Meenangadi, Kerala, India
Setting: This rural escape offers just two private cottages. Located close to Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Mudumalai National Park, it makes an excellent home base for exploring Kerala’s wildlife.
Experience: Four generations of the host’s family have lived on and worked the coffee and rubber plantation where this homestay is located. Take a misty sunrise hike through the lush greenery of the plantation before sitting down to a traditional Indian breakfast prepared by your host family. Evenings are equally spectacular as the local natural wonder, the resident glow worms, light up the night.
Getting there: The plantation is situated about a six-hour drive from either Coimbatore or Bangalore.
Setting: Camp inside a Tibetan wool tent, known as a yurt, on the windswept grasslands of Tangkor bordering Tibet. Your Columbia University-educated host – an expert in eco-tourism – will accompany you, along with his nomadic family, their horses and their herd of yaks.
Experience: This is a trip like no other as the homestay is constantly on the move – the best time to go is when the family undertakes their time-honoured biannual migration between their winter and summer homes along the Tibetan plateau. Visitors journey on horseback and learn how to make delicious butter and cheese from yak’s milk. Traditional Tibetan food is cooked with earthen stoves that the host family builds by hand. It’s a peek into a culture and way of life threatened by the encroachment of a more modern lifestyle.
Getting there: The Tangkor prairies are an eight-hour drive north of Chengdu.
Mai Chau District, Hoa Binh Province, Vietnam
Setting: Stilted homes perch amid emerald green rice paddies, fringed by a network of paths just wide enough for a pair of bicycles. The community sits between two mountain ranges worth climbing for the incredible view of the valley below. Spend the night in your own stilted cottage and fall asleep to the sounds of rice plants rustling in the breeze.
Experience: Your hosts will take you on a cycle tour of the valley, stopping at sunset at a local bar to get a sense of the community’s nightlife. Here, it’s all about the mesmerising landscapes, but the home-cooked meals are a close second. Making use of locally sourced ingredients, hosts will prepare delicious traditional North Vietnamese fare accompanied by the area’s speciality: potent rice wine.
Getting there: From Hanoi, visitors will travel 145km southwest to the scenic Mai Chau Valley.
Setting: A cluster of 14 solar-powered cottages plus a communal dining room are run by local women whose families own the land the houses were built on. Just across the nearby Gandak River is Chitwan National Park. The country’s first national park, granted Unesco World Heritage Site status in 1984, it is home to rhinos, starred tortoises, leopards, giant monitor lizards and Bengal tigers.
Experience: Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a traditional Nepalese ritual: their foreheads are marked with a ceremonial red paste and a flower garland is hung around each visitor’s neck. Designed to support the local Tharu women, the programme offers the chance to take a cooking class in the hosts’ kitchens, venture into the village for a guided tour and attend evening performances featuring Tharu music and dance.
Getting there: Located north of Nepal’s border with the Indian state of Bihar, it is a 190km drive from Kathmandu.
Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan
Setting: Nestled among rolling green hills, this beautifully preserved castle town is home to some of the country’s finest examples of samurai architecture and is an ideal destination to explore on foot or two wheels at any time of the year. The big selling point here is that it’s the town’s elderly residents who act as the hosts, with visitors staying in typical Japanese accommodation – think tatami mat floors and sliding doors.
Experience: This brand-new project launching in 2019 is designed to showcase the area’s rich culture. Travellers will have the opportunity to learn Shodo calligraphy or shop for artisanal Hagi Yaki ceramics while staying with local seniors, many of whom are well-versed in these unique Japanese art forms. Guests will also enjoy a home-cooked breakfast and dinner – opportunities to try the region’s cuisine. The homestay is currently part of a longer tour but will soon be available to book individually.
Getting there: The coastal town of Hagi is a two-hour train ride west of Hiroshima.
Illustration by Lim Chae Huah/Unit One Studio
This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of Silkwinds magazine