At a lively event at the Royal Geographical Society we announced the winners of the 2016 World Guide Awards.
At a lively event at the Royal Geographical Society, Samer Saied, an Egypt-based guide for G Adventures, also known as Mr Egypt, won the Gold prize.
Wipaporn Ord, a guide for All Points East in Thailand, Laos & Burma, won Silver, while Bopha Sok, another guide for G Adventures, in this case for Cambodia, won. Congratulations to all three guides for this mighty achievement. And if you joined us at the event, thanks for coming along.
Judges for the event, present on the night, included author, photographer & TV wildlife expert Mark Carwardine, experienced wilderness guide Myles Farnbank, AITO industry guru Derek Moore and Wanderlust’s own Lyn Hughes: Editor-in-chief Lyn Hughes. The attending crowd, including both the general public and members of the travel industry, also enjoyed entertaining talks from photographer Paul Goldstein, Mark Carwardine and Wanderlust magazine’s editor Phoebe Smith.
We were also delighted to be joined at the Royal Geographic Society by last year’s winner Mark Steadman, an Asia-based guide for Wild Frontiers, to hear what effect 2015’s win had on his life and career.
The event followed a cracking afternoon in which the tour guides from around the world, including Highly Commended Alex Green from Unique Devon Tours, were themselves guided around the sights of London by Touriocity guide James Kingston, a history buff who filled everyone in on London's major sights and history, including our drunken politicians.
Where he guides: Egypt
Booked through: G Adventures
‘Sem Sem’ (as Samer is commonly known) might as well be called ‘Mr Egypt’. Armed with an infectious passion for his country, Samer has left no stone unturned when it comes to sharing his unbridled enthusiasm for Egypt with his clients, something that was clear from the many pages of testimonials.
“When he plunged into a story 3,000 years old, you felt very much part of it,” summed up one traveller. The judges were also impressed by the way he inspired both his clients and his peers at G Adventures. “The fact that his colleagues rate him so highly speaks volumes,” added judge Myles Farnbank.
He doesn’t stop there, either; he also helps out community projects and has spent several years as a scout leader in central Cairo. One traveller summed him up perfectly: “If the world had more Sem Sems, we would truly be in a better place.”
“He makes the past vivid and brings the present into focus in a way I’ve never seen.”
“Samer is a rare kind of superstar. He’s not just a guide, he is a great Egyptologist, friend, joker and ambassador for his culture and country.”
“A good leader keeps people on the same page. A great one brings them together as a second family – this is how I’ll remember Sem Sem. We love Egypt because of him.”
“I’ve never seen so many tears at the end of a tour, including Sem Sem.”
“He has inspired so many people and is always optimistic in every situation. His knowledge, courage and confidence instils a trust in him, and he always encourages people to travel to his home country.”
Bill Bryson was a huge fan of Sem Sem: “He inspires both his clients and his colleagues. He has changed lives, enriched people’s experience and is a marvellous ambassador for his country.”
Samer wants to support a number of Egyptian causes close to his heart. “I would love to donate some money to the Magdi Yacoub Foundation’s Aswan Heart Centre, to help support the new G Adventures For Good project in Egypt and the Saint George Scout Team in downtown Cairo.”
Where she guides: Thailand, Laos & Burma
Booked through: All Points East
“She’s nicer than my mum,” proclaimed one traveller when asked about Wipaporn. A bold statement perhaps, but not undeserving of a guide who has spent the past 15 years leading people around the treasures of South-East Asia. In doing so she has won countless admirers for her warmth and her caring approach to her profession: “She has taken care of me in times of illness like only a mother, or truly dedicated tour guide, could,” beamed another satisfied client.
Her vast experience (and kindness) have even led her to coordinate a number of projects for underprivileged hilltribe children and their families in all three countries that she guides in. And she’s not without hidden talents: “Wi makes the finest passionfruit cheesecake on the planet,” enthused one traveller.
“Her beguiling smile melts the hearts of the most battle-hardened and jaded of travellers.”
“Wi has the ability to turn an unexpected wet day, cancelled flight or power cut into an adventure that leaves everybody smiling.”
“She is sensitive to the environment as well as the needs of her clients.”
“Families want to adopt her and bring her home with them. My own son said after one of her tours that she was the nicest woman ever!”
“It’s impossible not to have a good time with Wi’s smiling face around.”
“Wi sounds such a charming person. She’s the fun and caring – but organised – big sister you want to travel with,” explained Sophie Campbell.
Mark Carwardine added: “Wi’s warmth, vivaciousness and enthusiasm shine through.”
Wi plans to help those she has encountered on her travels.
“While guiding, I have seen many wonderful things, but I also meet people less fortunate than us. Often their needs are relatively small and can’t be helped by major NGOs. Then I think: ‘How can I can help?’ What I like doing is reacting to things I see and helping make the lives of the people we visit a bit easier. I am lucky that when I lead tours I am able to do this, but a bursary would make it possible to do more, such as supporting rural women in Burma to help them sell handicrafts to passing tourists.”
Where he guides: Cambodia
Booked through: G Adventures
Guiding truly is Bopha’s calling. That’s what one traveller said after a tour with him. And after three years of guiding and leaving his mark on so many clients, it’s hard to disagree. Bopha lives and breathes Cambodia, hailing from a village in Kampong Cham province before moving to Siem Reap to kickstart his career as a guide. He wants his clients to experience a true sense of the country he calls home, getting them to interact with locals and proudly leading them around Cambodia’s iconic sights – especially Angkor Wat.
Many travellers who have been on tours with him acknowledge the incredible difference he makes to their experiences: “Bopha was so good that I’m hesitating to go on another guided tour as I’m afraid they won’t live up to the legend that is Bopha!”
“I can honestly say that Bopha Sok changed who I am, who my students are and what they will become in the world.”
“Bopha is such a lovely man, and he has such a huge heart.”
“I have travelled the world and been on many tours but Bopha has been, by far, the best guide I have ever had.”
“Bopha helped our group to become a small family. His kind, light heart brought us all together, laughing and sharing.”
“Bopha should be an inspiration to all other guides around the world. He is a credit to himself, his family and G Adventures.”
“Bopha connected us all, making us all one big happy family – we’re all still in touch now.”
“His passion and humour shine through,” said Mark Ellingham.
Derek Moore added:“Bopha is clearly a brilliant communicator and excellent at group dynamics, as well as making everyone feel special.”
Bopha wants to help an initiative close to home.
“I would like to donate to the G Adventures supported project New Hope Vocational Training Restaurant in Cambodia, where I was a student. I would also like to sponsor some of the poor
kids in my hometown as well as the village where I live, to enable them go to university, as many
children love learning but have no opportunity to go to high school or on to further education.”
We asked you to nominate your favourite guides and you responded in your thousands. We then shortlisted these nominations, reducing them to eight, and invited further testimonials from their clients and colleagues.
The judging panel then met and decided who’d win Gold, a £5,000 bursary; Silver, £2,500; and Bronze, £1,000. The bursaries are spent on educational and worthy projects chosen by the winners.
Swarovski Optik and Powertraveller kindly provided further prizes.
Many congratulations to these fantastic guides, who all also deserve a mention:
Leticia Prieto: Back-Roads Touring, Spain
Asanga Bandara: Rajapakse Intrepid Travel, Sri Lanka
Kuenga Metho: Panoramic Journeys, Bhutan
Edward Shepherd: Tours From Antiquity, United Kingdom
Alex Graeme: Unique Devon, United Kingdom
Lyn Hughes: Editor-in-chief, Wanderlust
Bill Bryson: Legendary travel writer
Mark Carwardine: Author, photographer & TV wildlife expert
Derek Moore: Travel industry guru/AITO
Mark Ellingham: Founder, Rough Guides
Myles Farnbank: Experienced wilderness guide
Sophie Campbell: Travel writer & Blue Badge Tourist Guide
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