An Interview with a G Adventures Guide
Published 30 March 2016
The people of Cambodia have a reputation for being the kindest and most pleasant people in the world. So, when I met Vanny Man, G Adventures' very own Cambodian tour guide, I wasn’t surprised to see a huge smile on his face, which quickly became infectious as we spiralled into laughter.
Vanny, 31, has been working with G Adventures since 2013, leading trips throughout Indochina, covering Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. If you’ve been on one of his tours though you may know him as ‘Harry’. I caught up with this energetic guide to not only discover why he calls himself Harry, but to also find out a bit more about life as a tour guide.
Hi Harry, first things first, why do you call yourself Harry?!
Well, my Cambodian name is Vanny Man but it seems like a girl’s name, so when I started working with tourists in 2004 I adopted the name Harry, like from Harry Potter. I was like, ‘he’s the guy!’ so I call myself that.
We know that you work for G Adventures, but what exactly is your job?
I’m a tour leader, but with G Adventures they call me CEO, which stands for Chief Experience Officer. G Adventures' boss gave up his job title of CEO, Chief Executive Officer, changed the meaning of it, and gave it to the tour guides. We now call him Captain because he’s the captain of the CEOs!
My job as CEO is to take people from place to place, usually from Bangkok to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. I make sure all of the accommodation and transport is booked, organise things like a special dinner and any activities, including optional ones, and also share my inside knowledge of the countries. I’m pretty much like a guidebook for people!
So, you’ve been working with G Adventures for almost three years, how did you get the job?
Oh that’s an interesting story! When I finished school in 2001, my dad couldn’t support me to go to university so he sent me off with one of the old motorbikes. I’d get paid $1a day to taxi the local people around my home town of Battambang.
A friend of mine worked for a tour company so he would carry passengers like backpackers and other visitors on his motorbike all around the countryside, and he earned five times as much as me. One day he needed a partner, so I drove an English traveller around and I was asking him lots of questions with my broken English. At the end of the day he was really pleased and he gave me a big tip, like $10! I couldn’t believe it. I went back home and gave the money to my Mum and she was like, this is it.
So, after that I started taking English classes and kept carrying tourists around on my motorbike. Then in 2004 I had an exam to become a local tour guide in Battambang, and eventually ended up working for G Adventures.
Other than the travelling, what’s the best part about your job?
The best part of my job is seeing people on my tours enjoying every single part of their holiday. Every single day it’s the moment they learn, how they feel about the country, and the experiences they have; I give people a life time experience. That’s the best part!
You obviously know a lot about South East Asia, but what is your favourite place to show travellers?
Siem Reap is the best place to show people around. Of course people know Angkor Wat and no one misses that, but I like to take people out of these tourist zones. For example, me and my tour group have visited my family, we sat down, had cake and tea, I showed them my house; a place where I was growing up, and people especially love to have a chat with my dad. He’s one of the few people who survived the devastating Khmer Rouge period through 1975 – 1979, that’s the tragedy that happened to Cambodia. Three million people died and he’s one of the survivors. It’s one of the most unique experiences I can offer and it makes people feel really in touch with the country.
Out of Cambodia, Hoi An in Vietnam is my favourite place. It’s a beautiful lantern town; people can sit down and listen to the local music, or cycle to the vegetable plantations. There’s this elderly couple who are in their early 80s who work and live there. They always welcome myself and the group and show us around their vegetable field. We help them carry their baskets of water and water their vegetables, and they always give me a big hug and smile. And they still hold hands! It’s an amazing place.
Why is it worth having a local as tour guide?
Our travellers get a lot of benefit from it because we’re the locals! Local guides know the culture, the languages, and can offer unique encounters, like bringing people to meet my family. Imagine that you’ve got a group of 16 people and you know the country very well, you can take them to the remote areas and talk with the local families. You get to experience more and see more with a local guide.
Have you got any tips for anyone travelling to Cambodia?
They must try everything! Food here is amazing! Something they shouldn’t miss is amok, a traditional Cambodian dish. It is coconut milk, lemon grass, turmeric and galangal, which is cooked with traditional fish. Absolutely amazing! Another great dish is loklak, which is meat chopped into small pieces then stir fried with cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce with an egg on top. It’s served with a lamb, pepper, salt and sugar sauce. If they want something more bizarre then they can have deep fried tarantulas. There’s a village called Skuon village and they hunt the tarantulas, wash it up, cut the fangs out, then marinade and deep fry it. The bum is the best part!
Other than food, I also like to bring the messages of dos and don’ts. When people visit temples especially, I know that it’s a hot country but inside the temple is a religious site so you should cover your shoulders and wear a sarong. Also on public buses I see lots of people putting their feet on the seat. In our culture, we’re not allowed to touch the head of the other people or to point feet at the heads of people as it is very disrespectful.
Outside of work, what are you favourite things to do?
I just bought a bicycle and I’ve got a friend who runs bicycle tours so he often invites me on weekends to see more of the rural areas. I’m a country boy so I love rice fields and green scenery. I like to stay at home and relax as well though!