Are you searching for a haven of peace where you can find balance and disconnect from the stresses and everyday hectic city life and embark on a journey of wellness and self-discovery? If so, how do you know which place is right for your wellness or yoga retreat?
Of course, there are tons of secluded retreat centers around the globe that can help you feel recharged and invigorated. However, Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder, has emerged as a world rising yoga destination and wellness hotspot.
Here are the top 5 definite reasons why you should choose Cambodia for a yoga retreat.
Located on the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia, Cambodia borders Thailand to the north-west, Vietnam to the southeast and Laos to the north. The coastline of 440-kilometer length stretches along the south orders of the Gulf of Thailand.
The Kingdom of Cambodia is in the tropics, hot and humid throughout the year, while the topography is mostly lowland, surrounded by the plateau and mountains, with a total land size of 181,035 square kilometers.
Right in the heart of the country, the Great Tonle Sap Lake is the Southeast Asia’s largest sprawling of freshwater lake, while the Mekong River, one of the longest rivers in the world, flows all the way from the Tibetan Plateau or the Himalaya Plateau through the country and Vietnam into the South Chinese Sea.
They are both connected through the 120-kilometer long Tonle Sap River, which geographically creates a perfect current causing flow reversal in and out between each other during the rainy season and dry season in Cambodia, which creates a very rich source of food supply for both wildlife and people.
Cambodia’s floating villages especially that of Siem Reap and many kinds of species at the Great Tonle Sap Lake are very attractive interests for tourists.
Cambodia’s forests, on the other hand, play a very important role in Khmer people’s lives as a source of food, medicine and building products, and natural materials. Particularly, dense forest, a home to an array of animal species, has covered about 3 million hectares.
The forests scatter across the country where the untouched ones are as beautiful as a paradise. For instance, the forest in Cardamom Mountains considered as the largest Southeast Asia’s rainforest is the nature paradise on earth nestled in southwestern of Cambodia.
Besides all these natural resources, Cambodia, known as the Kingdom of Wonder, has many ancient temples that the Kings built for the gods and the world. Angkor Wat temple is the most famous temple that enchants millions visitors each year. Surely, when you visit the temple you definitely feel spiritually amazed, energized, and connected to the center of the universe.
Moreover, The UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Temple of Preah Vihear and Sambor Prei Kuk attract many tourists to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia each and every year.
2. Cambodian Culture
Throughout Cambodia’s long history, Cambodia’s culture was mainly inspired by religion. The Khmer Empire was much influenced by India, and it incorporated the Indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism and the syncretism of indigenous animistic beliefs to develop its own unique Khmer culture and belief system.
Hinduism was rooted deeply in Cambodia since the first Khmer state, The Kingdom of Funan, while the Indian culture and civilization, including languages and arts spread in the region. Then, it became the Khmer Empire’s official religion.
Incredibly, the majestic 12th-century Angkor Wat temple dedicated to Hinduism god Vishnu represented the thriving Hinduism in the Khmer Empire. However, Hinduism was gradually substituted by Theravada Buddhism by the end of the 12th century during the reign of King Jayavarman VII (1181-1218).
As Theravada Buddhism began spreading popularly among the Khmer, it became the state religion of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century. Continuously, today, it is still traditionally the national religion of ethnic Khmer.
Although Theravada Buddhism succeeds predominantly across Cambodia with 90% or more of the population being Theravada Buddhists, Khmer people never forget their ancestors’ animist practices which are called Brahmanistic practices playing an important role as part of the culture and being deeply intermixed with everyday practice of Buddhism.
In Khmer belief, they don’t perceive them as separate religions but part of the spectrum of options for dealing with moral, physical and spiritual needs. Buddhism is a national tradition with a bureaucracy and a written tradition, while Brahmanist and spiritual practices are more typically localized and are inherited by descendent from generation to generation rather than as a formal institution.
Unfortunately, the darkness of religious decline occurred during the DK period. All religious observances were banned, and Buddhist temples were destroyed or desecrated by converting into bloody torture and killing places, and monks were killed or forced to leave the holy order.
After the DK collapsed, the religion of Theravada Buddhism gradually revived and was once again officially recognized by the state in 1989. In the meantime, some Khmer became Christian converts while living in refugee camps, and combining with those returning from foreign countries made a significant foothold of Christianity among ethnic Khmers. Backed by Cambodians living abroad, many religious movements were often organized and spread out enormously across the country, which emerged the powerful traditional cultural icons.
Today, Theravada Buddhist monks can be seen in every Buddhist temple following special rules of behavior, conducting religious observances, and being respectful exemplars of virtuous life. A man can be a monk for a temporary period of time, and sometimes some remain permanently to fulfill their missions and spiritual faiths. This practice continues from generation to generation.
Generally, in the early mornings, it is a common procedure that the monks in saffron robes go from house to house to collect offers for the temples in order for people to be free from ego and find spiritual healing.
In addition to the monk, a lay priest, achar, also acts as an important person who leads the congregation at temple ceremonies and an expert in traditional arrangements for different rituals.
On the other hand, there are other religious specialists dealing with the realm of spirits and magical practices. The krou or krou khmer have unbelievable expertise in traditional medicine and magic, such as treating sickness, blessing water, making protective amulets, and communicating with spirits (some monks also have these kinds of skills); and roup arak is a spirit medium that have special knowledge to save people from spiritual mistakes, while the sorcerers or witches (thmuap) are commonly known as black magicians who can cause illness or death.
Cambodia’s main Buddhist ceremonies are mainly connected to the seasons and agricultural cycle. Indeed, the monks must reside in a temple or pagoda for the whole rainy season, and ceremonies mark the beginning and the end of the retreat. And there are also two major ceremonies around the end of the rainy season, and after rice transplantation but before the harvest: Pchum Ben ceremony honoring the dead in late September or early October and Kathin ceremony presenting the monks’ ropes during which people contribute money and goods to the temple and monks.
Moreover, Visak Bochea, the day of the Buddha’s birth and enlightenment celebrated in May and the day of the Buddha’s last sermon held in February are also important ceremonies.
Other very important ceremonies are Khmer New Year and Water Festival. Khmer New Year is celebrated in the middle of April. Traditionally, Khmer people give offerings to the monks, and play traditional games at the pagoda. However, Water Festival is held in November, sometimes ending in late October symbolizing prosperity of the country during the past time and remembering the moon rabbit, Pouthesat.
Particularly, Cambodian Buddhists believe in reincarnation either in heaven or hell according to individual karma. The dead body are usually cremated at the pagoda, and memorial ceremonies of the dead are normally held on the seventh or hundredth days after death.
The Arts and Khmer Literature
Cambodian visual arts are mainly inspired by those of the Angkor period when Khmer art reached its peak. Traditional Cambodian visual arts are apparently seen in textiles, non-textile weaving, silversmithing, bronze smithing, stone carvings, ancient crafts, animal skins, ceramics, Wat murals (pagoda murals), and kite-making.
In addition to the traditional, the modern art emerged in the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, later both traditional and modern arts declined due to the killing of talent artists in the Khmer Rouge regime.
However, Cambodian arts has revived from government support, overseas Khmer people, NGOs, and foreign tourists.
Cambodia has three main types of dances: classical dance, folk dances, and vernacular dances.
Cambodia classical dance, which was originally performed only for royalty but introduced to the public in mid-20th century, remains strongly iconic Khmer culture, and often performed during public events, holidays, and for tourists visiting Cambodia.
It is very well-known for its harmony and lively hands and feet gestures to express emotion. It is known as classical Cambodian ballet or Apsara dance, and has been selected as one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
On the other hand, Cambodian folk dances are all kinds of dances passed on from one generation to another and that are often linked to ethnic group’s traditional ceremonies. The styles are different from the Cambodian classical dance; their movements and gestures are fast-paced. When the dancers perform for the audience, they wear typical clothes of the people they are portraying like ethnic tribes, farmers, peasants, Chams, and animals.
Cambodian folk dances are usually performed at religious ceremonies, national festivities, public events and particular spiritual ceremonies. Some dances are related to Buddhist beliefs like Trot dance — a popular dance performed to kick out evil and bad luck — that is performed once a year during Khmer New Year.
Lastly, Cambodian vernacular dances (or social dances) are simply popular dances that are commonly danced at weddings, parties, and other social gatherings. They are Romvong, Rom Kbach, Rom Saravan, Lam Leav and Chok Kampeus.
Interestingly, some social dances such as Rom Kbach, originate from the Cambodian classical dance of the royal court, while others are believed to get influenced by Laos traditional dances.
Moreover, Cambodian social dances have adapted to the influx of world’s social dances including the Cha-Cha, Bolero, Madison, and Rock and Roll. They remain so popular in Cambodian society.
Shadow theatre, Lakhaon Nang Sbek, is a traditional cultural iconic entertainment that Khmer people enjoyed the most in their old days. It lost its popularity due to the introduction of modern entertainment including movies, videos, and television.
Nowadays, it is being shown only on special occasions such as Khmer New Year, Water Festival, cultural events and sometimes religious ceremonies. It is also performed for tourists particularly at the restaurants where they enjoy the show while eating.
The official Cambodian language is Khmer. The Khmer language is considered the oldest of any Southeast Asian language according to inscription on stone dating back to the seventh century.
According to the history of the influence of the culture of India and the stone inscriptions, the Khmer language has many words similar to Sanskit, especially official words in administration, politics, army, and literature.
Cambodia is rich and strong in traditional oral literature such as storytelling and a genre of narrative singing which play important cultural roles.
Learning some Khmer words before you arrive in the country is also exciting showing that you are so much in the local culture. While saying a greeting Khmer word to Cambodian people you meet in Cambodia, you are attractive to them as they want to teach you more.
3. Khmer People
Getting to know the lifestyle of local Cambodian people is an interesting thing that most travelers want to experience. When you participate in a yoga and meditation retreat in Cambodia, you will witness their characteristics, and how they live their everyday lives; especially those who live in the countryside because most retreat centers are nestled in serene and remote locations.
Although you often stay in an isolated retreat center, you can still visit the city in some free time (some retreat programs provide free times so that participants can go exploring) to learn more about Cambodia’s people.
Indeed, among Southeast Asia nations, foreigners agree that Cambodian people are so lovely and friendly. Especially their wonderful and kind-hearted smiles on their faces. And they are helpful, humble, and easy to make friends.
Absolutely, you will be greeted and treated whole-heartedly which makes your retreat a memorable experience.
4. Cambodian Cuisine
Besides the focus on your body and mind exercise during the retreat, you will have a chance to taste healthy local Khmer food at the centers or surrounds. Maybe you’re a foodie retreat, or one amongst other wellness retreats, it’s worth giving Khmer food a try.
Cambodian cuisine usually has a spiced broth with fish or meat and vegetables, fish, fresh vegetables eaten with a fish-based paste, and stir-fried vegetables with chopped meat, and uses fish sauce in soups, stir-fried cuisine, and as dippings.
Particularly, Khmer cuisine is remarkable for its unique flavor of a strong-smelling fermented fish paste in many dishes.
One of the most popular Cambodian dishes for foreign tourists is Amok, a healthy fish or vegetable amok that you can eat while going on a yoga retreat in Cambodia.
5. Yoga Retreats Emerged Across Cambodia
As Cambodia is an emerging newest wellness destination remarkably in Asia, many perfect settings for yoga and meditation retreats exist across the country that help you heal and revitalize your body, mind and spirit.
From the Siem Reap’s spirituality to the Mekong River and to the coast and island, you can find the one that suits your needs. Various yoga, meditation, wellness programs designed in certain intervals throughout the year, so you have to check their information and schedules in advance.
Whether you come to Cambodia for a relaxing vacation or a wellness retreat, the Kingdom of Wonder is truly a sanctuary of peace, tranquility and harmony.
People may have different reasons to visit Cambodia, yet clearly they are eager to experience everything the country offers including ancient temples, natural resources,, delicious Cambodian cuisine, traditional Khmer arts, language, and meet with lovely local people.
As a remarkable newest wellness destination in Asia with many retreat centers across the kingdom, it is perfect for those who essentially look for a holistic approach to well-being escapes, cleansing both body and mind, and unlocking full spiritual potential.