Some of the best and most memorable experiences I had when I was travelling were from getting off the tourist trail and meeting locals. I had a fabulous dinner with a Cambodian family (complete with deep fried tarantulas!!) who were getting ready for a ceremony. Of course let’s not forget the handsome local I met in Bali who changed my life forever (that would be my husband!)
Locals cook the best food, know the best places to go (that aren’t in the guidebook) and it’s just generally fascinating and heartwarming to have a proper conversation with someone who lives in the country you’re visiting. I made sure to do this in every country I visited from Nepal to Thailand to Vietnam.
The only problem is that it can be quite hard to meet locals unless you have an existing contact. Safety is also an issue – it’s not always advisable to go off with someone you’ve just met in the street and you really have to use your street smarts to weigh up if it’s a genuine offer of friendship (and turning it down would make you miss out on an amazing experience) or if you’re putting yourself in danger.
So when I heard about Withlocals, I just thought it was a wonderful idea and why had nobody come up with it before? The website connects you, the traveller, with locals in countries all over Asia for experiences including meals, tours and other activities. It’s a much more personal experience than booking a tour with a company and you get the opportunity to forge real connections and friendships with people who can explain more about their culture and lifestyle in the country you’re visiting.
After browsing the available options in Bali, we decided to book a homestyle Javanese meal with Dotty. We chose this experience because we thought she sounded interesting to talk to (we were right!) and Javanese food would make a nice change from Balinese food for me.
We’d arrived pretty late due to a mixup with directions but were still welcomed graciously into Dotty’s home. Her house was beautiful (the photos really don’t do it justice!) and was located on top of a hill with sweeping rice field views. She also runs a B&B from her home, which you can book through airbnb. We ate upstairs for the fantastic view and then had tea downstairs.
As we were so late, we were starving when we got there, which was a good thing as there was so much to eat! We had a real feast of sweet soy chicken, tempe, sweetcorn fritters, curried eggs and this vegetable which is my favourite – they call it jepang here in Bali. We ate until we were stuffed and there was still loads leftover.
After lunch we had papaya and the most amazing lemongrass tea made with cinnamon, ginger and palm sugar.
While the food was amazing, what really made the experience was Dotty herself. She was incredibly welcoming and friendly and fascinating to talk to. After living in Jakarta, Australia, and now Bali (and having grownup children living in the UK among other places) she’s got a really metropolitan view on the world and it was fascinating discussing her life and the differences between Bali and Jakarta.
We had a lovely afternoon and i could have really stayed chatting well into the evening but our poor taxi driver had been waiting for us for over 2 hours :p
Anyway, definitely a great experience and excellent value for money and if you’re travelling anywhere in Asia I’d strongly recommend seeing what experiences you can do from the Withlocals website (I’m going to be listing Made on there soon if you need a Bali tour guide!)