Koh Dach Moments, Cambodian Yoga, and the Mad Monkey Hostel

When travelling with a group, it is always easy for arguments to arise regarding preferred activities or ways to spend a free weekend. After a busy first week working in a Phnom Penh, our TEFL group however, seemed to all be on the same page when it came to organising some downtime.

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Koh Dach Island

After a group dinner at a local BBQ restaurant, we were shepharded on to Dusk til’ Dawn, or the Rooftop Reggae Bar Phnom Penh  as it’s more commonly known– exactly what it says on the tin, and a phnomenal way (pun intended) to really relax for the first time together and experience great music, views, and our first taste of the nightlife of the city. Curfews at 9pm during the week don’t exactly allow for more than a rebellious tipple on the riverside before racing back to accomodation before the security guards fall asleep, but I feel this restriction allows us to make the most of the weekends, and in a way this week it feels like we’re actually settling into a (somewhat) normal working routine.

The delicious cocktails at the Reggae Bar were exactly what was needed by all after a tough week, and after a bit of chatting and dancing we proceeded to hop the nearest                            tuk-tuk to check in to our accomodation for the next 3 nights.

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The Mad Monkey hostel in Phnom Penh is one of the primary spots in the city for backpackers, with honestly probably the cleanest shower facilities and tastiest restaurant menu I’ve seen since arriving in Asia. Shared dorms, every nationality imaginable wandering around the reception area and rec room, and likeminded working-travellers just chilling for the weekend, it really allowed us to feel like we were finally taking a break and allowed us to revert to ‘traveller-mode’ again.

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Mad Monkey Hostel Phnom Penh

The popularity and widespread reputation of the Mad Monkey for Western backpackers and travellers such as ourselves really showed as I ran into a girl I know from college back home in Ireland whilst trying to find my way up the windy and confusing staircases one night. The rooms are very strangely laid out, but it’s fun trying to find each one if you don’t mind a bit of trial-and-error – and the artwork around the walls is brilliant to look at too if you do get lost!

There are nightly beer-olympic style games in the ‘Rooftop Sunset Bar’, and plenty of other bars, nightclubs, and Western-style restaurants around within walking and tuk-tuk distance that also appealed to us. I was particularly excited to see the Costa Coffee, and directly opposite it stood a large branch of Domino’s Pizza!

The staff were excellent, the menus were yummy and nicely varied (albeit slightly pricey), and the rooms were spotless, well-cleaned and spacious. We were particularly happy when they didn’t seem to mind us hanging around in the resturant area for hours on the Sunday, I’m sure they’ll be sick of seeing our faces before the end of our stay in Cambodia!

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The ‘Healthy Monkey’ fruit & granola option : )

Only a 5 minute walk up the road from the Mad Monkey, I was thrilled to find the Nataraj Yoga Hub Cambodia, where I attended classes both mornings of our stay. Both the Ashtanga and the Regular Flow classes I attended were great,  and the open-terraced balcony looked out over a beautiful courtyard garden.

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I didn’t mind paying the rather pricey drop-in rate of $9 in order to get a proper class or two in though – self- practice is great, but difficult to accommodate regularly whilst travelling and staying in shared lodgings.

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Koh Dach Island

Our Saturday was spent cycling the length of Koh Dach Island, or ‘The Silk Island’ as it is known to the locals. This beautiful, quiet and picturesque length of land was exactly the break we needed from the madness of both the city of Phnom Penh and the backpackers’ hostel, and we were treated to a visit to the house and workshop of a local lady who showed us exactly how she wove and made the silk products, one long scarf she told us taking ‘three to five days’ to complete. The ferry out from Phnom Penh port cost a mere 500 Riel, (the equivalent of $0.25), and it took us smoothly over the Mekong River to dock silently at the other side, alongside a haul of dusty motorbikes and one or two old cars which drove straight off the boat and onwards to their island destinations as soon as we thumped gently into the bank.

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Silk weaving on Mekong Island

We rented bikes for $2.50 for the day from Phnom Penh Bicycle, which meant we had the island to ourselves to explore. I’d definitely recommend the bike rather than the motorbikes – much quieter, more peaceful, and really helps you feel like part of the island as you pedal forwards over the barely-used dust tracks and pathways.

It was so tranquil and relaxing to traverse the dust tracks and wave at the excited local children who saw us as we passed, the palm trees, strange bone-thin cows and local vendors giving us a true insight into what life here is really like. As we continued on and found ourselves immersed in beautiful countryside, greenery and blue skies, I really had several glorious moments of smiling peacefully and thinking;

‘This is why we travel’.

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After a long afternoon we stopped for refreshment at a French Hotel/Pizza place  where the fresh stonebaked veggie pizza was honestly the most deliciously mouth-watering thing I have ever tasted! Rooms there go for $70 dollars a night between 6-7 people, which we worked out would cost us about $12-$15 each to share for a weekend. Definitely returning here some weekend soon, because it was literally paradise on earth – and there was a pool!!

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Useful Links:
Dusk Til’ Dawn on Facebook
The Mad Monkey Website 
The Mad Monkey on Facebook

Day 1- Phnom Penh – From Connemara to Cambodia

Day 1 – Phnom Penh – Ó Chonamara go Cambodia

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In a far cry from wandering around Templebar in Dublin of a Thursday afternoon, I spent my first few hours alone in Phnom Penh wandering around the temples of Wat Kien Khleang, or Mongkol Serei Kien Khleang Pagoda. Partly visible from the hotel in which I’m staying for the first few nights of my orientation, the ancient temples are situated side by side to modern day constructions and oddly mismatched with the various motorbikes and cars parked around them.

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Situated about a 15-minute drive from the center of the city and overlooking the Mekong River, the compound is just off the road that leads (as I gather) out to the Koh Dach, or Silk Island, another attraction on my list.
The clearing in which the temples can be found was eerily deserted as I approached, and I found myself wondering was I supposed to be there at all, yet some reassurance from a local that it was ok to have a look around was enough to set me at ease.

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 The huge, ornate and elaborate designs are absolutely beautiful to observe, with distant chanting and clattering of local children in the distance providing a peaceful yet dynamic setting for the temples to be in, giving me the sense that they really are at the heart of the culture here.

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These stairways really envoke a sense of power as you approach and enter the buildings, asserting the temples and the Buddhist faith itself as a strong sense of physical and spiritual prowess.

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Some of the temples depict painted murals of the Buddha’s journey, and although many were faded with dust and time it was clear that they are still held in very high regard by the locals as they all sat outside or within the vicinity of the dwellings instead of remaining inside. I didn’t go inside either as I had been advised against entering any place of silence – and the entire perimeter of the place where these temples shine gave me the impression that it’s not a very frequently-visited spot by tourists – I just happen to be staying very close by!

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This is the one of the larger temples in the compound, and was occupied by a scattering of worshippers I only noticed were there after walking around the outside a few times. There were also several monks sitting alone at the tables outside, whom I recognised from their bright orange sarongs. Hopefully I will get to learn more about the monks at some point and see more of their daily lives – a few glimpses of groups of them earlier as I went through town on a tuk tuk had me extremely intrigued.

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I did have to be careful however as some local moto drivers approached me asking (or so I thought) would I like a lift into town. As I gradually understood that he meant for free and to a place with him for drinks I awkwardly laughed at the ‘misunderstanding’ and immediately started making my way back to the hotel, my first solo venture having proven successful enough, yet ultimately slightly unplanned. I was still far too jetlagged and had lost any concept of time after a 16-hour long journey, and I decided that the rest of the city could wait for further exploration at a time when I was more awake and rested.

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