Are you planning to travel to Asia for an authentic cultural experience, but you unsure if you’re going to have the time and energy to do that?
Let’s say you’ve never been to Asia before, and for your first time in the continent, you picked Malaysia. Well, you chose the right place, my friend. True to its tourism tagline, Truly Asia, Malaysia is the embodiment of what Asia is all about. And a homestay program is the latest way to sample its truly Asian essence.
A homestay program gives tourists the chance to stay with a chosen family in the rural community of Malaysia. Instead of a typical hotel, you’ll be living in a traditional house in the countryside. Instead of braving the traffic and pounding the pavement in the city, you’ll be enjoying a more laid back lifestyle while breathing in the fresh air. Instead of a wakeup call from a hotel concierge, you get birdsong in the morning. Rather than looking for the nearest fastfood joint for a quick but unsatisfying meal, you’ll be savoring home-cooked, traditional meals lovingly prepared for you by your host family. There will also be activities that you can participate in, so there’s no need to draw up your own itinerary.
Safety needn’t be a worry either. All villages that participate in the homestay program are carefully selected, and Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism makes sure that these villages comply with the strict guidelines that they have enforced. If you’re hesitant about living so far away from the city, rest assured that not all the villages that participate in the program are located in the hinterlands. Some are just about an hour away from the capital city, Kuala Lumpur. Safety? Check. Proximity to the city? Check.
Social Graces to Keep in Mind While Staying With Your Host Family
A homestay program is suitable for students, families or even corporate groups. The hospitality of the locals and the engaging pastimes will ensure a memorable vacation for everyone. Upon arrival, you will be greeted by your host family and invited to share a meal with them.
Meal times are important in the village, and it is not unusual to have several people from the village gather to prepare the communal meal. Meals will often be taken while seated on the floor. While you’re down there, try to forego the utensils and eat with your hands as they do in the village, or kampung . Just remember to eat with your right hand and never let your left hand touch the food—it’s considered extremely bad-mannered to do that.
The house you’ll be staying in is a traditional Malay house made of timber and raised on stilts. Electricity and running water are available, but keep in mind that some houses may have very modest accommodations and facilities, so it’s best to keep an open mind to truly get the most out of your homestay experience. You’ll be guaranteed your own room during your stay, but be prepared to share the bathroom with the rest of your host family.
The Malays are a friendly people, but to enjoy a good stay at the village and to avoid offending anyone, it’s good to be familiar with their social etiquette. Always remember to take off your shoes before entering a home. Your right hand is always to be used when eating and when giving or receiving objects, so if you’re a lefty, you might want to practice. Ladies should dress conservatively and should wear clothes that conceal the body. Be respectful and polite to everyone, especially to the elders. Follow all these and you’ll have the makings of an ideal guest.
Fun in the Sun, and a Taste of Durian
One benefit of participating in a homestay program is the variety of activities that you can do. Among the activities you can take part in is a mock wedding. Most villages stage these mock weddings so that visitors can have a better understanding of Malaysian culture. These weddings are steeped in ritual, from the contract signing where the groom agrees to give the bride a dowry, to the henna painting ceremony, to the arrival at the bride’s home where the couple will be met with a shower of yellow rice and softly scented water. Don’t miss one of the highlights of the wedding, which is the bersanding ceremony: the couple will be seated while friends and family bless the union with more sprinklings of yellow rice and scented water. After wishing the newlyweds well, guests will receive a token of appreciation in the form of a decorated egg called bunga telur. And of course, no wedding is complete without the wedding feast, wherein the bride and groom are required to feed each other as a gesture of their promise to look after one another.
Another pastime you can indulge in is playing games. Get ready to play sepak takraw, wherein you keep a rattan ball aloft for as long as you possibly can. This is a fun yet challenging game because players are allowed to use any part of their body, except the hands.
You can also fly giant kites called wau. To see these kites gliding in the air will make you marvel at the skill of the people who make them.
If you’re into arts and crafts, you can try your hand at making batik, a fabric that is famous all over the world for its intricate designs and bright colors. Though batik is made everywhere in Malaysia, it is said that the best ones come from the villages. You can try to make some batik, or just watch the masters at work.
You can also participate in harvesting the crops of the village, as most homestay villages are home to tropical fruit trees, so don’t think about missing out on the fruit picking activity. Have a taste of the local fruit, durian. It has a creamy texture and is really delicious, though its strong scent will certainly take some getting used to. Not a fan of durian? Try mangosteen, rambutan, mango, or dragonfruit.
If you’re the adventurous type, you’ll find that there’s a wide range of eco adventures located near the kampung. Go exploring in the jungle or mountain climbing. There’s also white river rafting and river cruising. Those who crave an adrenaline rush will find that the possibilities are endless in Malaysia.
A Vacation that Renews the Heart and Soul
A typical homestay program is 3 days and 2 nights long, so pack light and dress appropriately for the activities you plan to do. Before you leave, you may also present your host family a small token, something that will make them remember you, though of course this is optional.
Staying at a kampung is something that you will always remember, long after you’ve gone back home to your busy lifestyle. It’s something that everyone should experience to truly understand the essence of Malaysian hospitality and culture.
The homestay program is something that you’ve definitely got to try once in your lifetime. You’ll leave with a full stomach, renewed spirits, and a sense of peace that you can only find in the presence of naturally beautiful and tranquil surroundings, and in the company of warm and sincere people. You will be filled with good memories that you’ll want to revisit again and again. It’s an experience worth sharing with your friends and family, and makes for a great tale to tell your future grandchildren.
Now that’s what you call a great vacation.