The Angkor Bodhi Tree Retreat crew pictured in front of the centre. (L to R) Bob Carroll, Lauren Gravett, Cassie Gravett, and Claire Carroll. Photograph: Miranda Glasser
A new yoga and meditation retreat has opened in the heart of Temple Town, in the Wat Polanka area. The Angkor Bodhi Tree Retreat and Meditation centre will feature yoga, massage and holistic therapies, as well as volunteer opportunities with monks in local schools.
There are drop-in classes, or guests can stay in private or dorm-style rooms. Bookings include vegetarian breakfast and dinner, two meditation classes and yoga classes. The centre will also run bike-riding tours, art and cooking classes.
Angkor Bodhi Tree is the brainchild of four Australians who felt Siem Reap was lacking a meditation centre or somewhere to have "quiet time".
Sisters Cassie, 20, and Lauren Gravett, 23, met Claire and Bob Carroll when they stayed at Our Best Western Guesthouse, which the couple has run for two years.
The sisters volunteered at a school supported by the guesthouse, and discovered they shared similar goals.
Lauren says: “We were in search of that inner peace within ourselves. I wanted to keep connecting with myself, but there was nowhere to really do that, and my sister felt the exact same way. Bob and Claire were in the same situation.
"We had a similar mindset on what we wanted to create, so we decided to create this.”
They found the traditional wooden villa now housing the retreat by chance, while house-hunting for Lauren and Cassie.
Claire says, “We walked in, went upstairs, into that room and Lauren and Cassie both said together, ‘Oh my god, this is Bob’s meditation centre.’ It was just perfect. The rooms are big, beautiful ensuites, it’s in a quiet area but the good thing is it’s a five-minute bike ride to the centre. So people can still enjoy that; they’ll get the best of both worlds.”
She adds: “Everybody will want something different from the retreats. Some people will just want to sit quietly all day and read, others might like to get on a bike and go for a ride. They can either stay here or they can go into town and have lunch. Or go shopping.”
Former personal trainer and ordained Buddhist monk Bob will be providing remedial massage and teaching meditation, while Lauren is a trained reiki practitioner who also does chakra balancing and aura cleansing. Cassie will do massage and facials.
With air-conditioned, en-suite rooms and a wooden balcony chill-out area featuring a day-bed strewn with brightly coloured silk cushions, the centre has something of a ‘boutique’ feel to it. Lauren says, “Our vision is for it not to be intimidating. We want it to be accessible for anyone that just wants to step away from that daily grind. To come and just completely relax.”
“This is more for just everyday people. You don’t have to be a tree hugger,” Carrie jokes.
And if unleashing your inner chakra isn’t for you, there’s good news for caffeine-lovers too. Next month, the foursome will open a whole-foods café, Angkor Bodhi Tree Riverside Café, where the emphasis will be on good coffee. Multi-skilled Lauren worked as a barista in Melbourne for two years and feels passionate about bringing a little piece of antipodean café culture to Temple Town.
Lauren says, “I was looking for that really good quality coffee and I have been struggling to find it. That’s my vision: to have specialised coffee, just to be well known for our quality and consistency, our customer service.”
But rather than go down the route of importing European brands, Lauren is keen to find a good local blend.
She says: “I’m still searching for it. There’s a roast that I’m looking into at the moment from Ratanakiri. We definitely don’t want to be an Illy or a Lavazza, mainstream. We want more of a boutique roast, but it’s finding the right one.”
Lauren clearly knows her beans, waxing lyrical on the topic and admitting she ‘crin-ges’ when she sees coffee not being made properly.
“I’ll be sitting there going, ‘Oh no, she’s over-stretching the milk.’ It’s just that I know how to make coffee, so I want to bring that to Siem Reap, the good quality. And our vision is, in term of décor, to bring that Melbourne/Sydney vibe to Siem Reap. Still keep it Khmer – we’re obviously in Cambodia – so still have those touches, but we want to bring that real metropolitan, café scene.”
The café will be on the site of the old River View café, near the old market, and will feature fresh, organic food and juices during the day. In the evening it will serve tapas until 9.30pm.
Lauren says, “We’ll offer a little bit of a kooky menu, like we’ll have breakfast trifle with fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola, layered. We’re just going to offer something a little bit different, instead of the usual eggs on toast.
“We want really great customer service. We want a really warm, positive energy – very welcoming so that people feel they will be welcome to come every day and just chill out and be on their laptop or read and have a coffee.”
Cassie adds: “We’re going to have a big communal book swap. So there’ll be a whole big wall of a bookshelf. People can just sit and read one, leave it there or take it.”
The café aims to support and train Khmer university students by providing them with part-time work at the café to fit around their studies.
The cafe will also serve as a base for travellers seeking volunteer work, giving the chance to volunteer at a school through the Cambodian Schools of Hope organisation.
Angkor Bodhi Retreat will be hosting an open day on October 6, with free classes. For more information, please visit www.angkorbodhitree.com