A few days ago I had a pretty nice interview together with Andre Ruys. Although we are friends since a couple of years, I suddenly recognized, that I do not know anything about how he came to Cambodia. The only things I saw were his and his wife´s Lily activities in Social Media growing and sometimes completely different. I found posts about jeep tours, a new resort, a pepper, plantation, a foundation, cleanup project and many more. I wanted to learn more about this Jack of all trades. We organized an appointment quickly on Skype. The connection between Siem Reap and my hometown Düsseldorf was perfect and we talked more than one hour!
Inga: How did you come to Cambodia?
Andre: Do you want to know the short version or the whole version?
Inga: Ok, Let us start with the short version.
Andre: I was a backpacker in 2002 and I went for 1 month from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and after this I wanted to go to Laos, Vietnam and back to Thailand. The bus took only 16 hours from Bangkok to Siem Reap. And yes, I was in Siem Reap for one month but until now I never made it to Vietnam and Laos. My first visit to Vietnam was 3 years ago and still I never been in Laos.
Inga: Ok, this is really short – how about the whole version? (From this moment, Andrés eyes were beginning to shine and I felt, I will hear an exciting story)
“The bus was overloaded, but I smiled during the whole trip!”
Andre: I was a backpacker in 2002 and planned to go to Cambodia for one month. In the moment I crossed the border from Thailand I was definitely flashed! It was a specific feeling for this country, I cannot describe. And until today I cannot explain why, but I still remember all the people around me claiming, because the bus was overloaded and did not have air condition. I sat there in between all those different smells and with a big smile in my face. And after my first hour in Cambodia, I had fallen in love with this country.
After this month in Cambodia, I knew that I had to come back and to see more. And I knew also, that I never wanted to live in Holland again. So I needed a plan, because my money would not be enough for the rest of my life. After a short brainstorming I had the idea to offer special tours for backpackers. So I did and went to the Ministry of tourism. I had two questions:
- Is it possible to run a travel agency as a foreigner?
The answer was “Yes”
- Do I need a local person to be allowed to run this business?
No, you can run this business 100% alone by yourself. Just do this:
- A: Go to Ministry of Commerce and apply for your business
- B: Open a Bank account with a deposit of 5.000 USD
- C: Open an office
- D: Go to the Ministry of Tourism and apply for the license
And guess what? After two weeks, everything was arranged and I could start with my business in Cambodia. At this moment, I did not have any plan how to. I did not know anything, just had this idea for backpackers.
“My first business idea was a desaster”
For advertisement I designed flyer with the offer for Backpackers and brought them to several guesthouses in Phnom Penh. Then I went back to the office and I waited for a phone call. But nothing happened on the first day. Also the next days – no phone call. Thought the phone was broken, but it was ok. Seems that no backpacker was interested in my tours. After one month without any phone call from a customer I went to the guesthouses and asked: “Why do you not book? Don’t you like this offer?” “Sure, it is nice but we prefer to go to Thailand and Vietnam. It´s more interesting there. My first business idea was a disaster…
Still with no plan I went back to my office. I needed a new idea! Few days later, a tourist came in and asked for bus tickets. In this moment, a new idea was born! With new brochures I went to the guesthouses again and from now on I offered bus tickets for tourists. I made some money and after 1 month, I had my first employee. It was Lily, who is my wife now.
After a while, selling bus tickets was not the business, I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I started to think again. Backpacker still went to Thailand and there was a new road in the south through the Cardamon mountains. Busses were not able to pass the road, only taxis and minivans could drive this impracticable ground and the four ferries. But taxis and minivans only drove, when all seats were taken. It happened, that customers had to stay overnight until the last seat was sold.
“A minivan took the turn”
My idea was to buy a minivan and driving to the border at 7 ó clock in the morning. One day to the border, and the next day back. With 7am we were early enough to catch the border before it closed at 5pm. On the way back I took some locals for a cheaper price. It took some time – in the beginning we had two or three guests, and we needed 5 for break even. But after one month, the minivan was completely booked and we started to make money. A couple of time later they asked me, why we do not drive every day. Because some guests wanted to leave the next day and not the day after.
I bought another minivan and from now on, we brought the guests to the border each day. But the problems begun with rainy season, less tourists, streets were more and more muddy, minivan were broken. I needed a new idea…
Inga: Wow, seems you were getting a plan more and more ^^ So next question: Why do you love Cambodia?
Andre: It´s a feeling, hard to describe. It is the same, like others have this feeling for America or Australia for example.
Inga: Think I can follow you, there is really something special with Cambodia. Next question: You are an Entrepreneur now and you are running many different projects in Cambodia. Please introduce them for our readers.
Andre: Ok, here we go.
- Cambodian travelpartner (www.cambodia-travelpartner.com) we are Tour Operator and organise the most of our own tours to all parts of the country since 2010.
- Six years ago I met a guy, who was a volunteer in Siem Reap and on his birthdayparty (40 years) I told him that he has to find a real job. So I told him, why not open a small resort in Battambang. The same evening he came back to me and he said to me: “Sounds good but only if you join me. ” “Why not?” I asked myself. We started this project and the resort is now opened since two years (www.battambangresort.com).
- Three years ago I bought a jeep – now I have nine and offer special jeep tours for tourists. (www.cambodiajeep.com)
- Triple A Adventure – (www.triple-a-cambodia.com) this was a another idea for backpackers. You know, I still believed, that backpackers in Cambodia would behave like in countries like Thailand or Vietnam. Only in Cambodia they do not. So this idea was a disaster too. Well, I thought a 3 day trip between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh would be pretty nice for backpackers, but they did not book. In other countries, they do – not so in Cambodia, it´s crazy! We stopped and offered one day trips to the country side and after two months, more and more guests were booking this tour, but mostly from 3,4 and 5 star hotels. Our new flyer worked fine now ;-) Tripe A Adventrue we do together with a French / Chinese couple.
Inga: Why this name Triple A adventure?
Andre: Triple A is not really a good thing, but my friends meant it sounds funny, so we took this name.
- Lily Foundation – it is not a real NGO, not registered. But my wife Lily supports children, so they can go to school. Some of our friends and guests give monthly money and we give part of our profit as well. Also she initiates clean projects or brings food by boat when the area is flooded. My job is jus to support her fantastic initiatives!
- Pepper Hill – (www.the-pepper-hill.com) Why pepper? Why not? In 2013 we organized the Lotos Rallye (www.lotos-rallye.com) with 10 Jeeps. A guy from Hamburg took me beside after the trip and mentioned, that he will come back to Cambodia. I did not really believe in the first moment. A lot of people say that and never come again. But he did. “How about an own pepper plantation in Kampot?” he asked me. I asked him: “Do you have any experience with pepper?” “No”, he answered. “Do you have any experience in being a farmer?” “No”, was his same answer. “But I like to see things from the beginning up to the end. Means: I can see the pepper grow and how it is filled into glasses. My own pepper. I only need somebody who is the partner in Cambodia. I will build up the structure for selling in Germany and other countries.” Next year, we will harvest our first pepper!
Inga: Oh, not more? Just kidding – think this will not be your last project. For those who want to live abroad in Cambodia as well: What are the three most important points that need to be considered?
Andre: It is similar to other places all around the world.
- Think yes or no in 100%
- Think in solutions
- Don’t listen always to other people
- You need a good partner who know the culture and speak the language
Inga: Sounds pretty easy. Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Andre: No, I cannot! Every day is different. One day I am here and the other day I am there.
Inga: Not really typical for successful persons as studies learned us to wake up early and to have same procedures every day like a clockwork. However, sounds really interesting! The next question I always ask, because I am interested in the opinion of different people who live in Cambodia: How can tourists support locals in Cambodia?
Andre: Tourists can support to locals with buying products from the locals. For example the Made in Cambodia Market in Siem Reap. This market is organized by the Shinta Mani Hotel and is opened each Saturday and Sunday.
Inga: Yes, I know this market. Good to know, that there is a place, where really only Cambodian products are offered and not those who are imported but declared to be from Cambodia. Last but not least the most important question: What is your biggest dream in life?
Andre: I am just a normal person, not really special. I have dreams, some of them come true, and some not. I want to enjoy my life, to help other people. I want to do things in a decently way. And I want to do many more of those things!
Inga: Thank you very much for your answers! I wish you all the best and a lot of success for all the projects which you will start in your life!! See you soon and drink another Killepitsch together!! (Note: For those who do not know Killepitsch – this is a delicious famous liqueur with 80 herbs from my hometown Düsseldorf :-)
Find them on Facebook
Last but not least a list with some Facebook-Pages of Andre’s and also Lily´s activities (some of them together with other partners as well):
- Facebook-Page of The Pepper Hill
- Facebook-Page of Lily Foundation
- Facebook-Page of Battambang Resort – Reviews on Tripadvisor
- Facebook-Page of Triple A Adventures – Reviews on Tripadvisor
- Facebook-Page of Cambodian Travel Partner
- Facebook-Page of Cambodia Jeep – Reviews on Tripadvisor
And don´t forget to drink a Killepitsch with Andre :-)
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Thank you for writing this interview with Andre.
We know Andre since 2009. He made it possible for us, making a trip of three weeks In Cambodia in 2010.
My feelings for Cambodia did I made in 1993 as a UN militair. I was there for more then 6 month’s.
I still have contact with Andre and follow him on Facebook.
Andre and Lily are lovely people.
Sorry for my English. In German geht es leichter. Gruesse.
I’ve read your interview. What an interesting great guy! If I should fail to get a transport for my removal to Sihanoukville here in Pattaya, I’m going to address myself to André.
Might see you all over there one day.
G. B. AYELE