Thinking about going to Sapa, Vietnam but doesn’t know where to start? What trekking should you do? Is a Sapa homestay with a local hill tribe for you? You are in the right place! You are about to find everything you need to know about trekking and Sapa homestay with a Black Hmong family.
When planning my 2 weeks itinerary to Vietnam, I invested plenty of time researching, studying, and creating an itinerary that would include the best things to do and see in Vietnam, and at the top of my list was to experience a Sapa Homestay.
I knew my trip to Sapa would be challenging. It would involve strenuous hiking in the mountains as I did 3-day hiking in Sapa, and I would need to figure out how to communicate and eat whatever I would be served by my Black H’ mong family.
But the opportunity to trek among the misty rice fields and the highland villages of the hill tribes in Sapa was going to be epic, especially when you know that you are supporting responsible travel.
Here you can also read about my real-life experience living with a Black H’Mong family that allowed me to discover the most authentic Sapa Homestay in the stunning and remote mountains of Sapa, Vietnam and this can also be your experience!
Now you are about to find out all you need to know about a Sapa Homestay and have all your questions, answered!
You might also be interested in:
- Ethical Travel in Sapa and Why I recommend booking an independent Guide
- Complete 3-days trekking in Sapa + Homestay Itinerary
- Ultimate Guide to Plan a Trip to Vietnam
- Sapa Homestay Overview
- Where is Sapa, Vietnam?
- How to Get to Sapa, Vietnam?
- What about if I only want to stay in the town of Sapa?
- How to Find an Authentic Homestay in Sapa with a Hill Tribe?
- What to Expect from a Homestay in Sapa?
- How is the weather in Sapa?
- What to Pack for Sapa?
- My Experience with a Homestay in Sapa
- What a typical day at a Homestay in Sapa looks like?
- The Black Hmong Culture in Sapa
- The Food at a Homestay in Sapa, Vietnam
- Sapa Homestay Conclusion
Sapa Homestay Overview
Here is a quick overview, in case you a hurry to read the whole article now, and find out what to expect when you choose to do a Sapa Homestay. Also, I recommend you read more here on how choosing an independent homestay in Sapa helps the local community.
A homestay simply means an overnight stay in the home of one of the local ethnic minorities. As I always promote responsible travel and encourage giving back to the local communities, trekking and homestay with a local Black Hmong family are extremely important to the area, and this type of tourism benefits the entire community.
If you are someone who takes full advantage of your trips and you are a free-spirited adventurer who is looking for an authentic experience, Sapa could be for you. If you’re not afraid of traveling to remote areas of our planet and you appreciate the simplicity of life while you immerse yourself with the locals, respecting and learning from them, Sapa would be a great destination!
The itineraries will vary, depending on the length of time you choose, the guide, and the weather conditions, but each experience is remarkable and unique, I chose to hike and homestay in Sapa for 3 days and 2 nights.
It depends on the length of time and the type of tour you choose to do, and if it includes meals and homestay. If you book in advance from a tour company, it can cost from $60-$100 per person, and normally it also includes your meals and homestay. You have an option to book a tour in advance with a travel agency, and I recommend choosing an ethical tour operator like this one.
Now, if you book with a local lady the price can be around $30-$50 per day – again, it depends on what is included such as length of time, meals, homestay, etc.
They don’t expect you to tip them but considering that they receive very little help from the government, and they depend heavily on tourism, a few extra dollars will help them a lot! Also, considering that your experience is already very cheap to go trekking in Sapa, plus meals and homestay. So I recommend tipping them, with whatever you can and think they deserve.
Homestay in Sapa is a great way to support the locals and to help the income to be with the locals. Improving dramatically the host’s lives and village overall. As a strong supporter of ethical travel, I recommend booking directly with a local lady instead of a tour company.
But my research prior to going trekking in Sapa, and after talking to my friends in Sapa, I learned that the local tour companies do not always do a fair business with the ladies that they hire to take tourists on the tour. They share a very small commission (much less than half) with the ladies who do the hard work, guiding tourist groups.
If you hire a guide directly, the money will help to clothe their children, buy supplies for their school, invest in their houses, and go back into the community.
You will learn lessons for a lifetime. My Sapa homestay with my guide and now friend, Bau was very profound for me to ponder this, and to wonder if simple is better. Bau lives a simple life, with limited options compared to my life. It is really a life-changer experience. Bau and I became friends and we communicate daily, and even on a very stressful and busy day, she can help me to slow down for a few minutes and to put a big smile on my face anytime when I get the message “Paula, I miss you…when am I going to see you again in Sapa?”
If you are interested to hire Bau as your guide, please leave a message at the end of this article, and I will share her contact information with you.
Where is Sapa, Vietnam?
Sapa is located in the Northwest of Vietnam, beyond the clouds in a mountain town in Lao Cai Province which also includes Fan Si Pan. The highest mountain in Vietnam with a height of 3,142m above sea level.
Sapa District is dominated by the Hoang Lien Son mountain range which is at the Eastern extremity of the Himalayas. Sapa is a remote place in Vietnam located about 350 km northwest of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border, and 19 km from the town.
The city of Sapa lies at an altitude of about 1,600m, bringing in a cool foggy site.
- You can visit only the town of Sapa and its surroundings or
- You can hire a local guide and trek the mountains in Sapa for 3-days
How to Get to Sapa, Vietnam?
What about if I only want to stay in the town of Sapa?
If you decide to only visit the town of Sapa, there are several activities available to choose from. If you opt to explore Sapa Town independently, you can book your hotel here. Here are the best things to do in Sapa:
- Cau May Street – It is the main street, where most restaurants and cafes are located
- Sapa Market – Next to the bus station, it is a great place to visit if you are looking for shopping local products. It is open daily from 6 AM to 2 PM
- Sapa Culture Museum – It is a little museum that is worth visiting to learn more about the local story.
- Heaven’s Gate – You will have the best views of the Sapa valleys, but sometimes the fog makes it challenging as it covers the stunning view.
- Thac Bac Waterfall – Close to Heaven’s Gate, you can combine a visit to both during one trip.
How to Find an Authentic Homestay in Sapa with a Hill Tribe?
You have an option to book a tour in advance with a travel agency, and I recommend choosing an ethical tour operator like this one. Or you can book directly with a local lady, if you are interested in my friend Bau, please leave me a comment at the end of this article and I will personally connect with you to provide her contact information.
Another option is to book a tour upon your arrival in Sapa. You can negotiate and book a tour with one of the trustworthy local ladies. They’ll be waiting for guests at the bus stop in Sapa Town (your first stop).
The local ladies will be waiting for guests at the bus stop in Sapa Town (your first stop). I highly recommend booking directly because the experience you will have with them is the most authentic, they are very knowledgeable about the mountains and villages in Sapa Also, they can cook very well, they will take good care of you, they speak good English and the most importantly, you will be giving back to the community.
What to Expect from a Homestay in Sapa?
Before you go any further, it is important to find out if homestay in Sapa is really for you. I have listed a few things I have experienced during my 3 days of hiking and homestay in Sapa. Keep in mind that this is a very authentic way to explore and learn about the local culture, and you will be treated as a local:
WHAT IS A HOMESTAY: as the name suggests, is an overnight stay in someone’s else house.
THE HOUSE: They are very simple and you will emerge inside their lifestyle, sharing not only the house but also the culture, the food, and lifestyle with your hosts. The accommodation is very basic but very clean, and the houses are similar to hunts, without much natural lighting. There is no refrigerator and they cook using a fire pit in the middle of the kitchen – therefore, expect to have some smoke inside the house and all over your clothes and luggage.
YOUR ACCOMMODATION: It will be inside the house, and you may have a separate room – at least you will have a bed for yourself. The mattresses are very thin, but the bedding was very neat and clean.
TOILET: Most likely will be not attached to the house and it may or may not have running water as well as a gas hot shower.
FOOD: This Will be prepared by the host and their family. They will cook delicious food for you, using fresh ingredients and it is a combination of vegetables, spices, noodles and maybe some meat. If you are picky with your food, consider that you will be eating whatever they will serve you…and everything is delicious! Below I have a full session about the food.
SPECIAL GUESTS: You may see and even have to share some space with some bugs and spiders. You will wake up at about 5:00 AM with the rooster crowing, and you will be sharing the house with puppies and kitties – Black H’ mong people love animals, and I do too!
TREKKING IN ANY WEATHER CONDITIONS: When you decide to trek in Sapa, consider that it may be humid, or it may rain…heavy! You will trek from 4-6 hours straight in some hills, but it is not a difficult level.
How is the weather in Sapa?
The dry season begins around January and lasts until June. January and February are the coldest and foggiest months of the year.
The best time to visit Sapa is between March to May. Sometimes the temperature can drop to almost freezing, and it can even snow in the mountain, and you can find yourself blocked by a thick wall of fog.
June and August, often rain, especially in the mornings. If possible, choose to visit during the week, when the town is less crowded. The average temperature of the Sapa area is always 60-65F (15-18°C), with a maximum of 86F (30°C) and a min of 4F (1°C).
What to Pack for Sapa?
Make sure that you have packed everything needed because you won’t find stores in the remote mountains if you are staying in the villages.
Pack light, comfortable and smart: a
- A travel backpack bag for a change of clothes
- Dry fit clothes and layers are also a great idea
- Some warm clothing is needed as the mornings and nights can be quite cool
- Shoes with a good grip, and hiking boots are a great option for the wet season, they will be very muddy
- A rain jacket is a must any time of the year
- Hiking pants
- Extra socks, hat, underwear, and swimsuit if you plan to swim in the waterfall
- Toiletry, toilet paper, and mirror
- Personal items such as medication, flashlight, sunscreen, insect repellent, and wipes
- Some snacks for the hiking and a refill waterbottle
- Ideal shoes for heavy rain are rubber boots, which you can buy at a local market for approx. US$4.00
My Experience with a Homestay in Sapa
My guide Bau and her family live in a simple, and very welcoming home. The house is made of wood boards (barn boards) with a living room and 2 bedrooms – one is for the couple and the other for the grandma and the kids, where they all share the same bed.
In the loft of the house is an area where they used to stock all the rice they harvest for the year, and now offer as a cozy bedroom for visitors.
My Sapa Homestay House
On your homestay Sapa, the kitchen is the highlight of the house where everyone gathers together around the small fire pit in the middle of the floor. It is used to cook meals, warm the house in the winter, and hang our clothes and shoes to dry after trekking on a rainy day.
There’s no refrigerator and no running water inside the house. Springwater that comes directly from the mountain through a series of PVC pipes to the back of the house is used to cook and wash dishes.
Adjacent to the house is a western bathroom with a hot shower that Bau’s family was able to build with the help of the money she makes from trekking. It is encouraging to see them investing in their homestay and making it into their business.
My Sapa Homestay Family
Bau shares the house with her husband, her mom (momma Lyli) who helps with trekking and takes care of the house, and her 3 beautiful young children.
I got the chance to spend a lot of time interacting and playing with the kids. They do not speak English, but it didn’t limit our interaction, as we played games, colored books together, and also shared some songs. They love to have guests, and they show it by their curiosity and warmth in welcoming the guests into their home.
Bau just amazes me – she is a very young, and extremely hard worker. During the rice harvest, she works on the family’s land, and she also works hard as a “trekking lady”.
Bau doesn’t only work hard, but she is an entrepreneur.
She shared with me that she is working hard as a trekking guide and saving money so she can build a larger house to accommodate her guests better.
She also learned how to speak English from doing the trek and talking to her guests. During my stay with Bau, she couldn’t write in English, and I gave her a book on how to learn basic English.
A few months later I started to receive text messages from Bau and also see her excellent posts on her social media in English…WOW! She is a fast learner and a very smart young lady. I am still friends with Bau and her family, and I often get messages from Bau and the kids. It is gold!
What a typical day at a Homestay in Sapa looks like?
Upon your arrival at the house, you will already feel you emerge with the lifestyle of the Black H’ mong family. They will offer you some of their sandals so you can rest your feet after a long day of trekking and will offer you a cup of hot tea prepared at the fire pit in the middle of the kitchen.
You will share the common area with the family, while your host and the family will cook dinner, and if they have kids or pets at the house, it is a great time to connect.
Your guide will most likely speak English, and the rest of the family may or may not speak…your guide will help you to communicate and translate if you have any questions or want to play with the kids.
Dinner is served and everybody will seat around the table and share the food – after dinner, it is time to crash, and you will be taken to your accommodation by your guest. Don’t expect them to offer you a shower, but you can ask for one if they have one at the house.
In the morning breakfast will be served around 7:00 AM and there is a high chance you will be served yummy fresh pancakes and fresh fruits.
Then it is time to go for your trek with your guide. The guide will show you the villages, and the rice paddies, and you will get the chance to meet other hill tribes and learn more about real life in the mountains of Sapa.
In case you are staying a second night at a homestay, at the end of the trek, you may stop at a local market and shop for fresh ingredients that will be used to cook dinner.
The Black Hmong Culture in Sapa
O Black H’Mong people dress in black and they make their own clothes. The fabric is made of hemp and they use indigo to dye the fabric, and everything is handmade. In many houses, you can see a big vat of indigo and big wooden looms that they use to dye their clothes. I was invited to a local wedding and I had to dress like the locals.
They plant and harvest rice to sell and eat!
Each tribe speaks its own language. My guide Bau could speak Hmong, Vietnamese, and English, but could not communicate with other hill tribes.
The women are very hard workers, and they work even when they are pregnant or carrying their young babies with them during the trekking tour or planting rice. They learn how to speak English so that they can work with trekking and tourism.
The Black H’ mong dress in traditional clothes, have long, beautiful hair, and like to wear silver jewelry, which they also make themselves.
I also learned that men are property owners. The girls are expected to marry at a young age, have kids, serve their husbands, and work hard to provide for the family.
My guide asked me a lot of questions about my culture, and I found her curiosity intriguing. We learned a lot from each other.
The Food at a Homestay in Sapa, Vietnam
The food in my homestay in Sapa was just amazing; among the best meals, I ate in Vietnam!
I am a big fan of healthy food and preparing my meals from raw ingredients. They buy fresh ingredients at a village market. We were also treated to the delicious rice that Bau and her family grow on their own land.
Animal protein is not very common for our host’s family, but they do serve it when they have special guests. They have good options if you like chicken or pork, and they also have many vegetable options. They use pork fat to cook and it makes the food taste amazing.
My guide Bau and her family cooked dinner for us, using the fire pit in the middle of the house and the spices smell was just amazing. They really put their heart while they are cooking a meal, and they are so proud of their gift to cook for their guests.
We all sat at a very small table in the house and shared the small dishes, which made it more special. As Anthony Bourdain said, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together”.
During our meal, I asked Bau what her favorite food was, and she answered “rice”. Then I asked her if she could choose any food in the world what would she want, and her answer was “Rice, I like rice”. If you ask me what my favorite food is, I could create a list. We have so many options to choose from.
Noodles are a winner – noodles with vegetables, noddles with chicken, noodles with pork, noodles with noodles.
Vegetable spring rolls with homemade sweet chili sauce, steamed rice, veggie soup, noodles (have I said noodles before?), steamed pumpkin, broccoli, or any other vegetable, and pan-fried chicken or pork.
For breakfast, Bau would make some amazing pancakes (crepes) with fresh eggs and fruit, honey, and the best Vietnamese black coffee.
Sapa Homestay Conclusion
I hope you found all the answers to your question about the Sapa homestay with a Black Hmong family. So, just like you, I also researched an authentic experience to go hiking and do a homestay in Sapa from a blog, that gave a very honest and helpful review.
I found this article during my searches, After Living with the Black H’ mong, I chose a lady named Bau to be my guide and to share her home, family, and lifestyle. And I became friends with the bloggers (Megan and Steve) and also, with Bau, my guide in Sapa. So it seems that life always gifts us with people who share the same passions 😉
If you are interested to hire Bau as your guide, please leave a message here and I will share her contact information – Also, after you go on your Sapa trekking and homestay,m I would love to hear about your experience too!
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