Responsible travel is all about leaving a positive impact on any place you visit. You can do this by respecting cultures and being careful to leave a place exactly as you found it. The popular mantra ‘take only photos and leave only footprints’ is a great one to stand by.
If you really want to make a difference, though, you can take a more proactive approach, by making conscious choices about the activities you do and the companies you choose to do them with.
For the past four years, a social enterprise in Cambodia has been expanding its business, providing some fantastic services for travellers throughout the country while supporting local communities at the same time. Mad Monkey is a collection of hostels (in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot and Koh Rong Samloem) offering a wide range of accommodation, activities, social events and multi-day tours.
It’s too often the case that responsible tourism providers charge significantly more for their services and are tainted with a reputation for being less fun. That’s definitely not the case with Mad Monkey. With a focus on partying and the tag line ‘no stress, no worries’, each establishment is a really great place to meet and connect with likeminded backpackers.
Each of the Mad Monkey hostel has a wide range of accommodation, including mixed or single-sex dorms, group shares, budget single, double or twin rooms, and deluxe suites. The Kampot and Siem Reap hostels both have pools, and the Siem Reap one also sports a really cool rooftop ‘beach’ bar with imported sand! In Siem Reap, you also have the option of staying at the Mad Monkey-owned Naga Angkor Hotel, which has a lot of similar features, but with less partying. As it’s just around the corner, it’s the perfect place to stay if you want the best of both worlds. The Phnom Penh hostel has a cosy top-floor bar and chill-out area and is the best place to meet other travellers if you’re keen to explore the city’s nightlife later in the evening.
Each of the Mad Monkey hostels has a very lively social scene. They all have bars and restaurants with a wide selection of western and Khmer food options at pretty decent prices, and each has it’s own lethal signature drink. Daily entertainment is displayed on large notice boards in reception and may include a bar crawl, pool party, beer pong tournament, BBQ or teapot party, to name just a few. Everyone is highly encouraged to mingle. At the hostel in Kampot there’s a board displaying how many deadly ‘Kampot Kamikaze’ shots have been consumed by people from each country, and they have plenty of deals like free shots for a Facebook like, or a free Mad Monkey vest if you collect enough drinks stamps.
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES
A huge selection of tours are listed on the Mad Monkey website and each comes with photos and a detailed description of the itinerary and what’s included. From Kampot, you can take day trips to Bokor Mountain, Kep beach or a secret waterfall, or combine them in one exciting adventure known as the Kampot Kamikaze Run. In Phnom Penh, you can take a tuk tuk tour of historical monuments, the killing fields, or the local market, try a meditation class or visit a nearby waterpark. Siem Reap’s biggest seller is the aptly named ‘cultural booze cruise’, which incorporates the floating villages on Tonle Sap as well as some time drinking and splashing about in the lake. Other options are quad biking, cycle tours, hot air balloon riding and cooking classes. You should check in advance if you’re keen to join one, as some trips are subject to the weather or only run in peak season.
SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY
Mad Monkey supports the community by funding local schools, providing jobs and fair remuneration packages for local people, and fundraising to build water wells.
Educational inequality is a huge issue in Cambodia. Children who live in poverty are very unlikely to even attend school, let alone have the aspirations to go on to higher education or employment. Mad Monkey’s education fund provides support to a number of initiatives that are working to break this cycle of poverty. Events like the ‘Crawl 4 School’ bar crawl in Phnom Penh (which costs US$5) are raising money to sponsor an entire primary school class to receive top-quality education, school uniforms and equipment, transport to and from school, and access to extracurricular activities. In addition, Mad Monkey supports a free school in Kep called Sala Monkey School and an arts project called Epic Arts, which encourages people with and without disabilities to come together and express themselves through art and creativity.
There are a few foreigners working at the Mad Monkey hostels, but the majority of staff are local Cambodians. All staff receive progressive salaries, regular days off, annual leave, health care support and funding for language classes. Mad Monkey also works with the non-profit organisation ‘A New Day Cambodia’, providing work experience for Cambodia’s garbage dump children. They are also one of very few organisations in Cambodia to employ people with intellectual disabilities.
Mad Monkey is committed to supporting clean water projects across Cambodia. The life expectancy in Cambodia is just 63, and 60% of Cambodians don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water. Families need to walk an average of 2.3 km each day to collect it. Twenty per cent of deaths in children under the age of five are due to the lack of access to clean water. In just over a year, Mad Monkey has funded 130 wells, each of which can supply water to up to 40 people.
IS MAD MONKEY RIGHT FOR YOU?
Mad Monkey is a party hostel aimed at a younger crowd. It attracts really interesting, sociable people and is the perfect place to pick up friends as a solo backpacker. People usually head to the bar early evening and it’s really easy to meet people. The nightly drinks promotions and lively atmosphere are quite likely to lead to unintentional hangovers, but when your beer money is going to such a good cause, your kidneys are worth the sacrifice.