Meet Maden – A Business Man in Rural Siem Reap, Cambodia


This is Maden.

This is Maden. He’s a family man and a business owner. He lives with his family in rural Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Born in prison…

Maden was born in prison, where his mother was kept, waiting to get executed. The only reason she survived, was because she was pregnant with him. This was in the late 1970’s during the time when Khmer Rouge filled the country with fear. Madens mother was a teacher and his grandfather was a professor. This made them big targets for the Khmer Rouge. Maden spent his childhood fleeing and hiding during wars.

” Everyday we had to eat dinner before 4pm. Because if enemies came knocking on our door, or if bombs started falling, it would be easier to flee and hide.”

Maden says that his mother had nightmares long after the war was over. She’d wake up in the middle of the night by the smallest sound and scream for everyone to go hide. She couldn’t rest.

Working 19.5 hours per day…

After the civil war, Madens mother was responsible for supporting a family of 12 people, because his father lost his job twice. They didn’t have enough money for food, so the kids had to leave home for work as early as possible. Once Maned turned 12, he left his family and his home town to work in a Chinese restaurant in Phnom Penh. For 3 years he worked from 2.30am til 10pm with a two hours break per day. If he or any other of the young boys working in the restaurant didn’t wake up in time to serve taxi drivers coffee, their boss would throw ice cold water on time until they were up.

Unemployed due to sickness…

After three years he left the restaurant and started his own business. He sold noodles on a motorbike. He did what he could to survive, even if that meant selling soup of secondary quality. In the evenings he would exchange some of his soup for a fruit shake. During this time Maden lived in tents in illegal places with no toilet and no electricity. He lived here with the poorest of the poor.

“Twice a month police sat our homes on fire, to force us to move. Because of this, me and the other people living there had to sleep with a packed bag. In this way, we could quickly escape the fire.”

After a while of hard work and lots of stress, Maden got sick. Due to this he had to leave his business and go back home to heal. As soon as he could stand up again, he left to find a new job. This time he thought he’d try and get a job on the sea.

A victim of human trafficking…

Maden told us that it’s hard to find a job in the city when you’re from a small town. The jobs available are usually given to people that the owner of the business knows. Since he wasn’t from the city, no one knew him. Therefore, he would settle with the first thing he’d find. He went to the harbor and was approached by a man that told him he needed people to work at his boat. Maden followed him.

It took some time before Maden realized that he was a victim of human trafficking. He was taken to an apartment where a hundred other men already lived. There was only one toilet. He spent one month in this apartment, still not understanding what was going on. One month later, someone came to buy him.

“I knew now that I didn’t own myself and my thoughts any longer. Someone else owned me now.”

He was put on a boat that went to Thailand. He ended up spending two years on this boat. He slept outdoors on the deck every night for 2 years together with other Cambodians on the boat, no matter the weather conditions. Only Thai workers got to sleep inside. He worked hard and barely ate because the food was too spicy for him and the other Cambodians. During the nights he sometimes heard his friend cry.

“Every night when the food was served and we, the Cambodians, couldn’t eat it because it was too spicy, my friend would cry. He cried because he missed home, Khmer food and his mother.”

Two years later, he was supposed to be moved to Malaysia. Instead, Maden managed to run away. He didn’t want to tell us how he did it, but he said it involved one of the high positioned staffs on the boat.

He says he still has nightmares. It took some time before he could sleep at night and wake up without panic. He used to wake up, but not daring to open his eyes.

“For a long time after I left the boat, whenever I woke up, I didn’t dare to open my eyes. I didn’t know where I was and I knew that if I opened my eyes and I’d see the sky like when I slept on the boat, I would panic.”

They cut down the jungle and took everything away from him…

From here on Maden knew he didn’t want to work for anyone else. He wanted to work for himself. So, he started his own business again. He lived in the mountains with his wife. Here he became a tour guide in the jungle. He enjoyed his work… Until the government decided to cut down the jungle of which he was dependent for his work as a jungle tour guide. Once again, Maden lost his work, his one source of income and the only opportunity to support his family. They had nothing left.

“I had to leave my family to find a job. I came alone to Siem Reap with 10 dollars in my pocket.”

He had no clue what to do… Where would he go? How would he earn money? Then he found a group of tourists that needed a driver to Angkor Wat. He called his brother who lived in Siem Reap at that time and asked if he could borrow his tuk tuk. From here on Maden started driving tourists around Angkor Wat, without really knowing anything about the place.

“When my customers had to go to the toilet I had no idea where to drive. I had to stop and ask other drivers. When my customers asked if I didn’t know where the toilet was, I said that they’re rebuilding it, that’s why I don’t know. This was of course not the case.”

Being a tuk tuk driver helped him earn some money, but it was tough. It’s hard for tuk tuk drivers in Siem Reap to find customers. At that time there were more than 10 000 drivers in Siem Reap and everyone were fighting for the same customers.

Airbnb and Couchsurfing helped him…

From a friend Maned had heard about Couchsurfing. He lived in a small room without any mattresses, blankets or pillows. He couldn’t offer his guests more than a roof above their heads and a floor to sleep on. However, he saw this as an opportunity to find tuk tuk customers. In his introduction he wrote that he would be more than happy to be his guests driver in Siem Reap.

He hosted more than 100 people for free, and he found several customers this way. He kept on hosting people for free, until one day when he met a Swedish guy named Per. Per told him about Airbnb, where he could host people in exchange for money. Maned was a bit hesitant, he doubted anyone would pay for staying with him since he had no beddings at all.

“I told him that ‘Per, I don’t have a mattress or a blanket. I don’t even have a pillow’.”

 So, Per decided to help. He said he wanted to invest in Maned and bought him a mattress, a blanket and a pillow. And then Maden started his Airbnb adventure.

It worked out way better than Maned could’ve hoped for. After a while he had saved enough money to bring his family to Siem Reap, which he did. The family had spent a lot of time apart and his oldest daughter had missed out on one year in school due to the lack of money. At least now they were together again. They bought an old house and continued hosting people through Airbnb. Everytime they hosted guests, they were terrified that the roof would fall in, since the house was very old and in bad conditions.

Buying land and building bungalows…

After some time, Maned managed to get a loan (with a 20% interest rate!!!) from the bank to buy some land. They bought land in the rural parts of Siem Reap for 5000 dollars. After buying the land he had 500 dollars left from the loan. With this money he bought supplies and materials and started building bungalows by himself. He continued until he had four bungalows on his land. Today Maned and his family runs a homestay on their land, on which he and his family depends. They have been doing this for 4 years.

Maned says that they don’t have a lot, but given their history, they enjoy what they have now. He also said that everything he went through happened a long time ago, but he still remembers everything. Through remembering, he tries to appreciate his life today.

Real Homestay

Here [coming soon] you can read about why you should stay with Maned and his family. You can also find information about how to book your stay.

Leave a Reply