Interview with owners of the Here Be Dragons Hostel in Cambodia

When I was backpacking in Cambodia, I had the best time in Battambang, the second-largest city in the country. This is largely contributed by my stay in the incredibly cozy Here Be Dragons hostel.

I have always been interested in how hostels are started, especially when I spent all my backpacking stays in hostels. Who is behind the scenes? What are the challenges? I was able to interview Jen, one of the owners of Here Be Dragons hostel.

About Here Be Dragons

Official opening of bar: 20 October 2012
Number of employees: 11
4 double rooms, 1 twin room, 6 dorm beds
Price range: $2 – $10
Amenities: Restaurant, Bar, Pool, Garden, Roof Terrace, Free Wi-Fi, Travel Advice and Tickets, 10 mins walk from town centre

Who are you and what did you do previously before starting your own hostel?

I was born in a small village in the English countryside, but moved up to the bright lights of London when I was 18 to go to university and to write. Before we left, I was working for a magazine about strange phenomena – ghosts, ufos, weird beasties. Ferg is a born and bred London boy, and was a manager at a big rollerskating nightclub called Rollerdisco.

Sri Lanka

When did you decide that corporate life was not for you?

I don’t think you could describe either of our jobs as corporate exactly, but they did share many of the disagreeable elements of office life – miserable co-workers, dull tasks, repetitive days. Realising that we didn’t want to live like this for ever didn’t happen overnight, but you can’t just complain and bitch forever – eventually you have to get on and do something about it.

Why did you start your own hostel and why Cambodia?

Cambodia was our first big holiday together and we fell in love with the country. We’ve been to some amazing places since, but nowhere has quite matched up to it – the warmth of the people, the quiet early morning mists, the romantic sunsets over lazy rivers… Oh, and it’s cheap. Having our own hostel was more one of those things we’d idly dream about when we were on holiday, but when we decided to leave our jobs we knew we’d come to Cambodia.

What did you have to plan and prepare before leaving your job and start a new hostel?

We didn’t really do much in the way of planning and preparing. The important thing was the leaving. We were in Cambodia for a year before we decided to open up our own place.

What makes your hostel different from the rest of the hostels in Battambang?

We came to Battambang because, strangely, there weren’t really any backpacker-type hostels in town. People who wanted to visit would come and stay in one of the big cheap hotels for a night, do a tour of the countryside, and then leave. We wanted to create an environment where people could kick back and relax for a while – hang out in a hammock in the garden, chat to other travellers at the bar. And it’s working – we have guests now who plan to stay one or two days and end up staying for weeks. Plus, we make our own sausages, which lots of people reckon are “the best I’ve ever tasted”!

What strategies make up your marketing efforts to keep occupancy high?

We use hotel comparison/booking sites like Tripadvisor and Hostelworld. Apart from that and the odd bit of flyering, we do very little marketing – not by design, but because we’ve been concentrating on getting the place finished. Should be ready to get serious about promotions for next high season.

How important is the website to your hostel business, how do you keep tabs of everything on your website?

Not as important as it should be. Working on the website is high up on my to-do list.

How would you advise travellers who wanted to follow your footsteps and set up a hostel?

It’s very difficult to draw up an accurate business plan for a country – and possibly an industry – you don’t know. But what you do need to start working on now is cutting down the amount of sleep you need per night – around 2 hours is ideal – and start building up that alcohol tolerance. It’s not an easy life, having fun all the time.

What impact does your business have on your life?

Business and home life don’t exist for us as two separate entities. Ferg and I live in the hostel. This is our home.

About Here Be Dragons

Address: Near Wat Sangker, next to You Can School
Contact: +855 89 264 895
Email: jen@jenogi.com
Website: herebedragonsbattambang.com
Facebook: facebook.com/herebedragonsbattambang
Twitter: twitter.com/Here_Dragons

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