Much can happen in ten years. The world changes. Technology has brought us smartphones, high-speed internet, Instragram, and smartwatches. Cambodia has changed in an amazing way over the last decade. The once quiet streets of Siem Reap now hum with tuk tuks, great restaurants abound, and every year or so brings an exciting new luxury hotel.
As we close the door on the last decade of ABOUTAsia Travel, and look ahead to the next 10 years, we are grateful — thankful for the amazing Cambodian people, whose warmth and kindness makes it all possible; for our gracious guests, who have each contributed in their own way to our cause by traveling with us; to our expatriate staff, who in many cases have forgone higher salaries back home for a chance to be part of something special; and for our great guides and top-notch drivers, who are so integral to ABOUTAsia’s success.
The Early Days
Back in 2005, Andy Booth had a crazy idea that tourism in a developing country could be a force for good, rather than simply something exploitative. He moved to Siem Reap, and started running tours from the cafe of Hotel De La Paix (now the Park Hyatt). He called it Sage Insights, and back then it was just Andy— Travel Advisor, Operations Manager, and guide, all in one!
An early version of the ABOUTAsia/Sage Insights website promised ‘Cambodia Travel with a heart,’ set in an unfortunately dated font which was so common in the early 2000s (We’re glad the web has moved beyond those days).
Doing business in Cambodia at the time was not without challenges. After his director ran off with the business (the vehicles, guides and client base) and the Cambodian court system would do nothing without a bribe, Andy started over. This never-give-up attitude permeates the culture at ABOUTAsia to this day. “Some people might call it a character flaw,” Andy told a Bloomberg reporter in 2013, “but when it comes to stick-with-it-ness, I am Olympic class.”
The philanthropic side of ABOUTAsia was built with the help of friends Dave Chase and Chris Smith. They took IAM Cambodia (now ABOUTAsia Schools) from a tiny start-up, built relationships with government officials, gained 501c3 status in the U.S., and started pumping money into the local school system with targeted donations.
Experiential = People
Andy realized on his first trip that while the magnificent temples of Cambodia certainly drew visitors, what caused people to fall in love with Cambodia, was the Cambodian people themselves. Reminiscing about his first trip to Cambodia, he said: “The people we met were incredibly resilient, kind, humble, and giving. When you consider the incredible suffering and difficulty they had been through in the ’70s and ’80s, I still saw real warmth, hospitality and resilience.” That people are Cambodia’s greatest resource would become central to ABOUTAsia’s experiential travel philosophy.
Andy believed in understated luxury with a people-oriented bent, rooted in the belief that personalities shape experience. As a result, ABOUTAsia has always been all about people — Cambodian guides, hosts, and drivers. Each has brought his or her warmth, charisma and magnetism, and this, combined with a great mix of archaeologists, specialists, and adventurers, comes together to shape each traveller’s experience.
Science Applied: Crowd Avoidance
Around the time ABOUTAsia set up shop in Siem Reap, a massive influx of tourists began arriving, drawn by the amazing sights and new-found political stability. The downside of course; the crowds were getting out of hand. The traditional sunset spot at the top of Phnom Bakheng (which offers scenic views over Angkor Wat) was overrun by hordes of tourists, elbowing to get the perfect photo spot. Most guides followed the standard routes by rote, without much thought to the traveler’s experience.
Andy put his scientific mind to work on the problem. He systematized research, employing students for data collection and running footfall counts at key temple sites to measure and chart the movement of crowds. Andy still remembers inputting the first footfall counts, and seeing for the first time the plot of footfalls—he immediately restructured all routings accordingly. He created a combination of data and art, letting the analysis drive the itineraries to heighten the experience in the traveler. This insightful application of statistics led to today’s crowd-avoidance excursions.
The next 10 years…
Today, our team—nearly 60 strong, spread across 3 countries— has ten years under its belt. We’ve expanded, and now offer our immersive experiences through Laos and Vietnam, bringing the ‘ABOUTAsia way’ to more than just Cambodia.
We remain firmly entrenched in an experiential, people-oriented, culture-rich travel philosophy. Most importantly, we are still committed to the next generation of Cambodians, those still in school, who we work to support every day. And of course, we still offer the ‘road less traveled’ to our guests, along with unique dining, great wines, and just the right pick of luxury accommodation. And, of course, great people. Because that’s what sets any journey apart.
The road less traveled has never been better. We’re looking ahead to the next ten years.
ABOUT the Author
With a childhood involving Hawaii, Northeast Cambodia, and the Southeastern United States, Business Development Director Ethan Crowley has yet to sate his wanderlust. He shares his passion for the best of Indochina with prose and pictures.