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Homespun hospitality in a Malaysian homestay

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While pulling away from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, my sense of adventure is sparked by the search for a truly Malaysian "homestay" experience. We head south from the metropolis along the four-lane highway, and a canopy of lush vegetation soon replaces the urban jungle’s bumper to bumper gridlock. Although just a short 60 kilometres from Malaysia’s thriving capital, the village of Kampung Ulu Chuchoh feels as if it’s a world away.

The Banghuris Homestay Program, located in the Sepang district of Selangor, is comprised of three villages: Kampung Bukit Bangkong, Ulu Chuchuh and Ulu Teris. Within these communities, a total of 70 families are able to accommodate up to 300 people at any given time. Although the predominant language within each village is Malay, thanks to mandatory English programs provided in public education the younger generations are able to translate, when necessary, for the village elders.

The Chief of Kampung Ulu Chuchoh, and the head of the entire Bangsuris Homestay Program, Misriah BT Natijo, welcomes our group of 18 touring Canadians. In spite of his limited English, he graciously greets us with smiles and waves. "It is an honour to have you all here," our interpreter and guide relays, "and it is my hope that you enjoy learning more about our Malaysian roots."

His dark eyes dance with enthusiasm as he proudly gleams from ear to ear, and as the day progresses we gain more insight into his beliefs and how this program came to be.

Traditionally, these villages survived on a subsistence lifestyle, however after opening their homes to the world, they began to revolutionize their economy while maintaining their basic way of life. For a minimal cost of 60 ringgit per day, (1 ringgit = 0.345 Cdn) the program provides travellers from around the world with comfy accommodation, tasty cuisine and the opportunity to integrate into the daily workings of a Malay village.

Although not a five star hotel, the humble abode we visit is a quintessential Malaysian home that offers a blend of customary living with a touch of modern amenities. A communal living room creates an open and easy feel, and comfortable bedrooms provide a restful stay. Malaysian décor flows into the simple dining room where fans cool the humid air and bamboo mats replace conventional tables and chairs.

Heavenly aromas engulf us as we literally enjoy our first hand experience of Malaysian cuisine.

"Eat only with the right hand," we are informed by our host, "as the left is saved for wiping other body parts later."

He chuckles when sharing this customary etiquette, and although no elaboration is given, we can only assume this is not appropriate table talk. We adhere to the commands, and while sitting crossed-legged and free of the utensils, our right hands go to work.

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