There are travellers who choose to be hosted and those that don’t, but while travelling in Southeast Asia, there are unique factors that should be considered before making this decision. Firstly, there are several major attractions where hosts are mandatory and only hosts holding special licenses are allowed to enter. Another significant factor that often gets overlooked is that not all hosts are created equal. And what’s even more important than finding a host to lead your trip, is finding the right host to lead your trip.
Detractors say that guided tours can add to your travelling costs and lessen spontaneity while pushing too hard to stick to rigid schedules. However, having a host can provide many more benefits, some of which are not obvious. In fact, most become apparent only when you’re in the thick of things and you think to yourself “Wow, I never would have seen/eaten/heard/done that on my own!” With the right host, you can see more, learn more, experience more… and even save more. And let’s face it, when you have one shot at a trip of a lifetime, you want to do everything possible to see, learn, and experience as much as you can.
The Smiling Albino hosted experience is just this type of trip. It’s designed for those who don’t see themselves as guided travellers, but also understand the benefits that a flawless hosted experience can provide.
Travelling around Southeast Asia can be challenging. Transportation and services may not run as predictably as back home, nor follow the same rationale. English is not always spoken and when it is, mistakes and confusion can happen through local idiosyncrasies. Smiles and nods don’t always mean agreement – in fact, sometimes they can be a cover for disagreement, misunderstanding or embarrassment!
An experienced host can make complicated excursions enjoyable. They will know how to avoid crowds at popular sites, and know where the cool, breezy spots are on a hot day to stop and explain what you are seeing. They will know exactly when you need your favorite refreshments and where to find them. They will know when you wish for quietude or reflection and when you wish for information and explanation. These may sound like small details, but when each small detail is customized to your personal tastes, they add up quickly.
Let’s be honest – anyone can lead a group of people along a pre-planned route. But there is a vast difference between leading and guiding. Smiling Albino guides are chosen for their personalities and open-mindedness, and their ability to adapt quickly to various situations and demands. They are trained to maintain their guest’s well-being and fulfilment as paramount. They’ve learned to be sensitive to individuals’ needs. They understand the importance of flexibility. They provide invaluable local knowledge. They provide insight and context. They provide peace of mind so you can concentrate on the pleasures of your trip.
Trust us when we say that many people have some of these qualities; very few people have all of them.
Through experience, we highly recommend our guests retain hosts. It’s surprising what can go wrong with the best laid plans. Which exit were you supposed to meet your limousine driver at Bangkok’s chaotic airport? What do you mean the museum is closed on the first Monday of every month? There is an endless list of hiccups and quirks when you’re traveling. Some are minor and cute; some can throw a well-planned itinerary into chaos, but your guide is ready to handle each one. Some examples:
Everyone says the best time to visit Bangkok’s Grand Palace is early when it opens at 8:30 am… which now makes it the worst time to visit. Oh, and today the Palace is closed? But this nice tuk tuk driver can show me a jewelry shop instead? Only U.S. dollars are accepted to pay for your visa on arrival in Siem Reap? The boat trip you planned in Cambodia has been rescheduled at the last moment due to low water levels? What’s the difference between this popular food stall and the food stall next to it that made me lose a whole day of my holiday in the hotel’s bathroom? There are two roads named “Soi Nana” in Bangkok with cool little bars, but they’re kilometers apart – are you going to the right one? The taxis waiting curbside outside my hotel will charge me triple the fee as the ones passing by? And at this time of day, it’s much faster to take the boat anyway? A nice cold beer would be great after our bike ride through the hilltribes, but you can’t buy one from the convenience store between 2 and 5 pm? But some other shops will provide if you know the right one? We should have left an hour later to see the Shwedagon at sunset to avoid Yangon’s new rush hour? Hanoi has an unwritten schedule of when artists are in their shops to talk about their art? A host has all the answers – often before there’s a question.
Then there’s the “special” hosts, the people that guidebooks don’t even know about, let alone recommend. Like the people who write the Lonely Planet guides and best-selling books on local culture. Or the guy who worked on the Lidar Survey discovering the full extent of Angkor’s civilization and its hydrological systems. The art collectors, village headmen, prominent designers, wildlife conservationists and celebrities that Smiling Albino can arrange to really give you insight into the people and culture you are visiting on a whole new level.
There is no doubt that a well-trained and experienced host can make your trip that much more worthwhile, whether it’s just to make your airplane-to-limousine transfer a seamless one, or a special host who shares your interest in history or architecture, and can shed light on a new place in a way that only you two understand.
Contact us, we have the right hosts for you wherever you plan to visit in Southeast Asia.