In the business world there is a quote that goes something like “highly engaged employees make the customer experience, while disengaged employees break it”.
A truism, if ever there was one, it was a quote that refused to leave my mind after recently completing the SpiceRoads Cycle Tours ‘Vietnam Heritage by Bicycle’ tour with Guide Anh Co Nguyen.
As anyone who has been lucky enough to complete a guided cycling tour anywhere in the world will very quickly tell you – especially someone who has had a bad experience – a guide has the ability to either make or break a tour.
If you are assigned a guide who is engaging and organised, is sensitive to his or her group’s needs, has a sense of humour, possesses leadership skills, is multi-lingual and has an in-depth knowledge of the area being cycled, you are virtually guaranteed to enjoy an amazing cycling adventure.
Conversely if your guide possesses next to none of the above abilities, your tour has the potential to be a huge disappointment.
Fortunately this definitely wasn’t the case with Anh Co leading the way on our seven-day tour which saw us cycle 250 or so kilometres from Hue to the ancient town of Hoi An in central Vietnam.
A true character in every sense of the word, Anh Co clearly fit into the ‘outstanding’ guide category given his engaging personality, attention to detail, local knowledge, sense of humour, language skills and ability to make sure that the needs of each and every one of his guests were catered to.
An extremely proud Vietnamese who grew up near Da Nang during the Vietnam War, Anh Co has been a guide for 15 years – 10 with Spice Roads – and clearly during which time has spent a lot of time with tourists from around the world.
The result, given his determination to constantly improve his English language skills from his cycling guests, is a man who has mastered the art of idioms, colloquialism and slang.
As such, when it was time to resume cycling after a break the command from Anh Co wasn’t “It’s time to go.”, but “Let’s hit the road, Jack.”, or if we were nearing the end of the day “Home, James and don’t spare the horses.”, if we were going too slow “Shake a leg.”, or if he believed we were in for an easy stretch of cycling “It’s a piece of cake.” etc, etc.
Over the course of the week of cycling Anh Co’s mishmash of Australian, American and British sayings had us all constantly laughing, so what did we do? We taught him a new one, of course.
With the 10-kilometre climb up Hai Van Pass approaching on day 5 and one of the ladies in our group not sure if she could make it, the collective message was “No piking on the hill.”, a saying Anh Co immediately picked up on.
In the future you can be sure that anyone struggling to complete a day’s cycling or to climb a hill will be issued with the “No piking.” message from Anh Co, with the saying now clearly entrenched in his armoury.
A man clearly in love with his career as a SpiceRoads tour guide, Anh Co said he was constantly looking forward to his next tour.
“I love what I do,” he said. “Cycling is good for health, I meet people from all over the world and I am able to show people my country.
“Most of our clients are about 35 to 70 and have a lot of life experience; I call them ‘wise old owls’… that is why when I talk to them they are very interested in my stories. It always works out well, I learn a lot from them and they learn about Vietnam from me.
“I know that Vietnam is a beautiful country. We have many, many landscapes and heritage sites listed by UNESCO, and I am very proud of my country.”
While he leads cycling and walking tours all over Vietnam, Anh Co had no hesitation in picking central Vietnam as his favourite part of the country.
“The area has mountains, rivers, beaches, jungles, rice paddies and a lot of history,” he said. “Further south the Mekong Delta is a little bit too flat and up north it is very mountainous; the central parts of Vietnam are suitable for everybody.”