Have you heard of the Mad Monkey hostels in Cambodia? Most people know them as party hostels. Particularly in Siem Reap, the rooftop bar at the Mad Monkey is the place to go for a late night drink. What fewer people know is that Mad Monkey also call themselves a family, and treat their staff like one. They’re also socially responsible, help the community, and are responsible to the environment. This means that you can sleep, eat, and party (if you like) in Cambodia, and merely your presence helps provide education and clean water.
Since they started in 2012, Mad Monkey have built around 170 wells and they’re now building a school. They work with a local monk – so you know that the money’s going to the right place. And if you like, you can arrange to go out and see the work that’s being done. More immediately obvious, though, is how happy the Khmer staff are. They’re laughing, smiling, joking, and their English is pretty good too, helped by Mad Monkey either by employing English teachers to help or by supporting them in their personal development and encouraging ambition.
It’s no surprise, then, that I jumped at the opportunity to stay in Mad Monkey when I was headed to Kampot. The Kampot hostel is beautiful, and feels more like a resort. The dorms are airy, the beds are bigger than the standard single, and there’s a huge blue pool to swim in. Every week there’s a trek to the waterfalls organised through the hostel that raises more funds for, you guessed it, water. There are many other tour options too – pepper farms, Bokor mountain, river cruise, the list is (almost) endless.
On our first full day we rented motorbikes and after swapping out the dodgy ones (remember to always check before you ride off) took ourselves off to the pepper farms, with an excellent insider tip given to us by Mad Monkey: find the hotel with the infinity pool. As long as you buy a drink, and say we sent you, you can swim in it for free. They grumbled a little and tried to make us pay, but when we said Mad Monkey sent us they let us go right ahead. With only one other party there (a group of Chinese teenagers taking endless silly photos) we pretty much had the pool to ourselves and found it hard to leave. That night we hung out on the rooftop bar, which isn’t as large as Siem Reap’s but has an amazing view across Kampot.
The next day is when my trip became a little different, and sadly not as different as it should be. We (independently – because of too many incidents like the one you’re about to read about Mad Monkey now recommend only going as a tour) took our scooters up Bokor mountain, and my luck finally ran out. Coming down a hill I miss the bend, came off, and the next thing I knew the bike was on my leg, trapping me. Cambodians appeared from everywhere, and luckily so did the guy I was with and an American man, who lifted the bike off me. There was a lot of bone showing on my knee, and I was bleeding, a lot. From multiple places. We put me on a bike, and got me down to hospital which was friendly, and cheap. They patched me up and sent me on my way, back to Mad Monkey.
I extended my stay and postponed my next booking with the Mad Monkey on Koh Rong Samloem. And passing my days in a haze of pain and opiate induced sleep (and many more hospital trips), this is where I became really familiar with the Mad Monkey food. While vegan options are limited, they’re available. I ate a lot of spring rolls. They’re currently working on making the choices a little clearer as to what’s veggie and/or vegan, and a vegan menu will be appearing later this year.
Next stop was Koh Rong Samloem. There is no wifi or data signal here, so make sure you tell your family before you go that you’ll be out of contact for a few days. There are no cash machines on the island, so budget well. It’s a beautiful place to just relax, and people who come for one day stay for a week. I spent a lot of time lying on the decking just staring into space, as I still couldn’t walk by myself so had to rely on my companion to bring me out each morning and take me back to the cabin at night. While I was there they added a Twister board to the decking, and there was a fire show which was good hearted but needs a little polishing. The stick of fire flying into the crowd definitely added a certain something, however. If you like night swims you can wade out under the full moon and millions of stars to see the plankton.
As Mad Monkey’s newest hostel, Samloem is still finding its feet but is definitely an amazing addition to the group. Don’t go here if you’re expecting a five star resort – they mention the jungle a lot for a reason. Every morning when we woke up, the game was finding what our rat had eaten. During our five day stay it ate: my soap, a jeans pocket, a bottle of aftersun, a pringles box, a medical bag, and probably a few other things too. Little trails of ants wandered in and out, and someone found a large scorpion at the foot of their bed. They didn’t take that one as calmly as we took the rat. For me, this added charm (although I didn’t have to deal with the scorpion) but I can see how it wouldn’t appeal to others, so make sure you go in aware. And if you need a clinic or hospital, don’t believe what they tell you on the island: there isn’t one on Samloem, or Koh Rong. We had to take a complicated series of boats to do a quick Koh Rong trip where we met Dennis, a topless doctor/barman who told us to go to the daycare English school/pharmacy, where an Australian girl who’d done a first aid course a few years ago changed my bandages in the dirty backroom. As a cat walked along the wall above my head, I rolled my eyes in pain at the iodine and questioned my life choices. Edit: I’ve now been reliably informed that the rodent issue is being dealt with an humane traps are being put down, so your room should have fewer furry visitors than mine did.
If you have the use of your legs, you can go on jungle walks to get through the trees to one of the other beaches, where you can scuba dive and pick up some wifi if you’re desperate. Mad Monkey is the only food option, otherwise, but the menu is excellent. The menu and food is similar in all the hostels, but this one was the best in my opinion. They have two vegan pasta options, a veggie burger (make sure to ask for no mayo) and a few other things. Beware the pizza night, the dough has eggs and milk in it. My favourite little touch here were the signs dotted around, which made me smile every time I saw them.
After five days, it was time to head onto Siem Reap. The boat back was rough, and the bus was long. By the time I got to the Mad Monkey, I didn’t know what day it was anymore (probably not helped by the painkillers I was still on to deal with such a long trip). I was given a friendly welcome by Luke, who’s in training to manage the Mad Monkey they’re opening in the Philippines. My room was nice but a little sparse. Compared to the Koh Rong Samloem and Kampot Mad Monkeys the Siem Reap one is clearly older and more worn down. However, they’re currently refurbishing the bathrooms and working to do it up, and there are no complaints to be had about the size of the pool downstairs, or the rooftop bar upstairs. The whole hostel is a work of art, as artists stay for free and have covered the walls in their murals.
There are multiple tours available through the Mad Monkey Siem Reap, including the infamous booze cruise which runs twice a week during high season. A tour of the floating village with all you can drink beer for $25. Despite it being a party hostel, however, I didn’t have a problem sleeping through the night as they close the party down and throw everyone out to pub street at midnight. Siem Reap is the only place where your dorm mates are more likely to be getting up at 4am than 10am as Angkor Wat at sunrise isn’t to be missed, and so there are usually at least a couple of people in the room turning in at 9pm.
This is the part where I would show you the pictures from Angkor Wat, except I must be the one person who did miss it. I spent my days taking a $1 Tuk Tuk to the coffee shop all of a 4 minute walk away, sitting there with my leg up, taking a Tuk Tuk back in the evening and then listening to how amazing the temples are. Although there are Tuk Tuk tours of Angkor Wat, from what I heard the best way to see the temples is by bike which will give you liberty to explore all the small ones that aren’t utterly crowded with people. I made the decision, therefore, to leave them until another year when I can actually walk. As cities to be unable to walk in go, Siem Reap is both good an bad. I missed out on a lot, but it’s also small and easy to get around cheaply by Tuk Tuk. The Khmer locals are much friendlier here than in Phnom Penh and don’t spend as much time trying to scam you. I also felt far safer here than I did in Siem Reap.
If you’re interested in socially responsible travel, I’ve been told that the show at the Children’s hospital on Saturdays isn’t to be missed, and they always need blood donations. Siem Reap is also packed with NGOs and cafes that employ and work to educate street children. If you want to do something for children but only have a few days or a week, please go this route rather than trying to volunteer at an orphanage. Orphaned children in particular need stability in their lives, and having Westerners come and go thinking they’re helping is very counterproductive to their development. If you want to set aside six months or a year to help, though, there’s lots here to get involved with.
As much as I wish I could tell you about anything to do outside the Mad Monkeys, I can’t think of a better place to be laid up with my leg in the air during my time in Cambodia. They treat their staff well, the environment well and the community well, and are a good place to party or chill, whatever you like. Go visit them, paint someone’s face fluorescent, and have a drink for me. Book through their site or through Hostelworld by clicking on the link below.
Disclaimer: all the opinions in this are completely my own, but if you book through the link above I’ll make a tiny commission at no extra charge to you, which allows me to travel for a little longer and keep writing useful posts.