Behind her radiant smile, the energetic Sambo is a fighter with a long history in the service industry.
With a career that has been full of challenges as well as opportunities to travel, Sambo joined Thalias four years ago when she stepped up to manage the brand new Khéma La Poste in the Post Office district of Phnom Penh. Today, she oversees the management of both Malis restaurants in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
To the beginning
Born in the aftermath of the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Sambo grew up in the devastated capital city with a long path to recovery ahead of it. Through those difficult years, the teenaged Sambo divided her time between school and supporting her family.
As a young girl, Sambo never hesitated when it came to helping her mother prepare food for take-away or taking care of her younger siblings. She obtained her baccalaureate in 1998 but, unable to afford to pay for university, she did a variety of small jobs such as street vendor. “I would get up at 5 am to buy vegetables, meat and all ingredients that I prepared for cyclo and motodop drivers at Phsar Depo Market. It was especially difficult during the monsoon season, when the heavy rains prevented us from working properly”.
First steps into the service industry
Soon after this, she decided to follow a short training course to become a guide. “It was very exciting, I was only 19 years old and I was in charge of the visits to Killings Fields. I was doing about three tours a day at the time.”
“This first experience allowed me to discover several of Phnom Penh’s emblematic sites. From the barbed wire of Toul Sleng to the sumptuous frescoes of the royal palace without forgetting Wat Phnom pagoda. I also worked outside Phnom Penh, guiding tourists in the fishing villages near Tonle Bati and the ancient capital Oudong. I had to show a certain professionalism and be able to hold a conversation in English in order to properly engage with the clients”.
“We weren’t only talking about the history of Cambodia, we were also exchanging views,” said Sambo.
Later, she chose to make her way in Siem Reap where she worked for JHC Angkor Tour for six years. Seeing Sambo’s qualities and determination, the company’s director thought it would be a good idea for her to go to Japan for training.
“It was the first time I had travelled abroad, and it was very exciting,” said Sambo. “Tokyo is a city that’s so full of life and always active. In the mornings, I studied Japanese and in the afternoons, I worked at a tourist agency where I took care of visas for Japanese people who wanted to go to Vietnam or Cambodia.”
In 2003, she returned to the City of Temples and enrolled at Build Bright University. Four years later, with her degree in tourism and hospitality management in hand, Sambo took up a position with Borei Angkor Hotel & Spa where she stayed for the next eight years, gaining experience in a range of positions that finally saw her become the director of sales and marketing.
“At the beginning, I was only in charge of the Japanese market because I had mastered the language. After the departure of our sales manager, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and Australia for further trainings, which I really enjoyed.”
Fifteen years after her move to Siem Reap, Sambo decided to move back to Phnom Penh in order to support her father whose health was deteriorating. On moving back, she took up a position with Sun & Moon Urban Hotel, first as the Executive Assistant Manager, then as Assistant General Manager for the hotel. “All the companies that have welcomed me have always motivated and inspired me enormously, Thalias obviously among them. I joined the group in 2017 and I’m very happy”, she said, adding: “it’s a real source of opportunities and also a real family”.
“For me, sharing my experiences and knowledge is a passion. My first customers are my team; they are the first people who have to be satisfied.”
Through perseverance, Sambo has gone on to become the general manager of the two Malis establishments, though the journey has not been without obstacles. “One of my great challenges was to improve my skills in the field of human resources,” she said. Being very concerned about the wellbeing of her employees, she is keen to support them in their aspirations and help them develop in a friendly working environment where everyone feels confident and fulfilled. “Then with the health crisis, we had to manage a complicated situation both in terms of managing the team and externally with the restaurant’s farmers and suppliers,” she confided.
Always ambitious, Sambo would like to open another Malis in Cambodia and also dreams of bringing the restaurant’s name abroad. “As soon as I arrived in Sydney, I saw Asian restaurants on every street corner, but we couldn’t find any Cambodian cuisine. The choice of Asian cuisine there seems limited to Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese”.
“I would like to help people discover the gastronomy of my country beyond our borders”. As far as retirement is concerned, she has no hesitation in declaring that she wants to turn to voluntary work and divide her time between teaching and social initiatives. But this is not for today or tomorrow. This dynamic woman has a long journey ahead of her, defined by more years rich in challenges and experiences. She’s looking forward to it.