Finding Inner Peace in the Cambodian Countryside
Set amongst rice paddies, thatched huts brimming with smiling children, ancient temples, and markets filled with dried meats, fresh fruit and shampoos in tinny pouches, Hariharalaya is a paradise in the Cambodian countryside. With twice daily yoga and meditation sessions, three types of massages, and myriad fresh pressed juices and vegan delights, the retreat is perfect for the yoga aficionado and the meditation novice alike.
The 6-day session I attended at Hariharalaya featured students from various countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Canada, the U.S., Poland, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and England. We came together for this week to find inner peace, relaxation, and/or a deeper yoga or meditation practice.
There are multiple options for accommodation while staying at Hariharalaya. Each price listed below is for the 6-day retreat and includes all meals, yoga classes, meditation sessions, and accommodation.
- Dormitory – $220 – this shared accommodation has six beds per room
- Twin Huts – $240 – two single beds in a thatched hut
- Open Air Bungalow – $260 – with no walls, the open air bungalow is set for the naturalist
- Private Rooms – $295 – set in the main building of Hariharalaya, these rooms are good for couples and people looking for a more private experience
- Bamboo Retreat Huts – $280 – I had the pleasure of staying in a bamboo hut. Each hut has a private balcony and hammock, and is large enough for a couple or for a single looking for a large comfy bed.
Yoga and Meditation
On Day 1, we received an intro to meditation, including the whys and hows, as well as tips for “enduring” meditation. I’m a frequent asana (or yoga poses) practitioner, but I’ve only meditated a handful of times previous to attending the retreat, most recently through the app called Headspace. In all honesty, I struggled through most of the meditation sessions. Ranging from 10 minutes to 30, some sessions were easier for me than others. I highly recommend speaking with the yoga instructors to get tips on how to improve your meditation practice.
Both yoga and meditation are practiced no less than twice a day. The morning session is from 7-9am with at least one hour dedicated to asana (what we typically call yoga in the Western world) practice, 30 minutes of meditation, and an occasional chanting session. The classes are multi-level, so beginners and advanced practitioners will enjoy the classes. The evening class is approximately half asana and half meditation.
One night, we even did a dance meditation class; it was an absolute blast. I love to dance so this kind of meditation was right up my alley. Fab music, no inhibitions, everyone just going mad – a night for the books!
All of the food at Hariharalaya is vegan – so no eggs, no dairy, no meat. As a non-vegetarian, I was a bit worried about starvation in these 6-days, but was pleasantly surprised at how tasty the food was. All of the food is cooked by Khmer staff and is actually quite tasty. Vegan dishes we ate included: curries, 3-bean chilli, stir fry, veggie soup, black eye pea hummus, and lots of rice!
While at the retreat I indulged in the rest and rejuvenation package, complete with 3 different types of massages. The first I had was a blind shiatsu massage – the massage is performed by, you guessed it, a blind man. A nimble little guy, the masseuse spent half of the 60-minute massage perched on top of the massage table. I was fully clothed, so the 10 or so minutes he spent massaging my gluteus maximus was more painful than embarrassing. I left this session feeling relaxed and my muscles looser. Leab, the masseuse, has strong, smart hands and fingers, knowing just where my body needed some TLC.
For the 30-minute Khmer massage, there is a choice between leg/foot or back; seeing as my calves were quite sore from the blind massage, I opted for the back which I thoroughly enjoyed. As must be customary for massages in Cambodia, the therapist sat upon the table with me: hovering over my legs and back, with my head in her lap, and perched behind me while I sat.
My final massage, though I’m using that term loosely, was a 4-hand massage: 2 very strong little ladies going to town on my muscles. They say that 4 hands are better than 2 when it comes to massages. I’ve decided though, after 4 Cambodian massages (I also got one in Siem Reap) that they’re probably better dubbed “full body presses” since the typical massage we Westerners think of doesn’t exist here. Instead, a mix of poking, prodding and pushing happens. There’s even a “full body press routine” that most therapists rarely stray from, even if you have a knot in your upper back the size of Italy. I left this final “full body press” feeling sore while relaxed. The 60-minute session ends with 1 lady at your head and the other at feet aka bliss.
Besides massages, there are plenty of relaxing activities to partake in at the retreat: a juice bar, art room, game room, hammocks to lie in, and bikes to take to town. The day a few girls and I went biking was probably my favourite day of the entire retreat.
If you’re looking recharge, reconnect and relax (and hey, who isn’t in a hectic city like Hong Kong!), then check out the next available retreat dates here: www.hariharalaya.com/retreat-dates.