Interview: Dani Jump of Bees Unlimited, Siem Reap, Cambodia

I'd venture to say that Antonio and I had never met a character quite like Dani Jump before. He's an American by passport, raised in India, served three Peace Corps terms around the world and now has roots firmly planted in Cambodia. Immediately you get the sense that this guy is honest, intelligent, wise and true to his self and follow humans. Using his skills, personality, language (he's fluent in Khmer), and compassion for the country and the Cambodian people, he's developed the perfect and unique way to blend his passions and give back to the community - and really give, not a sealed charity enveloped where who knows how much goes to the people, the NGO, the transportation costs, or the company's computer maintenance, for example. I have a hunch that this guy is going to do great things (even more so than he has already done).

With Dani we were introduced to people we would never have met otherwise. We saw things that before we had only seen on TV and movies or touched on supermarket shelves; making coal, the process of palm sugar production, families making rice noodles from scratch. More importantly we left with a different perspective, our trip was that much richer because of his introduction to Cambodia, and we felt confident that our tourism presence had had a more positive effect on the local Siem Reap economy; we personally meet the people who were to receive our tourism dollars - and that is priceless in today's hunt for authenticity.

Dani with one of the families that we visited at a palm sugar production "facility," in reality their home and business. 

Thank you Dani for the interview and the amazing day in Siem Reap! Below you can find his contact details.

What were you doing prior to moving to Cambodia?
It seems so long ago and far away that I was showing campesinos (farmers and villagers) in Paraguay how to transfer feral colonies of ‘Killer Bees’ into homemade hives, take them home, raise, and exploit them for their delicious honey. 20 years on, and I’m still working with bees and villagers—half-a-world away; only this time, I've added tourists to the mix.

How long have you been running Bees UnlimitedYour Temple Tour Alternative?
BU—YTTA has been around now for a few years—hidden on the Eco-Tour link of my website, which few people knew about. All that changed in 2012, with the opening of a Facebook account and my Bees Unlimited page, some tours for local expats, and subsequent reviews
on TripAdvisor. It’s all really happened in the past few months.

What's your favorite part of showing foreigners your Siem Reap?
The greatest satisfaction I get from the tours is the privilege of showing people things I know and love about this country—the things most tourists never experience; sharing the experience with others—watching them shoot up the countryside and people with their cameras; their delight at being able to taste something new at a local market, and get out into the villages with someone who speaks their language, knows the area, and can communicate with the locals.

The temples are impressive, of course; but the indelible memories will be those of culinary discoveries, interaction with local residents, and the time spent getting to see and know the country.

We got an early start at the local market - a Cambodian woman prepares jackfruit for sale, as the sun rays cast warmth and color. 

How are the locals reacting to the influx of tourists? Positive or negative effects on economy, environment, lifestyle....etc.
I arrived in Cambodia way back in 1994, when Siem Reap was just a quaint little country town with a few hotels and a handful of guesthouses and restaurants. Power was sporadic, at best; few of the roads were paved, traffic lights were unheard of—as was traffic. There were no tuk tuks in town, no tour buses and no Night Markets. The few resident expats worked primarily for international and non-governmental organizations—whether in demining or development. People came to Cambodia to help Cambodians.

Photo inside the The Camdobian Landmine Museum. Dani was flexible about our interests and what we wanted to see during our tour. We arranged a stop to the museum, Antonio paid and entered, and I sat resting outside with a refreshing coconut. 

In those days, it was considered culturally insensitive—and downright unacceptable for men to wear shorts in town; women certainly didn't wear them! They wore skirts down to their ankles—and many still do; so it comes as quite a shock to most to see female tourists ‘parading’ around the center of Siem Reap in shorts up to their anus.

Dress codes have changed, and are changing, to be sure (Cambodian men actually wear shorts now)—but let’s not be so culturally insensitive! Look around, see what the locals are wearing, and dress accordingly!

By far the biggest impact of the tourist boom here is economic—and more and more Cambodians are moving to Siem Reap to exploit the situation. There are now hundreds of hotels and guesthouses; and just as many places to eat and drink; seems like there’s a Night Market around every bend; tuk tuks number in the thousands, and tour buses clog the roads. Siem Reap is definitely not the sleepy little town it once was…We even have a few traffic lights now; and many—but not all—of the roads are paved. Traffic is horrendous; accidents, many. By the way, there’s a reason why tourists are not allowed to rent motorbikes here: it’s simply too dangerous; most Cambodians drive like absolute idiots!

We got stuck in a mini-traffic jam on our way out of the market. Siem Reap, Cambodia. 

For all those who strive to make an honest buck there are those who prefer dishonest means; whereas crime was unheard of when I first arrived in Siem Reap 19 years ago, it now pays to be prudent.

Where would you like to see the business in 5 years?
BU-YTTA, caters to individuals, couples, families, and small groups—as many people as can fit in one tuk tuk, really. Our intention is to provide our clients with an unforgettable Cambodian experience, off the temple track, where they can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear the Cambodia of today.

Presently, if we had a tour a day, 5-6 days a week, I’d feel extremely satisfied; but I don’t want our tours to become so popular that I have to turn people away!

What's your number one recommendation for folks visiting Cambodia?
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you've seen Angkor Wat you've seen Cambodia. BIG
MISTAKE!! Visit a local market, get out into the countryside, meet the people, eat their food. That’s what I’d recommend. Judging from the feedback posted on TripAdvisor, if I were you
I’d contact Bees Unlimited—Your Temple Tour Alternative, and book one of our “Discover
Cambodia” tours, to experience the Cambodia of the here and now. You won’t be disappointed!

On Dani's "Discover Cambodia" Tour we headed out into the countryside and had first-hand encounters with all sorts of wildlife - including these beautiful carnivorous plants. 

Anything else you'd like to share?
For those who take our recommendation seriously, may I just say that Market Tours are good anytime; Angkor Nature Tours are best in the rainy season (June-Nov); Bee Tours are best Dec-March; Village/Countryside Tours are particularly pleasant during the rainy season, with the dry season (Dec-May) being hot and dusty; but there is always something interesting and unusual to experience any time of year. Hope to see you soon!

Happy campers with Dani Jump of Bees Unlimited after a full day of touring, learning and tasting. 

Get in touch with Dani and Bees Unlimited—Your Temple Tour Alternative at (beesunlimited @ yahoo dot com) for a tour the next time you are rolling through Siem Reap or follow them on Facebook for amazing photos of Cambodian wildlife and rural beauty!

Where to stay in Siem Reap:
Tanja & Frank were gracious hosts and recommended our awesome tour with Dani! Stay with them at Bayon Gardens Guesthouse & Backpackers or follow on Facebook.


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