Bhutan’s ‘Unofficial Ambassadors’: He Has Two Degrees But That Doesn’t Stop Him From Being A Tour Guide
In this series, Daily Bhutan speaks to licensed tour guides and drivers on what it’s like working in the tourism industry in Bhutan.
By Kinley Yangden | Daily Bhutan
They are the unsung heroes and unofficial ambassadors of Bhutan. Tour guides in Bhutan are among the first Bhutanese faces you see when you arrive as a tourist and also your personal chaperone, luggage handler, concierge, historian, trekking guide and companion all lumped in one.
Without them, a trip to Bhutan will be vastly different.
In this series, Daily Bhutan speaks to licensed tour guides and drivers on what it’s like working in the tourism sector in Bhutan, their ups and downs, and finding happiness in what they do.
We speak to Chunjur from Druk Asia in part two of "Bhutan's unofficial ambassadors".
Chunjur, 38, cultural and trekking guide
Armed with two bachelor degrees, Chunjur is a guide who is not just book smart, he also happens to speak fluent Korean.
The 38-year-old was given an opportunity to study in South Korea when he scored a scholarship in 2002. He had come in third place at the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment for Class XII, and decided that he wanted to pursue a degree in architecture.
After spending three years at Jeju University, Chunjur returned to Bhutan only to find that there were limited architecture-related jobs back home. He then went on to pursue another degree - this time in Business Management - at Bangalore University for three and a half years.
Photo: Courtesy of Chunjur
Didn’t like to be desk bound
Upon returning from India, he joined the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources for six months - and that was a turning point for him. As an officer in the finance department, Chunjur quickly realised that dealing with someone’s money “wasn’t a piece of cake”.
“I don’t enjoy sitting at the desk. At the same time, my nature gives me to be outdoors, rather than sitting (here),” said Chunjur, who added that he did have thoughts of turning back to architecture if private firms wanted to hire.
In 2012, Chunjur eventually found work as a driver for Druk Asia for six months. One of the directors received good feedback about his services and asked him if he wanted to be a guide instead. Luckily for Chunjur, he had already attended and passed a guiding course before he went to Korea for his studies. This opportunity from Druk Asia's director marked the beginning of Chunjur’s guiding career.
Dealing with difficult guests
While Chunjur enjoys travelling within Bhutan - he’s been to all districts except Zhemgang - and having “zero” boss to report to daily, he said whether a job was enjoyable really depended on the travellers he gets.
“Sometimes you meet someone and it feels like you know them for a long time, but some are really….” , said Chunjur, who added that he has “had lots of nightmare guests”.
When asked how he copes with such guests, Chunjur explained that he had underwent a stress management training in Nepal by adventure travel company G Adventures and it helped him a lot in dealing with difficult guests.
“The training which is given here in Bhutan is just surface, about basic history and everything. But never have they told us how to handle a traveller.
“The training in Nepal isn’t about how you tell stories, instead, they teach you how to handle clients properly, and to focus more on their needs,” explained Chunjur.
While he rarely gets to practice the Korean language here, the opportunity arose during the Bhutan-Korea Friendship Offer in 2017, when Koreans visiting Bhutan had their minimum daily package rate waived. Chunjur handled a total of eight groups during this time.
“I had a tough time for the first Korean group on the first day. The (Korean) words are in there, but it doesn’t come out,” he admitted.
Another challenge Chunjur faces, he said, is meeting the expectations of certain guests.
He explained: “Guests want to go to every place listed in the itinerary, but not everything can be executed or is feasible to do, and guests misunderstand that we are not helping them meet their expectations.
“So the first thing I do when I receive the guests is to go through the itinerary to discuss certain things that can or cannot be done. There’s also traveling hours to take into consideration.”
However, even doing that sometimes doesn’t help to appease the guests, he said. Chunjur added that most guides, like him, face this same challenge.
And when it comes to his personal life, he finds it hard to balance family life too. Chunjur, who is married and has a 13-year-old son, told Daily Bhutan that he is usually away four to five days at a stretch, and sometimes even more if he goes trekking.
So with two degrees under his belt, does Chunjur plan to do something else besides guiding?
“No, I have no plans. I am happy here (as a guide) because there’s not much stress. I can get away from everything, even my bosses, and enjoy on my own,” he said.
Tips for new guides?
Photo: Courtesy of Chunjur
“Stress management training is needed. Besides that, when you’re new, you want to continuously work when you get groups, but after awhile you get tired of executing the same job.
"So when possible, join some refreshment courses or training, or even guide-related training or talks related to history, iconography, and so on,” explained Chunjur.
Recommendations on travelling to Eastern Bhutan
“If you’re travelling to eastern Bhutan, stay in Mongar and visit Lhuentse on a day trip. There, you can see the harvesting of silk worms. Towards Pemagatshel, they have started the harvesting of cotton, so you can see the steps from A to Z, you can see how they dye and weave the cotton,” said Chunjur.
What trek to go on
Chunjur recommends doing the trek to Mount Jomolhari.
Photo: Courtesy of Chunjur
“It’s a nice balance. We have nature, we have flora and fauna, and different altitudes. For the first three days, it’s not a big challenge for the traveller, and once you’re there, you get a day’s rest and then next day you climb the first peak.
“We have temples, we have villages, so it’s a good mix,” he said.