The best hostels in Asia – Cambodia’s Mad Monkey is well up there

The Best Hostel in Asia

Written by Ben Cleaver – Firstly let me say that I am writing this “best hostels in Asia” article whilst at The Mad Monkey Top Banana Bar, in return for free beer.  It is not under duress, but i have been paid in beer. I was however told to be honest.  So here goes,

The best hostels in Asia – Is The Mad Monkey a contender?

There used to be one place in Asia that most travelers may pass by, potentially only flirting with the briefest of introductions during the backpacking circuit of South East Asia.  Distant Cambodia that includes Phnom Penh, the erstwhile “Paris of the East”, the ancient temples of Angkor and some of the most unspoilt islands and beaches left on Earth has been through it’s rough patches, but it is also fast becoming a hot destination and here is why.

Cambodia is an exotic place that you may fall in love with – most people do.  A third world country, with its own problems, quite sketchy at times; one could call it edgy.  It is awesome, and I love it.

Its French influence is still visible today through its buildings with French colonial architecture, wide streets and promenades. When you are in Cambodia’s capital, or at its Angkor Wat Temples or even chilling at the river town of Kampot, or partying hard in Shnooky there is always something absolutely different, out of left field and completely proprietary to Cambodia happening at all times. In short, Cambodia is the absolute nuts, I did not intend to be here for long, and now like so many I have been captivated by her spell.  I last touched civilization like most people know it over three months ago, and i am in no rush to return.

Cambodia is becoming a hot destination on the South East Asia backpacking circuit for good reason. As well as being truly spectacular in every sense of the word, it is also dirt cheap. Why then with so many places to stay available did  I always hear and endless spree of recommendations for The Mad Monkey, even when it is not that cheap, especially if you are backpacking around the world.  A check in some eight weeks ago satisfied my endless curiosity.

Guests find it easy to unwind as the ambiance is relaxing at The Mad Monkeys beach bars, jungle bars and rooftop sunset bars – (there is an awesome bar in each hostel) and it has everything to make your stay enjoyable including really decent food, ranging from all of the traditional Cambodian delicacies right down to Devonshire pasties and Sunday roasts . Here is my 15 reasons to stay at The Mad Monkey.

15 Reasons to stay at The Mad Monkey

1. Be a responsible traveler

One of the reasons that Mad Monkey is awesome is because it is set up as a social enterprise.  This means that the staff serving you are in receipt of healthcare, fair pay, free education, interest free loans, holidays, maternity benefits etc – I could go on but you get the picture.  Basically spending your Money at The Mad Monkey means that the staff get a fair deal and its not going into one hostel oligarchs pocket.  I like this.

2. Meet cool people

People in Phnom Penh are generally friendly. You can ask anyone for directions and expect them to tell you that that they know the place even if they don’t know. Be polite when they do not give you the exact answer – this is the culture. You can find cool people like yourself right at The Mad Monkey Hostels bars and restaurants that has started to become an institutional hang out where guest from different countries meet to hook up, chat about their adventures and get down and dirty with the party. Each night there is a beer pong game, witty banter at the bar, drinking games, free shots and it attracts a crowd that ranges from budget backpacker like me to trust fund diva like the girl sat four tables down the bar from me at the moment.

3. Get drunk and party

The Mad Monkey Hostels are great if you like a booze up, they have numerous plush bars where drinks are sold at reasonable prices, in fact better than reasonable – a beer will set you back $1 (expensive for Cambodia) and a plush cocktail that would go for $12 in Australia come in at $3.75. Sample the Grenade wall of fame in Siem Reap, y, or have a grapple with the Bazooka shots in Phnom Penh, or try the Tiger Tanks in Kampot.

The hostel’s active bars are where backpackers converge as the first point of call before a big night out. The bars offer more than 40 concoctions on the cocktail list and the music is great to boot. The Phnom Penh Mad Monkey has a rooftop sunset bar reminiscent of a swish city bar from back home, Mad Monkey Siem Reap on the other hand has a rooftop beach bar complete with 1ft deep sand on the floor and The Mad Monkey Kampot has a rooftop jungle bar overlooking the mountains and river.

Three properties with three completely different bars with restaurants in their own right which means you wont get the feeling of being stuck in the same place, each one is a completely different experience.

4. See the Sights

Tourists always make it a point to visit the Killing Fields about 15 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, but the hostels offer a lot more than just the typical tourist trap tours.  Whilst we were then we shot some AK47’s, my friend Jimmy threw a grenade successfully without blowing his hands off, I spent a leisurely afternoon nosing around the national museum and royal palace, and our group even took a day trip out to a Safari Park where we were all endlessly entertained by two monkeys throwing poo at each other.

5. See the sights of Siem Reap & Kampot & the Cambodian Coast

Siem Reap boasts of its tourist attractions with a mixture of Chinese and colonial-style architecture. When you visit the province and the city of Siem Reap, don’t forget to drop by at the Bayon Temple that depicts the Hindu and Buddhist influences through its walls and carvings. This is the place that has the Stegosaurus carved into the walls – creationists use it as a justification for man walking with dinosaurs but it is just a pretty picture.

Angkor provides tourists with other attractions that date back eons ago. Among them are the Ta Prohm Ancient Ruins, Angkor Wat Ancient Ruins and the Angkor Archaeological Park which are both historical sites.  If you can try and add a twist and get yourself onto on a full day ATV tour around the temples of Angkor.  Kampot similarly is never short of activities, from river cruises, jungle tours in the national park or a night out at the Casino they are all good to go.

6) Meet the founders

The founders here are all fucking boss, I do not mean like “hippie cool” I mean like “smart bastards” cool. They will always go out of their way to help you and are always willing to hear suggestions of how things could be improved.  I like the fact that they are always around, you get the feeling of knowing the owner in much the same way you may strike up a relationship with your local pub landlord or bar owner.

7) Support in house education

In house education is vital in any business organization operating in what can be considered as one of the less developed countries in Asia. At the Mad Monkey Hostels, the management team provide constant education at work for the hostels staff.  I am not just talking about how to serve a coffee either, whilst I was there one of the owners was giving the bar staff an English lesson at the bar whilst they were working.  In Cambodia education comes at a premium, it is more as though the Mad Monkey operates as a school that also happens to be a hostel.  Guests get involved as well, I had many an awesome chat with The Mad Monkey staff pouring my endless stream of beers and I love all of them.

8) Provide staff with healthcare

The staff at the Mad Monkey Hostels are all provided with healthcare benefits to ensure that they are get any medical help they need. This is unheard of in Cambodia and is a major perk for the staff working at the Hostel.  This probably explains why they are always beaming smiles from ear to ear; I honestly thought some of them were a little bit simple when I got there, but it turns out that they are just deliriously happy.

9) The rooms are not good enough to kick about in

Mad Monkey has a lot of room choices, they are clean and basic, but they are functional for what you need which is a bed, hot water and AC, and its cheap as well.  In fact the dormitory rooms are all furnished, with air conditioning units, private lockers and shared facilities for bathroom and massive whopping beds.

If you want privacy, you can stay at the private guestrooms where you can take your time in the en suite bathrooms, there are no TV’s in the room, much to my surprise – however it did force me to get up to the bar and meet people every night which was also a great plus.  I must admit I can not remember the last great “TV in Room” night I had.

10) Eat great food

The Mad Monkey Hostels serves Khmer and European cuisine and I must say that as a chef myself and for being 7,000 miles away from home that the food at the Mad Monkey is on par of what you would expect from a decent restaurant in London. The Khmer cuisine tastes so good, and the menus are different at each hostel. Make sure you eat the Amok in Siem Reap, in Phnom Penh make sure you tuck into the in house made sausage and mash, it is something to write home about.

11) Expand your mind

Traveling to Cambodia is not only relaxing but it is educational. While touring the places in the country, you will learn the lesson in history by looking at their ancient ruins, The Killing Fields, ancient temples and archaeological sites. You may also feel pity for the deplorable condition that many of its people especially the impoverished live in. You see beggars, street children and people living in shanties and the trip makes you realize that whatever is going on back home that you should be grateful for what you have.  Despite this everyone remains happy, and friendly.  Weed is legal here, let me paraphrase that; it is legal to eat but not to smoke.  You will find a “Happy Pizza” shop in every town. I should have started with this fact.

12) Stay at MM Kampot

I fell in love with the beautiful city and the province of Kampot, which is known worldwide for their best black pepper in the world. It has the ideal climate and soil that makes it ideal for black pepper to thrive.  It is home to exotic fruit, Durian, hundreds of small scale farms producing excellent produce and of course as its near to the sea there is always a fanfare of fresh sea food to tuck into. You can go mountain climbing and see the view in the mountains of Bokor and Damrei, you can walk through the canopy of the national park and see monkeys swinging above you, both Mad and deadly serious.

13) Get laid

See to it that you use a condom.  There are always a lot of people getting laid around here, apart from me I hasten to add.

14) Get introduced to Cambodian Culture

Cambodians are religious people and it is pretty obvious by its numerous temples that depict its Hindu and Buddhist influences – this also makes them very polite.  There are a few things about Cambodian culture that I can pick out straight away.  Firstly any Cambodian may break out into spontaneous full on singing at any time and for any reason.  Everything is noisy – the bigger the speakers the better your funeral, shop sale, wedding, party etc. Cambodians like a drink, but rather than strike out for a night on the town nailing seven beers straight after work is the modus operandi.  Yes means no, people do not want to lose face.  If you ask them if they understand in depth theoretical physics they may say yes because they don’t want to look bad, or they may just laugh and say “not really” even if they happen to be a professor of theoretical physics.  Cambodian people are hilarious –  they will fuck with each other at every opportunity, from slapping each other on the ass to scaring the shit out of each other – it is constant.  But most of all every Cambodian i have ever met has been immensely interested in us Johnny foreigners.  They will always be interested in where you are from and what it is like there.   In short Cambodian culture is one of the main reasons to be here, it has not been voted as the worlds friendliest country for nothing – and the team at The Mad Monkey are probably the most friendly people in Cambodia.  Unless you are an asshole of course.

15) Have an awesome time

Boating, biking and shooting the rapids are exciting things to do in the rural areas, dancing on a bar with no bra on, riding shotgun on the top of a tuk tuk, dicing with death at the waterpark or local funfair can be even more thrilling. Bring your camera and lots of memory cards.

One last thing – if you are an artist and paint on the walls you can stay for free, if you happen to be a blogger like myself they are happy to trade beer for your write up just like this one.  The Mad Monkey walls are like one big art gallery, although i have to say some of the work is shit.

There are many more reasons to check out The Mad Monkey,  including the pools in Kampot and Siem Reap which are on par with most hotel pools, the exceptional standard of service, the nice touches like a free beer when you check in, to the Tuk Tuk drivers that you will meet.  I guess to really see what you are missing you will need to go yourself.  I can see why they get consistantly good recommendations and I had heard nothing but “Mad Monkey” during my conversations with other backpackers in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos that had “Done” Cambodia.  It certainly gets my vote, i consider them to be the best hostels in Asia.



Ben x