The history of Babel Guesthouse

Travellers from France, Italy and Spain opened Babel Guesthouse in 2008. In addition to their own languages, they also spoke Portuguese, German and English. Together with the staff, who speak Khmer (the Cambodian language) and guests from the whole world, there was a whole lot of languages in the Guesthouse. Here comes the idea of the name Babel (the tower of Babel, and the confusion of languages – from the Bible).

In the beginning of 2011 Katrine Solhaug and Simen Julner from Norway took over 50% of the ownership of Babel, and added another language to the Guesthouse – Norwegian!Simen Julner and Katrine Solhaug - Babel GuesthouseKatrine and Simen have been running another Guesthouse in Siem Reap, and have been back and forth to Cambodia since 2007. They have a strong passion for Responsible Tourism – giving back to the local society.

Babel Guesthouse has always been run with an active focus on Responsible Tourism. We constantly seek to provide benefits from the tourism industry to the local community in Siem Reap, and we are doing our best to cause as little damage as possible to the area in which we operate. We only hire local staff, drivers and guides. They all receive plenty of training, good working conditions, fair salaries and flexible working hours to enable the staff to continue their education. We buy our food for the restaurant at the local market, and we support good projects in town that actively focus on Responsible Tourism and sustainability.

Even though Babel Guesthouse always have had a strong focus on Responsible Tourism, Katrine and Simen brought the sustainable approach one step further – and started Babel Educational Program – a program set up to empower the local staff at Babel. We strongly believe that knowledge is the key!

– the key to get out of poverty, the key to a better life!

Babel Educational Program

Trough this program, half of our all our staff and some of our Tuk Tuk drivers now work on their Bachelor degrees at Build Bright University (BBU) and The University of South East Asia. The rest of our staff and some Tuk Tuk drivers study English at ACE school and we also give English lessons here at Babel. We have also sponsored the staff with Spanish- French- and German lessons. Check out our Blog with updates on all our work with the Program: Education Program - Build Bright UniversityFor a Cambodian, it’s rare to finish even Primary school. There are many reasons for that. For example, Cambodian teachers get very low salaries (40 usd a month is normal), so teachers often require extra money from the pupils in connection with tests and exams. Many families can’t afford to send their children to school, as they simply cannot pay these fees. One year at BBU for one person is around 450 usd, a sum that most Cambodians cannot pay. To be able to support the staff with higher education, we are dependent on donations from guests, friends and family to our Fund – Solhaugfond!


The fund started with the 60-year birthday of Katrine Solhaugs father, John-Daniel Solhaug. He didn’t need any presents, so he decided to wish for money for his birthday – money to support Education for young Cambodians. And then Solhaugfond was set up.

Solhaugfond has sponsored six young Cambodians from the Young Adults program in the Sangkheum Center for Children. All six of them now completed their higher education in Battambang, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and have good jobs and a bright future. Solhaugfond also gives support to Babel Educational Program.

John-Daniel and Katrine Solhaug - SOLHAUGFONDSolhaugfonds webpage:

Globalstudies logoFor three months every year, Babel Guesthouse is the home to Norwegian Tourism students. The company, Globalstudies, is a Norwegian registered shareholder company, founded by Katrine Solhaug and Simen Julner. In cooperation with the Norwegian School of Hotel Management, we offer our students the chance to take part of their Bachelor degree in Siem Reap, and specialize in Responsible Tourism. By taking a part of their studies in Siem Reap, a city with many well-established Responsible Tourism operators, they will get a wider understanding of their studies. By visiting such operators, and by contributing to the local society themselves, the students will learn by doing – not just learn by reading. Our Globalstudies students actively support our Babel Educational Program, and one day every year they walk around the streets of Siem Reap picking garbage. Their friends and family back in Norway sponsor the garbage picking, and this gives great support that enables us to continue giving our staff higher education.

The class of 2012:

Globalstudies 2012Globalstudies web page:

Babel Educational Staff Trip

Every year we do Educational Staff trips to other provinces in Cambodia for the local staff to learn more about their own country and what it has to offer. While we are gone, the Norwegian Globalstudies students are running Babel Guesthouse, doing everything from the Check in procedure to cleaning the rooms.Stafftrip to Battambang - Globalstudies 2011Stafftrip to Phnom Penh - Globalstudies 2012Stafftrip to Sihanoukville - Globalstudies 2013These trips also give the staff the experience in how it is like to be a tourist. And what’s very important – teambuilding! We had great fun! These trips make us closer together, and give us motivation to do an even better job with the guests in Babel when we come back.


Dream catchers have their origin in Latin America. The traditional dream catcher was intended to protect the sleeping individual from negative dreams, while letting positive dreams through. The positive dreams would slip through the hole in the center of the dream catcher, and glide down the feathers to the sleeping person below. The negative dreams would get caught up in the web, and expire when the first rays of the sun struck them. Dreamcatchers in Babel GuesthouseKatrine´s story: Dream catchers have always fascinated me. I bought my first dream catcher-earrings in Mexico, on my first romantic trip with Simen. Since then we travelled many years, trying to find new dream catchers in every country we travelled to. In 2008, on a trip to The Philippines, we got to know a Pilipino “tribe”. One of the men was wearing a dream catcher around his ankle. I told him I though that was really cool. He told me: “I wear it on my foot because I always follow my dreams”. Ever since then, for me the dream catcher has been symbolizing “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS”.

In 2009 I stayed a couple of years in Norway to work and save up enough money to start “Globalstudies”. I am a social worker, and I work with troubled youth. The job can sometimes be very tough. I had to go through a lot of fights, both physically and mentally. After one of the toughest evenings I ever had at work, fighting with two youths at the same time, I went for a drive. It was a very rainy and windy evening. Everything was grey outside, just like I felt inside. I had not yet any co-operationship with a University to actually start Globalstudies, I was questioning if it would ever work and I felt very lost. I cried and cried. All of the sudden I saw this little “boho, gypsy, hippie” kind of shop. In the window this big, very beautiful dream catcher was hanging. I immediately stopped the car, walked right in and bought this dream catcher. I said to myself, this is a reminder – I have to keep following my dreams. One day, I will have a guesthouse where this dream catcher will be hanging, and it will be surrounded by guests and Globalstudies students. – This dream catcher is now hanging inside the bar of Babel. I tell this story every time we have Globalstudies students or other big groups here – to encourage them to follow their dreams.

Many of the dream catchers in the garden are from the Philippines. I went back to the Philippines and bought them. We also got dream catchers as gifts from guests. But most of the dream catchers you see in Babel, we made ourselves.Katrine Solhaug and her dreamcathchers at Babel GuesthouseOn Babel Guesthouse´s staff trip to Sihanoukville in 2013, we had teambuilding; all the staff had to make one dream catcher each. This was to symbolize that, by having the opportunity to study; they can also follow their dreams. We collected shell from the beach, and everyone made his or her own dream catcher with what we found. We also made a big dream catcher, and then we sew all the small ones that all the staff made into the net of the big one. This is now hanging over the reception of Babel!Babel Educational Stafftrip 2013

MUSIC in Babel Guesthouse

It all started in 2011 when Babel got a visit from Katrines best friend, famed Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Sørvaag. Babel Guesthouse arranged for a BBQ in the tropical garden of Babel, and Sørvaag had an intimate live concert for the guests. It was such a great success, Babel had never been so busy in the restaurant/bar before. The Cambodian Newspaper Phnom Penh Post was even there to cover the story of her visit. Hanne Sørvaag på BabelEver since then, Babel had many different artists and bands playing in the garden regularly, with people from all over the world. Phnom Penh Post describes Babel as an up-and-coming venue welcoming a unique cast of musicians you won´t find anywhere else in Temple Town”.

After getting this description, we got the idea to decorate every room with different artists and bands. We have rooms with: Elvis, the Beatles, Guns n roses, Rolling Stones, The Doors, Madcon, Cambojam, The Ark, Abba, Depeche Mode, Mishka, Bob Marley, Manu Chao, Morcheeba, Hanne Sørvaag, Aha, Alpha Blondie and Luciano Pavarotti.

One of our Danish guests is an artist, and made the wall in our AHA room: AHA room - 121 - Babel Guesthouse



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