Vanna the Tour Guide

In many of the previous posts I mentioned our tour guide’s name, Chea Vanna. Having him as our private tour guide definitely made a great difference to enhance our experience exploring Siem Reap. He was very knowledgeable about the history and cultural background behind many of the places that we visited, and he was quite personable and engaging. I thought I would write a blog post about him as I’m closing in to the conclusion of the Siem Reap part of my Southeast Asia trip.

When we started our sightseeing on the first day, Vanna introduced himself and told us a little bit about his background. He grew up in a village near Phnom Penh. After graduating from the university, he worked in an office job for a couple of years, and then decided to switch career to become a tour guide. He learned English and read a lot on the Khmer history, and then he went through the certification process to become an official tour guide (you have to be licensed in order to serve as a tour guide in the Angkor Archaeological Park area). When he guided us, he had been a tour guide for around three years, and he said he loved his job as it allowed him to meet people from around the world and learned about other cultures from his customers.

I asked Vanna if he was employed by Derleng Tours, the tour company that arranged our visit to Siem Reap. He said he did tours for Derleng quite frequently, but he was actually an independent guide. He worked with a couple of other tour companies in addition to Derleng Tours. He said he liked working with Derleng as it was a locally-owned company; he preferred that than some big tour companies that are foreign-owned.

During our tour there were times when Vanna excused himself for having to check his phone for text messages. That’s how he arranged bookings for future tours. Typical engagement was similar to ours, about three days. Sometimes it’s as short as only a day trip, or as long as a whole week. The size of the group he led varied from small group (2 people) like ours to larger group (15 people). I asked him if that pretty much made it a full-time job. He said yes, though there were days when he purposefully left open on his schedule so he could rest and volunteer teaching English at a local school. I thought that’s great that he used his knowledge and skills to help others to also improve their lives.

During the three days that we spent in Siem Reap, I enjoyed visiting to the places and having conversations with Vanna along the way and learned a little bit about life in Cambodia. In turn he also asked me about how life is like in both the United States and Indonesia, and it’s quite an interesting conversation comparing and contrasting the life and culture as we knew them.

I took the photo below when we were exploring the Terrace of the Elephants inside Angkor Thom. Here was Vanna explaining about the three-headed elephants to Kristi.

Vanna the Tour Guide

Derleng Tours

Derleng Tours is a local tour company in Cambodia based out of Siem Reap. We found out about Derleng when we were about to book a room at the Kool Hotel for our stay in Siem Reap. They had an option for a three day, two nights package that included the lodging at the Kool Hotel and private tour guide and car touring the Siem Reap/Angkor area. I was very impressed and thankful for the excellent service they provided during our visit to Cambodia. Below is an excerpt of what I wrote about them in my review on TripAdvisor — the least I could do to thank them.

During the planning stage few months before the trip, I contacted Derleng Tours via email. They were very responsive and helpful in arranging our trip. When I also asked for information regarding transportation and tour guide for Phnom Penh, they responded with a customized package that included the transportation in Phnom Penh added. What I appreciate was that they gave us the option for a tour guide as we requested, but actually recommended that we wouldn’t take up that option. The reason was because their primary operation was in Siem Reap, and they didn’t have tour guide that they could recommend for in Phnom Penh. If we had insisted to get a tour guide, they could arrange one to come from Siem Reap to guide us in Phnom Penh, but the guide wouldn’t be as knowledgeable about Phnom Penh that they didn’t want to risk not meeting our expectations. I found this very customer focused, and gave the feeling that they’re looking out for our best interests and not trying to take advantage of the situation to up sell their service.

The drivers we had in Phnom Penh were very courteous and knew their way around. We had a little mishap during the start of our full day trip in Phnom Penh, but Derleng folks managed to resolve it when we called them very early in the morning. The day ended up to be memorable, and we had lunch with our driver that was a unique experience in itself.

Derleng also helped us arrange our transportation from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We had wanted to travel by bus and I also asked if they could arrange our transit from the hotel to the bus station in Phnom Penh and from the bus station to hotel in Siem Reap. They responded with an offer to arrange the whole travel (I think pretty much at cost). They also suggested that we would go by van rather than bus; pretty much same pricing, but typically faster because vans are more nimble than buses in navigating the highway traffic. Again, they gave us the suggestion without being pushy, and we took up their suggestion (this was the experience I wrote about in several posts last week about the trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap).

The Siem Reap part of the trip was organized and executed flawlessly. Our tour guide, Chea Vanna, was very friendly and knowledgeable about the places we visited during our three-day stay in Siem Reap. I particularly enjoyed having discussions with him learning about Cambodian culture and what life is like there, and sharing about American and Indonesia culture and life in comparison. By the end of the three day excursion, we pretty much considered him and our driver as our new friends, more than just our tour guide and driver.

In the end, we had a wonderful experience visiting Cambodia, and Derleng Tours had a big part in making our trip smooth and memorable. I definitely would recommend them to anyone planning on going to Cambodia.

The photo below was taken on New Year’s morning at Angkor Wat. It was me, Kristi, and our guide Vanna.

New Year's morning at Angkor Wat