An Interview with Sabai Adventures owner Scott
Scott is the founder of Sabai Adventures Cambodia. He started the company in 2012 while working on a project in Siem Reap. During his free time, he would explore the countryside outside of town. He soon discovered the beauty of the country beyond the famous temples and tourist attractions. Scott wanted to share this experience with other travelers who are looking for a genuine and authentic Cambodian experience.
For the past years, Scott and his team have spent a great deal of time exploring the back roads and villages in the countryside. They’ve developed their tours to create a unique and personal experience. Their love for Cambodia is reflected in the tours they offer.
Scott also has two children that were born in Cambodia.
What brought you to Cambodia?
Like many foreigners living here, my first experience of Cambodia was as a traveller. I’m from Canada but lived in Australia for a few years. When my contract was finished in Australia, I backpacked through Asia before heading home to Canada.
Shortly after I was back in Canada, I was contacted by some longtime friends that were working on a travel show for a Canadian broadcaster that was going to be filmed in Cambodia. We worked on film projects in the past, so I returned to Cambodia to work on the travel show with them for the CBC, which is our national television broadcaster in Canada.
Can you tell us a bit about the travel show and filming in Cambodia?
The show was a travel documentary. The story followed a group of friends traveling to Cambodia from Canada. The twist was that one of the friends is in a wheelchair, and he’s traveling to a country that is not wheelchair accessible.
We spent about two months filming mostly in Cambodia, but also a bit in Thailand. Most of it was shot in Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Pehn, but we also visited more remote parts of the country.
It was an awesome journey, and we met some wonderful people along the way—very inspiring people with incredible stories. I think that’s what stuck most with us when we returned home to Canada—the people we met along the way.
When the filming finished and you went back to Canada, how did you end up back in Cambodia again?
After we finished filming the show, we returned to Canada to work on finishing the project. Back home, we often thought of our time in Cambodia and wanted somehow to get involved with another project in Cambodia. Eventually, some of the friends that were involved in working on the travel show invested in a small hotel. I came over to help them get that up and running.
How did you start Sabai Adventures Cambodia?
When I was helping out at the hotel, on my days off, I would get on a bike and explore the back roads and countryside. I loved my time out there, the people, the scenery and the way of life is incredible. It’s so different from Siem Reap. Not touristy at all. It was a refreshing change with a unique culture and traditional way of life.
After a while, I started taking people out there and they really enjoyed it. The idea to start Sabai Adventures Cambodia evolved from this. I started with the bike tours, and then added the jeep tours a bit later.
For years now I have been exploring the countryside. My team and I have been caught in wild rain storms, driven through dust so thick you couldn’t see the guy in front you. I have been so deep in rice fields I almost couldn’t get my bike out. We’ve been through it all searching for the best terrain and most unique hidden spots to develop our tours and offer our guests.
What can people expect on Sabai Adventures tour?
We work hard to give authentic tours that are fun but also culturally enriching. I have backpacked to a number of countries so I try to use my travel experience in developing our tours. We get people off the main tourist trails to show them what Cambodia is really like outside of tourist areas like Siem Reap.
I don’t feel only visiting Siem Reap and going to the famous Angkor temples completes a trip to Cambodia. Our tours show a completely different side of the country and the local people.
When we’re out on tour, we like to mix up the terrain. Sometimes we drive on sealed roads, red clay roads, and roads that aren’t much more than a cow path. We stop in local villages to show how the people live and earn a living. We drive through rice fields and see people working the crops. We visit Buddhist monasteries and ancient temples. No two tours are the same, so anything can happen. This is what makes our tours unique and not cookie-cutter tours.
We also offer cultural tours for people that want to stay in Siem Reap and visit unique places. If took a while to develop this tour, as we visit independent places like the Bokator school (Khmer martial art), the monks at the pagoda, the stonemasons and the Apsara dance school.
What is it like as a foreigner working and living in Cambodia?
Wonderful, humbling, challenging, rewarding, frustrating at times. All of this wrapped up together pretty much sums up living and working in Cambodia. There’s a large foreign, or expat, community here in Siem Reap. Many people work for NGOs or teach, or have small businesses. There are also those who end up being full-time drinkers or living unproductive lives, unfortunately.
Can you tell us about raising kids in Cambodia?
I am now married with two kids. My children were born in Cambodia and are mixed Canadian and Cambodian. With two young kids and running Sabai Adventures, life keeps me busy. It’s wonderful and challenging at the same time. Our cultures can often by very different so it takes some understanding on both sides.
I want my children to embrace both cultures and speak both languages. I love that I get to spend a lot of quality time with them, probably more than if I was back in Canada.
What does the future hold for you and Sabai Adventures?
For me personally, of course I want to grow my business but still have that unique personal aspect in everything that we do. I believe the best thing that I can do for Cambodia is to continue building on a sustainable business that employs people while paying them fair and honest wages.
I feel often the charity and NGO situation has caused a dependency that needs to be broken for this country to move forward. Don’t get me wrong, there are great organizations doing wonderful and noble work, but there are also many people exploiting this situation as well, using the charity plea to further their own financial agenda.
For me, I want to train people to be guides, to understand tourists, to read people, to teach them about body language and customer service. This is, in my opinion, what I think will make a stronger, more self-sufficient country for the next generation of Cambodians.