We booked Coke Liao as our Taiwan guide for 7 days. Day 1 he met us at Taoyuan airport and all went well. He even lent us a wifi router and an old mobile phone with a SIM card to help us keep in touch with him during the tour. We have been on private tours before but had never received such items so we were impressed.
In Taichung, he drove us to a grape farm. There was another couple there with their driver cum guide - a young lady. It was raining and our family geared up in raincoats. The other guide also geared up with her tourists but Coke did not. He helped us take some photos then told us to walk the farm by ourselves. The other guide walked her tourists through the farm and helped them choose grapes to pluck. She even advised us on which grapes were good. All this time, Coke was in the shelter using his phone. Didn't seem right but we let it go.
Coke told us about the accolades he had received from pleased customers and said he had obtained his tour guide licence 2 years ago. It is a crime in Taiwan to bring tourists around without a tour guide licence, one can be fined if caught.
Due to rain, he changed our itinerary to indoor places such as museum and mall. We were ok with the changes due to the weather. At the museum, he dropped us and told us to tour by ourselves, even though the museum did not require tickets at that timing.
At the mall, Coke told us to take our time due to rain. At almost every stop that's what he would do, drop us and tell us to take our time without giving a meet up time. I texted him a few times to ask if we should leave the mall. He replied we should take our time to shop due to heavy rain and text him when we were done. When he came to pick us, he said his booking is for 10 hours a day and we were going to exceed the time. Then he said he was fine with it. But he continued to harp on the 10 hour restriction. When he dropped us at a night market for dinner, we rushed to pack food to eat in the hotel so that he need not wait further. He said we could take our time at the night market but who could believe him?
At Sun Moon Lake, there was a ferry ride to 3 different parts of the lake. When we asked him about attractions at the 3 ferry drop-off points, he told us to listen to the guide on the ferry. He didn't board the ferry with us nor tell us the meet up time. At each drop-off, we ventured on our own, at times unsure of where to go. At the final drop off, the ferry guide said there was a cable car ride to an amusement park. As Coke had not told us about this ride, we called and he said not to take it. As he had not told us of lunch plans, we called him again to inquire. He said he had lunch plans for us elsewhere but we could eat at the lake. Since he had already planned for us, we decided to follow his plans. He told us no hurry, so we said we would venture for 30 mins more before taking the return ferry which arrives every 20 minutes. When we returned to the ferry terminal, he was not there. Instead, he told us to walk to his friend's shop where the car was parked. It was not a long walk but it was uphill with many cars on a narrow road and it was raining.
When we got into the car, he said we need not have called him so often at the lake. We only called him twice, once to ask if we should take the cable car ride and the second time to ask about lunch. What could we do since he was not with us? Then he complained we were late in returning. But he had told us to take our time to venture. I replied that it was tough as he wasn’t with us at the destinations. He was offended I had said he did not accompany us. He said for such guiding services, the driver and guide would 2 persons and the daily price would be twice the amount he was charging us. He charged us about US$185 per day (for max of 10 hours) which is no small sum. In Korea, we had a guide in Jeju for US$130 per day who drove us for close to 12 hours, accompanied us at every destination, taking photos and explaining each attraction to us. At many destinations that Coke dropped us, I notice other guides bringing their guests around after parking the car, at times for 10-15 mins if the place had no carpark. Coke would promptly drive off after dropping us, leaving us to venture by ourselves with no guiding at all. Coke said he needed to rest so that’s why he did not accompany us. Each time we returned to the car, he would be on his mobile trying to seal tour deals, so where was his needed rest? Most days we would end the day with him by 7.30pm and set off the next day at 9.30am, so we didn’t deprive him of rest at night.
For the rest of the trip, Coke turned sulky and hardly spoke. He also took back the wifi router. Fortunately, we had bought a prepaid card on day 1 and had no problems accessing the internet. We terminated his services upon reaching Taipei, paid him his dues in spite of his poor service and returned him his stuff. No prizes for guessing rightly that we didn't tip him.
In Taipei, we managed to book a one day tour from our hotel with a driver for 8 hours. This driver, who had no tour guide licence, got out at every destination and walked us through almost every point of attraction except for one which needed entrance tickets. He explained every place in detail and helped us take photos all the way. The experience with this driver was vastly different from what Coke had given us. Coke merely wanted to make money but not do the work as he probably felt it was beneath him to bring tourists around attractions. After all, he had so many accolades already.