Want a more authentic experience for your next family holiday? Jeremy, Karen and Joseph Head (aged 7) are a little overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome on their homestay in Thailand.
I was holding back tears when we said goodbye to Chay. He’d just driven us to the station to catch the night train back to Bangkok. We dumped our bags on the pavement. Chay bent down and Joe our seven-year-old gave him a big hug. I could see Karen my wife was having a watery-eye moment too.
Chay had let us share his life without reservation. We’d met his 96-year-old gran. We’d stayed in his family home, eaten and drunk with him. Slept in the room next door to him.
We’d only met 24 hours before, yet he felt like a close friend.
How deep do you go when you’re travelling?
Thailand is a perfect destination if you want more than just a holiday. People are SO friendly. This is particularly true with kids. Wherever we went, people’s natural curiosity in and attraction to our little English boy broke down barriers.
Whilst I and Karen cooed over cute little Thai children, locals did the same over Joe. Seeing the same tug of parent-emotion in their eyes was a wonderfully human thing. It transcended language, culture… everything.
Joe and a Thai kid would look wide-eyed at each other a moment, then dash off and play chase: no concern they came from different parts of the world and couldn’t speak a word of each other’s language. It was life-affirming stuff.
So… we were doing pretty well on the authenticity front. But our homestay took it to a whole different level.
A family homestay in Thailand
Khlong Noi is a community of 400,000 people close to Surat Thani in southern Thailand. If you’re spending time on the paradise islands of Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao, it’s easy to add on a visit. You’ll see a completely different side of life, and not just another tourist in sight.
The community relies mainly on growing coconuts, producing palm oil on small-scale plantations and fishing from the canals that criss-cross the area, but it has also been offering homestays for many years. There’s a handful of different families that happily welcome visitors into the houses. We spent a day and a night with Chay, his 13-year-old cousin Boom, his aunt Nee and his uncle, Mr Somsak.
We had no idea what to expect when we were dropped off at their traditional two-storey wooden house surrounded by lush gardens. Chay made us feel swiftly at home. Joe was a little shy, clinging to Karen’s leg. The promise of a Fanta worked wonders. Then Chay introduced Boom who was all smiles. Within moments Joe was showing him some of his toys.
We’d arrived quite late in the day so all we needed to do, was eat, drink and go to bed. Chay showed us around our sleeping quarters. They’d moved out of the lounge upstairs to accommodate us.
There were two double mattresses on the floor. What is it with seven-year-olds and beds? Joe couldn’t resist jumping on them. “It’s like sleeping in a tent!” he said, pulling back the mosquito nets that were draped over them and throwing himself in.
I should perhaps have pointed out beforehand that Karen doesn’t eat meat and Joe only seems to eat chicken and rice at the moment. Any embarrassment about our difficult eating habits disappeared quickly over a couple of beers. Nee cooked up chicken fried rice for Joe, Karen ate stir-fried shrimps caught from the river. I ate everything: smooth chicken coconut curry, eye-watering vegetable stir fry, even a raw vegetable called dogfruit. Chay insisted I dip it in the most fiery of chilli sauces.
The only antidote? More beer.