. The sky dances between splashes of yellow, purple and orange before finally settling on a light pink haze that covers the sky and hangs on right up into our longtail boat comes to a stop.
We’re back on solid ground, but my head still rocks side to side for a while. As I found my footing again to climb the river bank I take one last look at the river before nightfall sets in. This is a view I could never get tired of!
Have you taken a Mekong River longtail boat recently? We’d love to hear about your experience! Drop us a comment below or come find us on Facebook or Twitter!
A month and a half into our trip and we’re really starting to feel at home in Southeast Asia. Thailand was beautiful, but we couldn’t shake the feeling of being on the same well-worn path, following every other backpacker. We were hoping in Cambodia we’d be able to ditch the touristy spots and explore by ourselves. After two weeks in this amazing country, we’ve definitely been able to do just that. We can’t wait to continue exploring and creating our own trail, but for now here are our 5 first impressions from Cambodia.
“We felt a sense of adventure, like how travelers might have felt when exploring Thailand 20 years ago or so”
Off The Beaten Track Travel
After spending a month island hopping in the south of Thailand, we were looking forward to getting off the tourist trail for a bit. Our first stop in Cambodia was the town of Siem Reap located next to the ruins of Angkor Wat. With thousands of tourist heading to the famous ruins daily, it’s not surprising this area is packed with travelers.
Even still we were able to get out off the beaten track pretty quickly. Just a few hours east of Siem Reap is the Cambodian countryside. We stayed in the town of Banlung, a small city that is a jumping off point for many outdoor activities in the region. With just a handful of guesthouses, this city is a breath of fresh air away from the tourist trail. When we hopped on a moto to explore the area, we felt a sense of adventure, like how travelers might have felt when exploring Thailand 20 years ago or so. Dusty dirt roads took us out to local villages where no one spoke English and we were the only backpackers for miles.
Car Horn Honking
We knew that the horn was a widely used accessory in Southeast Asia, but the Cambodians take it to a whole new level of craziness. Zipping around the highways in minivans I’d say the driver is on a 50/50 horn to silence ratio. Any and every single time the driver goes to overtake someone, go round a corner or pass through a town they just press down and let it rip.
When we asked our Cambodian friend about this he said it was actually a sign the driver was being responsible. He said that if the driver didn’t send out their endlessly ear piercing horn at every opportunity, that the chances of crashing could be higher. That made us a little more confident in our drivers, but eliminated any chance of getting some sleep.
Maybe we were spoiled by copious amounts of delicious street food in Thailand, but for some reason we just don’t think the food in Cambodia is as good as it’s neighbor. Particularly as vegetarians, Thailand seems to have had a lot more choices in terms of curries and noodle dishes, and the quality of tofu was definitely a lot better.
Our Cambodian cuisine so far has consisted of a lot of egg baguettes, which in itself is a nice change to eating noodles and rice for three meals, but when it comes to curries and such we haven’t found too many good ones. We tried the traditional dish of fish Amok (a Cambodian curry), but made the mistake of ordering it when we were inland, away from the coast. The curry itself wasn’t bad, but the fish was so chewy it was like biting into a piece of rubber.
One food that Cambodia, or at least Siem Reap, has an abundance of is… marijuana pizza. Wait, what? Yea, we’re not really sure either, but we’ve been warned that the restaurants selling “happy pizzas” are laced with marijuana. We haven’t tried it, but have noticed a lot of spaced out looking travelers wandering around town.
” A whole pitcher of the local beers Cambodia or Angkor will only cost you $2. Not bad when you consider that same pitcher of beer in Australia would cost $20! “
Cheap Draft Beer
Finally, some cheap beer! Surprisingly Thailand was a bit expensive when it came to nights out drinking. In Cambodia we were happy to find that draft beer was readily available and cheap! A glass of beer at most bars and restaurants will only set you back 50c, and a whole pitcher of the local beers Cambodia or Angkor will only cost you $2. Not bad when you consider that same pitcher of beer in Australia would cost $20!
It’s not the best beer you’ve ever tasted, but it gets the job done and you can’t complain too much in this hot and humid dust bowl. We’ve actually come to enjoy it quite a lot over the last two weeks!
In Thailand we were blown away by how friendly the locals were and that hasn’t changed now that we’ve entered Cambodia. From shopkeepers to random people we’ve meet on the bus, the hospitality is incredible. When we were out exploring a waterfall near Banlung, a group of Cambodians having a picnic invited us over to share their warm beer and mango slices. Another time Jules was walking and a group of tuk-tuk drivers called him over to share a beer (this time ice cold). We’re not sure if this generosity is more due to friendliness or the beers are just so cheap they’re giving them away, but we’ve enjoyed the hospitality.
Not only are the adults in Cambodia very friendly, but the kids are as well. In Thailand we got the feeling that the local children were so used to seeing Western travellers, they didn’t have much interest anymore. Here the children are really curious about us. When we were cruising through the rural villages on our moto, almost every child we saw waved after us, shouting “hello!” We love chatting with local kids, especially because many of them know a bit of English, and are happy to see that Cambodia kids want to interact with us as well.
How does our list compare to your thoughts? What were your first impressions of Cambodia? Drop us a comment below or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!