Saturday, April 9, 2011

A good guide makes a world of difference

Whether you're a travel writer on a research trip or a tourist on vacation, obtaining the services of a good guide can often make or break the experience.

During the course of my travels, I've had great guides, poor guides and everything in-between.

Obviously, the qualities you look for in a guide include local knowledge, good contacts/rapport with local operators and accommodation providers and good communication skills. Punctuality is a key attribute. It is important that they understand what your needs/expectations you have, in order to make your trip successful. It also helps if they are friendly, committed to their job (you can usually tell when they are not) and although it's not an absolute requirement, it also helps if they have a good sense of humour.

During my recent two days in Chiang Mai, our guide, Chan, demonstrated all of these qualities.

Chan, our Chiang Mai guide,
from the back of a rickshaw.
He was extremely helpful in making sure I knew where to go in order to take good photos, always offered to stop, or point out something if he thought there was a good photo op. He was flexible at trying to help us meet our needs.
And he had a pretty good sense of humor, too.

Example: Our first full day in Thailand, we're driving into Chiang Mai, to our hotel, the Tamarind Village Inn, and he's pointing out  various places of interest along the way.

As we pass a corner bar, which happened to have several semi-scantily-clad young ladies sitting on stools, or at tables, he said, grinning at me, "That's a place for lonely men to go, in Chiang Mai." A short pause, then,"Are you feeling lonely, John?"

A voice from the back of the van called out, "He shouldn't be, he's traveling with four women!"

We all got a good chuckle out of that. It helped set a relaxed mood of camaraderie that continued throughout our journey. You can't really put a dollar value on something like that - but it can be an invaluable asset to any guide's repertoire.

Chan was diligent, warm, hard-working, punctual and fun to be around.

His approach really is a blueprint for excellent guiding services. It doesn't get much better than that.

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