Only with an experienced guide can you navigate the warren of passageways through Jaisalmer Fort or gain an insight into life in a Burmese hill tribe. Our hand-picked local guides play a vital role in our trips, often welcoming you into their family home or place of worship.
The quality of your guide can make the difference between a good trip and an incredible one. Because we started in Asia over 20 years ago, as Asian Journeys, we hold an annual guide awards ceremony in the region to acknowledge the achievements of our most celebrated guides.
This year we headed to Siem Reap for a weekend of celebrations hosted by Hanuman, our family-run, on-the-ground team in Cambodia. The top guides from across Asia, chosen from client feedback collected throughout the year, were flown in to collect their awards.
A Buddhist water ceremony blessing
The weekend started with a drinks reception and buffet dinner at Sala Kdei, a traditional wooden Khmer house in the Cambodian countryside, opposite royal baths dating from the Angkor period. Orange-robed monks from the local pagoda arrived to perform a Buddhist water ceremony to bless the event before the start of proceedings.
Khmer folk music played in the background as everyone enjoyed barbecued pork, sticky rice and fish amok (a fragrant fish curry). There was time for the guides, who came from India, the Philippines and all points in between, to meet and enjoy a few cocktails.
After everyone was fed and watered, the guides were called one by one to the stage to collect their awards from Audley Chairman Richard Prosser. Each guide proudly collected a certificate, silver lapel badge and some prize money, before eagerly posing for a photo.
Quite often this is the guide’s first time abroad: some had to get their first passport just for the event. In fact, ensuring the Sri Lanka team’s attendance was a challenge (the visa process for Sri Lanka passport holders is complex) but luckily Hanuman is well connected and managed to push the visas through at the Cambodian ministry.
India specialist Hannah was at the awards:
One guide that stood out was Eric from Borneo, who was so excited to be there. He came over to me and was keen to say how humbled he was to be there — he got a massive cheer when he went to collect his award, so must have made an impression on a lot of people that evening.
Some of the guides have specialist interests that they are particularly knowledgeable on, like Jiang Yuzhuo, (known as John), from China who impressed guests by sharing his detailed knowledge of medicinal herbs.
Others work in a more general role as ‘chauffeur-guides’, acting as both driver and guide, all with expert, local insight. Chauffeur-guide Kumar from Sri Lanka excelled because he likes to take the time to get to know his guests, suggesting additional excursions and sights they might find interesting. One of our Borneo guides, Lawrence, helped Audley specialist Sophie after a difficult descent from Mount Kinabalu, the island’s highest peak.
The Yan Award
Many of our guides have worked with us for years, becoming good friends with specialists and our clients. None more so than Yan, one of our most well-loved and respected Myanmar guides, who worked with us for more than 20 years. Last November, when returning to his home, Yan disturbed a burglar and was tragically killed.
To celebrate Yan’s memory, this year we created the ‘Yan Award’ to be given to a guide who has gone above and beyond their duty.
Mark Hotham, one of our Southeast Asia managers, knew Yan well:
‘It was a very moving evening. After the guides had received their prizes, we announced the new award. The Burmese guides present all knew Yan, and the unfortunate event was still fresh in everyone’s mind. The first recipient of the award was Mr Win Ko Ko — we all call him by his nickname Robert. Robert was a close friend of Yan and as he went up to collect his award, everyone was very emotional.
Robert was guiding clients in Myanmar when one of them suffered a serious aneurysm. Robert didn’t move from their side so he could help translate and make sure he received the medical help he needed. Luckily he recovered, and his family couldn’t speak highly enough of Robert.’
The evening was finished off at Miss Wong’s, a small bar down a narrow lane in Siem Reap, where everyone enjoyed some congratulatory cocktails.
A visit to Angkor Wat
The next morning, the guides from Cambodia were given the challenge of guiding the expert guides around Angkor Wat. They showed their country’s well-revered monuments with pride, revealing the meanings behind some of the intricate bas-reliefs that have been carved into the hefty sandstone blocks.
After some time to freshen up, lunch was held at the Victoria Hotel, in their restaurant reminiscent of a 1930s French-colonial dining room. In the afternoon, we ran a collaborative workshop with the guides.
Wanting to give the guides a real understanding of Audley, Mark gave an insight into the history of the company, from its humble beginnings above a post office in Northampton to the opening of a new office in Boston a couple of years ago.
India specialist Hannah helped run the workshop:
'We focused on my role as an Audley specialist, and explained to the guides how we build tailor-made itineraries and talk with clients about their interests and expectations for every trip. I mingled with the guides, explaining my role in more detail and answering their questions. It was really interesting to talk with guides from across Asia.
They were fascinated to learn more about Audley and to understand what we do as a business.
Next, we split the guides into teams and gave them examples of difficult situations that might happen. They discussed between themselves how they would deal with the problem and then we all came together at the end to share ideas. Everyone took the workshop very seriously — especially considering most had celebrated with quite a few cocktails at the awards ceremony the night before — and some interesting ideas were bounced around.'
The guides then enjoyed another evening meal and drinks before saying their farewells and flying home the next morning. When you’re next greeted by one of our guides, keep an eye out for a shiny lapel badge that indicates they’re one of our award-winning guides.
Loic Robertson, our Digital and Marketing Director, sums up the event:
For me, the whole event underlines just how important it is that we look after the people that, at the end of the day, deliver the dream. They are the people that make the trip great. We can put together a lovely itinerary, but the delivery on the ground is crucial. Having good guides is just so important.
We’re excited to announce the winning guides:
Mr Sommanat Manop, Thailand
Mr Nattapatch Jindain, Thailand
Mr Yap Soon Heng (known as Eric), Borneo
Mr Lawrence bin Basilun, Borneo
Mr AA Ayu Putri Kesumawati, Indonesia
Mr Pak Gunarto, Indonesia
Mr Bounlieng Douangpanya, Laos
Mr Tran Ngoc Canh, Vietnam
Mr Nguyen Viet Tuan, Vietnam
Mrs Seain War Myaing, Myanmar
Mrs Tin May Htwe, Myanmar
Ms Revathi Ashok Kumar, India
Mr Gaurav Dayal, India
Mr Kumar Peiris, Sri Lanka
Mr Darith Chhen, Cambodia
Mr Hout Bunhak, Cambodia
Mr Tyronne Antony Almeida, Sri Lanka
Mr Duong Quang Trung, Vietnam
Mr Dang Tran Long, Vietnam
Mr Si Zewei, China
Mr Jiang Yuzhuo, (known as John), China
Miss Nikki Takano, Philippines
Ms Christina Lee Yip Leng, Malaysia
Mr Dara Meas Polrith Thida, Cambodia
The Yan Award: Robert Ko Ko, Myanmar
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