Ethical Travel in Cambodia
I found out about Monkey Hospitality Group in 2011, started by three English guys that wanted to build a hostel business that adopted sustainability and community benefit at the core of the business, a year later the companies hostels are topping the charts on Trip Adviser for both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
I have stayed a number of days in both last month, and whilst it must be said that although they really are no Hilton, the guys really do know how to get a feel good, friendly hostel vibe going by getting everyone to mix around a bar, a pool table or the Sunday BBQ.
The Mad Monkey in Phnom Penh hit my eye after they were awarded a global award for staff excellence in late 2011 by the travel booking company I work for. As well as being featured on a number of travel sites, I often like to check in with customer’s reviews and by all accounts The Monkey had reviews I hadn’t seen in my ten-year experience for an established hostel let alone a newbie. Backpack on back and dollars in hand I headed off for one of my semi business jaunts to do some market research.
The guys started “Mad Monkey Phnom Penh” first with just a $75,000 USD initial investment split between the three of them, the aim create a rocking high end “flashpackers” experience that actually did some good in the community. I think they have achieved this for sure.
I have only spoken to two of the tree owners in any detail but its clear they are not ones for one off donations that may get eaten up in operations costs. The attitude is much more focused on creating a business that will operate for a considerable number of years and create significant value for the community around it.
And they are really doing good things, firstly they have been working with a reputable organisation called A New Day in Cambodia which takes kids off the garbage dumps where before they would have to scavenge for plastic and glass and puts them into School. The Mad Monkey now provides a number of those kids with long-term employment where they can learn hospitality skills and improve their English. If that’s not enough the staff have their own healthcare fund, receive good salaries and have a compulsory one day off a week which is often unheard of in Cambodia’s hospitality sector.
In early 2012 the team were one of the first companies to employ staff that had special needs and learning difficulties within the business. In Cambodia attitudes to learning or “intellectual” disabilities as they are called have some way to go to catch up to our modern understanding, in many cases people wont even eat in a restaurant that employees these kids for some backwards fear of contracting the disability. As stupid as it sounds this is true, which makes it even more impressive then that the guys went ahead anyway deciding to tackle the issue head on rather than risk impacting the business.
The result of all of this activity? The Mad Monkey in Phnom Penh is full every night with close to 100% capacity, recently it opened the Mad Monkey Siem Reap and surprise surprise there is now a three-day waiting list even to find a dorm to bed down in. So if you are searching for an ethical place to stay whilst in Cambodia, with the assurance that the extra money you spend on your Latte or beef lok lak (Khmer dish) is heading in an ethical direction I would certainly suggest you look at a stay at either or both of The Mad Monkeys as a real option for you. What you may miss out on in the way of creature comforts I can assure you that you will get back many times over in fun, great atmosphere, mixing with really awesome people and of course you may just do a little bit of good without even realising it.