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backpacker sihanoukville cambodia

Why I Suggest You Never Stay At Chil-Axn Hostel in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

I’ve been blogging for the best part of 4 years now – under a number of different sites – and last Friday I had a first.

I received my first negative blog comment.

Now over the last year I’ve noticed a lot more interaction on the site – heaps of new fans, some great feedback on articles and I receive a good dozen or so emails a day from people asking advice and what not.

This gets me pretty stoked to continue doing what I do and I’m more than happy to email people back and pass on things I’ve learnt along the way.

Now I’m all for receiving constructive criticism – but this is what was posted on my article “10 Myths About Backpacker Travel”

big john chil-axn hostel cambodia
Oh How Nice Of You To Stop By And Take The Time To Comment…!

Now this is neither constructive nor criticism really – it’s an outright, blunt slander which seems pretty aimed at both myself and my readers.

My first instinct was to simple whack it in the spam comments folder and not let it see the light of day. But then I noticed something odd – the link that was provided with the comment was a link to a Facebook page.

But not a personal page, no a hostel page.

So called “John (Big John)” as he rather amusingly labelled himself either runs a hostel, manages a hostel or god forbid is the social media guy for a hostel (in which case he should be fired immediately!).

It turns out after some internet digging, that he is in fact the owner.

Now I’ve not included any links to either his hostel site (which works very poorly) nor his Facebook page as the majority of spam comments I receive are simply to gain back links to sites – something I won’t give him the pleasure of receiving.

But lets deconstruct his comment.


Define Backpacking

First off lets look at the English Dictionary definition of backpack and backpacking



[no object] (usually as noun backpacking)

  • travel or hike carrying one’s belongings in a rucksack:a week’s backpacking in the Pyrenees


reasons not to go backpacking
Me, Being a Substance Abusing Loner…Obviously.

Now that basically means anyone traveling a backpack is a backpacker – which is pretty common sense really.

So yes his ‘original’ definition of backpacker does seem ‘lost’.

However like everything in life, history and evolution things change. They evolve and they grow.

They also develop sub genres caption under a single umbrella term.

Take surfing for instance. This once meant ancient Hawaiians who surfed large wooden boards to decide who would rule the islands.

Now I’m a mid twenties, white, Englishman who rides an epoxy foam board. Yet I’m still a surfer.

I’m just as much a surfer as the old dude who rides a longboard, or the young grom who busts airs on his 3 fin shortboard.

We’re all surfers but very different sub genres.


Backpacking travel is no different. It’s not an exclusive club and anyone can get involved.

…and why judge people on how they wish to spend their holidays and travel time? Some people like to sunbathe, some like to chill in the pool, some people like to dabble in some not so legal stuff.

End of the day it’s their lives, their time and their money. If that’s what they want to do then so be it.

He could’ve easily said it was a few people that have spoiled the image of the backpacker for others – but no, he prefers to clearly tarnish everyone with the same brush.


A Changing Industry And Market

Travel as an industry has boomed in the last 10-20 years, budget travel has opened up the world to the masses even more recently and the term “gap year” and “backpacking” has spawned a multi billion dollar industry across the world – from the rainforest of the Amazon to the thriving cityscapes of Sydney.

Yes some people spend a lot of their travel time getting messed up and making bad decisions, but a lot of people like to explore the world – myself included – and balance nights of partying with days exploring some of the amazing places I’ve been to.

“Big John” is simply spitting out his dummy because “backpackers” don’t all fit nicely into his prehistoric perceived stereotype of the word.

But unfortunately life isn’t that simple.

Things move on. Things change. Cultures and ideas are complex. Deal with it. 


Bob Dylan once wrote “times they are a changing” – travel is no exception to this.


Maybe Big John has simply not come across the term “gap yah” which is surely a more fitting sub genre to his point?

But lets also not overlook the point that “Big John” has become part of the corporate travel machine – whether he likes it or not.

He does run a hostel afterall.


Slight Hypocrite?! 

He makes a very specific mention to taxis, wifi and substance abuse as part of his pet hates in the new definition of backpacker. So lets take a look at one of his ads on Facebook shall we…

chil-axn hostel cambodia big john
Yup – Totally Geared Up For Intrepid Backpackers Seeking Out Adventure And The Unknown…

Hmmm….it seems “Big John” is happy to use free wifi, private rooms, cable TV and even en suites as selling points to his property.

Seems like he’s catering to the very “backpacker” types he so despises hey?

Forgive me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure the original backpackers he so cherishes wouldn’t have cared for such things and would be busy setting up their tents and hammocks elsewhere – let alone in Sihnoukville which Backpacker Becki summed up pretty well as “one of the most un-Cambodian parts of Cambodia”.

He’s happy to take your money but I doubt you could expect a warm welcome rocking up to his establishment in a taxi (directions for which he happily supplies) with your Chang tshirt, fake Oakleys and anklets on.

You’ll also notice that his ad promotes his bar and cheap drinks specials. Even going as far as saying if you spend more than $7 he’ll put you up for free.

I’m sure the original backpackers would be more likely to explore the town, eat some street food and spend their time on the beach or trekking through the jungle than spending their time by the pool of some Aussie owned hostel?

There’s a well used phrase that springs to mind here;


“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”


It’s interesting to see that Big John also lists his political views as “very liberal” (yes this whole comment was so hypocritical and random it annoyed me to the point of trying to find out more about him before going ahead with this post!) yet his tone and actions seem completely the opposite.

…but it digress.


Pick A More Appropriate Outlet…

What really bugged me about this whole thing was the fact although he thought it (which he’s very entitled to do so despite being a massive hypocrite) is he decided to voice that opinion.

chil-axn hostel sihanoukville cambodia
An Odd Way To Describe Your Customers…

Again he’s very entitled to do so – but why voice the same comment on not only my blog, but his hostels facebook page (although I now notice that it has since been removed after a few of my blogger buddies questioned his comments) and his own facebook page?!

Not only that but on each occasion linking back to MY article?!

Did he even read the article?!

By his response I doubt it.

Did he do any extra reading about me or my adventures?

I doubt that either.

Because if he had he would’ve realised the article was in fact encouraging people to go see the world and not be content with life in an office, and he would’ve also discovered that I don’t think the world owes me a living – nope I work hard at what I do and I’m stoked to say I’ve achieved it all off my own back – all clearly and openly explained in my post “how the hell do I afford all this travel?!”.

Even still he decided to take the time out of his obviously very slow day to have a go at not just myself – but everyone who takes the time to read through my site.


Sometimes if you don’t have anything nice or constructive to say then it’s best not to say anything at all.


I’m actually heading to Sihanoukville in the next few weeks, but you can rest assured I won’t be parting with my hard earned dollar at Big Johns establishment – nope I’ll even go as far as suggesting 2 other places you should stay instead of his place;


  • The Led Zephyr Backstage Bungalows
  • Koh Rong Backpackers


I’ve not personally stayed at either yet (I’ll hit up both on my upcoming trip) but both have higher ratings than Big Johns place on a number of review websites.


And Breathe…

Travel is meant to open your mind and broaden your horizons, teaching you to accept and interact with people from a variety of backgrounds, lifestyle choices and nationalities.

Clearly – despite his obvious expertise on what backpacking really is – Big John has completely overlooked that fact.


Maybe he should just travel more.

Failing that – he should just keep quiet.

Or just find another website to read through.


**DISCLAIMER – I’m not a very angry, ranting person by nature but this guy caught me totally at the wrong time!**

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