From placid Kep in the southwest to pastoral Battambang in the northwest, there are now numerous spaces around Cambodia in which to find your inner peace.
The Kingdom may host fewer yoga and meditation retreats compared to neighbouring Thailand, but there are great advantages in that scarcity, the first of which is that those available tend to attract the more committed of practitioners. That said, venues are equally open to those seeking answers to what the chanting is all about!
Wat Langka (Phnom Penh)
Founded in 1442, this Wat is one of the capital’s oldest and its role in Cambodian Buddhism is as central as its location (just off Sihanoukville Blvd, close to Independence monument), giving birth to many a respected bikku (asker of alms) with current monks highly regarded. The site is therefore an excellent seeking place, and you can participate in one hour’s meditation its it highly decorated meditation hall in the company of monks, locals and other internationals four times a week: Monday, Thursday and Saturday 6-7pm and Sunday at 8:30am.
The Lotus Centre (Takhmao)
Touting itself as a place “in the heart of nature, a space to practice, rejuvenate…”
sits in a wondrous countryside setting heavy with jasmine bushes, banana palms and mango trees just 15km outside Phnom Penh. Open for two decades, its non-profit sister association supports the education and training of teenagers from the neighbouring village of Prek Kat. Amongst its star offerings are 3 week courses in Viet Vo Dao (Vietnamese Kung fu), Tai Chi, Qi Gong and meditation which happen in March and October, as well as the opportunity to rent space for yoga retreats, R&R, and private events.
How to get there
The centre can be reached by tuktuk, though travel by car is advisable. Those who wish to visit can call the centre and ask staff to give directions to drivers. The site is near the Killing Fields- rest and relaxation may indeed be in order after taking in the harrowing grounds there.
The Vine Retreat (Kep)
Without question, the pioneer was The Vine Retreat in Phnom Voar, near Kep. Originally a traditional style guesthouse nestled amongst the pepper plantations looking out to the Gulf of Thailand, the space is now entirely given over to yoga. These days, third party yoga centres run their retreats there, so seekers need to book through them. Kep’s seaside air and laid-back pace can be a form of enlightenment in itself, especially to road-weary travellers.
How to Get There
There are now a range of bus companies which serve Phnom Penh—Kep (and vice versa) daily, including. Phnom Penh Sorya Transport and Cambodia Post VIP Van. Tickets cost $7-$10.
From Kampot, a 35 minute tuk-tuk ride costs around $10-$15, whereas a 45 minute mini-bus ride costs around $4, or pay $3-$6 for a 25 minute moto ride to Kep. Once in Kep, The Retreat is located between Phnom Vour Mountain and Kep, on Road 1333 nearby Sothy’s Pepper Farm.
Vagabond Temple (Kep)
Also situated in easy-going Kep, Vagabond Temple yoga and meditation centre opened in 2015 and lost no time in establishing a serious reputation for its retreats. The setup is simple, but extends a warm welcome to its guest with a powerful community element. There are a host of possibilities on offer beyond yoga and mediation, including pilates, reiki, spiritual support, pranic healing and private workshops.
How to get there
The temple can arrange for a taxi to pick you up from Phnom Penh airport and bring you directly to their door. The ride takes around three hours and costs $45-$50. From Siem Reap, the six hour taxi ride costs around $120. From Sihanoukville, the taxi ride takes three hours and will cost around $40.
Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Centre (Siem Reap)
Heading up north, it seems only right that Siem Reap, the spiritual heartland of Cambodia, should offer more, and it does. Here, the pioneer was Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Centre, deep amidst the lanes and rice paddies to the south of the stunning Bakong Temple, 15 kilometres outside of Siem Reap. It is an exceptional centre, many years in the making.
Established by an American who speaks ten languages, Hariharalaya offers six day retreats that everyone seems to come away from transformed. Everything at the centre is imbued with a community philosophy and connection with the surrounding natural world, from the organic gardens that provide much of the vegan food, to the outdoor gym, traditional individual sleeping huts in the fields beyond, and garden pool – all designed to drain the tension right out of you.
How to get there
Once in Siem Reap, the centre provides a free shuttle bus service from downtown on the first morning of a retreat. Meet their team of their teachers and drivers who await you in front of the Lucky Mall Shopping Center on Sivatha Boulevard.
Navatu Dreams (Siem Reap)
Navutu Dreams, meanwhile, offers a different vibe. A short hop away from central Siem Reap, Navutu is a beautifully designed, luxury resort spread across verdant, tropical gardens which integrate three pools and a pavilion restaurant. The owners take enormous pride in delivering a high-level, holistic experience with packages which incorporate daily yoga sessions, a private yoga session, spa and holistic treatments and organic meals consciously prepared by hand.
How to get there
The resort offers a free pick up service from Siem Reap International Airport for guests who book through them directly. Once there, you will have a private Tuk Tuk at your disposal daily to and from Siem Reap city or Angkor Wat.
Dhamma Latthikā Vipassana meditation centre (Battambang)
Heading out west to Cambodia’s ‘third city’ of Battambang, talk to the increasingly active artist community and it’s just a matter of time before one of them opens up about their life-changing experience at the Dhamma Laṭṭhikā Vipassana meditation centre. A second Vipassana centre opened recently in Kampong Cham to the north of Phnom Penh.
“It was the most incredibly difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life,” claims Kchao Touch, Cambodia’s pre-eminent female artist, describing her experiences at the Dhamma Laṭṭhikā Vipassana meditation centre to the east of her hometown of Battambang. Without missing a beat, she added, “I can’t wait to do it again.”
One of the things which sets courses at the centre apart from others is that they operate on the basis of donation according to the Buddhist tenet of metta.
These 10-day silent retreats, rooted in the teachings of S.N. Goenka, provide a fully supported opportunity to connect with, as Touch describes it, the very essence of yourself. “The more I did it, the more I wanted to see more of me,” she says. “[I want] to see how I am a human, not an animal, and that I can control my mind by understanding what’s in it, and learning how to let go of what hurts.”
Touch says that the course, which she has done twice now, had a profound effect upon her art, and that while before she just painted, now she knows why she paints and what she’s trying to express when she does. “I know my mind now, and I practice every day. It changed my life.”
How to get there
From Phnom Penh
Dhamma Laṭṭhikā is 290km northwest of Phnom Penh via National Road No. 5 and a further 18km from the city of Battambang via National Road No. 57.
The centre offers a shuttle bus service from Phnom Penh for a mere $4, which you can arrange directly when you book your course. Should you choose to go it alone, a bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang will set you back $8, with a further $5+ for the 18km tuktuk ride to the centre via moto or tuttuk. Tell the driver to drop you to the Vipassana Center at Phnom Trung Moan (Chicken Cage Hill), 1Km from Phnom Sampov.
From Siem Reap City
Battambang is 170km from Siem Reap. Public buses cost around $4, with private taxis coming in at around $50.
After you leave the course, be sure to check out the Bat Caves which are along National Road No. 57.