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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Good guides, bad guides: the good guides

While most of our experiences with guides have been terrible (see my last post), we've had a few great guides who've restored our faith in the human guide (sorry!). One worked for the same tour company our socially inept hill tribe guide did (last post again), but this guy was affable, full of energy, obviously loved his job, and his enthusiasm was infectious. His English wasn't great and we didn't leave his biking tour of local market towns feeling enlightened. But we did pick up a few interesting tidbits, got to try some tasty food, and his social skills and good relationships with the market stall-holders meant we were well-received wherever we went. And we had fun. As we were reviewing a few Four Seasons properties as part of our Thailand research (and paying media rates, I might add), we did the activities available to all guests, including a tour taking in the Mekong River, a local village, market and temple from the Four Seasons Golden Triangle Tented Camp, and in preparation for a Thai cooking course, a trip to the market from the Four Seasons Chiang Mai. Both guides were brilliant, which says a lot about training. They were friendly, charming, knowledgeable, smart, and sociable, and once again, had excellent relationships with the locals, opening doors for us in so many ways. Our first guide went in for the touristic experiences a tad too much for our liking, setting up cheesy photo ops, including an uncomfortable performance by a group of local kids in colorful costumes in front of a Mekong River vista, and - worse - corny ops where she could point the camera at us. She did this with such sweetness of spirit and charm, and with such good intentions - most people would love these souvenirs we imagined - that we forgave her. We also came away learning something about the local cuisine, culture and spirituality of the people. The Chiang Mai guide was even better, with a deeper knowledge of ingredients, dishes and eating habits of the locals, and she even revealed a few secrets we'd always been curious about. As our trip was partly in preparation for a cooking course, it was also knowledge that would soon be put to use. Better again. Although we couldn't help but feel we might have enjoyed the tour even more had it have been led by a chef or culinary expert. Still, we got to try lots more tasty stuff, and you can't go wrong with that.


Anonymous said...

Reading you posts about tour guides, how to select them and even the idea that as a tourists one has the right to choose or select a tour guide, has inspired me to write a post about a recent trip to the Bahamas.

It was the most awful tour guiding experience I have ever had. I will make reference to your site if you don’t mind. Your openness about tour guides and related information is great.

As a tourist and amateur travel writer, I feel empowered!!! I somehow forgot that I do have a choice or say in the matter.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Shanel, thanks for the comments! I'm pleased to have empowered you!

I'm not so sure how much say you have in selecting a guide when you're on a group trip - I've never done one. But you can definitely have some say when hiring a personal guide. Just meet them for a coffee first or have a chat on the phone if you're hiring through a company. If a hotel concierge is recommending one, really do some serious questioning. And if they don't turn out to be everything you thought they would be, then terminate the 'tour' - life's too short.

Anonymous said...

i love your section on guides because it is such a catch 22. you screwed without them, and your screwed with them. some countries you WILL need them. our guides in papua new guinea were wonderful....but the country is so unchartered, you need a guide...and there are only good ones. not enough tourism for bad ones to develop yet.