a day in a life of Mr. Sam So, Cambodian tour guide



Our guide in Cambodia, Sam So, loves working with the clients that his job connects him with. For years he’s dedicated his life to pursuing excellence in his work as a travel guide at Diethelm Travel Cambodia. Patient and jovial, Sam So’s welcoming face always wears a smile on the job. His expertise and charming personality ensure he garners great feedback from clients on an ongoing basis.

Here’s what he had to share.


Why did you choose to work with us?
It had always been my dream! I was born in Siem Reap near the historical site of Angkor Wat. I frequently saw signs around advertising Diethelm Travel ever since the company was first established in town and I knew I wanted to become a tour guide with the company to share my love of Cambodian culture with others.

I graduated high school in 1998 and then completed tour guide school. In addition to studying tourism, I also learned about Khmer history and that of the Angkor Site. The next year I became a freelance tour guide for Diethelm Travel and Insight Cambodia (their sister company).

In 2003, my vision of being a permanent tour guide for Diethelm Travel became a reality! I chose this company because I truly believe we are the best and am honoured to work for Diethelm Travel as a guide as long as I can. I love my job, and bring my passion and commitment to work each day.


Why did you want to become a travel guide?
Working as a travel guide allows me to learn new things all the time. I get to show guests many parts of this beautiful country and share my love for Cambodia with them.


What is your favourite part about working with travellers?
I really enjoy connecting with travellers and telling them about daily life here in Cambodia — the past and present, as well as cultural traditions and historical sites. And I’m able to help them better  understand the civil war that happened here, which I lived through.


What is your favourite destination you recommend others to visit and why?
In my country, there are many beautiful places that travellers can visit. My favourite is Preah Vihear, a World Heritage Site located on Dangrek Mountain, near the border of Thailand.

On the way to visit the temple, there are stunning vistas that show off the Cambodian scenery. When travellers reach the top of the mountain they can see the landscape between Cambodia and Thailand.


What do you do when travelling long hours with guests? How do you keep the guests, and yourself, entertained?
I try my best to observe the guests’ needs and feelings. This includes making sure they understand the length of time we’ll be spending in transit, and making regular stops so they can enjoy the landscape along the way. We always try to visit interesting places so guests can take pictures of the scenery.

For example, we show guests how villagers make local products and introduce them to real Cambodian daily life. Travelling from one destination to the next is anything but boring! I also share my own knowledge of local culture as well as my own stories — like what my traditional Khmer  wedding was like and show photos from it. I also often offer to sing a Khmer song as a special gift to the group.


Can you tell us your most memorable trip with guests?
One of my favourite guests has been to Cambodia five times! He always chooses Diethelm Travel and I am always his guide. We first became friends back in2009. Since then he’s helped many poor Cambodian children attend school. Specifically, he donated money so that two students could finish their university studies, and others he supports are still making their way through primary, secondary and high school. Because this guest contributes to the education of Cambodians, he’s the most  memorable to me. I thank him for his generosity!


What makes a good professional tour guide in your opinion?
I believe there are many things that make a good professional guide. You must love the job, be a hard worker, and have a good understanding of what guests want. You also need to know a lot about the place, and be able to provide warm traditional Khmer hospitality (like smiling, offering insightful tips, etc.).

It’s also important to make sure every guests’ needs are met and that no detail goes unnoticed by checking over all aspects of the tour (such as arrival and departure times) to ensure correct  information. A great tour guide does their best to make sure the guests enjoy their holiday and bring back memories to treasure forever.


What do you do before a tour starts? What do you have to prepare?
I always look over the programme details before the client arrives. Prior to the tour starting, I explain to all guests the correct dress code for religious sites and temples. And I tell the driver about meeting times and places. Lastly I check that guests have access to water, tissues and other basic necessities at all times.


What items do you normally carry with you during the tours?
I keep the tour programme, maps of the city, country and Angkor site to show guests. Also, I carry plastic bags so guests have a safe place to store their temple tickets. Having a pen is important to write down any questions or requests that guests might have; for example, if a guest is vegetarian I will note that down to tell the tour company or restaurant. I also always have a phone to be able to contact our driver, restaurants and other businesses so the tour goes smoothly.


Why do you think guests prefer to have professional personal guides? What do you think are the  benefits?
Professional guides have a lot of experience, knowledge and confidence about the areas visited so guests will be able to learn a lot from a guide’s explanation. Additionally, professional guides share information between each other, so guests benefit from new ideas and improvements. Most of all, a professional guide knows how to be flexible in all circumstances and does all he can to make sure the holiday exceeds guests’ expectations.


What are the tourist activities your guests are most interested in and where?
There are so many places to see in this lovely country. Guests usually always want to explore  Cambodia’s famous temples, especially the Angkor site — Angkor Wat, Bayon, Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm are the most popular attractions. Travellers also want to learn about Khmer history.

Tonle Sap Lake, one of the largest lakes in Southeast Asia, is another place many tourists want to see. Part of Cambodia’s eco-tourism destinations, it features floating villages, a bird sanctuary at Prek Toal and boats that offer picnics on the water.


What kind of approach do you take to make yourself stand out from other guides?
I take pride in working hard, staying open-minded, making friends with everyone and being passionate about my job. I’ve taken care to give back and do plenty of training. Between 1998 and 2008, I taught English for free to children in my village. Then I graduated from Tourism Management in Cambodia, and learned to speak Italian through the International Rotary Club in Siena. I now speak four different languages: Khmer, English, German and Italian.

Since 2011 I’ve been teaching Italian in the mornings to other tour guides. I’m happy to share my knowledge because it can help other guides with work. I also do social work with underprivileged children in Cambodia, with the help of my German friend, Dieter Blumberg. It makes me proud to contribute to the development of my country. I work hard so I can help benefit others, not myself.


What motivates you?
I enjoy showing guests around my country and explaining Cambodia to them from my personal perspective. I’m passionate about serving travellers to the best of my ability and love my job with all my heart. As a company, Diethelm is very professional and their management team is supportive — everyone is treated like family. I’m very proud to be part of Diethelm Travel!