Tipping in a foreign country can be difficult, with some countries finding the custom offensive and others considering it essential. We share tipping guidelines from tour guides themselves in some of the most popular destinations in Asia.
There’s so much to learn in a new country, from customs and traditions to etiquette and manners. Add to this the questions of how much to tip – or whether to tip at all – and your trip can be a courtesy minefield. A few coins left on your restaurant bill might be cheerfully received in one country or grumpily pushed aside in another. And, a tip to a driver might be met with open arms in one place, but utter confusion in the next. We asked our knowledgeable tour guides for their tipping guidelines.
Tipping in Asia is no simple affair with customs and expectations differing across the region. For example, where tipping is not expected in some parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, it is almost rule of thumb to tip in Hong Kong and Thailand. To confuse matters further, it may be completely normal to tip a tour guide but inappropriate to leave extra money with your food bill.
In Cambodia, tipping has become commonplace but there is not necessarily an appropriate amount to tip. Tipping is personal matter and clients can tip any amount that they feel is appropriate. Mr Phok Sokly, one of our excellent guides in Cambodia, said that “[tips] show clients are satisfied with my service” and make him feel as if he has given “superior service and knowledge”.
In Malaysia, on the other hand, the tipping culture is generally not practiced. But, many locals working in the tourism industry are happy to receive tips as it becomes a universal sign of good work. A top Buffalo Tours’ guide in Kuala Lumpur, KS Tan, commented that “It’s not ethical or professional to demand tips from guests. The task of a guide is to ensure guests have a pleasant and memorable holiday here.” However, KS Tan always appreciates travellers who do tip but reminded us, “The amount of the tip is not important. When guests are happy, they will in turn help to promote Malaysia.”
Although tips are uncommon in many instances in Hong Kong and Singapore, you are encouraged to tip any amount that you deemed appropriate. One of our Hong Kong tour guides, Christina, said, “I would say tips are a big encouragement to perform my best at work always”. However, one of her most cherished memories of a tip was not actually the tip but the note she received with it thanking her for a memorable trip.
Our tour guide in Singapore, Jane, agreed that “The amount received is not relevant, most important is that the guests have benefited from their tour experience with me.” Jane, like Christina, said her most memorable moment were not tips but kind words from those that had enjoyed her tours.
Overall, tipping is becoming more prominent throughout Asia. Locals in the tourism industry, especially, know about the culture of tipping and appreciate the thought behind it. As many of our tour guides said, the amount is not necessarily important, as long as you enjoyed your experience.
As our tour guide in Malaysia mentioned, word of mouth can often go a long way and is equally appreciated. If you’re unsure a tip is acceptable in the country you’re visiting, instead, let your tour guide know they did a good job, or leave a good review of them online.
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