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Siem Reap: To hire a tour guide or is a driver enough?

Siem Reap: To hire a tour guide or is a driver enough?

Old Jun 1st, 2015, 11:52 AM
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Siem Reap: To hire a tour guide or is a driver enough?

Hello. We are going to Siem Reap in July and just wanted to know if we should be good with just hiring a driver and a van for a party of 5? Not sure if a tour guide will be helpful. We would just like to be driven and taken to places and explore on our own rather than listening to someone talk.

Any suggestions are most welcome.

Thank you!
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 11:59 AM
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imo, a driver in an enclosed car, not a tuk tuk is a must.... I found our guide gave us way too much info, but some is better than none..
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 12:43 PM
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We opted for no guide, but we had done our research ahead of time. Get a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous Temples and do some reading. Then take it along with you to help you understand what you are seeing. The test is whether you can find "Churning of the Sea of Milk" inside Angkor Wat.

If you have done no background reading, I think you would feel lost without a guide. You can also ask a guide to adapt to what you want - less detail here, more there.
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 02:04 PM
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Angkor Wat is one of the few places on earth that I found a guide helpful, if not essential, and here is why:

1. The temple areas are very large, so when your driver drops you off, it could get very confusing, even with a good map.

2. To me, the wall carvings were the most interesting part of the temples, and they would be easy to miss if you don't have an expert.

I generally dislike guides (someone once told me, "Guides talk too much"), but it helped me appreciate the important temples.

I used a driver and guide from my hotel, and it worked out fine. I generally find that the best approach, since, if something goes wrong, the hotel is there as your advocate. For example, my guide wanted to meet the second day later than I wanted, but the hotel manager convinced him that I wanted to start at 7 AM, and we did.

My son went the year before I did, and he hired a "famous" guide recommended on Flyertalk. The guide did a bait and switch at the last minute, so that is why the hotel guide approach is better.

Maybe you can try a guide the first day, and if you find him annoying, you can dismiss him and keep the driver.
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 02:16 PM
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As Kathie suggests, Dawn Rooney's book is a great substitute for a guide. But if you don't want to read it, I would hire a guide.
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 03:11 PM
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We hired a recommended guide and were sorry we did as he droned on endlessly. The taxi driver that took us to the hotel from the airport had offered his services as a driver and his English was quite good. In retrospect, we would have preferred using him. Frankly, we did not remember much of what was told to us by our guide. A good guidebook would have been preferable. I would wait till you get to some reap as Californialady suggested. The hotels are extremely helpful. As for an air conditioned car vs a tuk tut, we used both and preferred the tuk tut as we were able to see more and feel like a part of the environment.
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 03:39 PM
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Clarification to dgunbug's comment:

I arranged for the driver and guide well in advance via email to my hotel. I arrived at the hotel in the evening, and the driver and guide were ready for me for the next day.

I can't imagine trying to keep five people together in so vast an area without a guide. If you do decide to use a guide, you can certainly tell him at the outset your agenda for seeing the temples, and he may make other suggestions, or change the order in order to avoid the crowds a bit. Also, my guide made the mistake the first day of taking me to a fancy restaurant for lunch, so after that, I "trained" him to take me to a simple, fast restaurant, which he did.
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 07:09 PM
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Having done both with and without a guide, I much preferred using just a driver. That said, when it comes to listening to guides, I have the attention span of a gnat! I found myself just wandering off leaving my wife to listen to all the details. In a party of 5, I am sure you will find both viewpoints.

Try to find a driver who speaks some English and have a clear plan in place as to where you want yo go and at what times.

CaliLady makes a very valid point re guides choosing restaurants for you. No matter how nice the guide, they will take you to more expensive places and will get a kick back. Eto avpid this you need to explain, quite forcefully, that you do not want ten tourist restaurants and tourist prices.
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Old Jun 1st, 2015, 08:39 PM
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Unless you have read up on the temples, I would highly recommend a guide. I have visited the temples with guides on two different trips, and having them with us help make sense of the history and they pointed out lots of things we would never have seen if on out own.

The third time I went to Cambodia, my daughter and I went on our own. We figured we could just follow the info in a guide book, because we'd been there before. We could hardly tell which temple we were in, much less find the spots we wanted to see. Wandering is interesting, but if you take the effort to go half way around the world I think it's nice to be able to leave with some sense of what you were seeing.
In addition, We like talking to locals about their lives and their country, and you've paid the guide for their time, so you can shift the subject if you get tired of hearing about Jayavarmin III or 6 or whomever.

On top of that, the guides are only $25 or $30 a day. If you don't like yours, just tell them you've had enough guiding and keep the driver. If you are in the main complex, the driver can get home on his or her own.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2015, 12:34 AM
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At Siem Reap we found our guide [secured via our hotel] gave us such a barrage of information and nth levels of detail, absolutely non stop over a period of 4 or 5 hours, that we totally lost the thread of the overaching historical picture. It became an effort to try to appear interested and we missed out on taking in the atmosphere of the sites.

On other days we just used a driver and a good guidebook and we learnt and enjoyed ourselves much more. We had no difficulty in identifying the diffferent sites or in finding the carvings etc we partiuclarly wanted to see.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2015, 04:40 AM
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"We could hardly tell which temple we were in, much less find the spots we wanted to see."

Sounds like a problem with the guidebook. Was it Dawn Rooney's?
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Old Jun 2nd, 2015, 03:27 PM
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I don't recall, Thurs. We had copied pages from several, including Dawn's. I just remember getting very twisted around while walking between some of the temples sites that flow from one to another near the Elephant terrace.

Again, if you have done homework and mapped out the temples and details that you want to see, not a problem. I don't have that degree of interest in temples, though, so having a guide is an easy way for me to understand them.

Also, you can let your guide know if they are giving you too much information. If you them you just want to know what year this was built and why it is important, most won't be offended.

When they are being licensed, they are encouraged to know (and share) everything. Some take this too seriously.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2015, 05:03 PM
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After careful consideration, our party of 4 hired a guide with an air conditioned van. It was money well spent. Our guide was a former teacher and very knowledgeable, having grown up in the area. She asked us many questions previous to our arrival about what we were interested in seeing and we were as definite as could be about our expectations. She was flexible and smart. The van was a welcome relief in the heat after walking and touring temples. With the Rooney guide, it was just too hard with to require reading before we left. That may be a problem with your larger group too. I'd be glad to recommend my guide if you are interested. No horse in the race.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2015, 12:26 AM
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Good recommendations are always helpful, Mutti. Who was she?
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Old Jun 3rd, 2015, 12:37 AM
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Re the comments on guides taking people to expensive restaurants. If you are staying at a 4-5 star hotel, the guide may assume you want the same level of luxury at lunch. I always offer to buy guides and drivers lunch and they usually refuse as they get a free meal at the restaurant (and probably a bit of commission). One tuk tuk driver told me that if he ate with me I'd have to pay for his meal. If he ate with the other drivers it's gratis.

I've used guides and I've gone solo at various times. I've also used freelance guides (including a police officer in uniform!) on some occasions. (Usually $1-$2 tip). They find you and you might have trouble dislodging them. It just depends on your level of interest and where you want to go. Only you can know that.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2015, 09:45 AM
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lcuy and others--Our guide at Angkor Wat and surrounding temples was Kanha Reath of Angkor Journeys. My grown daughter chose her after much careful research. Plus we were very happy to support a woman owned business! I can't say enough nice things about Kanha. She was very diplomatic and flexible. Our wishes, schedule and budget were taken into account. I would tour with Kanha again in a heartbeat!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2015, 11:31 AM
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Thank you all for your feedback. We are most likely going to hire a guide since we want to go to the spots that are perfect for photo ops. We figured not having a guide, we could miss those not so easily seen spots. I am looking at guide reviews on TA now. Has anyone worked with Happy Angkor Wat Tours? They seem to have the best deal with good reviews.

Thanks!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2015, 01:17 PM
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If you want a guide, hire a particular guide rather than going with a company - any company. A company will employ a number of guides with varying abilities.

Personally, I find TA reviews highly unreliable.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2015, 01:29 PM
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Got it. Anyone here can recommend a particular guide then? Many thanks!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2015, 01:49 PM
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Take a look at Mutti's recommendation, above.
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