Guest Blog Post
All my life, I’ve had itchy traveller’s feet. Thankfully, I have had many opportunities to scratch that itch. Throughout Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia, I have seen some of the most beautiful places in the world. But there is a catch. At the end of each trip, I returned home. The initial excitement of friends and family reunion soon gets replaced by the dull reality of work and ordinary life. But on my last trip something changed. I didn’t come back.
I was working in an office in England on a good wage, living in a lovely seaside town. I had plenty of friends and family, but something was missing. I have no kids, but that wasn’t the thing I lacked. There was no sense of excitement or adventure. I was working long hours in a fairly stressful job and spending weekends trying to wind down before doing it all again on Monday. It was a hamster wheel existence. A comfortable hamster wheel, but a hamster wheel nonetheless.
So when my boss called me into his office and delivered the news that the company was making everyone redundant, I was strangely elated. It was perfect timing. I dusted off my passport and put together a travel plan. Losing my job never felt better.
The initial idea was a three-month trip around Asia, starting as a volunteer teaching music in Kampot, Cambodia. Then the plan got a bit vague. I was thinking of moving further east towards Korea and Japan but didn’t book anything specific as I like to have the freedom to travel as the wind takes me.
After saying goodbye to loved ones, I arrived in Kampot – a sleepy town nestled on the banks of Praek Tuek Chhu river. With spectacular views of Bokor Mountain and ringed by beautiful paddy fields, pepper plantations and salt flats, Kampot is a gem of a place. It has attracted a large expat community for its size, which explains the plethora of international restaurants and bars that line the riverfront and old market areas.
I soon settled in, teaching kids and enjoying the atmosphere. Between the bars, restaurants and guesthouses there is a great social life and fantastic music scene. Something about Kampot attracts artists and creative people. Two of Cambodia’s biggest bands – The Kampot Playboys and the Cambodian Space Project – are resident there. Photographers and artists come for the colonial-style architecture of the town and the natural beauty of the surrounding area.
I loved teaching the kids too. Smiling and full of energy, they were a joy to work with. They were much more respectful than children back at home. They lined up at the start and end of every lesson to say hello and thank you, and after good lessons, they hi-fived me on the way out.
But all good things come to an end. I finished my voluntary period and began to think about what next. I was only a month into my journey but already the thought of returning to England was giving me the shivers. I had connected with a few local musicians and was playing in bars around town. Slowly a new idea began to germinate. What if I stayed? What if I didn’t go home?
With a rejuvenated sense of freedom, I took the plunge and invested in a business venture. I had always dreamed of running my own bar and music venue and Kampot seemed like the perfect place. Despite no experience of construction I spent the next four months building a rooftop bar with friends I had made in town. Tantrei was born.
Make no mistake, building a bar in a foreign country with all the cultural and language barriers that entails is no picnic. But it was fun. Though incredibly challenging, I felt more alive than I had in years. There was trepidation and anxiety for sure – would it work? Was I doing the right thing? Only time would tell.
We finished the bar just in time for high season and launched with a fanfare. The time and effort paid off and we hit the ground running. With a good sound system and fair wages for playing, Tantrei became the go-to place for musicians in town. We had a steady stream of artists, from travellers to expats, who rocked the rooftop. I was having the time of my life jamming with the musos that came through the bar and enjoyed performances from standout talents.
We were busy throughout high season and seeing the smiles of customers was an amazing reward. On a personal level, I was discovering skills I never knew I had and growing in confidence that this was undoubtedly the right thing to do. Then we hit a cultural curveball. Though a town, Kampot feels like a rural community. The locals tend to go to bed early and rise at the crack of dawn. This is somewhat incompatible with a noisy music venue that stays open till the wee hours.
I was hauled in front of one of the local police chiefs and he informed me that my bar had to close at 10pm. A 10pm finish is definitely incompatible with the habits of travelling folks looking to enjoy themselves at a music bar. So, with a heavy heart, after an incredible six months, I sold the bar to much quieter occupants.
Now this would appear to be a tragic tale. My business sold in its infancy, despite a hugely promising start – I was left wondering how to stave off the return home. But actually it was anything but tragic. I had a remarkable experience building and running the bar. I had pushed myself far, far out of my comfort zone and it had been a raging success, if only for a short while.
I came to realise that fear of the unknown and of failure had held me back for years. I was institutionalised in a job I hated. The little voice inside my head told me I wasn’t good enough to do things by myself. I proved to myself that was nonsense. Our minds put barriers in the way – I have kids, I have a mortgage, I’m too old – and it is up to us to change the way we think to achieve the things we dream about.
I am still in Kampot now. I’m writing (another one of my passions), playing music and am in the process of setting up a charity that puts on music events and uses the money raised to buy musical instruments and donate them to local schools. None of these things would be happening if it wasn’t for Tantrei.
Andy Trowers is a freelance ne’er do well and staff writer for www.australia.for-sale.com