I don’t have time to visit Cambodia at the moment, but I want to talk to you about this mythical land. Here’s an interview with Siri Agen Aasheim ; General Manager of European Guesthouse in Siem Reap. An energetic Norwegian girl that I had the chance to meet in Koh Chang during my extended holiday at Jane Chalet owned by my friends Stephane and Jane in Thailand.
Siem Reap is Cambodia’s Buddhist capital, as it is the gateway to the region Ankhor and its famous temple. Siem Reap has colonial architecture marked by its old-style Chinese and French Quarter heritage of its French occupation by during the Indochina period. The city contains many ancient cultural discoveries such as Apsara dance performances, Khmer traditional art workshops , the silkworm farms, rice paddies of the countryside, fishing villages on the largest lake in Southeast Asia call the Tonle Sap and several major religious and natural sites .
Siem Reap is now a popular tourist destination. It has a large number of hotels and restaurants. There are accommodations for every budget. Smaller establishments at an affordable are concentrated price around the old market. The most luxurious hotels are found aligned between Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport and downtown.
But if you need to visit Cambodia and Siem Reap, feel free to reside at the European guesthouse or come have a beer with Siri, Nick and their wonderful staff who will be happy to answer all your questions about Cambodia.
Here goes the European guest house interview
A: European Guesthouse is a small guesthouse in a quiet area in Siem Reap. We have 14 rooms in a traditional Khmer building. It is built with concrete downstairs and wood upstairs. We have a big garden where we grow our own vegetables and a lot of fruit trees, like coconut, orange and mango. We also have a very popular bar where we sell cold beers, soft drinks and fruit shakes.
European Guesthouse is one of the original guesthouses in Siem Reap. It has been opened since sometime in the late 90s. We have a good reputation and most of our guests come through word of mouth. We also get a lot of bookings and are always fully booked in high season. (November-March) Most of our guests are French, German and Scandinavians. We get a good mix of young backpackers but also older couples and families who come to visit the temples.
I have six staff in total. Two guys and one girl at the reception/bar and three girls in housekeeping/laundry. My housekeepers are sponsored with education through the guesthouse and receive free English lessons and computer lessons. I also have a young girl as a trainee. The guesthouse also has seven drivers that take the guests out to the temples and around Siem Reap.
A:I am the general manager at European Guesthouse. I do not own it. The guesthouse is owned by two Swedish brothers who live in Sweden. They rent the land from a local landlord since foreigners cannot own land in Cambodia. Nick is helping me with construction and landscape work but do not receive any salary. I got the job as a manager when our good friend, Henrik who was the manager before me, had to go back home to Sweden. I took over his job on 1st of January 2010.
It is very interesting to run a business in Cambodia. You meet different challenges all the time and you have to deal with a very corrupt country. But most of the time it’s very fun. You meet a lot of different people and you learn a lot about the Cambodian culture while working closely with the staff.
A: Yes in the beginning Nick and I did a lot of changes and renovated the outside of the guesthouse. We did a lot by ourselves with the help from our drivers to make sure everything was done the way we wanted. Also we saved a lot of money by not hiring labour.
I trained the staff to talk to all the guests and make sure everyone feels welcome at our guesthouse. As a manager I am always around so the guests can ask me questions about their stay here and what they are going to do while in Cambodia. I also bring our guest to local restaurants and bars if they are interested. And I give them advice on good places to go.
A: I fell in love with Cambodia when I came as a backpacker in 2006. I got to meet a lot of locals and I really felt that this was a lovely country with wonderful people. I came back to Cambodia in 2007 and intended to stay for three months doing volunteer work. This ended up being 10 months instead. After a break from volunteering I got the job as a manager at European Guesthouse. I still support the local orphanage that I used to work at through the guesthouse.
A: I do not speak Khmer. I understand some but can only say short sentences and not hold a conversation. It is not easy to learn Khmer when the staffs I work with want to practice their English. I learned most of what I know when I was volunteering and working with kids.
A: As a tourist entering Cambodia you will get a tourist visa at the airports or the border crossings. A tourist visa costs 20 USD and lasts for 1 month. If you decide to stay longer you can extend your tourist visa by one month by going to one of the travel agencies. But you can only do this one time.
A: Cambodia is a Buddhist country. Always cover knees and shoulders while visiting holy places like pagodas and temples. Take off your shoes/hat when entering a pagoda or someone’s home. Always be polite, smile and never scream or raise your voice. Never touch a monk and never show your bottom of your feet towards Buddha or a monk.
A: A visit to the Angkor temples is a must and the reason why most people choose to travel to Cambodia. Other than this I would recommend a visit to South East Asia’s biggest lake, the Tonle Sap Lake. But the thing you should not miss as a tourist is a visit to the Cambodian countryside. See how people actually live and get to know the local people. Bring a gift (from the local market) and you will be treated with a nice Cambodian meal and a day you will never forget.
A: The best way to help the Cambodian people is to come to their country. Be a responsible tourist and read about the country and its history before you arrive.
Go to the local markets; buy local handmade products and souvenirs. Eat at local restaurants. Never give money or food etc to begging kids on the streets; this only makes them stay there and not go to school.
A: Prostitution, child abuse, violence in the home from drug abuse or alcohol abuse, “fake” orphan centres and NGO’s.
A: I have travelled a lot in Cambodia but there are still many places I want to go to. I still have not been to many of the islands in the south and would also like to go to the jungle in the north west of Cambodia.
A: I have become a lot more patient after living in Cambodia. Here time is not so important. Life is about family and friends and not so much about money. I guess I have learned to think about what’s happening right now and not what’s going to happen in a week, a month or a year.
A: I miss snowboarding since that used to be one of my biggest hobbies but I don’t really miss the snow or the cold. I enjoy the weather in Cambodia.
A: Yes and no. In high season there is no time to travel. When the rainy season starts and we get less guests I have time to travel but I always go back home to Norway for the summer. I always go to Bangkok for a weekend or two and to the south of Cambodia to the beaches there. My next trip will be to Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines.
A: Cambodia today is a very safe country to travel in. The government is trying its best to keep the tourists safe to make sure tourism will continue to grow. There is very little violent crime against tourists. As in any other country in the world you have to take care of your valuables. Pick pocketing does happen especially in Phnom Penh and Shianoukville. There are still landmines in Cambodia but the cities and the tourist areas have been cleared and are safe. You should still only travel on well trodden paths.
A: No not really. I have met some young backpackers who cared more about partying and didn’t spend much time in the temple areas but most people are very impressed.
A: Tourists cannot rent motorbikes in Siem Reap but they can still rent anywhere else in the country. There are two reasons for this. First is that before this law existed, there were too many bad accidents in Siem Reap. The second reason is that in Siem Reap driving a TukTuk (motorbike with room for 4 people) is a big business for the local people and if tourists can rent their own motorbike to go to the temples the drivers will lose their job.
A: There has been a lot of changes since I first came in 2006. The now famous Pub Street where all tourists go to eat and have a drink was then just a small dirt road with a few places. Today this street looks more like Khao San Road in Bangkok.. The roads in Siem Reap have been paved and they are trying to clean up the riverside. First time I came there was only one ATM in Siem Reap where as today there are probably more than you can count. I have also seen the first mall; first escalator and the first fast food chain arrive. Every month a new hotel, a new guesthouse, a new bar or a new restaurant opens in Siem Reap.
A: Yes a foreigner can easy find a job and get visa in Cambodia. A business visa costs 25 USD on arrival and you can extend your visa for as long as you want. Like with the tourist visa you only need to send your visa to the embassy in Phnom Penh through a travel agency. You can chose from a one month, three months, six months or a one year visa. There is a lot of foreigners living and working in Cambodia. In Siem Reap the most popular job is teaching English. This can be either be at a local elementary school, a private school or one of the universities. Running a business like a hotel, guesthouse, restaurant or a bar is also popular amongst the expats. As a non Cambodian you can never own more than 49% of the land.
A: Yes this is true. You can still do this even though this is unethical. It costs around 400 USD to do this.
To have more information on Cambodia and Siem Reap visit our friend; Tales of Asia www.talesofasia.com/
This post is also available in: French