After living in Vancouver, Canada for most of my life, being in Cambodia for 8 months and seeing Laos for two weeks, it’s interesting to compare how many of the services treat customers or visitors depending on the culture of the people or the organization itself.
Customer service is so highly valued in many Western countries and it often fuels a sense of entitlement when we travel to other places. When I arrived in Cambodia I wasn’t sure what to expect from services but I kept an open mind. There are simply some cultures where the concept of customer service is not existent. And that’s fine, it’s just different.
When I went to Budapest, Hungary for a few days, there was little to no customer service and you just have to find your way around. While this can be frustrating for many travelers, I found the honesty somewhat refreshing than having underpaid retail staff in Canada asking how you’re doing in the name of “customer service.”
Non-existent service in parts of Laos
I went to Luang Prabang and Huay Xai (Northern Laos) and after coming from Cambodia, it took sometime to get used to needing to wave or find people to ask a question about their guesthouse, transportation or food. I’m sure people have this experience in Cambodia depending who they’ve interacted with, especially the tourist areas. The experience in very different when you stay in one place for a long time.
I don’t want this to sound like a rant, it’s just a different culture of interaction and the differences between countries is apparent. Keep in mind, I was only in Laos for 2.5 weeks and only saw the tourist towns. The friends that I met, one of them is Laos, was an exceptional host and showed our friends around town.
This was a common conversation with people running services in Laos:
Me: Hi, I was wondering what time your bus goes to Huay Xai
Staff: We have one tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.
(A few seconds of pause)
Me: Do I have to come here at a certain time?
Staff: No, you go to the bus station
Me: How far is the bus station?
Staff: 5 km from here
Me: How much is the tuk tuk and what time would I have to be there
Staff: It will be 30,000 kip for a tuk tuk and be there 7:30 a.m.
When I signed up for The Gibbon Experience ziplining in Huay Xai, I was as their office door with my big backpack and instead of taking off my shoes just to put my bag eight meters in their storage, I asked, “Do you mind taking my bag to storage so I don’t have to take off my shoes?” He replied by pointing to the storage and said, “It’s over there.”
After I got used to these interactions, one slightly frustrating conversation was when I wanted to rent a bike for the night and return it the next morning. This was the conversation after I leave them my passport to rent the bike:
Me: Can I rent the bike for the night and return it tomorrow at 7:30 a.m.? I have a tour to go to
Company: We don’t open until 8 a.m.
Me: Ok, my guesthouse is just less than a block away right there, can I leave the bike by the guesthouse and one of your staff and return it. I don’t need my passport for two days when I get back from the tour.
Company: We don’ have staff available to do that. (Every time I’ve passed that office, the office is empty and the have two to three staff doing very little)
Me: It is literally a 10-second walk, one staff member can stay here and another can just get the bike.
Company: Ok I will ask my friend next door if you can drop off the bike at her shop
**Bangs head on wall**
Service in Thailand
I was only in Thailand for a few days. The first day was just taking the bus from the north of the country to Bangkok. But there was a difference in service the minute I leave Laos and come to the immigration checkpoint in Thailand by the river.
After two weeks of passive attitudes at businesses, it was refreshing to have the guide and driver at the immigration checkpoint take my bag and give me clear directions for where I needed to go. For the few days, I was able to get around with very few problems.
Back to Cambodia
It’s been so good to return to my Asian home in Siem Reap after being away. I really enjoyed the people I met along the way and seeing beautiful scenery. But deep down I felt pulled to spend two weeks with good friends before I go off for a few months again.
As soon as I come to Siem Reap, I felt right at home. I went to my friends’ restaurant Phai San BBQ for my quick comfort food and chat with good friends. I know the food comes fresh and fast. Afterwards, it was so great to have top-notch service when I went to check my email for a few minutes, my friend at the hotel, as usual, asked if I wanted a coffee. I was asked if I wanted some tea and peanuts while I checked my email. I haven’t had this level of consideration for a few weeks except for my friends in Laos and Thailand.
Finally, I was most excited to surprise my adopted Khmer family since they thought I wasn’t coming back until April 2014, which was my original plan. But when I came back, they were very happy to see me and instantly offered their apartment for me to stay at for the two weeks I was in town.
It’s good to be home.