After the craziness and stress of Vietnam the smiling Khmer people were a heartwarming surprise.
As I arrived in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, I was shocked by the disparity of poverty and wealth around me. Right next to the stupidly ornate Palace there was naked children searching for God knows what in a pile of rubbish at the side of the road.
The roads were also filled with brand new luxury cars. Expensive brands like Lexus and Toyota. This was a slight culture shock to me as well after spending a month in Scooter loving Vietnam.
I’ve never seen such a contrast between rich and poor before, the audacity of it turned my stomach.
Whilst in Phnom Penh I visited the sobering killing fields and the former prison of the Khmer Rouge: S21. I’m no stranger to ‘dark tourism’, I visited the harrowing concentration camp Dachau when I visited Germany on my second solo trip abroad. The main tower actually holds the skulls and bones of the people who were killed here by the Khmer Rouge, organised by sex and how they were killed.
The more I learn about the Khmer Rouge and year zero the harder I find it to comprehend and the more questions I have.
The Khmer people were the friendliest people I have ever met, despite having the thoughts of such atrocity fresh in their minds. Every smile and wave was genuine and innocent. Even the tuk tuk drivers though persistent, were very polite. It was very strange seeing no people over 50. I could literally count the number of elderly people that I saw on my hands. It’s estimated that as many at three million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge during their three years of mass genocide.
I then moved to the more modern city of Siem Riep where I spent 4 days partying at the amazing Angkor What? bar, swimming in the hotel pool and gasping at the amount of brothels in Siem Riep (Many were obviously disguised as ‘massage parlors’).
Then I spent 3 days at the awe inspiring UNESCO world heritage site: Angkor Wat.
I purchased a three day pass for Angkor Wat and I never got bored looking at and exploring the many vastly different temples. Every temple was a pleasant surprise and very eccentric.
I felt like Lara Croft! (Sadly there was no butler to shoot or lock in the freezer…)
After parting ways from my travel friends it was time for a completely new travel experience for me. I spent two weeks at Hariharalaya retreat which is situated near the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Riep.
My time at the retreat was spent meditating, practicing yoga, learning about self development and reflecting on my travels.
After travelling so fast for so long it was just what I needed. I enjoyed having a routine, friends and literally no stress in my day.
My time at the retreat changed me as a person and I made many great friends. I loved eating a vegan diet and having no caffeine or alcohol. I felt so healthy and glowing from the inside and out.
I had shiatsu massages and tried traditional Khmer cupping! I never got tired of being able to ride a bike to see some of the out-lying Angkor Wat temples and watching the cows meander across the dirt roads and the children smile and wave with such enthusiasm.
After leaving the retreat I had a day in Siem Riep with my Hariharalaya friends. We enjoyed a traditional Khmer food cooking class at Le Tigre De Papier. I prepared delicious Amok curry and fresh spring rolls and enjoyed cooking for the first time in months.
After recharging at the retreat I was ready to face more partying. My next destination was the infamous Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s beautiful coastline.
Detox then retox!
Total countries visited=2, Vietnam and Cambodia
Yoga sessions completed= 14, every day at 7am at the retreat.
Modes of transport= Nightbus from Saigon to Phnom Penh, day bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Riep and tuk tuks to the retreat and Angkor Wat.
Number of naked children seen= 84 (Why don’t Cambodians put nappies or trouser bottoms on their children?)
Lessons I have Learned= Always spend some time on your travels relaxing and reflecting on your travels thus far.
Number of Shiatsu massages= 2 from the blind masseuse at the retreat. Heaven
Number of children that smiled and waved at me= 1052 (approx)
Have you ever visited a site of ‘dark tourism’ like the killing fields of Dachau?
If so how did you feel?
Have you ever been to a retreat or would you like to go to one?