What to tip or whether to tip at all has become an easier question to answer now that Asia and Southeast Asia countries have become such well-traveled destinations. Today guides and drivers from India to Vietnam factor tips into their income. Small hotels, B&B’s and even a few luxury hotels have a tip box in an obvious place, signaling that the behind-the-scenes staff, like the cooks, deserve a gratuity, too.
Nevertheless, many travelers are still in a quandary about tipping. We are consistently asked, “How much do I tip the guide?” or “The porter?” So, let us shatter some common beliefs about tipping and give some suggestions.
1. Myth: In some cultures, tipping is just not done.
historically was not always a local practice in Bhutan and Myanmar, particularly in smaller villages. However, since Bhutan opened its doors to tourists in 1974 and Myanmar, in 1992, locals who cater to tourists in cities and towns have totally changed their expectations. That doesn’t mean you have to tip. If the service is disappointing or worse, never feel obligated to leave a tip.
Guides, drivers, and porters have learned to expect a tip for good service. For instance, in Bhutan, a gratuity will be accepted graciously, especially by the taxi driver who has carried your bag up a flight of stairs at the hotel entrance or the horseman who gets you safely up the hill halfway to Tiger’s Nest. In Myanmar, where people are paid very little for their work, tips for good service are greatly appreciated and are expected at high-end hotels.
2. Myth: When traveling with a group, tips are included in trip cost.
Some but not all tips are typically included in the program. Every group—and every situation—is different. For instance, it’s not necessary to tip the wait staff for meals covered in the trip costs or a porter for carrying your bags up to the room. Unless otherwise indicated in your program, guides and drivers, however, do appreciate a tip from individual travelers, even though they are payed by the tour company. At a homestay, a tip is not expected unless the family has provided some extraordinary service.
After days of trekking, a group usually pools money for a tip to be shared by the porters, cooks, trail people and guide. Of course, if any support person has been especially helpful, it’s fine to discreetly tip him or her individually.
A generous and valued gesture after a trek is for the group to donate any extra pieces of clothing or equipment to the trek support people.
3. Myth: Always tip in the local currency.
In most places, tipping in U.S. dollars is much preferred. The exception is in local villages and remote areas where changing money is not convenient. Smart travelers carry both U.S. dollars and local currency for the occasional tip and follow the “cash” only tipping rule.
4. Myth: The more upscale the accommodations and tours, the more likely it is that gratuities are included in your bill.
Exactly the opposite is usually true. Workers at high-end hotels and restaurants and private tour guides and drivers in Asia expect a tip for their services. Waiters and housekeeping staff are accustomed to Westerners and expect to be tipped for carrying your bag, cleaning or refreshing your room, providing room service and laundering clothing.
When paying your bill for, say, a dinner, examine the check. Some restaurants include a 10-15% service charge. But, if the service has been especially good, it’s nice to leave an additional small tip.
Since guides and drivers are likely to earn much more in tips when escorting a large tour, it’s only fair to give them a good tip when they have spent the day devoted to only you and your family or friends. Also, assuming you want your guide to be highly specialized and well educated, s/he is particularly worthy of a healthy tip when imparting an in-depth knowledge of the sites you visit.
Unless requested by the traveler, we forbid shopping stops in “factories,” a common practice of tour guides, who get a commission on purchases. As such, we pay our guides a bit more to make up for the shortfall. You may consider giving him or her a bit extra for a tip since he’s giving up his usual shopping commission.
5. Myth: Rather than tip hotel or B&B service people separately, it’s fine to give one tip to the owner or manager to divide among the workers.
Unless you feel the owner or manager is especially trustworthy, always use the designated tip box. If no available box, tip service staff directly when a job is well done. (Another reason to carry dollars or small denominations of local currency.) For instance, tip the porter when he delivers your bag to your room. At the end of your stay, tip housekeeping staff directly as well as the wait staff after your last meal there.