Sometimes one of the best ways to experience a new place is to skip the hotels, skip the hostels and opt for a homestay. It’s the perfect way to experience a culture through the eyes of the local people and understand what life is really like for people who live so differently, and similarly, to the life we know.
I was recently on the sleepy island of Koh Yao Noi in Thailand’s Andaman Sea and spent a night in a traditional Thai home, welcomed by Mr Bao and his wife Aoy.
Mr Bao started the homestay 20 years ago when Koh Yao Noi was barely known to tourists. His homestay is the longest running on the island and him and his wife offer guests the opportunity to stay in their Thai home located in village number 5, just outside the small town centre.
Koh Yao Noi has remained one of Thailand’s hidden gems. Having missed the tourist hype due to its rocky shorelines and lack of developments the island presents tourists with the traditional life of it's 5000 inhabitants. There are only a few hotels and guesthouses located on the island, the rest is made up of rubber plantations, rice fields, mangroves and fishing villages, with 70% of the island’s inhabitants working in the fishing industry. This statistic has proven that sustainable fishing is imperative for the people of Koh Yao Noi and throughout the years groups on the island have been involved in conservation efforts to preserve the natural eco-systems that are home to the island’s sea life. Their conservation efforts include preserving the island’s mangroves, replenishing sea grass and barring commercial trawlers from entering the conservation zones.
Mr Bao is one of the leaders of the Koh Yao Noi Eco-Tourism Club, a group of local people that have won numerous awards for raising awareness, to both locals and tourists, about natural resource conservation on Koh Yao Noi. The profits from the homestay program go directly towards funding the education and conservation programs run by the group, and each year Mr Bao’s village organises a student camp for over 300 students to educate them about the importance of conservation here on the island.
The community based tourism initiative that involves the homestay also provides guests with the opportunity to visit one of the local fishing villages and spend some time on a boat with the fisherman, watching how they use shrimp and crab nets in the seagrass and shellfish grounds, and understanding how they come to rely so much on their surrounding eco-systems. There is also the chance to take a tour around the island visiting some of the other locally generated initiatives such as Batik painting, run by the island’s women’s club as a way to generate income from tourists while involving them in local practices, or a visit to Janya’s Coconut Farm for a light refreshment.
Community based tourism in Koh Yao Noi has helped the local people preserve their way of life and share their stories with the people that choose to visit the island. Our stay in Mr Bao’s home was very pleasant, especially knowing that the income generated was going towards the protection and conservation of the island. All meals were provided daily and Aoy cooked us up some of the most delicious Thai food we had eaten in the whole of Thailand, made using ingredients grown right here in their own garden. It was the kind of experience we wouldn’t have had if we were staying in a hotel. The authenticity of staying in a Thai home, eating Thai food, grown locally in the garden, and learning about the local life was a one of a kind experience and one that we will always remember.
If you’re interested in participating in the homestay program you can contact Mr Bao at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on +66 086 942 7999.