Finding Center in Cambodia

After leaving Burma, I was feeling a bit lost on my journey. I was tired of traveling and missed the comforts of home. To be honest, I was ready to throw in the towel and buy a one way back to Boston. But I knew that as much as I missed home, my time out here was not over yet. I returned to Bangkok for a week of relaxing before deciding where I would go next. I got a one week pass to a nice gym, worked out and did yoga everyday, had 6 thai massages, and of course did some more shopping. I finally felt more myself and was excited to continue my travels. I had been wanting to do a yoga retreat for awhile so when I received an email that there was one spot left for a 5 day retreat in Cambodia I took that as a nudge from the universe. Cambodia was one of the countries that didn't really call to me as a place I cared to visit and for that reason I knew I would probably end up loving it. Right I was!

The yoga retreat was a nice continuation of the healthy lifestyle I had tried to re-obtain in Bangkok and a great way to meet some like minded travelers on similar journeys. Daily asana and meditation practice plus 3 vegan meals a day and sleeping in an open air bamboo hut was the perfect way to kick off my time in Cambodia. I left the retreat feeling similar to when I left Bali, centered and grounded and ready for the next adventure. {{UPDATE: Hariharalaya was featured by Yoga Journal in their 2017 article: 10 destinations for your yoga travel bucket list!}}

Back in the dusty city of Siem Reap, I made my way to the Temples of Angkor. World renowned, breath taking architecture paired with rich history made for a memorable experience. I watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building and was awe struck by the collision of nature and architecture. The temples are so old that enormous trees have grown in the ruins, intertwining Mother Nature with one of man's most impressive creations.

I wasn't planning to spend much more time in the country but when numerous people started telling me about the island of Koh Rong I thought I might as well check it out. 15 hours of bus travel later and I was sitting on the speed ferry headed for the island in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Rong is a mixture of laid back beach atmosphere and a hard core party scene. Upon first stepping off the ferry I can't say that I was extremely impressed. The beach was loaded with bars and backpackers and felt too crowded for my liking. However a few minutes down the beach and I found some peace and quiet. A treacherous 45 minute hike through the jungle brings you to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Rightfully named Long Beach, as all of my favorite beaches seem to be, the sand is so white and pure that it squeaks under your feet as you walk! The water is crystal blue and even swimming over my head I was able to see the ocean floor.

By far the best experience I had on Koh Rong was on my second to last night. I went out with some friends from the yoga retreat for a delicious pizza and wine dinner followed by a dance party on the beach. Dancing in the sand under the moonlight in front of the DJ booth, we all decided to sneak off and go skinny dipping in the ocean. The water was as warm as a bathtub and once we started splashing around we realized dozens and dozens of glowing dots all around us. Almost like an ocean filled with glitter, we were surrounded by phosphorescent plankton! Sharing the water with these microscopic glitter bugs was one of the coolest experiences of my life.

After 5 nights on Koh Rong, I had enough of the island and made my way to the capital city of Phnom Penh. It is here that the gruesome S-21 prison and killing fields are located. It is amazing to learn about the genocide that this country went through less than 40 years ago. In school (in America) we are taught about the world wars and the holocaust and yet the mass detainment and killing that occurred during the Khmer Regime in Cambodia are not mentioned once. Visiting the museum and the killing fields is a heart breaking experience. The traumas that were endured are unthinkable and what is even worse is that it was Cambodians killing fellow Cambodians.

You go on the tour and you sort of float through, listening to the horror stories but not really comprehending them. And then there is a moment where one detail rocks you to the core and suddenly you feel sick to your stomach that such a horrific event is possible. For me, that moment was during the tour of the killing fields when we came to "the killing tree" located next to a mass grave. At this tree, babies were held upside down by their feet as their heads were bashed against the tree, bludgeoning their skulls before they were tossed into the pit to the right. This was done in front of their mothers, who stood helpless, naked from the rape they had just endured, watching the final torture before they themselves were mercilessly killed and tossed into the pit along with their children. My entire body had chills when I heard about this. It is sickening and heart wrenching. These are the stories that make you grateful for the life you have been granted. I try to remember these stories when I am having a particularly rough day as it puts things into perspective pretty quickly.

The rest of my days in Phnom Penh I have spent running along the river, taking yoga workshops, getting massages, and dining with new friends. I am enjoying the calm and centered feeling that I so often take for granted at home. Traveling does not allow you to have a routine, it forces you out of your comfort zone and it can sometimes feel like life is a big whirlwind and you're trying to hold on. My time in Cambodia has been much needed and I've realized that there are certain things I must do in order to maintain my balance during a time in my life where there is no structure and spontaneity rules all. It's amazing how much better I feel after a quick run, a yoga class, or some meditation on the beach. It is so important that I remember that this journey is all about me. Taking the time to do things that center me, make me feel happy, and nourish my mind and body is a major priority.

I have loved my time in Cambodia, a beautiful country with even more beautiful people, and I am sad to leave but I must continue forward. Tomorrow I will take a 2 day boat journey down the Mekong River and into Vietnam. I will arrive in Saigon just in time for the New Year celebrations! Looking forward to good food, rich culture, more beaches, and custom made clothing! Cheers to another country down and another one to look forward to!

Molly Rose