It’s incredibly humbling to see how little some communities have in the world, yet they welcome you with open arms. Perched high upon the hills of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand was a small two room bamboo house, which would the setting for our first ever homestay. This was organised chaos at its best. Wild chickens roamed the corridors, birdcages swung from the ceilings and a wardrobe of clothes lined the balcony. A stack of plastic garden furniture was piled high ready to greet the next guests.
The family we were staying with had called this place home for generations. This went someway to reassuring me that the bamboo poles that made up the floors, walls and ceilings were not about to cave in, despite the creaky sounds and bendy walkways.
Our guide was Ayoo Beche. A local man, Ayoo grew up in a similar mountain community down in the valley. He had taken us on a two day, one night trek into the jungle surrounding Chiang Rai with his company Parn Trek.
Hands down, this was THE most rewarding experience of our time in Asia and here’s why I think everyone should do a homestay.
10 reasons why you should consider a homestay
- It’s incredibly humbling to see people with very little open up their home for you.
- You get to experience first-hand how another culture lives. Leaving the throw-away society that we live in and seeing how dependant some people are on the smallest of supplies. It makes you feel so grateful and appreciative for what you have.
- It’s rewarding for your host family too. Not only is this a source of income, but it’s a chance for them to meet people from around the world.
- The village you’ll be staying in is likely to be hidden in a remote community, somewhere the majority of travellers will never get the chance to experience.
- Yes you could book into a nice 5 star hotel complete with butler, private pool and Michelin starred restaurant, but will you actually learn anything about the local culture and customs? What better way to learn than to be immersed in that very environment.
- You’ll save a lot of money!
- It offers the chance to taste real authentic homemade food.
- To practice your language skills.
- You’ll create memories that will last a lifetime.
- And if you’re lucky enough, some lifelong friends too.
It began with the jungle trek
The expedition began at an elephant sanctuary. Ayoo had reassured us that the animals were well looked after. However whenever you see a wild animal of that size chained up it does make you think twice. In all my travels across Asia, I haven’t come across an elephant ‘sanctuary’ that I would trust yet. I urge you to be cautious if you’re looking to visit one. Make sure you do your research.
Soon after the trek began, we entered a lush bamboo forest. Ayoo was rather handy with a machete, and as we were tackling the hills he would be carving all manner of bamboo items – from cutlery to selfie sticks, beautiful woven rings and even drinking cups for westerners (with a nose hole as apparently we have big noses…do we?!).
Survival tip: Bamboo
Did you know that Bamboo vines contain naturally filtered water? Not only that but they’re incredibly hydrating. The water is low in sugar, contains a natural collagen and is one of the best natural sources of silica, which helps to promote healthy skin, hair and nails.
Meeting the family
We passed through tea plantations, waterfalls, local villages, over streams and through forests. Just before nightfall we reached our homestay, part of a small settlement called Akha village.
Three generations of one family lived in this tiny home, which had the most beautiful perspective looking down on the valley below. They may not have spoken a word of English, nor did we speak much Thai, but we smiled and nodded over a delicious home cooked meal. There’s something quite endearing about the ability of food to bring cultures together.
The children were mesmerised by our technology – cameras, phones, GoPros – hours of entertainment there!
Our room was as expected – basic but clean. A giant mosquito net strung from each corner of the space, hanging high above a mattress with a few rugs for warmth. I tucked in the corners of mosquito net, so as not to let the spiders in, and placed my eye mask on to protect against the light that peaked through the bamboo walls. After a long day trekking in 35°C heat, we drifted off to sleep without a problem.
Did I tell you about the roosters?
At 4am, just as the sun was rising over the hills, we heard the unmistakable call of a rooster. It was as if the noise echoed around the valley. One by one the roosters from each of the houses would call out. Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep beyond that point.
I’ve read on a few blogs that roosters are an inevitable element of homestays, so make sure you take your earplugs!
A bamboo feast
As we walked through the jungle the next day, Ayoo had us collecting all sorts of objects – from giant palms to bamboo vines. All became clear when we sat down to lunch.
Spotting a clearing in the jungle, we first lit a camp fire, and then Ayoo proceeded to fill the Bamboo vines with eggs, sticky rice, pork steaks and noodles in coconut milk. The result was a magical and delicious feast. Who knew that bamboo was such a versatile material?
After two days and one sleepless night, we’d come to the end of our jungle trek, and first ever homestay. No luxuries, no home comforts, just an eye opening experience that has had a lasting impact on my lifestyle back at home. I now find myself questioning if I really need that extra jumper, or the latest iPhone. I am now more aware of over indulgence, and over consumerism. I thank the family we stayed with for such a rewarding and humbling time and for teaching me these important life lessons. Memories that will last a lifetime.
Looking to explore more of Thailand? What about a visit to the island paradise of Koh Libong?
If you’re interested in booking a trek with Ayoo, then either get in touch or follow the link here. His company is called Parn Trek and is based in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
If you’ve been on a homestay, I’d love to hear about your experience. Leave a comment below.