When I am old and I reminisce on the days I spent adventuring in Vietnam, what I will remember most are the nights I laid on a bamboo floor in a stilt house, listening to the music of frogs that wafted in through open windows and the giant mystery bugs that flitted against my mosquito net in the dark.
I will inhale the scent of coming rain, and be transported to that moment on my back in the breeze of the standing fan, watching the strobe light sky flicker purple behind the mountains, feeling the whole house tremble with thunder around me.
Homestays offer an embedded cultural experience. You get to eat and drink with a local family, sleep in their house, and play with their children. It’s this ‘authentic’ travel that so many tourists fantasize about. But homestays offer something else, too — a refreshing return to simplicity.
Henry David Thoreau said: “Our life is frittered away by detail.” The more you have, the more you have to worry about. In the same way a five-star resort may handle these details for you, a homestay simply does away with them. There are few amenities, nothing to do, and no distractions. There’s nowhere to be. Days are spent swaying in a hammock on the porch, ‘night life’ is dinner in a circle on the floor, pouring shots of homemade ruou, or rice wine, from a bucket.
Accustomed to cable TV, mattresses and air-conditioning, staying with a family in rural Vietnam makes it very apparent how much more we have in life. But it also shows us how much we don’t really need any of it. It’s a reminder that happiness doesn’t come from the things we own, but the experiences we have, and the people we share them with.