To get some solitude and escape from my mobile phone, I decided to take a trip to Siem Reap for me, myself and I. On TripAdvisor, I stumbled upon Angkor Zen Gardens Retreat, which includes yoga and meditation classes all day long and vegetarian meals (breakfast and dinner included in the package) located close to town.
This was to be my first trip truly alone, and I had no idea what to expect from the Angkor Zen Gardens Retreat. The manager, Marc, had arranged a tuk tuk to pick me up from the airport. It drove over the most bumpy road I have ever been on to get to the retreat, going through a village on the outskirts of Siem Reap.
Getting in the Mood
Angkor Zen could be described as a nature park first and a retreat second. The sheer number of animals made it quite overwhelming especially for me, being a city girl. There are 36 cats (I am unfortunately allergic), 2 dogs plus some strays that wander in, a pond full of frogs that jump back in when you go near their path and 3 of whom lived in the drain in my bathroom jumping around as I showered, roosters that crow constantly as well as lizards, spiders, geckos, beetles, not to mention LOTS of mosquitos. Come armed with repellent and allergy pills!
I was staying in the dormitory which I shared with 2 other girls, but they do have private rooms available. The room itself was a decent size and had fans which I am more comfortable with, but it was unfortunately VERY DARK. There were some extra lamps and torches provided although they didn’t help when you need to get up at 4am for the sunrise and you put your shirt the wrong way round and inside out! On top of this, I discovered a few days in that there were termites in the shelf close to my bed. Things like this put me a bit on edge. You might consider bringing a headlamp.
Moreover, I must warn you that if you are a light sleeper, I would not recommend this retreat. Every night there will be something keeping you up, be it the crows or the roosters, the howls from the dogs or the cats fighting at 3am for almost an hour. I can sleep with heavy traffic noises, but give me the peaceful hum of the cicadas and I can’t sleep a wink. Nevertheless, I managed to impress myself by not having coffee (something I must have at least twice a day).
The Daily Grind
The meals in the retreat are served at 8am, 12pm ($8 upon request), 4pm (tea time) and finally 7:30pm. The amazing Therese and the girls in the kitchen create such yummy and varied vegetarian dishes, it was a pleasure when it was time for a meal. Lunch can be requested at breakfast time so Therese can prepare accordingly. All ingredients are purchased in the market and are seasonal.
Angkor Zen has 2 resident yoga instructors, Jessie and Petra. Jessie focused on teaching us the Sivananda style of yoga with 12 Asanas or poses and pranayama (different types of breathing). Petra’s classes were a bit more physically demanding with a focus on Vinyasa flow and yin.
The studio is open so you will get the occasional cat coming and sitting on your lap while in a pose (not so relaxing for me). However, when I told the staff about my allergy, they did their best to keep the cats away from me. The retreat provides mats, although they are worn and used. I luckily brought my own and placed it on another mat. Travel mats from Lululemon are amazing!
Yoga classes start at 6:30am every day. For someone who definitely isn’t a morning person, it was quite a feat to get out of bed at that time. However, I managed and absolutely enjoyed the classes. The days end with a 45 minute meditation at 6pm which I found extremely challenging but have been assured gets easier with time. It is amazing how many thoughts we can have flowing through our minds during this time. The manager, Marc, likes to lead the classes and will give you some guidance prior to the class if you are a first timer like me.
What is great about Angkor Zen is that it allows you a lot of flexibility on your escape. You can attend classes as you wish so what I did was alternate between the morning and afternoon classes and spend half a day exploring.
I would have loved to spend more time in the retreat but 5 days was just enough to visit some of the main temples and spend some quality time to myself and do some yoga. Unlike Bali where yoga has become commercialised and rather expensive, Siem Reap provides a cheap alternative where you are not obligated to attend all classes. I would highly recommend this place to a retreat virgin and would definitely consider going again, but maybe next time I would stay in the Bungalow where there shouldn’t be any frogs.