Saturday, May 26, 2007

Home Away From Home

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Staying with a local family while learning to catch eels and pound rice grains the traditional way are some of the things a visitor on the Malaysian Homestay

Programme can experience.

he morning was still crisp when my car pulled into a gateless driveway. A small signage that read ‘Mayang Rambai House, Dorani Homestay’ confirmed my destination. Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani lies in the famous paddy planting district of Sabak Bernam, a coastal fringe north of Selangor.

Sharing the coast with fishermen operating in the Straits of Malacca, local folk and migrants from Java have been paddy planters here for centuries. Today, the fields are so productive that it boasts of having the highest output in the country.

I was pleasantly surprised that this kampung (village) T house bore no resemblance to an archetypal tourist centre.

Sitting on high wooden stilts, the house creates a tall open space below it. This traditional Malay design provides both shelter and great airflow – a symbiotic example of living with the environment. Two elderly women, my hosts, came to greet me. Their ‘twang’ had a hint of something foreign. After revealing their Javanese origins and family migrations that took place centuries ago, I remained stunned at the retention of their original accents and dialect. Such diverse cultural offerings spiced up my anticipation.

I was to stay at a chalet within the compounds of Haji Ahmad’s home, called Mayang Rambai House. Its entrance faces the main trunk road, which makes for easy access while at the back, a lovely balcony bathes in the vista of the surrounding paddy fields. It felt just right for a night’s stay. Close enough to be with my hosts, yet able to keep my privacy. I couldn’t wait for my planned itinerary to unravel.

First stop was breakfast. As I sat down at the breakfast table under the house, a cool sea breeze blew through. The women offered an assortment of local kuih (cakes) and sweet black tea, a typical breakfast for them. Around us, the vista of surrounding yellow-burnt paddy fields created a majestic ambience. I felt energised just sitting there. After breakfast, the women left to continue their chores, but village etiquette ensured that I was never left alone. I was charmed instead by Abdul Manan, their neighbour. He showed me a recently caught slippery belut (paddy field eel). And said, within a few days of eating it, it healed his son’s infected leg, when all other medication failed. The belut is well known among village folk to have great healing properties for skin ailments.

Later, he says, I would have the chance to catch belut with the villagers.

“Assalamualaikum”, a pleasant voice reverberates toward the breakfast table. “Saya Haji Ahmad” (I am Haji Ahmad), says a man with a large forehead and peaceful round eyes. As Tuan rumah host, he apologises for not being present to greet me earlier. An early initiator of Dorani Homestay, Haji Ahmad knows the ins and outs of the programme, and has seen how it has evolved over the years. He says that while earning extra income has been a driving force, the opportunity for the villagers to gain knowledge about other cultures has proven priceless. He names a funny example: the tea pot of water placed on the dining table are used by the Malays for washing hands after eating, but many of his foreign guests have mistaken it for drinking water!

Reflecting, he says, what is supposedly common knowledge can be mistaken for something else in a foreign place. He also commented on his changed perception of Arabs when he discovered they disliked gravy on their rice, preferring squeezed lime instead.

By this time, several villagers had come to join our conversation at the table. I noticed that in their conversations with each other, some sentences were conveyed in Javanese dialect. I found that fascinating. Even though I’m a Malaysian, I felt like a foreign visitor – there is so much I thought I knew

and yet didn’t.

Haji Ahmad urged me towards the front of the house. Together with the gathered group, he showed me how they processed rice in the olden days. Three men with heavy wooden stakes synchronised the vertical pounding of rice grains gathered in a wooden vessel. It is hard work, considering the volume of rice they have to

go through. Technology has since played a big part in the commercialisation of padi farming. “Dari tahun 50an, kita dah henti tumbuk padi (We have stopped this practice since the 1950’s,)” says Adbul Manan A gentle breeze was starting to pick up. Atan, another high-spirited neighbour involved in the homestay programme, explain that the changing sea breeze brings the winds inland during the afternoon. It signals a good time to fly kites. Visitors get to experience the art of kite making too, he says. Strings, paper, bamboo, glue – it’s all there, you make it. “Kanakkanak memang suka buat layang-layang (children love to make kites),” he says, and flying a personally-constructed kite makes the experience worth even more.

Next, I was given a farmer’s hat, a fishing rod made of bamboo and asked to cycle to Atan’s house – where I was to experience belut fishing. Cycling in midday on a straight stretch of narrow tarmac, fishing rod in hand and flanked on both sides by miles of paddy fields, I felt carefree and alive in the Malay heartland. Fishing for the belut is an art in itself. The eels burrow themselves into holes, in shallow water that’s left behind after a paddy field has been drained.

Wriggling squid meat and creating vibrating motions at the entrance of the hole will attract them to your bait, says Atan. The belut bit, but slipped my grasp several times. Children from Atan’s home joined my adventure, jumping from mud

banks and running around with rods of their own. With Atan leading the group, pointing out holes and making comments,

I already felt a certain bond with the community, despite the brief time I’ve been there. His family’s presence in the paddy field made it exotic and real. My adventures didn’t end there. We then drove out to the coast with YB (Yatim Basri), another homestay host. Fortunately it was low tide, a good time for cockle picking. He shows me how to spot them – by noticing spurts of swirling sand and bubbles in the mud. We spend the evening hopping from stone to stone, churning mud and digging up fresh cockles with our fingers. Ever heard of cockle BBQ on the beach? It’s a star attraction for visitors to this is homestay, who get to taste their harvest on the spot.

about paddy and batik painting. During off-season, there are fishing villages, mango orchards and a host of cottage industries to visit and support.


In a village well spaced by paddy fields and with over 30 families and more than 50 rooms available, Dorani Homestay can accomodate up to 160 visitors at a time.


Day trips cost as low as RM50 per person. Packages for two and three days inclusive of food and activities are RM115 and RM200 respectively. You can also enjoy organised activities, performances and local delicacies for a small fee. Special packages can be customized, even for small groups. If you want to stay in a chalet and explore on your own instead, it will cost you RM40 per night.

Getting There

A taxi from KLIA will cost about RM80. If you depart from KL’s Puduraya station, it will cost around RM40-50. Alternatively, catching a local bus will set you back RM8 from Puduraya and RM40 from Johor Baharu.

If you are driving, it’s about 130km from Kuala Lumpur. Head north towards Sinkinchan on the coast. After about 15km past it, there is a small bridge. Just a little further up, there is a sign on the left of the road, asking you to turn right into Dorani Homestay.


Dorani Homestay

Mr. Abdul Rahman

Tel +6013 607 7025, +603 3241 0846


About the programme

The Malaysian Homestay Programme began in 1988 at Desa Murni, a community of five rural villages that includes Desa Murni Sanggang, Desa Murni Sonsang, Desa Murni Kerdau, Desa Murni Ketam and Desa Murni Perangap. The villages are 15 minutes drive from the town of Temerloh, Pahang and about 120 kilometers or 90 minutes drive from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Today, there is at least one homestay in every Malaysian state. For more information on the programme and other homestay hosts, visit

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