Rossukol Phansung, or khun “Rossi”, is taking advantage of having learned the Norwegian culture and language by offering guided tours in Thailand for Norwegians. Having previously lived in Norway for ten years she is fluent in Norwegian, while she also knows everything about history and culture in here home country. She is now reaching out to travel agents in Norway, as well as to Norwegian expats in the region, with her dedicated service.
She has set up ThaiGuide Norway (http://www.thaiguide.no), offering sightseeing and tailor-made guide tours. Rossi’s approach benefits from having a good understanding of what specifically Norwegians will want when vacationing in Thailand. And she also knows and understands the benefit of being able to offer visits also the unknown gems in Thailand, which has not yet been discovered by mass tourism – because with 30 million visitors to the country certain places are no doubt being crowded with tourists most time of the year.
“I started this in Bangkok first and I actually want to promote hidden places that many tourists – groups and individuals – do not really know about, and where they can see the way Thai people really live. Because from what I have seen many tourists go to main tourist attractions in Phuket or Hua Hin. They lie down on the beach but they do not look behind the scenes, how we Thais are.”
The Norway-Thai connection
Rossi has invited ScandAsia to meet for coffee at Norasingha Café, situated within the premises of Phraya Thai Palace, which was build in 1909 by King Chulalongkorn Rama 5 and was resident of Queen Saovabha. King Rama 5 was a big fan of European, including neoclassical, architecture, and is seen as the king who modernised Siam into the Thailand it has become today.
“This is a nice spot if tourists want to visit a palace but a different one than the main tourist attractions,” says Rossi. Not even expats would easily find Phraya Thai Palace, situated near Victory Monument, a less touristy area, and among government hospitals and institutes, unless investigating first.
“This palace was not finalised before the King passed away in 1910 and after his death, his wife lived here. And this place has later also been owned by the government and been used as a radio station and also run as hotel. It is still open to visit inside at 13.30 daily, where the palace has kept some rooms furnished as in the Royal days.”
With King Chulalongkorn there is also the interesting connection with Norway, as the king visited Nordkapp (North Cape) back in 1907.
“And there, you have the Thai Museum at the North Cape Hall [opened in 1989 in commemoration of the King’s visit]. It’s very interesting when I tell Norwegian visitors about that; they get surprised because they have not seen that museum. I have been there one time.”
Rossi lived in Oslo earlier and when she travelled back to Thailand to visit her family, she saw a lot of Scandinavians and Norwegians and got curious when seeing the tour guides: “What were they telling them about my country? The visitors come to a country where 94 per cent are Buddhists and with 30 000 temples.”
Earlier, while still living in Norway Rossi had eventually come to the point where she felt serious doubts about continuing her life there. She had divorced from her Norwegian husband and was living alone, and gradually felt alienated as a foreigner. In Thailand she had worked in the hotel industry and got work within hospitality also in Norway – but felt that she would never be allowed to climb the career ladder there. On top of that she had become fed up with the Norwegian climate.
“I missed my country and I realised that either I continue living in Norway for another 30 years required to get pension – or I go home.”
She felt that she had more ability; combined with the potential she was seeing within Thailand’s growing tourism growing.
The first thing she did was to become a certified tourist guide – which requires a special Bachelor Degree in Thailand. However, as she already had a degree she needed to study only for another year to complete the education for tourist guides.
“Not so many tourists know that we are well educated like that. Because being a tourist guide means to represent Thailand. It’s one of the 39 jobs in Thailand only for Thais.”
Should it occur that for instance a Chinese-speaking licensed tour guide is not available they can use a Thai-English guide. Regardless, the role of the Chinese tour leader is only to translate from Thai or English into Chinese from what the Thai guide tells them, explains Rossi.
Recently she travelled to visit Tourism Authority of Thailand in Scandinavia, as well as tour operators in Norway who may wish to sell guided tours in Bangkok, to let them know that a Norwegian-speaking guide is now available, and highlight that tour leaders cannot guide in Thailand.
Showing Thai way of life
“After becoming certified I started working as freelance Norwegian-speaking guide for another company, but only getting season work. Now, with ThaiGuide Norway, I need to find individual clients to come. In one year up to 150 000 Norwegians visit Thailand, so there should be a market for me!”
She believes that many visitors have not even been at even one temple during two weeks of holiday.
“Thai people working near the tourists is one thing, while the real people live in the farm is very different. And many have been here many times and would like to see something else. If someone has never been here never before temples and palaces are places to visit. It depends, but I want visitors to get to understand the way of the Thai people, the Buddhism – the way of life.”
What she had to learn about the most during the studies was Buddha images, temples and the history of Thai architecture.
“It goes very deep into this, such as the Thai people who are experts on Buddha amulets, and that took me aback. Tourists cannot dig that deep down into history.”
She thinks that Buddhism still plays a part in today’s modern society.
At Grand Palace, when visiting Wat Phra Kaew you can still see local Thais, and tourists like to see how we are doing the offerings. You will see the big area where they put the offering and you’ll see a lot of boiled eggs. Thais believe that Emerald Buddha likes to eat egg so we offer that. And of course you still see the spirit house in every home, so we still do offering, even if we don’t go to temples very often anymore. But we still practise what we believe.”
“And I explain that when we celebrate a birthday some of us still go to the temple. And if you are getting married you have to invite the monk or if someone dies we still have the ceremony in the temple, as well as if someone gets ordained. That is when we still visit the temple. And the money tree is also still a strong tradition.”
“I also do tailor-made – sometimes someone came to me and had been here many times already. Then I customise, but it means I also need to know first what you are interested in and where you have been before.”
Rossi’s main base is Bangkok, but she comes from Surat Thani so she wants to open up business also there.
“My focus now is to make routes; a Northern a Southern and one Western, for group tours or individuals, between 3 to 7 days. I do some in the area where I come from but only by request, because in high season I have a lot of guide tours in Bangkok. But I want to go to the south and other places too.”