Homestay and Community Involvement

Sukau Homestay (Balai Kito)

The Sukau Homestay programme has been in operation since 2002, a year before RAE was founded. The primary objective of the nationwide programme is to foster a more intimate relationship between foreign guests and welcoming host families. The homestays are also a method of improving semi-urban and rural income through cultural tourism. All homestays have to meet a minimum government-set criteria of standards.

RAE fully supports the Sukau Homestay initiative in its goal to contribute to local welfare and for also providing visitors a warm and welcoming introduction to the homes, history, and unique culture and language of the Orang Sungai.

Guests inclined to experience the local culture of the orang sungai will find them shy and modest at first, but a gregarious and inquisitive attitude will quickly see the close knit families warm up and truly open their homes to you. Though some families will have a harder time communicating in languages other than Sungai or Malay, your guide will give you tips on how to break the ice and enjoy the best of the experience. While your host family is happy to share their culture and open their homes to you and we encourage that you do the same and share your background with them. Pictures are the easiest way to share. Many guests have come through their doors and the families are proud and delighted to be able to call them as friends.

Although there are about 11 active homestays in the village, RAE has preselected the five most comfortable homes for our guests. These families are also the best adapt at catering to foreign visitors, and speak better English, relatively speaking. The homes all have western styled toilets and are on average roomier which offer a little more privacy (if so wished). The Sukau homestay committee will determine a rotation between the selected homestays to ensure a fair distribution of income and revenue.

Facilities and Services

  • Private rooms (one homestay has ensuite bathrooms, two have double beds)
  • Western Style toilets (one homestay has shower)
  • Electrical sockets 240 V 3 pin or 2 pin, (24 hour electricity supply)
  • Fans (no a/c), Fridges, TV’s, kettles
  • All Homestays provide three meals a day (vegetarian on request)
  • Drinking water, coffee/tea on request
  • Guests are invited to join in on family gatherings in the living room or veranda and to join the family for meals
  • There are some small grocery/sundry shops within Sukau

The facilities are basic, as commonplace in a rural areas. All homestays provide private rooms for guests. The toilets are all western-style sit-down, while showers are not common, in place is a large pail/bucket from which you scoop water over yourself called a “mandi”. Hot water is available on request and is usually water from a kettle poured into the pail. A few homestays do have double beds, en-suite bathrooms, and proper showers. If you request any of these facilities, an additional charge will feature due to the rotation system in place (read above).

Electricity/power is supplied by state grid, and is pretty reliable, there may be short power cuts every once in a while. The voltage is 240V with a three pin or two pin plug. Do check if you require an adapter to charge your electrical appliances.

The living room and verandas are common areas used by the whole family while extended family and neighbours often visit. Food and drink are always served when visitors enter the home, even right after a meal, and it is around these tea and snacks that the news of happenings in the village exchange hands. Food is a central part of life in South East Asia, and is no different here in Sukau.

Food and Cuisine

The most present and most intriguing of cultural variances, the meals presented within the homes here are mostly a variations of Asian stir-frys and hearty stews. Juicy river prawns (one style for each day – if you’re nice to your host!), succulent sauteed fern tips, and yummy pumpkin curry are the highlights of the cuisine here. Rice is served with every meal, while bread is generally difficult to come across. Being a Muslim community, no pork or alcohol will be served. Homemade snacks and cakes are served with tea or coffee (these are served with sugar and condensed milk) for breakfast and tea. Fried bananas and fruits are available but some are seasonal. The really adventurous can try the Durian, king of fruits. Vegetarians need only make an advanced request.

Guests can accompany the hosts on fishing trips on the river (in between the meandering river cruises), and see how the delicious giant river prawns are trapped and learn about a conservation success story at the same time.

Customs and Guidelines

Being a Muslim village, the community here tends towards the more conservative in terms of dress and behaviour. This does not lessen the ever present smiles and friendly demeanour of the orang sungai. They are gentle and shy, but friendly and always in for a laugh. Swearing in public and general rudeness is definitely frowned upon.

Guests are recommended to dress appropriately, no overly revealing outifts. We also recommend guests to cover up from the sun as sunburn can take place much faster closer to the equator. Men are not advised to walk around in the village with their tops off, this is a common occurrence among locals, but foreigners are still quite a novelty.

Please do not take off your tops while on boat cruises with RAE, you should be wearing your life vest (PFD) anyways.

Alcohol is not available except through the lodges. If you do want to consume alcohol please do not consume it within the premises of the homestay or within public areas, please tell our guide, and they will point out the most appropriate place to do so.

Green Tourism

As RAE owes its existence to HUTAN, a conservation NGO, we try our best to practice conservation and environmentally friendly principles. Staying at a homestay is one of the best ways to travel, as they are not purpose built structures for tourism, but are also homes for families. Homestays are therefore the “greenest”, low emission, low impact, low carbon accommodation today. Resources for guests and tourists are also reduced through sharing, as the meals served are cooked for the host family as well, and the boats used by you are also used for transport and fishing by the families in Sukau. Rain water is harvested for daily use, and is supplemented by river water as Sukau has no piped water as yet.

RAE is also looking to develop a carbon neutral (offset) way of your travel by offering visitors to purchase seedlings (including very necessary maintenance costs) for the replanting of degraded and cleared areas with fruit producing trees for wildlife. This enrichment planting will also improve forest connectivity and enlarge important viable habitat for all wildlife species within the lower Kinabatangan.

 Community Based Tourism

RAE was founded to facilitate and develop an ethical and sustainable income stream for the local residents in Sukau, through wildlife tourism. Working with HUTAN and their orangutan unit (OURS) enables us to provide additional income to the community through training and employment of specialist wildlife and nature guides. All our guides have a minimum of six years in the research site and each have their own expertise.

Besides income through homestays and guides, RAE utilizes boat/river transport from the community, as well as land transport in and around Sukau. Your visit to RAE will contribute to not just one or two families, but to a wider segment of Sukau. This ensures local communities do benefit directly from your visit, making your visit socially responsible as well.

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