It’s rare to find a hostel that has it all. Buzzing social scene, cleanliness, comfy beds, good design, friendly staff, great travel info, delicious food and awesome drinks deals. As budget conscious backpackers, we’ve learnt not to set our expectations too high and will usually settle for just one of the above criteria to satisfy our bunking needs!
However, The Mad Monkey Hostel, Siem Reap and its sister hostels in Phnom Pehn and Kampot, Cambodia, seem to have all of these ingredients – and more! Started almost five years ago by three English expats who decided to ditch corporate life for something much more fun, the hostel chain has quickly become the hottest place to hang for backpackers in Cambodia.
Fun at a recent ‘Black Light Party’ at The Mad Monkey Phnom Penh
S.E.A. Backpacker Ambassadors Jazza Nomadica went to check out at the hostel in Siem Reap last week and confidently declared it one of the “Best Hostels” in South East Asia and part of our epic list here.
What really caught our attention, however, are the amazing projects that the hostel is involved in, in terms of helping the local community. The Mad Monkey are involved in building water wells for the rural poor in Siem Reap, sponsoring work placements for kids that live in poor communities that work on the garbage dumps of Phnom Penh, funding school placements and free education programs and being generally socially awesome at every opportunity. The most recent of these awesome projects is a fundraising campaign to help build a sustainable funding model for the Sala Monkey School in Kep, Cambodia.
The Sala Monkey School is a free school for local children that was founded by an American teacher, Tracy Settler. Using her own money, and with the help of family and friends and some kind donors, Tracy managed to achieve something inspirational, on her own with very little support. Many of the pupils at Tracey’s school would never have been able to afford schooling, most of them coming from farming families in Southern Cambodia that live on less than $60 per month and have no access to clean water let alone the chance of formal education!
Children at the Sala Monkey School in Kep.
However, the school is not able to continue without long term sustainable funding, which is where The Mad Monkey Hostels came in!
The Tuk Tuk Taco Stand
On 6th November 2014, Mad Monkey Hostel launched their novel idea of a ‘Tuk Tuk Taco Stand’ – a unique tuk tuk that parks around the town of Kep to sell delicious tacos to backpackers in need of a bite after a few drinks. 100% (yes 100%!) of the profits of the tuk tuk taco stand will go towards giving children at the Sala Monkey School the ogoing opportunity of free education. Oh and it doubles up as a school bus in the day to take the kids to school!
Eating delicious tacos for a good cause – what a great idea hey?
The recent posters for the Tuk Tuk Taco stand project!
Mad Monkey Hostel are currently raising awareness and much needed funds for their project through IndieGoGo and have incredibly already smashed their target of $2975.00 to get the tuk tuk up and running! So now, any extra funds will go directly to the school to buy much needed equipment and expand the schools capabilities.
As well as getting involved in outside projects, inside Mad Monkey Hostel, the guys really make sure that they are offering awesome career opportunities and worker’s rights to their staff, over 90% of which are Cambodian, including 70% of the senior management team.
Maybe that’s why they are always so smiley every day around the hostel! They receive higher wages than the average worker, health care benefits, a mandatory day off per week, three months paid maternity leave, free education for all staff, provision of interest free loans, as well as promotion opportunities. While these may sound like expected benefits of employment in the West, all of this is practically unheard of in Cambodia!
Meet the staff at The Mad Monkey!
So don’t just take our word for it – what do the staff themselves have to say? We chatted to three of the staff at Mad Monkey Phnom Penh: lead receptionist Sothea Um, Manager Raksmey and head of the restaurant, Tina about what life at the hostel is really like?
Raksmey having fun with backpackers at the Phnom Penh Hostel!
Sues-Day Sothea Um. We want to know what you like about working at The Mad Monkey!
I love working here because it helps me to improve my English and I really like meeting people from all over the world and learning about different cultures. The bosses are helpful… (ah come on, you can tell us the truth – hey?) [giggles]. no I really mean it! I get on with them well and they always help if I need it.
So what do you think about all of the charity support that Mad Monkey does – are you proud to be part of it?
I think that the charity support is amazing and I am very proud and happy to be a part of it. I think that they can really help the new generation of Cambodia to open their hearts and minds through education.
Sothea with guests in Phnom Penh
Raksmey, what is the best part about working at The Mad Monkey?
For me, the best part about working at The Mad Monkey is the good opportunity that I have to get promotion and free education. And I like my boss!
And Tina, what about you? What is the best part about working at The Mad Monkey?
There are so many things I love about working here! It is so much fun every day and backpackers are friendly and happy people. By chatting with people from all over the world at the hostel, I have the opportunity to improve my language skills. My job here not only supports me but also helps my family with education and opportunities – it makes me feel warm in my heart! By helping people who are poorer than them I think this hostel shows that they have such good hearts and I am happy to work in this environment. I love it.
More of the fun-loving staff at Mad Monkey Phnom Penh!
Meet Alex, one of the founders of The Mad Monkey!
Okay, so we’ve heard from the staff. Let’s here it from the big bosses themselves! There’s Tom, Steve and Alex – all from the UK – who are the original founders of The Mad Monkey Hostels. We caught up with Alex who is running the hostel in Kampot…
The beautiful backpacker hostel in Kampot, complete with pool!
So Alex, what were you doing before and why did you decide to move to Cambodia to start Mad Monkey Hostels?
I was on a short stopover in Cambodia whilst making my way to Australia to potentially set up a new life there. Before I knew it, one week of working on a small island consisting of one bar, restaurant & basic accommodation turned into 3-4 months. Whilst participating in what some could call a dream job living on a tropical Island, I met fellow English guys, Steve and Tom. The next minute I was in Phnom Penh signing the contract to start The Mad Monkey Phnom Penh! We’d known each other less than 48 hours, which some would say was crazy – in fact most did!
So tell us more about your initial concept? What makes The Mad Monkey different to other hostels?
Our concept has always been to run a business which helps support the local community but in a sustainable manner by creating jobs, transferring skills and providing the best working environment we possibly can – all thrown in, of course, with lots of smiles and laughter. From the minute I landed in Cambodia I was taken back by the open friendliness of the place and I immediately made some life-changing friendships. I knew from that moment I wanted to do something special in this wonderful country.
Backpackers enjoying themselves with an amazing view at the rooftop bar.
The Mad Monkey Hostel known as a very sociable (party!) place to stay! What events do you organize for backpackers and why?
We try to organize events that provide a fun and memorable experience for guests, something that will stay with them until they’re talking to their grandchildren years down the line – as they themselves decide to go traveling. Lifetime memories – that’s our goal. At the same time however, we also want people to remember that we’re in a country where people’s monthly salaries could be spent on one Friday night out in your local back home. We don’t want people to feel guilty or down about this, after all you’re on holiday, but we make sure that your stay at The Mad Monkey contributes, in a positive way, to local communities in Cambodia. By partaking in our fun, yet socially responsible events, such as pub-crawls, boat parties, cultural experience tours and themed parties – you can rest assured you are doing something good. Everything at The Mad Monkey has a social agenda.
All activities at the hostel go towards helping local communities.
Tell us in more detail about the social projects at The Mad Monkey. What’s A New Day Cambodia?
A New Day Cambodia is a fantastic non-profit organization that The Mad Monkey has been working alongside for a few years now. We have even benefited from employing some wonderful staff from who, without the support of ANDC would be in very different circumstances right now. In Phnom Penh, we run a pub-crawl called ‘Crawl4School’ which is an awesome night out for guests, and also generates money to provide private education, daycare and healthy nutritious meals for children, which allows families to carry on working. In Siem Reap we fund clean water projects for the rural poor by working with an organization called the CBAVC.
Mad Monkey sponsors the building of water wells in rural Cambodia.
What do you love so much about Cambodia?
Well of course – the people! I feel privileged to work alongside what I can best describe as extended family. Not many people can say they look forward to coming back to work from a holiday but I am one of the lucky few that can. Anyone who has lived or traveled through Cambodia will know that you can’t walk down a street without someone saying hello with a beaming smile, something we’ve come to find almost awkward in our own countries as we go about our stressful 9-till-5’s. Most of all, Cambodia has gifted me my wonderful wife, Leakhena and now our beautiful daughter, Daisy.
Alex with his wife, Leakhana and daughter Daisy.