I’ve only been at Vagabond Temple for two days and yet I already feel right at home. Arriving on Sunday afternoon jet-lagged and nervous, I was a little apprehensive about what to expect from my first Cambodian retreat. Straight away I was warmly welcomed into the community, as if an old-friend. There are no cliques, or closed conversations, just an openness to learn from one another. I’ve had so many fascinating discussions with like-minded people who don’t ask the standard “what do you do?” questions but “what do you want to learn?” Inspiration is all around me and as a result I have already compiled a 2-page list of reading recommendations from my fellow yogis. It’s a place way beyond the aesthetics of yoga and it is where people come to learn and discover more about themselves.
I heard about this magical place from a spiritual seeker I met in India, who told me that her visit had been life-changing. Her eyes sparkled whenever she mentioned the Temple, so I knew I was going to have to experience it for myself. Yet even with this first person account I still presumed it might be a little pretentious and over-priced because ‘beach retreat’ brings to mind the commercialised yoga of the West, with its £100 leggings and mirror-wall studios. In stark contrast Vagabond Temple sells yoga shorts for $5 and runs on an honesty policy: you just write down your name and pay at the end. This simple gesture of trust shows that their focus isn’t on making money but helping people live full and joyous lives.
Which brings me to Kobi and Pazit, the gorgeous couple who created this peaceful paradise, only metres away from Sihanoukville’s secluded Independence Beach. They are genuinely some of the nicest people I have ever met and are the beating heart of Vagabond Temple. As well as teaching yoga and meditation they have a wealth of knowledge between them which extends to life-coaching, holistic medicine, massage, theatre, nutrition and spirituality. It’s obvious that they love what they do because I have never met a happier pair, constantly smiling, laughing and never taking themselves too seriously. Yoga is a serious subject but that doesn’t mean it needs to be practiced in solemn way and during last night’s full-moon fire ceremony we finished with a chant of “you are my sunshine my only sunshine…!” which had the whole group grinning from ear-to-ear!
The Temple collaborates with volunteers, offering opportunities for spiritual seekers from all over the world to work and train in Cambodia. They also encourage guests to take part in karma yoga for 30 minutes each day, so that everyone- whether they be staff or guest- is actively engaged in the Temple community and the well being of the ‘tribe’. If that wasn’t enough the team also work extensively with the local community, bridging the gap between the Khmer and the tourists. I got to see this in action one afternoon when the usual schedule was suspended so that we could all take part in Sihanoukville’s first ever boat race. This had been organised by Vagabond Temple as part Cambodia’s national water festival, Bon Om Touk. In Phnom Penh huge crowds gather along the riverbanks of Tonle Sap to watch hundreds of boats race. Sihanoukville’s boat race was slightly smaller in scale and used 2-person canoes instead of 100ft boats requiring up to 80 rowers, but I’m certain it shared the same festival spirit! My team mate and I got very competitive in the heats and ended up being the only Temple entrants (and females) to make it into the final! The Khmer were incredibly fast and very fit, but we came an acceptable fourth (out of five) and won vouchers for free massages at the Temple (which is much needed after all that rowing!)
Yet there is no pressure to participate and you’ll often find people by themselves reading in a hammock, swimming in the sea or painting something abstract in the creative corner. The temple has offered me a breathing space away from the ‘busy’ narrative of my normal life and in just two short days I am thinking clearer, speaking slower and sensing a deeper connection with my body. If this continues then by day 21 I am going to be so zenned out!
Many thanks to Nele Winkelmann for the fabulous photos!
For more information about the retreat, please visit: www.vagabondtemple.com