Category Archives: Places to Go

Last Few Days in Siem Reap

Flashback March 2016

It’s hard to leave Angkor Zen but more adventures await.

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The road back to Siem Reap’s city center. (c) Andrea Preziotti

My final two days in Siem Reap are a short tuk-tuk drive away. I chose to stay at the Golden Temple Residence, a hotel highly recommended by Trip Advisor and friends alike, located in the heart of the old town and a block away from the Night Market.

Over the top. It’s the only way to describe the level of service at the Golden Temple. From the stone Buddha at its entrance to the welcome ice tea and fresh fruit at check-in. The room is spacious, almost as big as my New York City apartment. The bathroom alone is triple in size. This transition is awkwardly decadent given my minimalist practice at the retreat center.

From the balcony I can see a view of the city, it also overlooks the area where GT performs the Aspara dance show. Interesting perspective watching the dance movements from above. The proof is in the detail, the turndown service included cookies and milk, and a bedtime story written on a card. Very nice touches. I am curious about the need for the amenities price list, essentially a cost for everything portable in the room–I’m guessing some guests at Golden Temple mistake it for a shopping mall.

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Bedtime story, Golden Temple Residence (c) Andrea Preziotti

An evening stroll through the night market. Not many ‘bargains’ to be had, although the prices were wickedly less $$ than NYC. I stopped for a mani-pedi (a whopping $6) and had dinner at a local eatery with live music. I an obsessed with the Alibaba harem-style pants and I may have gone a bit overboard with shopping tonight.

On my last day in Siem Reap, I made my way to the Angkor National Museum, a collection of ruins from the Angkor temple complex. There was a special exhibit of batik paintings from Pascal, an artist local to Southeast Asia. One, in particular, caught my eye, an interpretation of the apsara dance, and will be moving to Brooklyn. Next, we stopped in at the McDermott Gallery for a trio of black and white prints showcasing Phnom Bakheng in the clouds, ‘Monk in the Wind,’ and Apsara performers. Although my treehouse walls may be few they will be well represented with Cambodian art.

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Phnom Bakheng ‘in the clouds’ print

 

All that cultural art viewing calls for a snack at the Foreigners Correspondents Club in Angkor where I had lunch. I ran into the professor from UC Davis (we met at Borei Angkor previously), and we caught up on our travels over tea and ice cream.

The view from across the river is like a window back in time. Tuk-tuks remind me of horse-drawn carriages. There are bicycles and people on foot, and the occasional SUV or minivan bring me back to reality.

One last trip to the night market. This time the bidding war was fierce and now four elephants and two giraffe t-shirts are joining the ark to Brooklyn.

Next stop on the flashback tour: Vietnam 


Yoga, Cats, and Meditation

Flashback March 2016

Pickup from Siem Reap by tuk-tuk. I meet Dianne from Malta, an ER doctor in Preston, UK. Upon arrival at the Angkor Zen Retreat Center, she reacts skittishly to the dog, insistent that Cambodian dogs are the worst.

First impressions are tricky, and despite being skeptical about my accommodations I forge ahead. And I am so glad I did: a four-day retreat turned into five. It truly was an arrival into paradise, one greeted by a litter of yogi cats.

Yoga three times a day, meditation daily. A vegetarian meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner. The food is surprisingly amazing for this carnivore and has swayed me to start thinking about vegetarian first. If only I could get my hands on their cookbook (they make everything from memory /scratch).

House rules are strict about connectivity, the idea is to disconnect digitally and reconnect spiritually. With the exception of a woman from Dubai, everyone is down to earth and real. Your free time is at will and can be spent in the pool, in town or in the communal living space. There are hammocks and Papasan chairs, communal tables for long conversations and then the yoga shala where your transformation begins.

The yoga studio is an open air shala. Thatched roof with Tibetan meditation flags hanging from its center. Tufted floor pillows for meditation and communal yoga mats: use, clean, repeat. The shala is open on 3 sides, facing the surrounding landscape. There is a monastery down the road and oftentimes you can hear the prayer calls and chanting. In the far left corner, there is an altar paying homage to Buddha and Ganesha. This is especially peaceful during meditation and practice. Inevitably one of the yogi cats makes an entrance and stakes claim on a mat or a pillow. Practicing yogis learn to adapt and create harmony in its space.

There are two yogis in residence. Katia from Colombia, strength training Vinyasa. Tammy from California, specializing in Hatha, meditation and alternative yoga practices like Laughter, Partner, Sound, among others. The cooking crew is a mix of local Cambodians, including the owner and Joy a Canadian. Angkor Zen has both resident cats and dogs. Cats with their diamond-shaped heads, stub tails, and sleek bodies. Dog. Singular. A labrador puppy who loves bread.

Tammy introduces us to partner yoga on my first day. The practice strengthens your poses by aligning with another yogi, using each other for balance to mirror the asanas. Federica and I are paired. She is an Italian living in London and works for an environmental agency on climate change. She travels frequently throughout Southeast Asia and is about to buy her first home in the UK. It’s hard not to bond while doing partner yoga, you learn to lean in to support one another. The Italian connection doesn’t hurt either. Over dinner, we plan to head into Old Market Siem Reap for lunch the next day. Dianne decides to join as well. We arrive in Old Market, on the hunt for a coffee (they only serve tea at Angkor Zen) and after a stroll through the day market, Federica and Dianne have burgers (shh, don’t tell) on the brain and so we stop for lunch.

Angkor Zen Gardens tranquility is the saltwater pool. Each day begins with vinyasa yoga followed by breakfast then Pranayama meditation. The Center has the added bonus of the best massage therapists ever. The top massage for my entire trip was my first Khmer massage (pure heaven) at Angkor Zen. There is a separate shala for spa treatments, located behind the dorms. Open air on 4-sides and covered in a canopy. Stepping stones lead to a bamboo bridge; lilies and orchids line the path. There are several meditation ponds on the grounds too, all of them filled with blooming lotus flowers.

I follow my massage with restorative yoga and twilight swimming. It’s nearly sunset and there’s a hammock with my name on it.

Over the course of those five days, I meet some remarkable women: Amber, mother to Herschel on a mommy adventure; Margarita, a Spaniard by way of Copenhagen now living in London; Nina, from Cologne on her own personal sojourn through Asia; along with Katia, Dianne, Federica, and Tammy. In that time over the course of dinner conversations, meditation, and yoga practice we connect on a deeper level. (And thanks to social media, we still keep in touch.)

It is on that last day before Amber leaves that we solidify our friendship over the mediation circle, learning how to let go. Tammy leads us in meditation, our first task is to find a natural offering in the nature around us. This is followed by a devotional and hugging meditation practice that involves an exercise on heart centering, followed by a walking meditation. Tammy’s wealth of knowledge for alternative yoga practices has been enriching and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for yogic meditation and its benefits.

Photo credit: (c) Andrea Preziotti


Siem Reap: Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm

 

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Bodhisattva/Buddha faces of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

The road to Angkor Thom passes over a causeway lined with devas (gods) on the left and asuras (demigod/ demons) on the right. The gates lead to the last Imperial city, where Bayon temple –most noted for the smiling faces of Buddha–sits at its center. The bodhisattva statues should be one of the seven wonders of the world, the detailed and exacting efforts to create emotion and facial expressions through the placement of each stone a complex puzzle of shade and gradient are truly miraculous.

A quick walk through the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper Kings both of which flank the Royal Square. After six hours of nonstop temple touring the only sign you need is the one pointing to the WC. I wish I had thought of a better way to signal my driver and guide. We had agreed to meet at the big tree on the crossroads but that proved way more difficult than anticipated at the high heat of the day, especially without cell connectivity. There must be a hundred tuk-tuk drivers under the boughs of the tree.

The last stop of the day: Ta Prohm, the forest covered royal temple monastery of Angkor. Two trees support the core of the structure, the silk cotton and strangler fig species both of which take root and work their way through the masonry. The site is maintained in ‘apparent neglect’ as an example of the natural state in which Angkor was discovered in the early 19th century.

 

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Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat Temple Complex (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

From a photo perspective, I’m not certain that any image capture can do it justice. The natural effects on the landscape are something to be seen in-person. And it is forever changing, as trees are affected by storms, as they flourish and then die.


Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Flashback March 2016

Day 3 begins at 4:45 am with a pickup from Sok Manea, a tuk-tuk driver referred by TripAdvisor and the web. We travel in the dusk to the Angkor Wat temples. The early morning air is crisp. The climate is duplicitous, I didn’t bring a shawl and should have. It’s cool in the morning, teeming with heat the rest of the day. I purchase a 7-day pass and two checkpoints later I am one of the swarming fireflies descending upon the temple grounds.

Imagine going to a SummerStage concert at Central Park, except you have to arrive in the dead of night to get the best seat. Everyone is moving in the same direction through the temple’s western gopura toward the terrace and moat, all to capture the iconic image of Angkor Wat reflected in the lotus flower pool. Hundreds of people are lining up with their handheld phones, tablets, and cameras positioned to click at the exact moment. One man brought a chair to position an expandable tripod so the image would be tourist free. Very few people were actually present in the moment.

 

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Angkor Wat Reflection – (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

There are no words that can properly express the feeling of entering Angkor Wat the first time. The temple is everything you can imagine and everything beyond what is imaginable. As you roam through its corridors and galleries, you can only feel the presence of the past, the spirit of its inhabitants, the greatness of this structure in its own time, and feel completely at peace. It helps of course if you are one of the first few to enter, as I was. The fewer people (aka tourists) around the better and more enriching your experience will be.

Wildlife in the complex includes dragonflies, sparrows and other small birds, cats, and monkeys. Gibbons and their offspring scale the temple walls and inhabit the surrounding trees. They are as tame as the squirrels back home but I would approach with care.

Walk through the temple from west to east and you find yourself in a peaceful garden sanctuary. It’s like walking into the pages of a fairy tale book.

 


my two year absence

A lot can happen in two years. A lot did happen in two years. There were a handful of hypnotic eye-opening experiences in India, as well as a a slightly disturbing observation in the duty free shop in Qatar. The stories start here. I came home with a new mindset and a plan to make some serious changes in my life. I adopted Rocky to fill the hole left in my heart from losing Tigger the year before. His arrival could not have been more serendipitous, one week later after an unbearably hot July my universe was shaken to its core when my father passed from this life to the next. Those stories are here.

Next came a year’s worth of weekends searching for a new home, and then this past March moving to a new neighborhood. Now almost 5 months in, my Saturdays are spent looking for furniture and sprucing up the deck. You can find out all about that here.

I’ve taken a very long hiatus from my writing and luckily that well is being replenished even as I type this “welcome back to me” post. In addition to ramblings about life and the occasional blast of poetry when the mood strikes that you’ll find here, I’ll soon be launching a new site, http://www.leavetolive.org — the content explores a new philosophidea (I just made that up combining philosophy + idea) of giving ourselves permission (aka leave) to live our lives.

more to come,

– a


a scene like any other

waiting for kashmali
sounds like the title of a book, like
waiting for godot
only less cryptic.

waiting at Cafe OST
on the corner of 12th & A
French doors open wide, piano keys tinkle
the rain a misty haze between the patrons and the street

the clouds swiftly cross the sky
as if the gods are forcing them
across the global divide.
i feel as if I’ve stopped, and so has time.

there is a certain civility
in the hexagonal mosaic floor,
worn down by time and dancing feet
or so I’d like to imagine, to believe.

an exposed brick wall
the milky white marble cast iron mix
a feather in my latte
a crisp breeze blows.

my mind wanders, and wonders
if this scene, like others before
will find itself somewhere else
beautiful and blurred.