Travellers that have had enough of southern beach life arrive in Chiang Mai hungry for culture, northern delicacies and the colourful vibrant hill tribe life. Wanting to experience something real, travellers often get disappointed on day tour to a hill tribe village, suspicious elephant camps or Tiger kingdom visit. Here few tips for a non-touristy way to experience authentic life in northern Thailand.
What encouraged you to try a homestay with Duara and how did you prepare yourself?
Raija (6 nights in Likamba, Tanzania):
”I saw an interview in which two guys were talking about their experience in a Duara village and thought: that would be cool, a chance to see local life! And that’s where it started from. To prepare myself for the experience I carefully read the information on Duara’s web pages and rewatched the interview.”
Netta (3 nights in Munti Gunung, Bali):
”After travelling quite a bit and exploring the more traditional tourism sites I feel like they’ve started to resemble each other a lot. That’s why I now aim to experience destinations on a deeper level and learn more about the local way of life.
I’d decided to travel to Bali and when doing some research on what to do there I came across a blog post about Duara and got excited about the concept.
I didn’t prepare myself especially much for the experience but did go through the information that Duara sent me and reminded myself that the living conditions could be anything really and that people wouldn’t necessarily speak English.
I wanted to avoid creating any certain expectations and tried to keep my mind open for the experience.”
How would you describe your overall experience at the village?
Salia (3 nights in Neluwa, Sri Lanka):
”I especially enjoyed the calm and peaceful feeling of the village, after having spent a week in Colombo. The surroundings were really relaxing and it was lovely to be able to see the stars at night because there were no city lights.
During the evenings we sat on the terrace with some neighbours or friends of the family and I was taught some local card games. I’m not sure if I understood the rules correctly as we had no common language but we had fun!
One day the family took me with them to a family event in which the niece of my hosts was presenting his fiancés family to her family for the first time. I felt honoured for being invited in their private family event.
Other days I walked around the village and went swimming in the river with the local kids. They were very interested in me and wanted to take me around the village.
I also visited the local waterfalls with an English class of teenagers and participated in cooking, went to see the tea fields and different fruit trees and plants which the hosts were growing.
The food there was delicious, even though breakfasts were quit heavy to my taste, and I found it a little uncomfortable to eat alone and not with the family. Apparently it was a very cultural thing however so I just had to accept it.
I was happy there were kids around me and that they wanted to communicate with me because I was sitting a lot on the terrace and just observing what was happening around me. This was not a bad thing, it made me realize how different lives we live and allowed me to just enjoy the timeless environment.
Overall my stay in Neluwa was a wonderful and very much an eye opening experience.”
Raija: “I enjoyed my stay at the village. Everyone was really interested in me and wanted to show me what they were up to. During my stay I felt that I could participate as much as I wanted and likewise my need for private time was respected.
The best thing about my stay was the peacefulness and the beautiful surroundings of the village. It was wonderful to leave the busy cities behind for a bit and have the opportunity to focus more on the present.
During my time at the village I felt like there was no rush and I didn’t stress my mind with anything unnecessary. And of course the friendly people, everyone wanted to come and talk to me and help me. It was great to have a chance to participate in the daily activities of the villagers.
The language can be a bit of a challenge. I know a bit of Swahili and then used body language when we ran out of words. One person at the village knew some English and he liked to show me around and took me to see some neighbours and made sure I had the chance to participate in different activities.
I felt some signs of a culture shock which was probably because things at the village are done so differently than back home in Finland. Before the experience my main concern was how to get to the village in case it was really hard to reach. But everything worked out really well and the contact person was superb.
I was taken really good care of during my entire stay.”
3. THE BIGGEST CUT OF THE PAYMENTS SHOULD GO TO LOCALS
Responsible travel operator makes sure the payment for those who produce the service is sufficient. The payment has to be big enough to cover the costs (in our case food, electricity, possible transportations etc.) but also sufficient for the host family to be able to save about half of it. These savings are often invested in education, farming or facilities and therefore help developing the community.
Unlike most of our competitors Duara usually have 3-5 families per village that host travellers in turns. This way our service benefits several families in the village, not just one. Also, 10% of our payment is directed into an instance that benefits the whole village, usually women’s savings group that gives micro loans to its members. All in all, in our case 60% of the payment of the traveller goes directly to the village.
The main reason for most of the families in our network to host travellers is the extra income. Therefore seeking the cheapest option to travel isn’t probably the most ethical one. Very few of us are boasting with their cheap new clothes but there are thousands of blogs sharing tips on how to travel for free. Hosts in low-income villages rarely want accommodate someone just for fun. Hosting travellers is a source of income for them and they should get a fair price for it.
The payment has to be big enough to cover the costs but also sufficient for the host family to be able to save about half of it.
4. YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA BEHAVIOUR EFFECTS IN ATTRIBUTES ATTACHED TO LOCALS
Remember that you are responsible for building the image of inhabitants of your destination country through your social media accounts. When taking photos of locals and especially when posting them, think what kind of perceptions you enforce. Are you showing people in photos as active doers or passive “poor”? Never make generalisations such as “these beautiful people” but treat people as individuals.
Many global aid organizations have their reasons to show images of poor children with sad eyes. This is their way to invoke empathy and pity to make people donate more money. What would be your reason to present people like that and enforce the image that has been built for decades in Western cultures?
5. RESPECT THE PRIVACY OF PEOPLE IN SOCIAL MEDIA
Many of your friends probably want to know if you are posting pictures of their children in social media. Although social media “rules” may vary a lot in different countries, it is polite to ask the parents their permission to take and post photos of their kids. Respect the privacy of locals, especially elderly and women in certain cultures. When visiting a family you can always ask the permission on the arrival, then you don’t have to ask it every time you would like to take a photo. Respect it if they say that it’s OK as long as you avoid taking photos of certain family members.
Ps. We in Duara Travels are not telling you not to take photos and post them on social media. Many host families would hope for more travellers to visit them and posting photos is a good way to spread the word of these villages and homestay options in social media.
Respect the privacy of locals, especially elderly and women in certain cultures.
6. FEW WORDS FROM THE ECO POINT OF VIEW
When attending these panels we are constantly asked about the ecological side in village stays. It is definitely not an eco choice to fly long-haul flights to get to these destinations. We really hope for the slow travel movement to become possible for also those working from nine to five in terms of longer holidays. That would help them to choose more ecological ways of travel. So far, we in Duara concentrate on offering the socially responsible options in the destinations.
We really hope for the slow travel movement to become possible for also those working from nine to five in terms of longer holidays.
We don’t have resources to supervise the recycling or waste management in the villages we operate. However, homestay tends to be a relatively green option: the use of electricity and water is scarce, there’s no need to build any extra infra and the food is usually very locally produced and comes without packaging.
As a traveller you can take care of the following: use public transportation to get to the villages when possible, reduce the waste you produce (use big water canisters rather than small bottles, don’t block toilets with your toilet paper, try to avoid using lots of plastic diapers for your baby etc.), use eco shampoo/sun lotion/mosquito repellent (as there rarely is any sanitation system) and take the garbage that cannot be burned with you when you leave the village (as burning is often the only way in the villages to get rid of the waste).
Please help us complete this guide and message to firstname.lastname@example.org if you think something is missing from this list! And help us to spread the word and make the world more sustainable by sharing this post. We are also happy to share other posts about sustainable travel.
Text Annika from Duara Travels. Photos by Duara.