Koh Trong, Cambodia homestay. Image courtesy of Teresa Gomez.
For the ultimate in authentic experiences, you can't go wrong by staying at a local homestay in Southeast Asia. Some places, in fact, feel custom-made for a homestay experience: villages and farmlands where hotels' private suites, en-suite bathrooms and room service feel wildly out of place.
We asked a few travelers about their favorite homestay experiences in Southeast Asia – and the immersive experience in the local culture that they got in return.
In Cambodia, a Homestay on the Mekong River
For Teresa Gomez of Brogan Abroad (Twitter|Facebook|Instagram), Koh Trong Island in Kratie, Cambodia offers that rare rural getaway where a homestay feels like the only logical accommodation:
“One of the things that I like most about travelling is to try and get up close and personal with the local culture. But in order to do this, sometimes you have to go off the beaten path and live like a local by staying in homestays. I do try and do this as much as I can, but not all destinations are set up for this. One place that is set up for this, is Koh Trong island in Kratie, Cambodia.
“Koh Trong is set on a sandbar in the middle of the Mekong River, right opposite Kratie’s riverfront. Here you will find an idyllic Cambodia of carts and fields, with a small community that looks like it’s been frozen back in time. This community welcomes visitors, but there is a strong focus on community based tourism here, so if you want to stay overnight the recommended accommodation is homestays.
“There are no cars or roads in the island, so arrange to hire a bike with your host family and explore this little piece of paradise at leisure. You will find beautiful sandy beaches, a Vietnamese floating village, a pastel-coloured Vietnamese temple and lots of peace and quiet.”
In Malaysia, a Fishing Village Homestay
The Island Drum's Vanessa Workman (Facebook|Instagram) wants to draw a clear line between bed-and-breakfasts claiming to be homestays, and authentic homestay experiences – she wants to start at Kuala Teriang in Langkawi, Malaysia.
“Langkawi homestay options have had serious competition in recent years, when more than a few guest houses began adding ‘homestay’ to their monikers. This of course can be confusing to travelers who are hoping to find an authentic homestay experience.
“I’ve found the ‘kampung stay’ to be the answer to changing times. Langkawi’s kampung (villages) are generally tight knit communities with a healthy dose of traditional kampung lifestyle as well as modern conveniences for the moving and shaking local entrepreneurs. Guest houses, Airbnb, and good old fashioned ‘homestay’ labels now describe a myriad of Langkawi kampung accommodation options.
“The seaside, fishing kampung of Kuala Teriang offers visitors plenty of opportunity to immerse themselves in day to day kampung life, while providing a diverse selection of accommodations. This is especially attractive for travelers who appreciate cultural experiences yet prefer their own ‘space’. Small restaurants, roadside vendors and a variety of local shops are also available. Daily walks through the village and fishing harbor reward visitors with ‘an ordinary day’ and a fascinating look at local life in Langkawi.”
In Vietnam, a Homestay High in the Mountains
“In Northern Vietnam, an overnight trip from Hanoi, is the gorgeous mountainous town of Sapa. It is a place where the Black Hmong culture is embraced, and beautiful rice terraces line the hillsides.
“Nine kilometres out of Sapa is where you will find the perfect local experience, in a homestay at Ta Van. There are a couple options to get into Ta Van, both by motor transport or by trekking, so do not let your fitness level stop you on visiting. If you can, I highly recommend trekking into the village, you will witness the quieter countryside life of Vietnam which can often be missed on the tourist trail.
“Homestays can be booked online or once you arrive and vary in facilities. Though, do not expect heating, so dress warm if you are visiting in the colder months! Also, if you do one thing at your homestay make sure you have a family dinner. These were some of the best meals I have ever had, and you can even get the recipes since you now know the chef!”
Thahara Pindaya deck, Myanmar. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
In Myanmar, a Home in the Shan Hills
"The Thahara Pindaya is located in a two-storey farmhouse in the middle of sunflower and peanut farms. It's fairly off the beaten path – hikers often pass through Pindaya when trekking from Bago to Inle Lake. The town is famous for its scenic farmlands, as well as a cave full of Buddha images dating back centuries, and its Shan paper producing artisans.
“The concrete-and-wood farmhouse is surprisingly airy; I loved hanging out at the second-storey common room, looking out through the large windows to the Shan Hills outside. I particularly loved sitting there during the "golden hours" in the mornings and late afternoons, dining on traditional Shan dishes cooked by the host.
“But it's a waste to just stay in the farmhouse and not explore the rest of the countryside – our host took us to the Pindaya Caves and to the Shan cultural center in town. If you want to hit the local bike trails, the host offers a map outlining over 20 routes and a mountain bike you can use while staying there.”
Other Homestay-Friendly Destinations in Southeast Asia
Kampong Sungai Matan, Brunei. Brunei's best homestays let visitors live amidst long time kampong residents, all the better to understand the local ties to their small villages. In the fishing village of Kampong Sungai Matan, you can follow the rhythms of the Brunei River as generations of Bruneians have – learning crafts like kite-making and fishing along the Brunei River and eating traditional dishes like ambuyat. Read about Kampong Sungai Matan and other unforgettable homestay experiences.
Ban Rai Kong Khing Community, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The award-winning community offers tourists a genuine local experience that lives up to the self-sufficiency ideals of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A variety of activities; such as, unique style of massage, handicraft workshop and cooking class for local dishes from local organic ingredients, is available for tourists to enjoy and learn more about the community. Read about other homestays in Thailand.