UCLA in Baan Talae Nok Homestay
My host family was warm and welcoming and always seemed to be working to keep us fed and comfortable. I went with one other UCLA student and Tui who was the interpreter and the three of us were given the biggest portion of the house.
The village is small and our “home” was conveniently located next to the community center and a short walk from the beautiful beach. The coastal part of this village was wiped out during the tsunami and the rebuilt portions are now away from the shoreline. A new tsunami warning system is in place and the new school is located on a hill and has everything the villagers would need should another problem arise. The village is quiet and not inundated with traffic. One feels very removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.
There is a gibbon wildlife sanctuary in middle of the village and I found it very enjoyable to hear them call out twice a day (when they were full, I was told). Cows and water buffalo roam freely and are herded through the village. It was very picturesque to see cows walking on the beach or lying in the sand under the shade of a tree. Chickens and geese also roam around – so much different than Los Angeles! Cashew and tamarind trees grow all over the place. The village backs to the canal and mangrove. This area is a veritable grocery store for the villagers supplying local plants and seafood. Therefore, the food is always very fresh and it is apparent when you taste it! There is also a community organic garden that supplements their diets with such things as lemongrass, green beans, squash, chili peppers, and cucumbers. By the way, this is a Muslim village so there are no dogs, alcohol, or pork – but they are not missed.
Things to do: See the sunset at the beach, learn to make soap and batiks with the local women, tour the mangrove, go fishing or swimming (the water is great!), eat, learn to cook Thai food… I am sure there are several touristy things, but I mostly went there to learn.
The best part of the experience is that you are getting the real deal. You are not seeing only the tourist attractions. When I went to Phuket, the food was made for foreigners and was not at all like Thai people really cook it. I stepped so far out of my normal life and I loved it. The people are real, friendly, open, honest, and caring. I have never seen anything like it. I am ready to move to Thailand just for the people alone. There was a little bit of culture shock to deal with at first due to the basic way of life, but I came to enjoy that, too. I got to see how Thai’s really live and it gave me a whole new perspective on my own life.
So that this doesn’t sound like a fake selling pitch, I’ll add the things I didn’t care for so much as well. Ban Talae Nok was definitely the warmest place I went in Thailand, but it was not the rainiest. Working outdoors was tough and required a lot of water. I did not get to spend much time with the youth group (they had to go to school and the mosque) and really needed to be there over the weekend for that. Life starts early and I am a late sleeper, but this was just a matter of adjusting. Also, I had no internet connectivity – oh wait, maybe that was a good thing.
If you want a real experience and not just an interchangeable tourist vacation at Patong Beach or Cancun or Montego Bay, than I highly recommend a Ban Talae Nok homestay.