Hiring a Guide? Go Local!

Last month, I wrapped up my 3-month Indochina tour and without a doubt my best experiences came from hiring local guides. There are several advantages to hiring local guides instead of booking your excursions through travel agencies:

  • First, you support the individual and thereby support the entire community in which you’re traveling. I love the idea of helping not just the guide, but their entire family and local community. Many of the guides, especially in the remote countryside, desperately need this additional income.
  • Second, the guide receives more money since they get to pocket the entire fee, instead of a small percentage of the total price of a tour.
  • Third, you save money since you’re not paying a middle man to broker the transaction.

I got the idea of “going direct” from a Belgium couple who had read an article about trekking in Sapa in their local Belgium paper. Since they were planning an upcoming trip to Vietnam, they cut out the story and brought it with them on their trip.

They then went to the local market square and showed around a picture of the local guide Sheng, which was included in the newspaper article. Within a few hours, Sheng appeared at their hotel and they embarked on a multi-day mountain trek, overnighting at homestays along the way.

A More Authentic Experience

I had arranged my Sapa guide, Yia, through a local Vietnamese tour agency in Hanoi. She was excellent and went above and beyond her guiding duties to ensure I had a great experience.

For instance, we took less traveled (but longer) mountain paths so we wouldn’t run into other tourists. She taught me about the medicinal and edible plants that she was collecting for our dinner that night.

She also arranged to have a family member sell me a traditional hemp-made indigo-dyed bees-wax-shined jacket called a “shao ti.” And we stopped by a local school to see her daughter in a dance performance.

How to Hire

I was lucky to get Yia as my guide through the agency, but next time I’d go direct. Here’s a picture of Yia in case you’re looking to hire a local guide while traveling in Sapa, Vietnam.

When hiring local guides, be sure and ask for referrals. This is easy enough to do as you’re chatting on the train / bus with other travelers. Also, if having a guide speak your language is important, you’d certainly want to check this out beforehand.

All in all, for that authentic experience – go local! You’ll be rewarded with a more colorful experience and have the satisfaction that you’re helping the entire local community. And isn’t this what travel’s all about?!

For more about  my Vietnam experience, check out these articles:

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This entry was posted on Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 and is filed under On the Road.

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