Discover the most authentic Sapa Homestay when you experience real-life in the stunning and remote mountains of Sapa, Vietnam. Here you can find all you need to know about Homestay with the Black Hmong in Sapa, Vietnam.
Thinking about going to Sapa but doesn’t know where to start? What trekking should you do? Is a homestay with a local hill tribe for you? Look no further, here you can find everything you need to know about trekking and homestay with a Black Hmong family in Sapa.
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.
Now you are about to find out all you need to know about a Sapa Homestay and have all your questions, answered!
- Where is Sapa, Vietnam?
- How to Get to Sapa, Vietnam?
- Sapa Homestay Overview
- 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
- Homestay in Sapa Conclusion
- WHAT IS NEXT?
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 heigh 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 in 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 surrounding or
- You can hire a local guide and trek the mountains in Sapa for 3-days
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 of 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 is challenging as it covers the stunning view.
- Thac Bac Waterfall – Close to the Heaven’s Gate, you can combine a visit to both during one trip.
How to Get to Sapa, Vietnam?
You can get to Sapa by motorcycle (takes about 10 hours from Hanoi), by bus, or by overnight train (9 hours).
I chose the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, as it is the easiest and most convenient way of getting to Sapa. Note that the tickets need to be booked in advance from Hanoi Train Station, for more information, click here.
Upon your arrival at Lao Cai train station, you can take the mini-bus up into the mountains to Sapa Town, which takes approximately an hour.
Mini-bus tickets can be purchased at the train station when you arrive (just get in line with other people catching the mini-buses).
Sapa Homestay Overview
Sapa is a unique place, very culturally rich with different hill-tribe minorities, lush mountain ranges, rice fields, and overall, breathtaking views! Once there, you’ll easily understand why I love it so much.
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.
Read more here on how choosing an independent homestay in Sapa helps the local community.
Tourism in this part of the country has increased in the past few years due to the beautiful trek and also the opportunities to live like a local at a homestay with one of the hill tribes.
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.
After I search and find this amazing article of Living with the Black H’ mong, I chose a lady named Bau to be my guide and to share her home, family, and lifestyle.
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 or directly with a local lady, but if you don’t have the chance to book in advance don’t worry, you still can book a tour with one of the trustworthy local ladies upon your arrival in Sapa.
They’ll 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, 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.
LOCAL GUIDE IN SAPA
If you are interested to hire Bau as your guide, please leave a message here or send me an email at email@example.com
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 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 from 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 to make your stay more comfortable: a small bag for a change of clothes, a mirror, flashlight, toilet paper, socks, hat, underwear, personal medication, sunscreen, insect repellent, wipes, and some snacks.
Some warm clothing is needed as the mornings and nights can be quite cool. A rain jacket is a must. Dry fit clothes and layers are also a great idea. Shoes with a good grip, hiking boots are a great option for the wet season, it will be very muddy. Ideal shoes for heavy rain are rubber boots, 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 also 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 welcoming of the guests in their home.
Bau just amazes me – she is a very young, and extremely hard worker. During the rice harvest, she works at 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, the rice paddies, you will get the chance to meet other hill tribes and learn more about the 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’ve 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.
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Homestay in Sapa Conclusion
I really recommend including the homestay experience if you are trekking in Sapa.
Book direct with a local lady: As a strong supporter of Ethical Travel, I recommend you to book directly with a local lady instead of a tour company. During my research prior to the trek in Sapa, I read that some of the local tour companies do not do fair business with the ladies they hire to take tourists on the tour. While I was there, I confirmed that they charge the tourists full price, and only pay a very small commission (much less than half) to the ladies who do the work guiding tourist groups. If you hire the guides directly, the money will help clothe the children, buy supplies for their school, invest in their houses, and go back into the community.
Cultural experience – Homestay is much more than only a bed for the night, it is an enlightening and enjoyable experience. You will have the chance to step away from the Sapa district and be able to explore the mountains and learn how the hill tribes live in the remote areas of the mountains. I was even invited as a special guest to a local wedding and had the most memorable experience.
Support the locals – Homestay 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.
Lessons for a lifetime: Bau lives a simple life, with limited options compared to my life. It was very profound for me to ponder this, and to wonder if simple is better. It is really a life-changer experience. Bau and I became friends and we communicate very often, 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?”
LOCAL GUIDE IN SAPA
If you are interested to hire Bau as your guide, please leave a message here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT IS NEXT?
If you are going to travel to Vietnam, pre-planning, researching, and understanding what you are looking for will help make your travels far more successful and safe.
- I have written the whole guide about Ethical Travel in Sapa and how we can help the local community through our visit.
- You can find all the information you ned on this Vietnam Travel Guide
- If you are planning a trip to Halong Bay here you can find the information to plan your visit
- I recommend this Responsible travel article and to support the local communities.
- If you are planning to hike long-distance, make sure to do some fitness preparation prior to your trip and respect your limits