The early 90’s were an exciting time for Southeast Asia. The region had shook off decades of regional, domestic, and international conflict that had cost millions of lives and, to quote the then Thai Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan, was transforming “from a battlefield into a marketplace.”
In 1993, Cambodia had its UN-led elections which prompted the recovery from the brutal Pol Pot era and subsequent civil war. In 1994, President Clinton lifted the trade embargo on Vietnam that had been in place since 1975. In that same year, the Friendship Bridge spanning the Mekong opened, connecting Thailand to Laos.
Khiri’s founder, Willem Niemeijer, had worked in the Thai travel industry since 1987, the year of the highly successful “Visit Thailand” campaign. In 1992, Willem was amongst the first group of journalists and travelers to journey overland from Bangkok to Danang in Vietnam. (The adventures of this trip can be found in James’ Eckardt’s book “On the Bus“). From there, he continued his solo travels to Cambodia.
Meanwhile, Khiri’s co-founder, Frans Betgem, was leading adventurous tours in Vietnam. Despite having to work with the country’s heavy-handed bureaucracy, he traveled up and down Vietnam at least 15 times.
These travel experiences were the inspiration to start Khiri Travel. The company first started as a DMC dedicated to offering these four countries as one incredible destination. The first office was on the ground floor of half a shophouse in Pratunam. Soon, the company, which consisted of Willem and one staff member, moved into a room in the Viengtai Hotel. In 1995, a shophouse across the street became available and would remain the office for the next 8 years.