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Cambodia – The Journey to Visit my Daughter and Myself

An unexpected work trip to China opened the door of opportunity for me to visit my daughter in Cambodia in March, for 5 days.  What were the chances that during the 78 day window that my daughter was in Cambodia for her 2nd semester gap year program, that I would be a 3 hour flight away from her? The stars were aligning!  I emailed the retreat center in Cambodia where Kaylee was living and volunteering at, to see if they had space for me to make a reservation, and they did!  I couldn’t contain my excitement and started counting down the days!

A week after my Cambodia trip was confirmed, I found out that my work trip to China was cancelled. Instead of cancelling my Cambodia trip, I decided to extend it from 5 days to 9.  What first looked like a roadblock, turned into an expansion of possibility! 

Let the journey begin

I left Colorado to make the 36 hour trek (flights, lay-overs and driving time) to Vagabond Temple in Kep, Cambodia.  I flew from Denver to LA, LA to Hong Kong and then on to Phnom Penh.  My longest flight was 15 and a half hours! Once I landed in Phnom Penh, I had to find the taxi driver.  It took a while to find him, but I finally found him in the crowd of people wearing flip flops and holding white pieces of paper with people’s names written on them.  My driver didn’t speak any English. I had to trust that he knew where he was supposed to take me since his piece of paper had my name on it. 

My friendly taxi driver at the Phnom Penh airport.

The drive took a little over 3 hours and we made two stops along the way.  We stopped to fill the car with gasoline at a run down gas station. The next stop was at a street side vendor. My driver sampled the options from the serving spoon that would be used for everyone that purchased food.  He caught me taking a picture of him and just smiled at me, while he waited for his food.  We didn’t talk at all, but he felt kind and laughed at me every time I reacted to almost hitting someone or something as we drove.  The traffic and scenery were overwhelming to me.  So many scooters carrying entire families and little kids on bicycles, navigating the busy roads with no rules or street lights.  There were chickens, dogs and cows along the roads and most homes had a business stand selling food or miscellaneous items. 

Stopped on the side of the road to get vendor food.

Vagabond Temple

The entrance to Vagabond Temple

We finally pulled up to the Vagabond Temple, and I felt so much bliss! I couldn’t wait to hug Kaylee! It had been almost two months since she had been home. I looked up at the lounge hut and there she was! I had reserved a single person bungalow with a private bathroom.  My room was located at the edge of the property that nestles next to the jungle.  I had a small patio overlooking the grounds, a queen size bed with a bug net and a small fan, a shelf to store my personal belongings, a toilet, and a shower.  It was very rustic and wild and HOT.  The geckos and frogs shared my room and bathroom with me and I didn’t really mind it, as long as the bug net kept them out of my bed, which it did!

My private bungalow

The temple provided 3 vegan meals a day, yoga classes, meditation classes, and Dharma talks (each week with a different theme).  My favorite sessions were the daily Dharma talks (included a lesson and a meditation) and the Friday night Purification ceremonies (included a lesson, a chanting meditation, followed by incense purification as we walked around the grounds).  There were people from all over the world staying at the temple. We were united in creating a safe and judgement free space. A space to learn, heal, restore, remember, expand, unlearn, seek, and just BE.

The yoga and meditation hall

Time to rejuvenate and connect

I signed up for two separate massage appointments because I had heard amazing things from the other guests. I received a Reflexology treatment and a massage from the owner of the temple’s sister, Mayaan.  She was one of the most pure and lovely people I have ever met.  She greeted me with a hug and words of affirmation and love.  She told me that I carry the worries of the world on my shoulders and that I need to let people care for me.  She also told me that I need to stop worrying about being a good mom.  That I am the mom my children need, and that is good enough.  She gave me all of this insight, without me having shared anything with her. 

During my free time, Kaylee and I enjoyed going to Khmer Hands, which is the café located next to the Vagabond Temple.  The café patio faced the bay and offered a refreshing breeze so I found myself headed there most days.  I loved the iced coffee, the bacon and the owner, named Chris. At the cafe I would get lost in a book, while looking up in amazement from time to time.  I had many moments of awe that I was really in Cambodia, and felt so much gratitude that I was getting to see and experience that space and time with my daughter. 

Iced coffee with Kaylee at Khmer Hands

Everything about Cambodia felt so relaxed and simple, except the traffic.  I didn’t set my alarm to rise in the morning. Ate whenever I felt hunger. I went to most of the classes, but allowed myself to retreat and relax when that was what I craved. I felt myself transitioning into a slower, more intentional pace of life without expectation or pressure, and it was exactly what I needed.  In the evening we would gather at the yoga hall, turn off the lights, and dance freely.  I’ve never sweat so much in my life. I’ve also never felt so free, and so connected to everyone and everything. 

Fire Ceremony and the Equinox

One evening we gathered for a Fire ceremony.  Everyone met at the Yoga hall and got into a big circle. We were guided to channel our masculine energy by chanting and connecting with the earth.  We then channeled our feminine energy by chanting and connecting with the sky.  My entire body was buzzing with energy and I felt so alive.  We moved over to the campfire and sat around it, and gave gratitude for our ancestors.  Earlier in the day we had written on pieces of paper the things that no longer served us, and we threw them into the fire. The leader of the ceremony walked around to each person and wiped ash onto our faces while we hummed to the sound of the digeridoo.  When I went to my bed that night, I felt like I was being rocked by the waves of the ocean. It was my best night of sleep.

Feeling so alive from the energy of the Fire Ceremony

On one occasion, I remember peeking over at my daughter during a chanting meditation class and a tear streamed down my cheek.  I saw her for the first time, not as my daughter, but as a woman, that has gone out into the world, and has become a part of a community of conscious and curious human beings. Despite the hardships and traumas she has experienced in her life, she is thriving.  She is also funny and creative.

One evening we celebrated the Equinox by having a “dress to impress” party.  We were served fresh sugar cane juice with lime to kick off the event, since there is no alcohol at the Temple.  I wore something flimsy and light since the heat was so intense.  Kaylee showed up dressed as one of her male friends, wearing his clothing, and someone’s facial hair glued to her chest.  Everyone laughed and took pictures, and voted for her as “best dressed”.  I’m not going to lie, I felt a lot of pride! 

Kaylee at the Equinox party

Morning Circle

On the morning of my last full day there, we gathered for Morning Circle.  Kobi, the owner, had us sit face to face with the person next to us.  We closed our eyes and put our hands palm to palm and visualized white light flowing circularly from ourselves to our partners with each breath.  We were told to open our eyes and just breathe.  I happened to be looking into the eyes of a woman that was also from Colorado (Summit County).  It felt so ironic and serendipitous. 

After that, Kobi asked if anyone was leaving that night or the next morning. Since I was leaving, he had me stand in the middle of the circle.  Kaylee joined me and was hugging me in the center of the room, and then all the others came in closely and we formed a huge hug circle. Cobi instructed the circle of 40 people to say, “Momma don’t go”.  In unison, they said it.  “Mommaaaaaaaa, don’t gooooooooo.”.  The chapters of my life lead me to this moment. I felt so supported.  So seen.  We are not separate.  We belong to each other.  And so it is.

Sunset view every evening from the dining hall
Sina with her children, Kim Cheng and Sinat. Kaylee helps them practice English.
The sign that hangs above the dish sinks in the dining hall.

Here is the link to the temple that will always have a sacred chapter in my story:

Heather Williams

Heather is a native Colorado girl, that prefers the perfect Colorado summers over the winters. She is blessed to be the mom to 2 teenage daughters, and Auntie to 2 young nieces. Heather is passionate about human connection and the importance of learning to love our imperfectly perfect, whole selves (body/mind/spirit). She is a social/conceptual people leader for an amazing Colorado company that likes to help develop the whole person, not just the ‘employee’. She believes that life happens for us, not to us, and we should trust inner voice that already knows the answer to all our questions. Heather can be found spending most of her free time going to concerts and enjoying life with her partner Zac, traveling and creating life experiences with her daughters, paddle-boarding, doing yoga, puppy sitting for her friends, volunteering, and hanging out with family and friends. She loves to laugh and be playful and also craves deep connection and communication with her people.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Pamela

    I LOVE this…..& YOU!

  2. Christina Schnellmann

    This is just simply beautiful Heather. My heart is full that you were able to experience this time with your daughter who has entered womanhood. I literally cried reading that moment you saw her in her becoming element. So good!

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