Opportunities in a small town

1 Chai showing photos of visitors, including popular artistes from Singapore, who visited Bekok. 2 The antique clocks are among the collection of antiques on display at the homestay.3 This is an antique record player on display at Chai’s homestay.— Photos: Foong Pek Yee.

BEKOK: The preparations for his daughter’s wedding were going smoothly, except for one thing.

There was no place to house relatives or guests of the Chai family at Bekok New Village in Bekok, Johor.

Many had come from far and would have to stay for a night or two.

The predicament, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the bride’s father, Peter Chai.

“I saw the potential of a homestay business in the village, and started planning for it,” said Chai, recalling the incident that happened 12 years ago.

But it was only in 2011 when Chai finally became the proud owner of Bekok Homestay.

The 53-year-old has expanded his business from one shophouse to three units.

The expansion is timely because tourism, especially eco-tourism which Bekok has much to offer, is increasingly popular, nowadays.

“Bekok is famous for durians and there are waterfalls nearby. Tourists also come for jungle trekking and to experience life in a village,” he said pointing out to the many attractions in and around the village he grew up in.

The antique clocks are among the collection of antiques on display in Hostel Bekok in Bekok. Pix by Foong Pek Yee.
The antique clocks are among the collection of antiques on display at the homestay.

For nature lovers, Bekok’s location at the western entrance to Endau Rompin National Park makes it ideal.

Apart from that, a new road joining Bekok to Paloh, Kluang is in the pipeline.

Chai said Bekok’s tourism would also benefit from the construction of the road as it would cut the travelling distance between Bekok and Paloh to 16 km compared to the 45km on the trunk road.

“Tourists from Bekok can go to Mersing, a popular tourist destination, via Paloh and vice versa,” said Chai on the importance of connectivity.

Bekok, located within the Labis parliamentary, is about 10km from the Jalan Yong Peng-Segamat main road.

It is also easily accessible by train.

The Bekok Homestay, located along Jalan Stesen in Bekok, is in front of the Bekok railway station.

Chai said the peak season for his homestay business was during the year-end school holidays and festive seasons.

“Many young people who return to the village for festive seasons or even over the weekends opt for homestays, these days.

“This is especially for those with children because their ancestral houses usually does not have enough room to accommodate all of them,” he said.

This is an antique record player on display in Hostel Bekok in Bekok. PIX by Foong Pek Yee.
This is an antique record player on display at Chai’s homestay.

Chai said his wife Sam Yock Kuan, 49 and one of his daughters Chai Siow Wei, 28, were running the business for him.

He meanwhile continues to work in Singapore from Monday to Thursday and returns to Bekok over the weekend to manage the business.

The father of five - a son and four daughters - Chai said the homestay business was also part of his retirement plan.

Despite many young people having left the village to cities to earn a living, Chai is optimistic that tourism and other related business would give the village a new lease of life.

Besides developing the area, he said concerted efforts to promote tourism there was also important.

Chai cited the Bekok Festival organised by Labis MP Datuk Chua Tee Yong last year, which had help promote the town and bring in more business.

Chai is also in the midst of completing his museum, located at his homestay.

This was his effort to help educate the younger generation of Bekok’s history.

“This is the place to be proud of and also for tourists to have a memorable holiday,” he said.

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