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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Phượt is Better than Booked Tours

I still remember that grumpy, stormy day I left my country for Vietnam with a tourist visa...that feeling when you didn't wanna call your parents to say goodbye, nor didn't wanna hear your best friend say, "I'll miss you, big time Kapatid." That was in October 2010 when I decided to work abroad and never thought of gambling my first trip to a country where all I knew were the famous cone hats, "Vietcong" and the Vietnamese-American War. 

Da Nang was the first city to give me an infinite impression of staying in the country to earn and save up and explore its beauty. Then my first motorbike ride happened on a slippery road on the way to Hoi An. We were in the middle of our destination to the ancient city at the central part when we had an accident. "Lord, I don't wanna die in Vietnam, I uttered."  In a few minutes,I found myself on the tiny bridge a few meters away from my student and his red bike. No harm done, just painful bruises on my legs that until now I can still see the scars it brought me. Right there and then, I told myself, "Riding on a motorbike won't kill you, Susan!" So, definitely on that day my Vietnamese ventures began....

Vietnam has fascinated me with its wonders and treasures from its landscapes, rich culture, all-embracing traditions from different walks of life, and of course to its unique, healthy and affordable food on the go by the gutters of  peaceful villages, dim, narrow streets of the Old Quarter to its dazzling cities. 

"Phượt" or travelling by motorbike with a backpack of  your favourite camera gears and glasses, and a small  tent perhaps would complete your  highland escapades. After a few months, I was asked to teach in the campus in the North.  I couldn't stop crying and even hated that colleague who "sold" me to that rector and send me to the cold and unfamiliar place in Vietnam. But since then,  it dawned on me that it was a blessing for a real shot in the dark in Ha Noi. This city is a fortress to many backpackers for Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Moc Chau, Mu Cang Chai, the famous Ha Long Bay, the Old Quarter, Ninh Binh, Trang An River, Perfume Pagoda, Bavi Mountains, Hai Phong, Thanh Hoa, and many more. It has also brought me to some trips from the north down south, though I still prefer spending my vacations in the city of bridges, Da Nang.  

Should I say I've traveled almost 85% of the country's towns, cities and villages not to mention the visits to my students' families. Am not a stranger to this part of the Asian map anymore. Those good and bad travel experiences  taught me lessons including motorbike accidents, awful behaviour of the strangers on the way, being an innocent victim of overpricing from the shop owners to the local cops, and so on. 

The most amazing part of my escapdes is that I never book any tours as I have honest, happy and loving "Phượt" companions in Vietnam whom I'd always be thankful for giving me wonderful memories here despite the 4 years of cultural shock I have been through. 

BUT last Saturday, August 9th, 2014, I was quite excited with my first booked tour to a Pagoda in Ha Noi. I thought being on a tour was safer and more convenient not until the agency made a mistake in trusting a rude, unprofessional tour guide.  

Since, I didn't want them to bother pick me up at my hotel, I volunteered to wait for the van and the tour guide at their office. They were a bit late but it didn't matter because I'm used to this punctuality issue among Vietnamese. Then the girl at the reception called the guide and he came in a few minutes. What I expected for a tour guide is a friendly greeting to his guest, but it didn't happen. I let it pass, and with his blank facial expression, all I could hear from him was, "Come here, follow me, the bus is there." Then we kept walking that far and I realized that it was at least a five to six-minute walk. It also dawned on me that the van was parked in the place close to the hotel of his Spanish guests. OK fine...didn't matter because I thought it was what it had to be. 

After picking more people up on the way, the van was full enough, so  the driver started his drive on the way to Ha Tay. On our way, the guide introduce himself in a very informal way, I thought. When I asked him who would accompany me while I trek up the mountain he said, "No. Because other people will take the cable car and I will take the cable car too." Then he added, "If you want to take a cable you can buy tickets, but you're not forced to do it," in a very rude tone. I thought, "OMG what the heck, are you trying to piss me off?" So I asked, "Are you gonna wait for me in the Pagoda?" He said, "No. Maybe. But you walk it's up to you!" He wasn't aware with his tone and I just wondered why. He was supposed to act professionally...

I kept observing his attitude on the way, and I realized that those Spanish guests as well as the Singaporeans had booked more than one trips with him that's why his "marketing" time was with them all the way to Ha Tay. Then we stopped at a station on the way because some of them were going to Ninh Binh. He said it was only a 20-minute stop  so I thought I'd rather stay in the van. I tried to stay but,  I asked them to just open the car door because the air-conditioner was off, and I could die from heat if they shut the door because it was very humid and warm inside.  But he insisted to shut it  because he was worried about the baggage inside the car.  That was my first time to meet a tour guide who was more concerned with the baggage than his guest. 

So I told him, "I'm here so how can those bags be stolen?" But he shouted and said, "I didn't say you steal the bags!" Then he forced me out of the car because of the fact that he didn't want to give up on shutting the door. I was shivering from anger and I told him off. Then he said, "You're the most rude and difficult I've met." I was pretty ticked off because I felt discriminated. Was it because I was Filipino and he thought I was cheap and couldn't book more trips? Was it because I wasn't important because I wasn't his main guest? 

When we arrived at the port in Ha Tay, I asked him to ask the lady at a shop for a big plastic bag, then he wasn't that helpful enough which was very ill-mannered for a tour guide. If you're a tour guide it's a part of your job to help and assist every guest as much as possible, instead of just using your chin to direct the guest to where he or she can get what he or she needs.  I let it pass and didn't bother think about it anymore. 

But after lunch, it rained, so I thought of taking the cable car because my camera would get wet. So I asked him, "How much is the cable car again?, Where could I get a ticket?" HE AGAIN pointed me to the man in white with his index finger while saying, "There you ask him..." . OMG wasn't he suppose to assist me with that? It was supposed to be his job to negotiate and provide me stuff like those! I almost lost my temper and really wanted to kick his ugly face! Whenever I ask him questions, he would just say, "I'll tell you later, or I'll show you later." Alright, another strike was when we were getting ready up. Some guests and him were preparing for the cable car ride so, I asked him the way up for the trek. He replied in a very awful way, "I'll show you later." Then he said, "Here follow the two people (from another guide) they will walk." I was surprised... was that for real? I wondered whether I was on a paid tour or not. What if I fell off the cliffs on the way up? Would he even bother tell the agency that I had an accident and died? 

Finally, I reached the top and saw him with some guests, but he didn't even bother say "Hi" how was your trek? And he didn't even tell me any history about the pagoda nor showed me around just like what he did to his main guests!!! That was UNFAIR because I paid for the trip for safety and to discover the place with a tour guide. I thought I went there to discover the place by myself...I SHOULDN'T have booked a tour if I knew it would happen. 

That trip was a total NIGHTMARE and made me feel highly singled out and discriminated plus the thought that the male tour guide didn't have any respect to his guest. How could he even argue with a woman and call her names? 

First, booking a tour is for safety, getting a clear and accurate information about the place. Second, the purpose of local tours  esp for foreigners isn't only to earn money from them but also to make these people embrace your country and culture, thus, would be a great marketing strategy to bring them back one day and recommend you or the agency or the country itself to others. 

Never neglect nor underestimate one guest who looks poor because he or she can be a potential customer who would bring you millions one day. 

Hope this could be a lesson to other travelers...make sure that you fight for your right  once you aren't satisfied with the tour guide. 

For the travel agencies, please provide licensed, professional tour guides and make sure that each guest is given a feedback form at the end of the trips so that you'd know what to improve on your next tours.

didn't want to post his face here...but just to make sure he learns how to respect first then i promise to remove this photo (the guy in blue stripes was the  ill-mannered tour guide)


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