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.
1 pm: Lunch
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!