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A Pa-O guide walks through the Kakku temple complex

Ten Questions for Audley's Southeast Asia Award Winning Guides

We speak to some of the winners of our Southeast Asia Guide Awards which took place earlier this year and find out how they ended up working as tour guides.

The award-winning SEA guides

The award-winning SEA guides

Sally Letuli from the Philippines 

Sally Letuli

How did you become a guide?

Actually, I have never expected to become a tour guide.  In 1980, I learned that the Department of Tourism was conducting a seminar for multi-lingual guides. Since I speak German in addition to English, I decided to take the seminar in order to acquire accreditation.

What is the highlight of your job?

I’ve always been proud of my country and my being a tour guide has given me an opportunity to express it by showing my guests the beauty of my country, the friendliness and warmth of my countrymen, and the complexities of our culture.

What is the worst thing about your job?

I really enjoy doing my job. I don’t remember experiencing anything bad about it.

What does a typical day involve for you?

Doing my job with enthusiasm.

What is the secret to being a good guide?

Be creative, be inquisitive - acquire as much knowledge as you can, including first aid skills; be friendly and respectful. A tour guide must also be sensitive to the needs of her clients, flexible, and she must have the ability to think on her feet. More importantly, she must love her job and is proud of her country.

What was your favourite part of the Guide Awards weekend in Bangkok? 

Everything! I enjoyed every moment of it – it made me feel special, especially when all of the Audley representatives were there all the time. It was indeed an honour and a privilege to be chosen as one of the winners.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

The Philippines, Switzerland and France (in that order).

What is your favourite local dish?

Chicken and pork adobo.

What makes your home country special?

It is God-given. Filipinos are known to be the friendliest, most approachable and hospitable people in Asia. We have 7,107 islands with diverse landscapes and our culture is a fusion of East and West. We have a unique outlook in life - we can smile and make the best out of adverse situations.

What do you show people in your home town that no one else knows about? 

Anyone in the Philippines can cook ‘manok inasal' (roasted chicken), but in Bacolod (my home town), we cook a mean ‘manok inasal’ that is deliciously tasty that someone once described it as a chicken dish that "will surely make you forget your mother-in-law’s name". What distinguishes it from the rest are the secret condiments used to marinate the chicken. It is best eaten with rice topped with toasted garlic and dipping sauce made with coconut vinegar, calamansi, soy sauce and chili.

Faridah Fatah from Singapore

Faridah Fatah  

How did you become a guide?

It was quite by chance. I was working as a ticketing officer when a customer who was a tourist guide regaled me with stories of her hometown. I was so inspired listening to her talk about her country, the food, the people that I decided that was what I wanted to do as well. Her passion inspired me to sign up for a guide course which I have never regretted since.

What is the highlight of your job?

Meeting people from all over the world and from all walks of life; sharing of knowledge, exchanging of personal stories, trading of recipes.

What is the worst thing about the job?

The weather - heavy rain, thunderstorm, lightning etc...I feel very disappointed for the tourists as they are not able to fully enjoy the outdoors and appreciate our beautiful gardens.

What does a typical day involve for you?

Meeting and greeting guests, showing them sights, telling stories, taking photographs.

What is the secret to being a good guide?

Able to bring places to life, know what stories to tell and explain them in a manner that engages, entertains and leaves the tourists wanting to hear more.

What was your favourite part of the Guide Awards in Bangkok?

The dinner at Chatruim hotel as I love food but honestly it was when I received the Award. I was so overcome with joy and happiness to know that my hardwork and effort have been recognized and appreciated.

What is your favourite place in the world?

My favourite place in the world if I get a chance to visit is Bhutan as I’ve heard so much about this country that gauges its progress by measuring its people’s happiness rather than economic contributions.

What is your favourite local dish?

This has to be oh so good FISH HEAD CURRY ! Yummy yummy good for the tummy!!!

What makes my home country special?

It can be difficult to explain the lure of Singapore. On one hand it is all skyscrapers but there’s a lot of forest and parks as well. The City has a green, spacious feel with wide, flowerly boulevards. Some may find its anti-litter, anti-graffiti, anti-spitting and anti-jaywalking laws stiff but that is what makes my country safe and clean.

What do you show people in your home town that no one else knows about ?

No secrets, but lots of surprises, wait till you come to visit my country SINGAPORE!

Tran Duc Kien from Sapa in northern Vietnam

Tran Duc Kien

How did you become a guide?

After finishing high school many of my friends went to university, but I decided to learn English for two years before getting a job in a hotel as a waiter. From there I had a chance to practice and learn more English. After two years I decided to become a guide. So far I have been doing this job for four years. I have also been studying English for the last three-and-a-half years at university. I like my job. I am going to do this for many more years!

What is the highlight of your job?

I have the chance to meet and talk with many different people from around the world. It helps me to learn more about many different cultures. 

What is the worst thing about your job?

Bad weather. It is sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold and sometimes too wet. If the weather is bad it can affect clients’ enjoyment of the tour. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about the weather!

What does a typical day involve for you?

I normally wake up at 4.30 or 5am to pick up the client from the train station. Then drive for about an hour to my home town, Sapa, and check guests into the hotel. I give them the information about the tour, telling them how to prepare. Then I make sure I have suitable trekking shoes and clothes, water and food. During the tour, I have time to talk about the region and I normally have lunch with clients. I share a house with some friends, so in the evening, sometimes we cook a meal together or go out to the local restaurant.

What is the secret to being a good guide?

To be a good guide you have to remember that clients are often visiting your home country for the first time. So they need information on even the simple things. Being helpful, friendly and trying to gauge clients’ interests is also important. And I try and make sure the tours are fun, by being flexible and having a good sense of humour.

What was your favourite part of the guide awards weekend in Bangkok?

The performance of Thai traditional dance. It was a great surprise and the costumes were very beautiful.

Where would you most like to visit?

Indonesia – with 17,000 islands, you’d never be short of places to explore. 

What is your favourite local dish?

Vietnamese spring rolls, which are made from pork meat, eggs, mushroom, onion, soybean sprouts, rice noodle and fresh herbs. We chop them into small pieces and roll them with rice paper before deep frying in oil and serving with fish sauce mixed with garlic and chilli.

What makes your home country special?

Sapa is a mountainous area in the north of Vietnam. It is home to five different ethnic minorities: Black H’mong, Red Dao, Tay, Dzay and Xapho. They all speak different languages, dress in different beautiful handmade costumes, and have unique cultures. Sapa is surrounded by spectacular scenery. There is the highest mountain of Southeast Asia, Fansipang, at 3,143m. You can climb to the peak, for stunning views over the land below. The valleys are full of beautiful rice terraces that have been here for hundreds of years.

What do you show people in your home town that no one else knows about?

I can’t tell you that. You’ll have to come to Sapa to find out!

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