Travellers know that special places to stay are truly valuable while exploring Asia. Some of our favorite ways of fostering some truly life-changing connections with local culture is at a homestay. Buffalo Tours, after all, was founded by locals, so genuine connection with the local culture and in-depth experiences is pretty high on our list of priorities when we design our tours.
But while homestays can prove a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some, they aren’t for everyone. Depending on the kind of experience you’d like to have, homestays can either be an invigorating cultural experience or an overload for the senses. If you’ve never tried out a homestay before, it can be a bit of a daunting task to choose whether this culturally immersive accommodation is the experience that you’re looking for!
Thankfully, part of what we do at Buffalo Tours is helping you customise your journey through Southeast Asia so that it perfectly suits you – and accommodation is a big part of that process. And, since we know that the planning stages of your journey to Southeast Asia takes lots of research, we’re hoping to make it easy by doing a little bit of that homework for you! Here’s what we think you should know before you choose one — or both!
What’s a homestay?
A homestay is a simple, bare necessities lodging option that’s usually located in the heart of a rural area, and living with a local family in their home. Homestays are designed to immerse travelers into a local culture in the most authentic way possible — and consequently, they are often indistinguishable from the homes of local families in the area since you are truly staying in the home of a family who lives there.
In a homestay, expect simple bathroom facilities, shared sleeping spaces and the outside environment at your doorstep. Although safety and hygiene are always a top priority even in the most simple of our homestays, creature comforts like air conditioning, wireless internet and Egyptian cotton certainly are not.
If you choose a homestay…
Homestays can be truly incredible experiences, but they are called homestays for a reason. Since homestays are usually located in the heart of rural villages and towns (and living alongside a family or group of locals within their home) and it’s not uncommon for you to be in direct interaction with them from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep. Put simply, they are almost across the board much more in-depth experiences that you’d get from a hotel. To say the least, our homestays are designed with simple living in mind, and you’ll need to sacrifice some creature comforts for a more immersive experience.
Unlike hotels, however, homestays are one of the very few ways where you’ll be able to see what life is truly like on the other side of the world. During most day tours or quick visits in local areas, you’ll only get a snapshot of what local life is like. During a homestay experience, you’ll witness the natural rhythm of local life up close, and have the opportunity to form much more authentic connections with your hosts. The connection is often at the expense of a soft bed, air conditioning and a shiny restroom – but we can say from experience that most count it as a very worthwhile sacrifice!
Before choosing a homestay experience, consider how much time you’d like to spend in direct contact with locals, and how much time you think you’ll need on your own. Homestays are perfect for adventurous or energetic travelers who are happy to wake in the morning to a locally cooked breakfast around an open fire; or would gladly skip a hot, luxurious shower for a quick rinse and a bolt out the door for trekking. If cultural immersion and truly authentic experiences with locals is a top priority, opt for a homestay — the opportunities for cultural immersion are second to none.
If you choose a hotel…
Hotels may not be the best method for having authentic and immersive cultural experiences, but what they lack in proximity to a local culture they make up for in comfort. Depending on where you’re visiting, hotels can either be a stone’s throw from small villages and surrounding countryside, or a lengthy drive away. Hotels are generally located in more developed areas, and although they’re usually just a stroll away from street food spots or sight-seeing destinations, they are still further removed from a culture than homestays.
Connecting with a culture while spending your nights in a local hotel, however, is surely possible with the right attitude. Hotels, after all, are simply a place to rest your head at night, and are usually not the center of your sight-seeing itinerary while visiting a foreign country. If making the effort to jump aboard a bus, motorbike or bicycle to travel to rural areas is something you’re willing to do, then a hotel will surely not keep you from experiencing a local culture. And if comfort is top priority, hotels are much more likely to provide you with the things you need to enjoy your travels.
Before you opt for a hotel in an area with homestay options, consider the places you’d like to see and their proximity to the hotel. Transfers between hotels in more urban areas to rural areas further afield can be lengthy and tiresome, and may take away from the experience once you finally arrive. Consider carefully if these comforts are worth the sacrifice, and if you’re willing and able to make the journey while still having energy to spare for adventure.
Homestays and Hotels with Buffalo Tours
Since there’s no one-size-fits-all experience for travelers, we’re committed to providing the opportunities to customize journeys through exotic countries — and that includes options for lodging, too. By working directly with us in creating a custom and unique itinerary, it’s possible to get a taste of the homestay experience in Sapa before kicking back in a luxurious resort in Mai Chau, all within the same journey.
Plus, our homestay experiences within remote villages and ethnic communities are designed to be authentic and immersive, but still have safety and hygiene as a top priority. There’s no need to sacrifice every comfort in order to visit destinations far off of the tourist trail and we’re experts at striking the balance between comfort and culture experience. When in doubt, throw caution to the wind and try both — it will surely be an adventure you’ll never forget.
To plan a custom adventure with a taste of luxury and immersion, take a look at our multi-day adventures with options to substitute hotels for our unique homestay experiences. Or,contact us with your unique preferences and we can tailor the perfect tour for you!