The more I backpack around the world, the more I strive not to just see the sights, but to learn and participate in the culture and for the briefest of moments, to live as a local.
For this reason, one of the things I was most excited for on my recent backpacking trip to Malaysia, otherwise becoming a world class Squid Jigger, was the opportunity to do a few homestays.
Homestays provided me the chance to learn about and interact with the Malaysian people first hand.
I was lucky enough experienced some of their traditions, customs, and insights while living with them.
Upon arriving at our first Malaysian village, our group was greeted by the local community dressed head to toe in traditional Malaysian robes and carrying brightly colored, fragrant flowers. The sound of traditional music from a group of older Malay men playing flutes and beating drums broke the silence as we walked through the entrance of the tiny town.
This procession proceeded a shirt distance until we eventually entered a rusty village center where the celebration continued.
Two young men competed in a courageous fight showing an epic display of Malaysian martial arts. As the evening progressed, we learned that the robed Malay women would soon become our new mothers for the night.
At one point we were divided, met our families, posed for pictures, and then headed to a wide, open field to participate in an day filled with some traditional and nontraditional Malaysian games.
One of my favorite games involved a race in which one teammate sat on a massive dry leaf. Another teammate and I then had to pull the leaf with passenger in tow as quickly as we could in order to beat the other teams to the finish lines.
I’m going to be honest. I got a tiny bit competitive and pulled our leaf so hard and ran so fast that during every race, I looked back to see our passenger’s legs bobbing up and down in the air and eventually dragging through the dirt as if he or she was trying to dig in their heels while hanging on to the leaf’s tusk for dear life.
A couple of sweaty, fun filled hours later, we proudly walked back to our mothers, celebrated our victories, and headed to our new homes.
The houses were small but well-kept and inviting. The families, made up of multiple members living together, were warm and friendly, and made us feel right at home. They directed me upstairs to a cozy, little bedroom and immediately treated me as one of their own.
After a brief resting period, we gathered that evening for a traditional Malaysian meal, which is eaten with your hands. Being one of the only westerners in the village, my new mother politely offered me a fork and spoon. I respectfully refused. When in Malaysia, eat like the Malays, right? Not so easy!
Let me tell you, if you haven’t ever tried eating rice with your fingers, it’s tricky as hell and I’m not ashamed to say that by the time I finished my dinner, rice was everywhere – on my pants, shirt, and shoes.
Plus, it was also scattered across the table and surrounding floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some locals quietly chuckling at the mess I made.
While I ate, or attempted to eat, the villagers treated me to their cultural dances. At one point, of course, I was dragged on stage to actually learn one of them.
Now I am not a natural dancer so shaking my hips up on stage isn’t pretty and all I can say is that I’m glad most people were finished with their meal or they might have been sick. Rice flew everywhere.
An awkward smile crossed my face as I stared out into the crowed to see if anyone had noticed. Finally the dancing was over and we ventured back to our house. Exhausted but pleasantly pleased, we slipped into bed for a good night’s rest.
The next morning came early and began with a tour of the local tradesmen in the village.
Often a trade is passed down and carried out by entire families. One of my favorites was the honey harvesters. It was amazing to watch them work so efficiently plus they allowed us to drink sweet, pure honey right from the hive.
Another one I found interesting was a family that made traditional Malaysian body wash. These little beads are made from rice paste.
The morning passed quickly and after touring the village, we said goodbye to our temporary families and headed to our next home stay.
My next home stay started out with a procession very similar to the first. However at the end of the opening ceremony, we were given a single flower with an egg hanging off the side by a little, yellow net.
This was given as a blessing, wishing fertility upon me. It was a very kind gesture, but anyone that knows me well, knows that being extra fertile is at the bottom of my list.
I quickly gave my flower and egg to a woman who looked like she would use it more than me. (Sorry Mom)
That night, I wore a traditional sarong to dinner and ate much beetle with my hands. Where I was interviewed by the local
All in all, home stays are amazing. I was able to see how real locals live, interact with the local kids, (I joined their bike gang) and enjoy life as a Malay.
If you want to see more than just the sights of Malaysia and also desire to meet the locals and observe real Malaysian traditions, then I highly suggest doing a homestay. It definitely provides a rare passage into a whole new world. One that is unique, beautiful, and sure to give you wonderful memories. View my whole list of Malaysia Travel Tips here.