Much like Halong Bay- one spot I had budgeted both time and money for with out question was Sapa. I had heard from locals and tourists alike that I must experience the mountain life in a homestay and do some trekking through Sapa. I was a bit apprehensive of this journey as well as I heard that it has recently become much more touristy to the point where some homestays are not true authentic experiences with the local people as they are advertised.
I went back and forth trying to choose which recommendation to go with. Eventually I opted to join a friend from the Netherlands who had heard through word of mouth of a woman named Nhu. With a quick phone call we were set to go. The rate for one night of food, accommodation, and 1 trek was $20 USD or $30 USD including a second trek. Her contact info is below- as I can highly recommend her!
We booked the overnight bus from Sapa through our hostel for $19 USD round trip. We arrived a bit exhausted at 4:45 in the morning but we were able to stay on the bus until 7:00 or so to continue sleeping (was quite musty once the AC was turned off with 40+ sleeping tourists!) We were relieved for the fresh air but greeted with rain. Soon Nhu and her husband arrived to greet us at the station- not even phased with the weather (I think they are used to the elements). We were given the option to trek the 14 km to their home or to rent a motorbike. Can you guess what we chose? We were a bit too tired and unenthused with the rain for trekking so early and so far. The roads where what you would expect for a remote mountain village.
When we arrived at the home I could see that we were staying in a true homestay- as we had to hike quite a ways to access the house. On the way up we saw another homestay which Nhu remarked had wifi and other luxuries. I was grateful to have a place closer to nature and unplugged even if only for a short time. A small waterfall was flowing beside and we were greeted with clucking chickens, dogs, and the occasional buffalo.
We sat with Nhu and her husband for tea and then enjoyed a delicious breakfast of eggs, fresh bread, and veggies and fruit. Their home felt so cozy- the beds had thick blankets and the smell of burning fire floated through. Nhu shared with us stories of her past and the customs of her culture. Her and her husband built their home together which was really incredible. She started hosting tourists and this is the way she taught herself the English language. She speaks and understands really well. We even got to meet some neighbors who had a beautiful baby boy!
After a cat nap we embarked on our first trek. It was still raining a bit when we left but we weren’t going to let the weather get in the way of this experience. It was super foggy when we arrived- so much that you couldn’t see much more than a few meters ahead. But there was something a bit magical about it. As we trekked on eventually some of the fog and clouds cleared.
The views and closeness with nature was peaceful. Seeing the handiwork and the traditional clothing of the different groups was really beautiful. Nhu stitched all of her own clothes and was in the process of teaching her 9 year old daughter. It was interesting because I expected locals to ask us to buy but instead their strategy is to look at you with a warm smile and silently follow you along for kilometers through the mountains! It was a strange feeling and soon Nhu informed us we must tell them we don’t want to buy otherwise they will follow you all the way and then become upset if you don’t purchase. These women were so lovely and even wanted to hold our hands to help with the slippery terrain. It felt uncomfortable to tell them when we didn’t want to buy but I found it to be important to be honest and not lead them on.
In total I think we hiked about 9 or so kilometers and enjoyed a local lunch at a restaurant (also included in our homestay cost). Unfortunately later in the day I ended up violently ill and had to leave the homestay (picture only having a drop toilet outside and no rubbish bin while you are puking your brains out- was not pretty). But Nhu was so caring like a mother and patted my back trying to make me more comfortable. She even gave us a discount since we didn’t spend the night. I was able to meet her lovely kids just as we left and I was totally bummed I couldn’t spend more time to get to know them.
*As a sidetone if the village life isn’t your cup of tea or you are looking for accommodation for other nights while visiting I ended up staying at Sapa Stunning View 2 Hotel for $12 USD per night. The staff were super friendly and accommodating, the place was very clean, and the bed was one of the comfiest I had in all of SEA!*