How to make the most of your trek in the mountains.
While planning my itinerary to Vietnam, I invested a lot 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 homestay in Sapa.
Sapa is located in the mountains in the North of Vietnam, and tourism in this part of the country has increased in the past few years due to the beautiful trekking and 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 a Black H’Mong lady named Bau to be my guide for the 3 day trek and homestay experience in Sapa and here is my detailed itinerary.
Day 1 – Trekking from Sapa Town to the Black H’mong house
Upon our arrival in Sapa Town, Bau, our host, was waiting for us at the bus station. She was extremely warm and spoke excellent English. Her husband took my backpack on his motorbike, leaving me with less weight to carry up the mountains. I only had my photography gear and water bottle with me.
We had a hearty and much needed breakfast at a local cafe and I was ready to start climbing. It was raining a lot and it was very cold (in December). Yes, it gets cold in the winter. As we ascended the hills leaving Sapa Town, we came upon a fork in the trail. Bau asked me if I wanted the Scenic Route, which was more difficult and had leeches, or the Easy Route without leeches or view. Of course I chose the Scenic Route – leeches be damned. The good news is that I didn’t see any leeches, but the bad news is that I didn’t have much of a scenic view because of the heavy rain and low clouds. Even with all the rain and mud along the way, Bau took very good care of me during some challenging parts of the trek, and I only fell on my butt once. These H’mong ladies are very strong!
We passed small villages, water buffalos, waterfalls and had the opportunity to interact with many kids on their way home from school.
A couple of hours into our hike, we stopped in a small village for a simple delicious lunch and hot tea. It was just perfect. I was starving and soaking wet, but I was still amazed by the fact that I was really there, in a place I could not have imagined, and I was enjoying every moment. I definitely appreciated that short chance to rest and recharge my batteries with food before we continued our climb.
Just a detail about the menu, oh well....there was no menu and the only options were noodles or rice with chicken and vegetables, or the vegetarian option, without chicken. It reminded me of when I was a kid, and my mom would serve lunch and say "The meal today is whatever I serve you" ha...so I was not too shocked about only one option, and the best part? It was so tasty and delicious!
We got to our house about 4 hours after arriving in Sapa Town. We sat by the fire pit in the middle of the kitchen and watched Bau prepare our dinner. Because they cook with fresh ingredients, it takes time to prepare.
The kids arrived from school and we had a great time interacting with them, giving the presents I had brought with me and trying to communicate with them. The food was amazing and the house (see additional photos here) was very simple, and I felt so welcomed and relaxed. I was living with the Black H’Mong. I became so overwhelmed at being in such a surreal and dreamlike environment, so far from home. It almost felt like being inside a National Geographic documentary. THAT was the moment that I knew this was going to be a special and unique experience that I would cherish for the rest of my life. I was fully immersed in the present, with no distractions! I was living in the moment and feeling so blessed!
"It almost felt like being inside a National Geographic documentary"
The kids loved the coloring books
Day 2 – Trekking the misty mountains in sapa
Misty mountains in Sapa
I had one of the best nights of sleep of my life. Maybe it was the past night on the train combined with trekking in the rain. Maybe it was some magic going on at Bau’s house, I don’t know, but I slept like a baby.
In the morning Bau cooked an amazing breakfast: fresh pancakes and eggs, fruits, honey and the absolutely best Vietnamese black coffee. It was a feast.
I realized the kids normally do not eat this for breakfast. This food is only prepared for special guests. I reduced my portion in half and have to say I was satisfied to be able to share my meal with the kids. It made me so happy to see them enjoy it. After our breakfast, it was time to hike, and we left the house at 10 AM.
Bau took me through a couple of the Black H’Mong villages and I got to see their lifestyle.
I watched a family making knives and swords, visited the school in the village, crossed beautiful bridges and saw local ladies washing clothes in the river. Pigs, dogs, water bufalos, chickens, cows…all animals walk freely or on private property and I loved seeing people respect animals and treat them as part of their family.
Bau explaining about the indigo
One of the bridges during our trek
Family making swords
Pig family living freely in the mountains
Ladies washing clothes in the river
Kids having fun in one of the villages
Beautiful views of Sapa mountains
Black H'Mong man with the taditional clothes
We trekked for about 5 hours and then the highlight of my day, we stopped at the village market to buy fresh ingredients for dinner. We went home and watched Bau prepare another delicious meal while I spent time playing with the kids and puppies.
At the local market, Bau picking fresh ingredients for dinner
The very modest price that we paid for the homestay with Bau included staying in her house, a fresh breakfast and dinner, trekking as much as we wanted, and lessons about the land, people and everyday life. We took the opportunity to buy her lunch when we stopped in village cafes and also convinced her to let us pay for the ingredients that she would use to cook our meals.
Day 3 – the memorable Black h'mong wedding day
It was another very good night sleep at my house in Sapa, and another great breakfast.
I spent part of my morning taking some pictures of the kids and flying the drone over the beautiful misty mountains. The kids were amazed to see the little “spaceship” flying in their backyard. I have to be honest, the drone technology still amazes me too.
During my stay, Bau surprised me with an invitation to a H’mong wedding party!
I decided to skip the trek on my last day, because I knew that probably I would never have an opportunity like this again in my lifetime.
Arriving at the party, I was welcomed with such hospitality and warmth. We did many toasts with homemade rice wine, danced like no one was watching, and laughed with them even if we could not understand each other’s language (Okay, now it sounds like we had too much rice wine).
We partied for approx. 5 hours, and it was time to return to the house and pack. Bau gave me some very special gifts to remember her by, and I had many tears during my departure.
It was time to say “see you soon” to my new friends and head back to Lao Cai to take the night train and to continue our adventure to Halong Bay.
Expert tip: do not pack after you drink plenty of rice wine, I forgot half of my items at the house and I had a very bad hangover on the night train back to Hanoi.