Tour guide’s forest home is also his office

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He is very familiar with the operations of the Gibbon Experience and would like to explain everything to visitors to help them enjoy their stay more, but he has to accompany them in silence because he can’t speak English.
So Mr Jou Lao walks behind visitors during jungle treks at the Gibbon Experience in Bokeo province, to keep an eye out for any form of danger.
Jou, 28, has been working as a tour guide at the forest and wildlife conservation centre for three years.

Jou’s colleague explains zipline safety procedures.

He never got the chance to learn English because he left primary school when he was in Year Three, so he could not even write Lao properly.
Being a tour guide isn’t hard for Jou because he’s been walking through forests since he was a child and he already knew most of the forests encompassed by the Gibbon Experience before he went to work there.
The problem for him is that most of the guests are foreigners, but he always walks alongside his English-speaking colleagues who can help out if a visitor asks a question.
Jou lives in Toub village in Huayxai district, where all the visitors go before and after staying in the conservation forest.
Many people might think that working as a tour guide is very interesting because you get to travel a lot but Mr Jou follows the same route every day.
But he says he doesn’t find it boring because he feels that work is work and he’s happy to be in the forest. It’s much better than working in a town and being far away from his family.
His place of work is near his village. Jou is away from home for two days and then returns home for a night, but for him the forest is a part of his neighbourhood.
Before 8am, Jou must arrive at the treehouse bearing breakfast for guests. Every day he has to wake up before 6am to get ready and have his own breakfast before making his way to the treehouse. It takes about an hour of trekking and ziplining to reach the treehouse.
His work gets harder after guests have had breakfast because he has to take them around the forest. In some areas they walk and in others they get around on ziplines.
Jou’s job is not based around a set schedule but depends on the needs and plans of visitors. If they arrive early he must start work early and if trekkers walk slowly because they spend a lot of time looking around them, they might not get back until it’s dark, so Jou always has a lamp in his bag.
When I visited the Gibbon Experience with a friend recently, we were the first Lao visitors he had encountered there, and he explained everything to us.
He said he was happy to have some Lao people visit because he could talk to them. He wished more Lao people would spend time in the forest as he felt it was very important for them to learn about the need for the protection of forests and wildlife.
Jou is engrossed in his work and always has a smile on his face. He tries to talk to foreign visitors even though his English is not good.
He told us a bit about his background. He comes from a Hmong community in Xieng Khuang province but moved to Toub village almost 20 years ago.
Sadly, two years ago his son drowned. Jou was working at the Gibbon Experience and got a phone call to say that his son had been swept away by floods. However, he has another son and also a daughter.
During the course of a day’s work he uses about 20 ziplines so he’s quite used to them and isn’t afraid, and finds it quite relaxing.
Things get more difficult when there’s a group tour as people often don’t have any experience of ziplines and can get stuck halfway across. That means he has to go and help them the rest of the way to the next platform.
”It’s okay to carry someone small, but more often than not it’s a heavy person and it uses all of my energy to move them to the end of the zipwire,” Mr Jou said, shaking his head at the memory.
So that he can be more friendly to visitors and make their trip more interesting, Jou says he will try to practice his English so that he can provide them with more information.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update March 21, 2018)

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