A homestay is a programme for visitors to experience village life. In the Malaysian context, this almost invariably means staying at the home of a Malay family (it is rare to find the other races participating in this programme).
In Penang, there are a few homestays where visitors can enjoy the traditional village lifestyle of the Malays. The opportunity offers a glimpse into the rural lifestyle, while helping villagers to earn an income from their rustic environment.
Visitors going on a homestay programme are usually foreigner visitors as well as city folks. The programmes provides a source of income to the rural folks who are often deprived of income opportunities.
Homes that are open to the homestay programmes have usually been registered with the Ministry of Tourism. Someone from the ministry would have visited the home, to ensure that accommodation meet a certain minimum requirement. This includes a seated toilet, for example and a separate bedroom for the paying guest. Ideally, the host family would have been given some form of training to help them receive guests into their midst.
Most visitors join the homestay programme for the opportunity to interact with rural folks. Often they get to join the village people as they go about their daily life. This includes visiting the orchard, getting to view farm animals up close, learning about village life and handicrafts, and playing traditional games.
If you are considering a homestay in Penang, you should have a good idea what it is about, so as to avoid any disappointment or cultural shock. While the ideal situation, as would be described in the colourful brochures, appear rosy, do not have your expectation too high.
Due to limited contact with the outside world, host families are often conservative and lacking in people skills. The amenities in the village may appear wanting, and not up to par with what is stated in the brochure. Many homestays are simply cheap accommodation dressed up with the "homestay" label. This includes apartments and urban houses that also open their doors to guests. As such, people who book them express disappointment and boredom when things do not measure up. On the other hand, most of these inadequacies are usually compensated by the genuine warmth of the host family.
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