Homestays are becoming an increasingly popular activity in Malaysia, both with foreigners and locals. Life in a Malay village is sometimes as alien to the country’s urbanites as it is to the international visitors.
With this in mind, Tourism Malaysia, together with Kembara Travel & Tours and ANCM Creative (an events management company), invited 70 participants from the media, entertainment and travel industries in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to experience the village life.
Umi in front of her house in Kampung Raga.
Among other things, we were promised interaction with the villagers, visits to tourist attractions and “eco-challenge” games.
Homestay Kampung Raga
Our first homestay destination, Kampung Raga in the district of Yan, Kedah, took six hours by bus to reach. The villagers welcomed us with kompang (a traditional percussion instrument) and serunai (flute), complete with a contingent carrying bunga manggar and bunga telur, and three young boys performing a silat (martial art) demonstration.
We were divided into groups and introduced to our foster families. Some 20 families in the village had signed up for the homestay programme, and each family could take in up to five guests, depending on the number of rooms in their house.
Taking part in a village game called Tarik Upih.
Don’t expect the modern amenities and luxuries of city life — village life ambles along at a much slower pace.
Our foster mum, Umi, said that most of her guests were university and exchange students, corporate and team-building groups from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Korea.
Lunch that first day was served on mats by the river. After that, we returned to our foster family’s home to get ready for the eco-challenge games organised by the village folks. Eleven teams of four took part, and each had to complete tasks like weaving jackfruit baskets out of leaves, making local delicacies, competing in a tug-of-war and catching ducks in a muddy paddy field.
The night ended with a cultural show featuring traditional Kedahan music and a nasyid (religious singing) performance by the women village folk. We were invited to try the instruments and play along with the musicians.
Pretty maidens in kebaya all in a row.
Sungai Sedim, Kulim
We left in the morning and travelled north to the Tree Top Canopy Walk in Sg Sedim, Kulim. The canopy walk is said to be the longest canopy walk in the world, spanning 925m with the highest point being 30m.
Each team was given a quiz sheet, and we had to search for information like the local names of the trees and where certain trees were located.
Another thing that Sg Sedim is famous for is its water activities. Adventure junkies from all over the world flock to its raging waters to tackle the many rapids ranging from grade 1 to 4.
Unfortunately for us, the local guide said it was too dangerous to do any rafting because of the heavy rains, which can cause the river to swell up without warning. What a letdown.
The only water activity the guide allowed us to do was to jump into the river from a bridge and allow the current to bring us back to shore. Oh well, it was better than nothing.
Our next homestay was in Laman Bangkinang, a small village in the district of Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan. Again, we were divided into groups and placed in the care of foster families. This being Negri Sembilan, they were Minangkabau, a matrilineal clan.
There’s an interesting story on how the word minangkabau came about.
According to our guide, provinces in Indonesia back in the day used to wage war against each other, with the victor conquering the loser’s territory. In one particular instance, the leaders of two provinces decided against a violent confrontation, and sent two buffalos (kerbau) instead.
One province sent an angry female buffalo whose calf had been taken from her. Seeing this, the other province sent a hungry calf with a knife tied to its nose. When the calf ran to suckle, the knife pierced the belly of the adult buffalo, killing her. The calf won (menang) the contest, and that’s how the name Minangkabau came about.
One highlight of our stay here was the mock wedding in full costume staged especially for us. Three couples from our group took part in the event, with two couples dressed in Malay wedding attire and the other in Minangkabau dress.
The entire ceremony, from the arrival of the grooms to the bersanding and merenjis rites, were carried out, and all of us were invited to participate in one way or another. It was an eye-opener for the Thais who had never experienced a Malaysian wedding.
The next evening, all the women were invited to participate in a Ratu Kebaya contest, a pageant to crown the loveliest lady in kebaya, a traditional Malay attire. This event proved a great opportunity for us to interact with our foster families, since we had to borrow our outfit from them.
We were also encouraged to learn a dance and perform it later on to score points for our respective groups. It was quite hilarious to watch, as most of us couldn’t remember the steps and resorted to improvising.
We also visited a few local attractions like the Jeram Tengkek waterfalls and the old Minangkabau palace, the Istana Seri Menanti.
Events director Azman Hasan, 43, said the main objective of the programme was to grow the local economy through homestays.
“We invited Indonesia and Thailand for this programme as they are our closest neighbours, and we have a somewhat similar culture and heritage. The next step would be to invite participants from countries further afield.
“I think we are ready for the world. We have been running this programme for more than three years now. Kedah, especially, should be ready because they have such good hospitality there.”
o For more information on these homestay programmes, visit www.homestay.uum.edu.my