We asked the shortlisted guides for Wanderlust's World Guide Awards 2016 to tell us the most ridiculous - and funniest - questions they'd ever been asked by a customer. Here's what they came up with...
Samer Saied, G Adventures (Egypt)
In an early morning in the middle of the summer, on a hot air balloon trip, I got a surprising question. A tourist asked: “In a hot a country like Egypt, how long does it take a pregnant woman to give birth?”
I was seriously surprised, but I didn't know if she was joking or not. I said “Women can't handle nine months in the heat so...” And the tourist interrupted me: “Six months, right? I really thought so.” I said “No. It’s very hot here, but women in Africa and Egypt are designed for the heat. The length of time for a woman to be pregnant is still nine months.” The other travellers were laughing like crazy and I admit I couldn't hold it in either.
Wipaporn Ord, All Points East (Thailand)
It’s hard to say questions are stupid, many of them sound it, but part of my job as a tour guide is to recognise people’s previous experiences and remind myself some people have booked escorted tours as they are definitely out of their comfort zone. So what’s stupid to a me, when I haven’t had enough coffee, is really a perfectly reasonable question on a steamy day in Southeast Asia when they’ve just got off a 12-hour flight, and that’s when many off topic questions arise.
I do remember, though, one Canadian lady, while I was describing what to pack for a night camping in the jungle, she asked if it was ok to bring her hair dryer. Trying to be helpful, I said, “Of course it is”, but then thought I had better point out there wouldn’t be anywhere to plug it in. People asking questions lets me know what they are thinking, although what the lady who asked me “Where do Thai people buy their sinks?” has in her mind seemed a bit random to me as a question to ask on an adventure tour.
Alex Graeme, Unique Devon Tours (UK)
I was with a family of Americans in South Devon on the coast one time, and noticed, on the hillside nearby, a bonfire burning. The smoke was drifting into a large tree and the smoke was coming out from the tree, almost as if the tree was smoking.
I called to one of the daughters, aged 23, and pointed to the tree. I told her that she was witnessing a phenomenon called the 'Smoking Tree'. I told her that it only happens on one day of the year, and only then if the conditions were just right. I explained that the sun hits the tree from a certain angle and a chemical reaction causes the tree to smoke. She looked at me suspiciously; “Do you really have smoking trees?”
But after my sincerity had convinced her, she shouted to her mum, “Mom, quick, you’ve got to see the Smoking Tree.” Her mum ran over, and the girl started to explain. I, however, could not contain myself any longer and burst out laughing. I got a hit on the arm for my trouble, but we all laughed afterwards - a lot.
Another one come to mind. When we get on to Dartmoor, guests sometimes see one of the granite tors and ask if it is a sculpture. Of course, they are formed naturally.
Bopha Sok, G Adventures (Cambodia)
“I get lots of weird and wonderful questions from travellers, but one that comes up that makes me laugh on the inside every time is when travellers ask about fixing Angkor Wat. It’s one of my favourite places to show people in Cambodia and so sacred and beautiful as it stands, but, for some reason, travellers like to think they are going to put it back together.
I like to have a bit of fun with my travellers. I recently had a traveller say “When are they going to put Angkor Wat back into to its original state?” I had to tell them that the only way to fix it is to find all the stones and put them back together like a big jigsaw puzzle. I also took it a step further and said they would have to replace the missing stones with newly made ones. That made the group laugh.”
Edward Shepherd, Tours From Antiquity (UK)
A site like Stonehenge attracts the most ‘creative’, slightly odd and truly bizarre questions from travellers, but you learn to smile and try to redirect the discussion to more relevant points. The most obvious questions bring up topics such as the bearded druids, aliens (always the aliens), how the stone circle looked so much smaller in the Spinal Tap movie, or even “How long did it take to rebuild the stones after Chevy Chase hit them with his car in National Lampoon’s European Vacation?”, though I should note there that there was doubt that that was a genuine question.
But the standout question that comes to my mind was a simple one: “Can I please get a drink before we start out for the stones?” It was early February and Stonehenge has a hard winter frost. In our small group, there was a lovely middle-aged Brazilian lady who was not accustomed to this level of cold. We arrived at the new Stonehenge visitor centre and she disappeared towards the café for a hot drink, or so I believed.
After several years visiting Stonehenge, I have never lost somebody, especially at 9:30 in the morning. I arrived at the meeting point and everyone was eagerly waiting to depart but our Brazilian friend was missing. I searched the café, museum, in and out of the reconstructed Neolithic houses, but to no avail.
I then braved the gift shop, pushed past the themed clothing, Stonehenge snow globes and sweets, and finally hit the alcohol in the far corner where you can buy druid-themed beer and English Heritage wines. It was there I found my missing Brazilian lady earnestly drinking a bottle of red wine. She gave a sheepish smile and simply stated it kept her warm in this freezing weather. I put it down to personal taste and hurried her back to the group and Stonehenge. I found it another matter altogether when circling the stones and discussing the intricacies of the monument, she continued to glug her way through the bottle, depositing the empty bottle in the bin on our return to the visitor centre.
This story brings to mind the visitor numbers for the Summer Solstice this year. Stonehenge received a pitiful 12,000 visitors in 2016, compared to 23,000 in 2015. Why the sudden drop? 2016 saw the first alcohol ban during the solstice ceremony. Maybe the missing 11,000 people agreed with our guest that alcohol is a prime element when experiencing this enigmatic world heritage site?
Wanderlust’s World Guide Awards 2016 event takes place on October 6, 2016, at the Royal Geographic Society in London, with Bill Bryson and Mark Carwardine in conversation, plus talks from Paul Goldstein and Wanderlust’s Phoebe Smith. Tickets cost £5.