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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Good guides, bad guides: the bad guides

There are good guides and there are bad guides. We've had varying degrees of experience with guides we've used (see this post), but on the most part they've been bad. So bad, I've sworn never to use a guide again. Until the next time, when we've had no choice, and a positive experience has made me re-think my policy. In Thailand last year we used several guides. One was particularly dreadful and all the more disappointing because he worked for an award-winning company that's acclaimed for its culturally sensitive hill tribe treks. Our guide was late to meet us, tripped over at the market, and took way longer than necessary to shop for a few things (and coming from me that's saying something). Not good signs. He turned out to be socially inept, continually behind schedule (largely due to his need to change his clothes three times a day) and spoke disparagingly and condescendingly about the villagers. The only stories he told us about the hill tribes related to their greed or laziness and the human trafficking, prostitution and drug dealing they resorted to over hard work. We were poorly received at villages despite the company claiming their guides were from the area, knew the tribes, and we'd be welcomed with open arms. Instead, the reception was hostile and we only ever communicated with villagers when we made the effort ourselves. Our walks through the jungle involved our guide telling us little other than pointing out poisonous mushrooms, plants and insects, none of which he could name. So when a red stain suddenly appeared on my wrist after I'd inadvertently brushed against something poisonous - and with it came piercing pain, followed by throbbing, then aching for 24 hours - our guide panicked, not knowing the cause or what to do. When he calmed down, he consoled me with: "at least it isn't close to your heart". He did give me his tiger balm, which soothed the pain, yet despite telling us we were an hour away from our destination, he continued to dawdle, muttering that we had plenty of time - as the sun rapidly sunk behind the hills. We arrived in the dark. It turned out our guide was from the south, not from the area at all, and years before had attempted to 'rescue' a young village girl from prostitution. She subsequently ran off to work as a prostitute in Bangkok anyway. That could explain the poor reception.


- Susan - said...

Lara, what an interesting story!
At least this guide was good enough for a story.

Anonymous said...

hi! i am glad to find this post! ugh, guides...but we have no choice, you are correct! we put up with it...then have a story afterwards, right? my guide in fez left me in the middle of the medina (a real life labrynth) lost, because i didn't buy anything from his friends, and therefore he didn't receive a commission. this was his payback!