Raja Ampat homestay facilities are like nothing we had ever experienced before. Our living conditions were stripped back to basics and we had no choice but to learn how to survive with the bare minimum. For us, it took the concept of being ‘at one’ with nature to a whole new level!
Traditional Papuan Bungalows
Homestays in Raja Ampat consist of traditional Papuan bungalows, each assembled by hand using locally sourced materials from the surrounding jungle.
They are constructed from a very basic timber frame, floored with sawn wood planks and have palm thatched walls and a roof with no ceiling. Despite their natural form, they are designed to withstand wind and rain.
Bungalows are either built on the beach under shady palms, or on stilts over water usually accommodating a maximum of 2 people.
There is a small sleeping area and a verandah outside. Windows are pieces of thatched palm on a hinge held open by a piece of wood, and doors are sliding panels that can’t be locked.
The bedroom area consists of a mattress, bedding, a mosquito net and a bamboo sheet on the floor for the mattress to sit on top of.
When staying in an overwater bungalow, sometimes the waves splash up through the floor boards. The bamboo sheet helps keep your bed from getting a soggy bottom! Be careful where you place your personal belongings during stormy spells.
The comfort and cleanliness of the bed situation varies widely for homestay to homestay. We’ve experienced anything from lovely thick mattresses, to mouldy old pillows. It’s often questionable as to whether the sheets have been changed from one guest to the next.
There is next to no furniture in Papuan bungalows. In most cases you’ll find no more than a small wooden bench or table. We were always grateful for any extra shelving or storage space provided, such as a rope to hang clothes from.
This approach to ‘interior design’ was a thought-provoking experience. It made us appreciate the smallest of things such as a well positioned plug socket or a single plastic chair. We were surprised at how easy it was to function with a lot less clutter, as Raja Ampat homestay facilities are so limited.
Electricity, phone and internet
The term ‘off-grid’ couldn’t be more true, as electricity supplies do not exist outside of Sorong and Waisai. Instead, homestays and local villages rely on electricity supplied by a generator which is usually available from sunset till around 10pm.
This means no electricity inside your bungalow or around the homestay throughout the day, so be sure to charge up all gadgets in the evenings whilst you can. Sockets are provided inside most bungalows, but you will need an Indonesian 2-pin adaptor.
As for telephone and internet, be prepared for a digital detox. Raja Ampat homestay facilities do not include WiFi.
Whilst some areas do support both telephone and data coverage, the service is very unpredictable and slow at the best of times. Telkomsel is the only provider that will work, so be sure to get a local SIM card before entering the islands if you wish to have some contact to the outside world.
Our first impressions of bungalow life
Our first experience of staying in a traditional Papuan bungalow was at Beser Bay Homestay on Gam. Nick and I had always dreamt of staying in an overwater bungalow. We’d never been able to afford one on our previous holidays to the Maldives, but all of Beser Bay’s bungalows are on stilts over the lagoon, so we were finally about to taste what it was like living over water.
Although our new home was ridiculously basic compared to Western standards, we had everything needed for a comfortable stay. Our bungalow even came with a hammock and an extra mattress to chill out on. Bliss!
Surprisingly, the best bit about bungalow life for us was being so close to nature. Our large open deck looked out over the lagoon. At dusk, we watched in awe as a pod of dolphins swam gracefully past on the house reef as the sun set in shades of pinky purple in the distance. On first impressions, I already had an inclination that we wouldn’t be missing the internet. Nature would be providing our entertainment for the next 35 days!
Once the generator was turned off, the homestay was shrouded in darkness and we had to rely on our headtorch and phones for light. Many nights were spent shining these into the water under our bungalow, as we sat mesmerised by strange sea creatures that only made an appearance after dark.
The lack of electricity means there is no light intrusion in Raja Ampat and so the night sky is a thing of wonder. I have never seen so many shooting stars, and the milky way in such clarity.
Although Raja Ampat suffers from around 80% humidity, once the sun goes down the temperature drops. Most homestays provide blankets which I often used.
In the mornings, we were woken by mystical sounds of the jungle. As the sun rises over Raja Ampat, tropical birds break into song and their sound echoes across the waters. How could you beat being this close to nature? It was unreal.
Showers and toilets are shared amongst the family and homestay guests and are basic cubicles set back from the main living quarters. They are constructed in the same manner as the bungalows and have a sand, pebble, or concrete floor.
There isn’t much natural light in the bathrooms, so they do become very inviting hang-outs for the local wildlife.
Toilets are either a western or eastern style squat with a simple scoop system involving a small bucket, and a large container of water. The small bucket is used to scoop up water from the container and pour down the toilet to flush.
The shower cubicles consist of 1-2 large containers of water, and another small scoop bucket which is used to pour the water over yourself. In Indonesia, this style of shower is described as a “Dip Mandi”.
At most homestays we were surprised to find freshwater on tap drawn up from the ground. Meaning it was easy to refill the containers after your shower, and rarely be short of water.
My first attempt at a Dip Mandi shower
Our first experience of a Raja Ampat homestay bathroom was at Beser Bay and my first attempt was a memorable!
The woven palm door of the bathroom cubicle swung precariously from a large branch threaded through a piece of plastic tubing. It’s positioning must be ‘just right’ to avoid embarrassing moments or peeping toms.
Closing as best I could, I hung my towel over a string of rope and slid out of my Birkenstocks. Feeling very self-conscious standing in the jungle in my undies, I did a quick reccy for spiders and peered into the dark container of water. Scooping reluctantly, I took a deep breath and hoped for the best!
The water you pour over yourself gets deposited onto the floor, either draining away in the sand under your toes, or drying up in a matter of minutes.
To point out the obvious you must never to contaminate the large container of clean water with any soap suds or dirty water – That is the unwritten Dip Mandi rule!
Despite my initial reluctantance, as soon as I tipped the cool water over my shoulders I was in heaven. A wave of liberation flowed through me. The entire bathing process was so raw and basic, yet so natural in this environment.
I thought about the family living here. They had utilised their primal surroundings and provided everything we needed. I loved how uncomplicated it was. It was a truly humbling experience.
Food & Drink
There is a communal dining area in each Raja Ampat homestay usually in the form of a beach shack, a great space for socialising with the family and other guests.
Long wooden tables and benches are made from driftwood, and a ‘help yourself’ drinks area including water and unlimited tea and coffee.
Meals are served at set times. Breakfast in Papua is sugary and small, which initially took some getting used to for us. Expect fried bananas on most days, a small portion of cake, doughnuts or traditional green pancakes with chocolate filling.
Lunch and dinner are much the same. The standard serving is a huge bowl of white rice, mixed green vegetables, and protein of fish, egg or occasionally chicken. Some homestays offer side dishes such as tempe, noodles and fruit.
Everything we ate was always tasty, freshly cooked and freshly caught. Despite its simplicity we really love the balance of the Raja Ampat diet. Processed or fatty foods are firmly off the menu!
Dishes are shared between guests so there isn’t much portion control. If you arrive late for a meal, don’t expect your portion to be waiting for you.
We often struggled with strikes of hunger between meals, especially at the start of our trip. I always joke about the ‘Raja Ampat Diet’ because if you did want to get fit and lose weight, this is the place to do it!
We strongly advise bringing along some snacks, as there are no shops around. Nuts are a great option for a boost of protein, we also took sweets for the children and biscuits which were a welcome treat.
If you do bring food, be aware of attracting rats to your bungalow. Unfortunately while staying on Kri, a cheeky jungle rat nibbled a hole through Nicks Osprey bag, so ask your homestay family if they can store food for you.
Apart from the all-inclusive tea, black coffee and water there are no other drinks available. Occasionally homestays may have a couple of warm Bintangs hanging around, but this is not guaranteed!
Ask your homestay owner to cut down a couple of fresh coconuts for you instead! They are hydrating, help support your immune system, plus they are a natural source of quick energy. Also, Papuan coconuts taste amazing.
It’s a small price for a slice of paradise
The current average homestay price is 350,000 IDR per person per night and we highly recommend booking your stay through stayrajaampat.com.
All the prices quoted on their website are full board, include 3 meals a day plus unlimited drinking water, tea and coffee.
We do stress that the price does not reflect consistent standards of Raja Ampat homestay facilities, and things like food, bedding and bungalow size vary from one place to the next.
Are Raja Ampat homestay facilities for you?
After exploring a few different homestays you will soon discover which aspects are most important to you. Is it a comfy mattress, big portions of food, an amazing house reef or maybe a hammock? And like us, you will find your favourites. Read our detailed reviews here about the homestays we have been to.
Staying in a traditional Papuan homestay is a unique and wonderful experience. It is true that Raja Ampat homestay facilities are very rustic, but we believe this is a small price to pay for discovering one of the worlds last wild places.
If you are considering a trip to Raja Ampat, check out our complete Raja Ampat Travel Guide.
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