I was born into and grew up in a very poor family. I had to work as a tennis ball boy to earn money from the time I was a child to help my family and take responsibility to lessen the difficulties in the lives of my parents.
When Vietnam opened to welcome foreign travellers my father got a much better job. He became an English-speaking driver and his daily work was driving and taking foreign travellers everywhere in Vietnam. After that, we always had something to eat and clothes to wear. Because of that, the concept of tourism was constituted in my mind. One day, I came to the backpacker tourist area in Saigon to pick up my father after he returned from a long trip from Hanoi. As I waited for him, I saw some strolling paperboys speaking good English with tourists and that made me think that I should do something similar that would make me improve my English, like become a tour guide.
I remember well the very first water buffalo I met. At first I was a little bit afraid, but after my friend rode on his buffalo and was crossing the canals, the fear started to go away. So I saw how friendly the water buffaloes are, how much they love the water and how fast they are in the water. Then I started to play with them and I really enjoyed it!
Why do you think it’s important for travelers to get off the “tourist track” and to see the real environment in the country they are visiting?
I usually choose the countryside route for my Mekong program because the countryside routes normally have less traffic, with the most beautiful sights. I want my clients to see the real people of the country in their surroundings – sights like farmers working on rice fields, and children watching over their buffalo while the buffalo are out eating grass in the fields.
I try to avoid national highways during the tour because of heavy traffic and a lot of trucks, with no good views. Also, we avoid a lot of shopping stops that are “tourist traps” which take time and money from my clients in return for nothing.
It was for a family from Australia including parents with 2 young children. I was their tour guide for a 1 day trip to Mekong Delta and also a 1 day trip to Cu Chi tunnels by boat.
The first day we went to Mekong Delta, the children enjoyed the rowing boats and the hammocks very much, they just wanted to play on a hammock swing forever without wanting to visit any other places. The next day, we went to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and the children were really excited when their parents allowed them to move around in the tunnels and of course it was very difficult to convince them to move up and out the tunnels afterward. On the way back to their hotel the girl asked me many times. ” Will you go with us tomorrow ?” I answered, ” Tomorrow, I will take you to the airport “. Then she became quiet and sad.
The next morning, we arrived at the airport and when we were informed that check-in for the flight to Hanoi was underway – the girl hugged my legs and cried a lot and asked, ” Why don’t you go with us?” At last, her mother was able to explain to her that I have a family and I have to help my wife to look after the baby and the little girl understood and said goodbye to me. If I had been able to I would have been happy to go along with them just to stop her from being sad, and the picture of the little girl hugging my legs is still fresh in my mind even today.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually wake up at 5:30 am, brush my teeth, wash my face then do my morning exercises for about 30 minutes. Then I take my daughters to school and go to my office, and off we go on tours. If there are no tours I will work at the office until 5 pm then pick up my daughters and we go back home. We have dinner and talk together and then I watch TV with my wife while daughters do their homework. Then it’s off to bed.
I have the chance to communicate with many different people who come from many different countries. Because of this now I know about many different cultures, and I’ve learned a lot of nice things. Most especially, my job has given me many foreign friends….we become good friends after the tours.
Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or are not that keen on?
Some people still believe that the tour guide is the maid :).
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
The tour guide does not only help you to understand the customs and culture of the place you visit, but your tour guide is also your friend. A friend who can help you in all situations, if you get into trouble or get ill, or just need some good advice!
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
In my view, a good guide is an honest and friendly person with good knowledge who is able to communicate in your language.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
You should try to get an introduction from your friends or find positive reviews on reliable travel forums.