China Homestays: Where and When is Best, Things to Do, Tips
Choosing to stay at a homestay in China could be one of the best decisions you ever make. Staying in beautiful 5* hotels is all very well but if you really want to understand this wonderful country and get a taste for the real China then staying at a homestay is a must. It will be a truly memorable experience!
What is a Homestay and Why Would I Want to Do One?
A homestay means spending a day and night with a local family somewhere in China. It will mean gaining a unique insight into China as you will be able to interact with local people and see how they live at home, what life is like away from the tourist spots.
You can choose to stay with a local family in a city or in the rural countryside of China and both will offer special experiences. For the ultimate experience consider staying with a family during one of China's numerous festivals such as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival.
What Should I Expect in a Homestay?
You will have the opportunity to interact with a family, ask them questions, experience their day to day lives and eat with them. You will experience wonderful hospitality - the Chinese are renowned for treating their guests well. Mealtimes are a big family occasion in China and not to be missed. Home-cooked food in China is also very different from food cooked in restaurants so you’ll be able to enjoy a rare opportunity to experience this. You can even ask to help out in the kitchen if you wish!
In Rural China
For a real taste of China, we’d recommend that you choose a homestay in a rural village such as Yangshuo or Longji. This way you will get to experience village life which is more traditional and makes for some beautiful photo opportunities. In villages in China, locals adorn their front doors with pretty tiles and decorations such as red and gold motifs to bring luck and prosperity. Depending on the season you will see corn or chili being dried outside homes and you’ll often see ducks and chickens wandering around the alleyways.
Yet despite the outward appearance that a village might be poor, don’t be surprised if your host has a large TV along with all the mod cons. Families in rural China too have benefited from the huge growth in the economy and increase in living standards over the last two decades. You’ll be able to ask your host family about this, about the farming methods they use and about how life has changed in the villages over the previous decades. You’ll no doubt learn some fascinating things and gain an insight into the changing face of China.
In the Cities
By opting for a homestay experience in a city such as Beijing or Shanghai you'll gain an insight into modern China. In cities, the majority of people live in new high rise apartment blocks. However, both Beijing and Shanghai have old sections which are not to be missed. In Beijing, a highlight of your trip could be staying in an old ancient house. In Shanghai, staying in the French Concession or in an old Lilong house would be an unmissable opportunity to experience the real Shanghai.
What Special Activities Can I Do at a Homestay?
This depends largely on where you decide to do your homestay. In the north of China, a popular family activity is to make Chinese dumplings together. In the south of China if you do a homestay in Longji you can learn to make bamboo rice with a family. Over in the west of China in the Tibetan regions, a family activity you can try is making traditional yak butter tea.
Activities don't just revolve around food. You can also learn some traditional arts and crafts whilst visiting a homestay. Painting traditional opera masks and making paper cuttings are some of the crafts you can learn whilst visiting and staying with a family.
What’s the Cultural Etiquette at a Homestay?
Firstly, it's customary to take a gift - some fruits will suffice if you haven’t brought anything from your home country. Secondly, it's customary to take your shoes off when entering a home so you should follow this practice when staying at a homestay. Guests are provided with slippers to wear inside the home.
Dining etiquette in China can be strict but should be less so inside the home. At mealtimes, you should sit where you are requested to and follow your hosts' instructions. Don’t leave chopsticks sticking into your food and remember it’s impolite to ask for more food as it will embarrass your host. Your host should do a good job of making sure you are well-fed anyway as it's their duty as a Chinese host.
Booking a Homestay with Us
Foreigners taking part in a homestay must by law register with the local police (PSB). The host can register for guests. If you wish to book a homestay, please let our travel consultants know well in advance so that they can help you register.
We can advise on where doing a homestay will best fit into your itinerary and any family visit in your itinerary can be made into an overnight homestay. Here are some recommended itineraries that can include a homestay:
- Ethnic Minorities Tour - a 17-day private tour encompassing the picturesque southern China provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan. Visit the karst scenery of Guilin, the rice terraces near Sanjiang, multiple minority villages, and the ethereal Stone Forest near Kunming.
- World Heritage and Southern China Discovery Tour - a 15-day tour covering the must-see cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Xi'an, and Chengdu with a tour of the Tibetan and ethnic minority areas of Yunnan province. This tour includes visits to the stunning Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Songzanlin Lamasery, the famous Giant Buddha of Leshan and the panda breeding and research center.