MANILA, Philippines – There’s a service that allows you to discover new secrets in the country – and in beautiful locations in Asia as well, straight from the people who know it best.
Withlocals is about linking travelers to authentic experiences that won’t often be included in the usual tour package, allowing them instead to choose their own adventures. And with the launch of its new mobile application last December 15, 2014, the company maintained its goal, to be the ultimate local travel guide for Asia.
Dubbed the "AirBNB of travel experiences and home dining," the app provides an immersive culture through food, tours, and activities. The user has the opportunity to dine with a family in their home, learn new skills with local residents, and see the place through the eyes of a local.
It also offers users to chat with locals before and during your stay, and at the same time provides the opportunity to help local citizens in their respective communities.
It was created when co-founder Marijn Maas was on holiday in Southeast Asia and dined in a local family's home. During the meal, the family not only provided him with authentic local cuisine that rivaled those of the luxury restaurants he'd been dining in (at a fraction of the cost), but also exchanged insights about the culture and history of the country.
Realizing that the most experienced guides were a country's locals, who often made far less money than travel agents, Maas and his other colleagues created Withlocals.
How it works
Withlocals allows people to sign up either as a guest or a host guide, providing services for those that want to offer their expertise, or those that want to be guided by someone that knows the country like the back of their hand. Currently, Withlocals is offered in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, and is now coming to the Philippines.
The site’s experiences are divided into 3 categories: EAT Withlocals, where you can enjoy home-cooked local cuisine; TOURS Withlocals, where you can lead- or be led- around the city by a guide that knows it well; and ACTIVITIES Withlocals, where you can try out or offer any traditional activity you think a traveler would enjoy, from weaving to wood carving.
Hosts are allowed to set their own price and dates of any tour they offer, in addition to receiving full payment- Withlocals doesn't take any commission fee from the host's price, but charges the guest a 20% fee on top of the tour price- even if the guest turns out to be a no-show.
Choose your own adventure
Guests, meanwhile, are assured of the hosts' reliability through Withlocals' quality checks. After hosts advertise their experience on the website, Withlocals' headquarters verifies their basic information and sends a Withlocals ambassador to visit the host to inspect the location and give a short training program before approving the experience.
Another Philippines tour you can find on Withlocals from Clyde R, features a meal with a Filipino family in Antipolo City – where you can dine while enjoying a beautiful view of the skyline.
To give you an idea of the services offered, here are a few other Withlocals experiences that are currently available on the site. Remember to check the notes included with each adventure – some of them indicate costs in addition to the main price.
1. Paddy fields and firefly experience with Kian Yong in Malaysia (68.75 euros, around P4062 or $92)
In this activity, you visit paddy fields and local Chinese temples, eat well at local fruit stalls, observe the freely-roaming monkeys, watch fireflies while on a boat ride, and end the activity-packed day with a seafood dinner by the river.
Adrenaline junkies, take note. Bibek's tour is of a different caliber – get on the back of a motorcycle as you're guided around Kathmandu Valley and taken to the hill station of your choice, with stops for lunch at local eateries.
3. 1-day hunt for vintage treasures in Singapore with Min via Activities Withlocals (24.60 euros, approx. P1454 or $33 )
Who doesn't love cool vintage treasures? In this experience, you're taken around the best and most clandestine vintage stores in Singapore, with short breaks in between to eat in famous local restaurants for authentic local food.
Channel your creativity with Made's Fruit Carving activity as you're instructed by a local Balinese artist, who is no other than Made's brother-in-law.
5. Miss Chulee's "Create your own Lanna Lanterns" activity, Chiang Mai, Thailand (7.50 euros, approximately P443 or $10)
In this set-up, guests are taught how to create their own festival lantern out of bamboo and decorate it with traditional Lanna designs.
This tour allows guests to dine at Tiffany’s and be served traditional Vietnamese lunch or dinner sets, including dishes such as chicken/fish/pork with sauce, sautéed vegetables, Vietnamese fish and dill soup, lotus sweet soup, or even specially requested dishes.
In Sri Lanka, host Gracian teaches you how to make your own tea, including plucking the tea leaves yourself at the Hatale Tea Plantation.
Another couple, VJ (the self-titled The Weekend Cook) and Sara, stirs up their favorite traditional Malaysian dishes in a Kuala Lumpur-based experience while happily retelling stories of their own, whether its of their own childhood memories of their beloved country, or on sharing their personal philosphies.
Although Withlocals is based in the Netherlands, its focus has been entirely on Asia so far. You can already sign up as a guide or pick a tour from the options available.
Would you go on a Withlocals tour? Did any of these tours catch you eye? Let us know in the comments below. – with reports from Marina Ferrer/Rappler.com
*(US$1 = 43.73)