Do You Need a Driver with / without a Local Guide when Travelling in SE Asia?

We have our guides in our recent travels to Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. They are all English speaking; with different levels of proficiency, accents and education.

Some of them are knowledgeable and helped us to understand the background or details of the sites we visited.

Some of them have heavy accents and not very good in explaining clearly what they want to say. One guide told us that their culture dates back to a million years; he corrected it when we questioned it. He was also wrong on some of the details which we found out before hand or afterwards using internet search.

What sometimes annoys me is that we have to pretend we are listening ( out of courtesy) and accompanied him to where he wanted to see/ speak instead of where we wanted to spend more time. One guide didn’t enter the site of interest and stayed outside under the shade because of the heat.

It is not unusual that they may spend a little time away from us for different purposes : one said he has to pray several times a day, one said he has to buy something on the way.

For our most recent trip to Central Vietnam, we decided that we will only hire cars with drivers; not bothered to take on any guides. In fact, some drivers speak good English and taught me a lot about Vietnam when he was driving/ resting.

On one day, we hired a car which comes with a driver who is supposed to speak “broken English”. We accepted this arrangement as the offer was reasonable.

The driver picked us up at the hotel. He was supposed to give us a city tour of Hoi An, by stopping at different places of interest and picking us from the same spot where he left us after the visit. We thought that was fine but on the first spot, we find it didn’t work out that way.

The driver dropped us off at the city spot which supposedly was not far away from an old house. He just dropped us at a convenient location with no traffic restrictions and unable to tell us what we are visiting and where.

One of our better guides speaking reasonable English waiting for us at an Inle Lake Pier

To our horror, we found out that his English was not broken, but non-existent. Whenever we have a question, he gave us his phone so that we can write it down and got it Google translated. When he wanted to talk to us, he would talk to his phone and got it translated using Google. This proved to be not working.

Then he rang his boss so that his direction can be translated by his boss. His boss said he will communicate to us as to where we will be picked up by Whatsapp. My wife has subscribed to data, but the signal was so weak that both his boss and my wife cannot communicate on Whatsapp. I cannot help either as I didn’t subscribe to data in Vietnam. So, we were left in limbo at the waiting spot where the car cannot be found.

Tell you what, in the end, we cancelled this weird tour and did it happily our-self. So, a lesson is learned.