Giving something back
If giving back to the community is part of your ambitions then the guesthouse at Sala Bai can help you realise your goal. All you have to do is go to sleep, comfortable in the knowledge that you’re getting excellent value and that you’re helping someone to build their own future.
Sala Bai is a hospitality training school established in Siem Reap in 2002. Every year they take in 100 students (aiming for 150 students by 2018) from poor families across Cambodia, house and feed them and, most importantly, provide them with the training they need to start their careers in the kingdom’s booming hospitality sector. The students’ training is a mixture of theory and practice therefore, as part of that, the school runs an excellent weekday restaurant and a great-value guesthouse with just six rooms.
The rooms are scrupulously clean, and simply decorated. There is no fuss or pretension here, which is somehow appropriate. However, there is almost everything that you should need, including hot-water showers, air-con, and WiFi, and you’re only a five-minute walk away from the centre of town.
Breakfast is not included, but downstairs the training restaurant is open from 07:00 to 09:00 and 12:00 until 14:00 on weekdays, then 07:30-09:30 on weekends. The food here is so good that you’ll struggle to force yourself to eat elsewhere. Moreover, as with your stay, every meal contributes towards the students’ training and education. Fortunately, they’re closed for dinner so you’ll at least be able to explore for that one (though private dinners can be arranged in advance).
Sala Bai prides itself on the fact it has found work for every single one of its graduates within three months after they have completed their studies. They emphasise the training of girls because they believe that the future of Cambodia is best assured by empowering women and girls to take control of their lives and their futures. The students come from very poor families and are incredibly motivated. More than 500 hundred apply each year for a place on the course. They and their families are visited by social workers, and the applicants must take an exam to determine their aptitude and ability.
The classes take place in the school building, which also houses the restaurant and hotel. But the students live off-site, in case anyone is wondering about the prospect sharing their quiet evening space with 100-plus teenagers.
The menu in the restaurant downstairs offers a choice of a la carte dishes, or two set menus, one Western and one Asian, each $12, which is the cost of one day's training for a student. It changes every two weeks, but sample dishes include beef tournedos with Lyonnaise potatoes and Provencale bayaldi with Kampot green pepper sauce, or fresh river lobsters with black noodles (see what we mean about making it hard to leave). On the a la carte, you’ll find old school favourites like Caesar salad ($5), beef burger ($6.50), and Cambodian fried rice ($4), as well as more adventurous flavours such as an escabeche marinated mackerel fillet with mixed leaves and virgin mango dressing ($4.50).
Sala Bai is a firm recommend in our book. It offers great value, and the money you spend goes directly towards supporting the students’ training, education and healthcare. It is closed during the school holidays, from July to October, but open during the academic year seven days a week except for Khmer New Year.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 12th November, 2016.