Last year, I met a taxi driver in Cambodia, and as a lone female traveller knew straight away that I was quite lucky to meet him but it's since taken me a trip to India to fully realise that meeting him was unique.
His name was Sokha Tun, and he was my driver, interpreter and in many ways a companion who shared stories about his life, his country and culture.
Sokha told me he was starting up a homestay, and his humor, trustworthiness, and happy-go-lucky personality left me no hesitation when he invited me to meet his family and see the village.
Village Breeze homestay (as it is now known) is located in Takeo Province, which is 77 km south of Phnom Penh. It takes about 2 hours to get there, and the journey is filled with spectacular scenery and landscapes (Sokha will help you get there).
The village is in a peaceful rural setting about 5 mins from a local town, so you get the benefit of a retreat as well as quick access to busy daily life.
For me, it was an extraordinary experience to teach English to local kids or to be taught how to plant pumpkin seeds, and how to wrap sticky rice in banana leaves. It was also heartbreaking to hear stories of children who perished in the bridge stampede tragedy during the Water Festival.
Picture this for a scenario: 3 days into my Cambodia trip and I am sitting in a village house conversing with locals through Sokha. No one is trying to sell you something. No one is asking for money. The only thing they wanted from me was to ask about my life in Australia/NZ. It was a humbling experience.
With my photography ambitions, Sokha helped me to connect with locals and engage in conversations. For the first time as a traveller, I really felt like I was participating and not just looking.
Sokha's fledgling homestay is the real deal. There is no marketing team, affiliations with tour companies or scripted interactions. What you see and experience is a genuine slice of Cambodian life.
It was such a life-changing experience for me that I volunteered to put his website together.
I was so naive when I went to India. I thought I would meet someone just like Sokha. Far from it. Each and every time I was with a driver, it reminded me of how lucky I was to meet him.
If you want an off the beaten path experience in Cambodia, then visit the Village Breeze Homestay in Cambodia. You won't regret it.
#1 newzealand has been a member since 10/4/2012. Posts: 3
Most of the time when people who have made one or two posts like this it's just an attempt at free advertising - but this one actually seems truly genuine. And it got me thinking.
The things you mention here NZ I just take for granted. I go out to my father in laws all the time. Sometimes with my wife and daughter, sometimes alone. I always take my motorcycle so I can easily get around. I help my father in law on the farm, drink with some of the guys in the village that I've known for over a decade now, and so on and so forth. Much like you described. For me it's pedestrian, but I suppose for someone coming here who has never had said exposure it would seem incredibly novel. I always wondered what the big deal was with the whole "homestay" thing, but your post was pretty enlightening.
#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I think you are very lucky to get the best of both worlds.
In terms of my Cambodian experience, there was definitely a 'grass is greener on the other side' element to it. I live in the city, and am used to noise, crowds and technology - so getting away to peace and quiet, basic living and inquisitive conversation was an amazing experience. Also, I get a natural high from being in the countryside.
The homestay visit was life-changing for a number of different reasons. First, because as a traveller, I was participating and not just looking. Now when I travel, I always try to engage with locals and give back where I can.
For instance, I trekked down mountainous slopes to photograph Nepalese villagers, spent hours talking to them, and then got photos printed that evening so I could take a set back the following day. It's a beautiful thing to be able to give them something they can treasure, and to be invited into homes for cups of tea!
Second, because it forced me to re-assess the trival nature of my daily 'first world problems'. As such, I am less bothered by things like trains turning up late.
Even thinking about it makes me a bit sentimental....
#4 newzealand has been a member since 10/4/2012. Posts: 3
Been over this homestay thing before.Either you stay in an artificial environment,a kind of Disney land for tourists who want to believe Cambodian villagers live in this happy rural ideal OR You experience the real thing.I challenge any Westerner to spend even one night in the hell hole Cambodian farmers have to live in.Stop romanticising this country it's dirt poor with high levels of infant mortality because of filthy conditions.Homestayers stick to your air-con hotels stop pretending your experiencing rural life.
#5 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
Hang on a minute Sayadian... what is 'the real thing?' Sure, some (many) Cambodians live in a bamboo shack with a dirt floor, no running water and a village toilet - but not all. Many live in apartments in the city, in a penthouse on the riverside - and many live somewhere in between. What's to say that staying with a family in an apartment in the middle of Phnom Penh, cooking alongside the owner is any less valid an experience than staying in a rural environment, 'doing it rough'. It would still be spending time with a local family, learning about their life in whatever form that it may take.
Liz, you are correct, but Sayadian does have a point in that there is a tendency to romanticize the ideal and it's a poorly placed sentiment. The reason it's poorly placed is the kind of people likely to do this are the kind of people who often are trying to entertain and even attack modernization. As if "things were better in the old days". No, they weren't. They sucked. And rural life in these kinds of places is boring at best, unhealthy and fatal at worst. Hence I understand what Sayadian is saying here. And the village I go to is in Thailand, which is much richer than Cambodia. Still, this particular homestay is offering a slice of a somewhat idealized Cambodian rural environment, and as long as it's not sold as "the real deal" - leaving people with a very inaccurrate picture of what the real deal is for most Cambodians, there is nothing wrong with it.
#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I hear what you are saying... but one would hope that most people can differentiate between a 'homestay' that is basic, but still essentially set up to cater for tourists -vs- the rural shack that Sayadian refers to.
A 'homestay' is always going to be a few steps above the poorest of homes that you can find in a country - whether it be Cambodia, Thailand or NZ. But you're still living with a family and it's still a valid experience.
I just don't get the attack on people who may enjoy that experience - it's an attempt to get closer to understanding the culture and people of the country they are visiting rather than being isolated in a hotel. It doesn't mean you have to stay in a slum to do so.
If you read the OP post he/she says it's situated in a village.In fact the idea of a homestay in an apartment block in Phnom Penh is completely risible.Please tell me about these places?and I agree with you if getting off on some Disneyland experience is your thing-go for it but be aware real village life here is no fun.the same sort of people who like this kind of thing so they can go home and say.
'Wow,I. Stayed in a 'real' Cambodian village are the same ones who go to an orphanage for a day so they can pat the children on the head,hand out some sweets and feel good,thinking they've set the world right.Come with me to a village and I'LL show you the reality
#9 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
I'm not speaking from experience, sayadian (with respect to homestay on PP apartment) - but I guess maybe it comes down to how we define a homestay. Out of interest, I googled it and found this on Wiki:
Homestay is a form of tourism and/or study abroad program that allows the visitor to rent a room from a local family to better learn the local lifestyle as well as improve their language ability.
I don't see it much being much different to 'couch surfing' (which I also haven't done) - except a homestay, you are paying. Either way, it's exposure to a local family (regardless of their wealth) and an opportunity to learn about their life, their language, their food, their lifestyle.
Anyhow - not trying to argue with you, just presenting a different view.
My sensing is that Sayadian's objection is similar to mine in that you see people who "travel" are looking for cache and are going to market back home said experience as a legitimate one to point out the validity of other lifestyles. Because let's be honest, since the 60s we've seen this continuous intellectual assault on western values as not being penultimate values and westen lifestyle as not being a preferred one. Attacks on materialism also travel in this vein. And so we see people articulating a fantasy of rural life in SEA as an ideal to aspire to... and that of course is neither a legitimate arguement nor is it an honest one. But I didn't take that away from the OP in this case. Her we see the OP just trying to get a better appreciation for the people who live there and make more genuine friends, and I have to laud that. Most "travellers" spend all their time moving from place to place to see "amazing things" and their contact with indigenous persons is limited to who they might have sat next to on the bus, their taxi driver, the wait staff of the hotel clerk. Hence I liked this particular posting and I liked this particular homestay as it was presented.
#11 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Like all these things the idea was born in the U.S.A,think Dude Ranch
#12 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
Are you saying if I stay at a Dude Ranch it does not make me a cowboy?
#13 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Well, gee folks. I live in a Thai village full time and not just a few minutes outside the city. Sure it gets boring sometimes, but I've gotten bored in the city also. I myself am quite happy there.
#14 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386
But Neosho, I have a feeling you don't live like my father in law does...
Which I think is Sayadian's point.
#15 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
"Are you saying if I stay at a Dude Ranch it does not make me a cowboy?" No and staying at a Cambodian home stay will not make you a Cambodian peasant either. Which obviously isn't the point. I knew Sayadian was full of it and pompous to boot, but I'm sorry to see you spread it too.. Hopeless irrelevancies not worthy of counterpoint. It is clear that the OP had a real experience which is totally irrelevant to your gratuitous nonsense.
#16 phuphum has been a member since 22/10/2011. Posts: 49
Sayadian, I think you are just misunderstood man.
#17 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I agree with phuphum - Sayadian is a pompous twat. Not that I'm a fan of online name calling. I'd rather take my anger out on Sayadian in person.
#18 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
I like Sayadian. He adds a little edge and the periodic reality check that is often otherwise lacking.
#19 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
ChinaRocks your constant personal attacks are irrelevant,insulting and are indicative of how internet chat has gone downhill because anyone can name call when they are hiding behind a computer.so what's the next move? I call you a dickhead. So debate becomes schoolyard name calling.But that's your forte,you have nothing constructive to say.Now that's what I call pompous plus it's cowardly to throw insults from behind a keyboard.I made my point, you got anything constructive to say??Otherwise go hide under your Chinarock.
#20 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
OK, llet's everyone play nice. We don't all want to cmmunicate like SBE.
#21 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
You know I couldn't agree more Mac and I've always tried to keep cool and ignore this guys name-callin but when he 'invites me outside' from behind the safety of his keyboard I think that crosses the line. It's cowardly and disrespectful.
#22 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
no, going to a dude ranch doesn't make you a cowboy but I think you'll find most of the guys who go there think they ARE. It makes them feel like they are 'tough guys.' Ditto those who go to homestay-they think their experiencing the real deal and can tell their friends they lived it rough just like the locals.
#23 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
"It makes them feel like they are 'tough guys.' Ditto those who go to homestay-they think their experiencing the real deal and can tell their friends they lived it rough just like the locals."
Yes of course that's ridiculous. But the OP in this case wasn't giving me that vibe. She just wanted to get a chance to actually meet and interact with people in a genuine way, and that I find laudable. She did not appear to be looking for cachet out of it.
I don't know why, but all this time I thought China was a woman.
#24 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
" She just wanted to get a chance to actually meet and interact with people in a genuine way, and that I find laudable"]
...And isn't that all that most people want when they want to experience a homestay? Most travellers don't have the luxury of residing in the country the visit for years on end like you boys do. They need to settle for a short slice of life. Trying to interact with locals in a homestay will give them more of that then staying in the 4-star hotel.
Liz, you are quite right about the assertion that staying in a homestay will give them an excellent chance to interact. But Sayadian is also right in that many are looking for phoney cachet. Indeed, many "travellers" (note they don't like to be called what they are - tourists) are looking for cachet, using their tourist experience to demonstrate how they are not merely hedonists and cultural heathens, but rather they are broad-minded adventurers. It is, in fact, this kind of tourist that first brought me to travelfish years ago. Of course not all backpackers (travellers, tourists - whichever title we want to use) are of this ilk. Many, I suspect even most, are simply people who enjoy throwing their pack on their back and going someplace a bit different and having a bit of an adventure (and need to pinch pennies while doing so in many cases). Absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is the holier than thou type that Sayadian (and I admit myself) finds objectionable. The kind who likes to portray himself (herself) as more sophisticated because he/she is a "traveller". But like I said, the OP in this case didn't come off that way at all. She sounded like a sincere person who just thought this was a good opportunity to get to meet indigenous people a bit more than the superficial that is the norm. And I think that is a good thing.
#26 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Do you know, the Khmer are pretty hospitable and often invite you home or even to stay (they expect you to bring some beer along) So save yourself some money and get to know a few locals and very soon you can have thay experience you so desire.Eat prahok until it's coming out of your ears, drink ABC stout mixed with muscle wine and dance romvong until you fall over in a stupour,then they'll lay you down on a bug covered floor and you can have the authenticate experience of waking up with a hangover in a hovel with only dirty water to drink.Why waste money on a homestay, it's really easy to get the genuine experience.Believe me.
#27 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
I don't know why, but all this time I thought China was a woman.
Well, a good spanking will have to do then, it works with my woman when she gets uppity.
#28 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
"Do you know, the Khmer are pretty hospitable and often invite you home or even to stay (they expect you to bring some beer along) So save yourself some money and get to know a few locals and very soon you can have thay experience you so desire.Eat prahok until it's coming out of your ears, drink ABC stout mixed with muscle wine and dance romvong until you fall over in a stupour,then they'll lay you down on a bug covered floor and you can have the authenticate experience of waking up with a hangover in a hovel with only dirty water to drink"
In one fell swoop you descended from ignorance to racist stereotyping. I am glad that the visitors to our home stay are not loutish ilk like you. If this is the edge madmac feels you contribute, it is a dull one indeed.
My next comment about you will not be gentle, indeed it might get me banned. But no matter I find no honor in sharing a forum with such an ignorant racist posing as an expert.
#29 phuphum has been a member since 22/10/2011. Posts: 49
I didn't detect anything racist in Sayadian's post. If I say Khmer people are warm and friendly then that too is a stereotype remark- simply a positive one. To make observations about cultural norms is perfectly OK. Ditto when discussing economic and infrastructure realities. He isn't saying there is anything organically wrong with the Khmer people. Take a Khmer person and raise him or her in England and they'll be English. To make observations on culture should not be confused with making determination based on race.
#30 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I was wandering when that old cliche 'racism' would arise.Get yourself out to the villages and you'll experience exactly what I've described bum-bum.I had a lovely girlfriend for 2 years here and she dressed like a million dollars but her home was a plastic tarp with some rattan covering.The toilet was the fields outside.I went to a Khmer feast where the meat was cut up on the steps of the toilet bowl.Your average Khmer villager lives in a fly-blown hole.Not their fault after all they know nothing better, never have.Don't romanticise living in the country here you disrespect the people.They are so poor they make the poorest Isan farmer look like a millionaire.By all means go and misrepresent your homestay as Khmer village life.Doesn't bother me but don't try and tell me about rural living until you've experienced it. So what's racist about people being poor? PC insults wash over me.The average Westerner would die within one week of living with dirty water, dengue threat and many other diseases prevalent in the countryside.God bless Walt Disney.He gave us the illusion of thinking we experience the life uh!
#31 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
".Get yourself out to the village..." Not only are you an idiot, you are a presumptive one. I live rurally in a typical village of around 2000 Cambodians. You are nothing more than a know it all tourist. The vignette you present does exist, but it is no more representative of rural life than a villa is of urban life. In short you don't know ****, you are pretentious to those of us who live with them, know them and respect them.
#32 phuphum has been a member since 22/10/2011. Posts: 49
I don't read into Sayadian's post a lack of respect for Khmer people. I read into it a recognition that rural Cambodian life is full of difficulties associated with poverty and he doesn't think that should be romanticized. Sayadian, correct me if I am wrong here.
#33 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
So MADMAC always thought I was a woman and Sayadian has called me pompous.
MADMAC I can forgive but Sayadian calling somebody pompous is a bit like Hitler calling someone evil. You are a skidmark on the human race you racist twat.
#34 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
China don't you think you are getting a little carried away? Sayadian is a touch edgy, but I don't think he's racist. He brings a reality check instead of the "it's amazing" drivel that you so often read. A little balance is nice.
It must have been the moniker. Not sure why though. Obviously you are not a woman (note to Liz - nothing wrong with being a woman).
#35 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
You are right I can't see calling poverty what it is is racist.But it's a fashionable attack when there's nothing left to argue. I've visited many rural villages here in Cambodia. Believe me anyone of the people there would swop their Cambodian passport for a Thai one to get more of a chance in life.I've spent 8 years in this country and the only progress I've seen are the CPP bigwigs rob the people of their land and buy bigger and better houses and cars.When I first arrived the only car on the road was the old Camry, now the place is flooded with CPP members and their croneys in Lexus,Hummers etc I reckom Boom boom is probably connected to the 'Party' by marriage that's why he gets apoplexy everytime I mention rural poverty.Dream on Boom boom it doesn't exist to the elite because they close their eyes to it.I've been there don't annoy me.I've seen the appalling life your average Khmer villager has to live (with the exception of the well connected, of course) If you've got a nice big house because you married one of Hun Sen's croneys let us know because that sounds the case.
and Chinarocks I find that kind of humorous that Madmac thought you were a woman. I wonder why?
Lastly, everyone ask yourself why these guys get so upset over the fact I abhor the terrible poverty I see in the villages here. What's their motive? I've never seen such school ground anger.Are they guilty because they live so much better lives than those around them or as I suggested are they 'connected' ?
N.B. CPP = Cambodian Peoples Party (the local gangsters who run the country)
#36 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
Just walking over to get coffee I thought of this programe I watched on the box awhile ago I can't remember whether it was based in Africa,or Australia; but these people had to play at 'traditional villagers' all day wearing next to nothing and covered in dirt.Lots of tourists came, lots of money was made but at the end of the day I never forgot these people glad to see a days work over so they could shower, put on their shirts and jeans and leave these grass huts and go back to their real homes.Yes, there's definitely money in this 'let's all pretend to mix with the natives' scam.
#37 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
But Sayadian, there isn't anything wrong with mixing with indigenous persons. Indeed, I think that gives you great insight into local lifestyle. Even in a canned homestay, if it's in a village, you'll see real village life. I do agree with you people should not romanticize it. Doing so makes light of the truly difficult life some of these people have. But if you really want to develop a deep sense of appreciation - then you have to stay in one place for a while, try and learn enough of the language to communicate and get to really know people beyond the superficial level. Of course most tourists don't want to do that, and I understand that. But you won't figure out any place by staying there a few days...
#38 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Sure Madmac, but I've never argued against meeting local people, in fact, quite the obvious.Just don't expect Western luxuries.I've been to many Khmer homes, know lots of Khmer people but why would you want an artificial experience like 'homestay' when it's so easy to meet people in everyday life? They love to take you home and quite often ask you to stay.All they'll expect is you to put some food on the table and a few beers.BTW Chinarocks needs to do something about that constipation, it's making him/her irritable.
#39 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
Well, you've got to sleep somewhere. A homestay is as good a place as any.
#40 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Yes,Madmac. If it's your thing no problem. But the way these two have been having a go at me you'd think I was trying to start WW3 not giving my opinion. They have no manners just fling insult after insult.Racist, twat etc etc.Bunch of keyboard cowards. probably just spoilt kids whose parents never taught them any manners
#41 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
I wonder if the original poster has kept up with this thread?
Madmac....I didn't come into the village throwing money around like a lot of guys do. The automatic new house and car. I will admit to having a hot shower, satallite tv and internet. I will take the time to announce that we expanded and remodeled our store this year. That was kind of an experience. Compared to the rest of the village, we are lit up like the Las Vegas strip at night now.
#42 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386
Things are changing so fast too Neosho. We have started building our place in the wifes village, but we are far from finished. So we still sleep at my father in laws when we go, which is the same as it's been since I fixed up ten years ago (back then it was a hovel). But the village itself is changing all the time. Now right across the street from dad's house there's a nice shop (all lit up too - which is what got me thinking when you mentioned it). The family that owns it is frendly with us, and their daughter is just a year older than our daughter (and their youngest is two years younger). So my daughter goes over there to play a lot. And last week I went to get her to bring her home for bed, went into the kids room and they had a big screen TV, DVD player and AIR CONDITIONING! I couldn't believe it. Time ain't standing still that's for sure.
#43 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
BTW do you know a town in Ubon on the 212 called Ban 30 km? There is something about the atmosphere of that town I really like.
#44 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
What has satellite tv, new cars and living the life in Isan got to do with homestay in Cambodia?
Thread has been hijacked- watch out or the angry brigade will be out in force
#45 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
"What has satellite tv, new cars and living the life in Isan got to do with homestay in Cambodia?"
Nothing. But they say a conversation that drifts is a healthy conversation.
#46 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Guess you're right.So maybe it's the right place to say adios to S.E. ASIA.The little woman has already left. I'm in Bangkok now and after 8 years in Cambodia we are destined for Europe.I've got 12 more days in Bangkok and then it's out.Truth of the matter is she couldn't stand it any longer soI've got no choice. How anyone can live in this city beats me,too much pollution.Expect we'll visit but no more expat.Seen so many changes though in that 8 years.How am I going to cope with all those rules and regulations eh?
#47 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
That would be tough for me. I don't think I could live in Whiteland anymore. Like you said, there's a rule for everything. I don't want to live that way anymore.
#48 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
The villages are a changing that's for sure. A cross between the present and 100 years ago.. Sorry to see you go Sayadian. I'm still stuck in the US for a couple of more months waiting for the other daughter to have her baby. It sucks nowdays. Especially in an election year.
Madmac....Ban is usually followed by something. Never seen it just by itself. But if that really is the name , then I'm not familiar with it. We are south and east of Ubon city about an hour and a half.
#49 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386
Neosho, it is followed with something. It's called "Ban 30 km" (Ban Samsip kilomet). That's it's name. It's 30 km north of Ubon on the 212.
#50 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
We hardly ever get north of Ubon. Most of the family and what business we have to do is south.
#51 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386