Best destinations to get your zen on in Asia
Yoga retreat on a backpacker budget? Finding yourself in Asia doesn’t have to mean big bucks spent in luxury retreats, there’s plenty of zen to be found for next to nothing.
We downward dog into some of the best places in Asia to visit if you’re into yoga and meditation retreats, wellness centres, and places less travelled to find your zen! Life's a mountain (pose) and there are some truly incredibles places to climb it (both literally and metaphorically).
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Bali is a ‘peak wellness’ destination and home to Indonesia’s best surf and yoga retreats. Whether you decide to hang ten in Uluwatu or head for hills in Ubud, there’s plenty of destinations around the island with retreats for all budgets, and, for all yogi levels. Awaken your inner calling by volunteering at an Ashram—many offer discounted accomodation in return for helping out around the retreat. And, a chance to focus on your yoga and meditation practice. Bali can be as lit or as chill as you decide. As for karma—you know what they say, what goes around comes around…
Known as a ‘teardrop of India’, Sri Lanka is an emerging destination for travellers seeking a more off-the-beaten-track experience. Big on Ayurveda, the practise of combining “ayuh” (life) with “veda” (science)—it’s all about restoring the balance between mind, body and spirit. Ayurvedic spa rituals and medicine that has been passed down from generation to generation for 5,000 years in Sri Lanka. Plus, there’s lush tea plantations to trek through, pristine beaches to explore and ancient rock formations carved into mighty temples and palaces of a bygone era to admire.
India is a bustling and frenetic country where moments of zen are sought out like no place on earth. A destination for many looking to escape the Western World, no doubt popularised by The Beatles—in 1968 the band famously ventured to Rishikesh (aka the yoga capital of the world) in northern India to get jiggy with an advanced Transcendental Meditation training course the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. With a guru to follow and a famous entourage of actors and musicians later, the band successfully shifted Western attitudes about Indian spirituality. And, the time was said to be the most productive period for the band's songwriting.
Today, the Beatles Ashram is a derelict site that attracts visitors with the street art and graffiti that adorns its walls, with plenty of tributes to the legendary rock group alive and well.
Being the original birthplace of yoga, India is a treasure trove for yoga retreats. Some of the hotspots aside from Rishikesh include Kerala, Goa, Dharamshala, Mysore and Varanasi—the 3000 year old city regarded as the centre of Indian spiritualism and philosophy.
A journey in and of itself, if you find yourself making your way to Myanmar, you’re already on the right track to being an enlightened traveller simply for choosing the path less travelled. All backpacker footprints lead to Golden Rock and the famous Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, perched atop a precarious granite boulder adorned in gold leaves. Legend has it the Golden Rock defies gravity by being balanced by a strand of Buddha’s hair.
Sunrise in Bagan is an otherworldly experience, take a hot air balloon ride over the some 4,000 temples Buddhist temples and lose yourself in the region’s remarkable history. And, if a balloon ride is a little out of your self-discovery budget, save your scenic ascend for sundown and be sure to climb the Shwesandaw Pagoda, dubbed the ‘Sunset Temple’ for good reason.
Far from the bucket cocktails of Khao San Road (hey, no judgement), you’ll find plenty of enlightening experiences in Thailand. Head to Koh Samui if you have a little extra cash to splash on a luxury wellness stay, or, soak up the natural goodness on the island fast becoming known for its healthy, green and organic lifestyle approach. Vikasa Yoga Retreat is a top pick for winding down—grab a day pass of all you can yoga and chill, and dig into a healthy buffet of noms.
Head north to Chiang Mai, a city with over 700 temples, it’s a great place to learn meditation with Buddhist monks. This quieter city is the perfect place to slow down, eat some delicious authentic vegan good and connect with Thailand’s spiritual heart.
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