We had Sem as our private guide for a 5-day trip in Siem Reap. We were a bit nervous, since my father booked the trip for us through a Taiwanese travel agency (cheaper than us booking from the US). Typically, the travel agency arranges Chinese tours with a set itinerary. We requested an English speaking guide instead and also knew that we would likely want to make some changes to the planned schedule. This was an once-in-a-lifetime trip for us and we wanted to make the best of the experience. As soon as Sem picked us up from the airport, my mind was put at ease. He's been a guide for many years and is fluent in both English and Thai. His English is fantastic and we had no problems communicating with him at all. He's chatty and funny with an excellent command of English vocabulary. We're also history nerds, and Sem was extremely knowledgeable about the ruins, the town of Siem Reap, and general life in Cambodia. He was also very accommodating. We asked for substitutions to the restaurants (mostly generic "pan-Asian" fare that catered to tour guide groups) and attractions included on the itinerary, and Sem was also happy to change it up for us. We went to a jewelry showroom (a stop that was part of the original travel agency itinerary) but then explained that we did not wish to do any more shopping. I think shopping stops are fairly standard with tour groups and the guides likely receive some sort of commission from purchases. But Sem didn't pressure us at all and took all other shopping stops off the schedule.
Another thing I appreciated is that Sem knows all the best photo spots around the ruins. I am a photography buff and even considered taking a specialized photo tour of the ruins. That wasn't necessary, as Sem would also point out the best angles/spots for pictures. Sem would say "Go to that corner, it has the best view of the temple" or "Take a photo through this door, you get the tree framed really nicely", etc. I could put down the camera and just concentrate on Sem's explanations without fear of missing out on a good shot, since Sem would also tell me what shots to take later!
Thanks Sem, we loved our trip to Siem Reap!
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