When I had the opportunity to visit Sapa, I had no doubt I wanted to experience the homestay with a Black H'Mong tribe. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had, as it couldn't get more authentic to experience the real life in this beautiful region of Vietnam.
What is a homestay with a tribe in Sapa like?
The homestay in Sapa
Our guide Bau, her husband, her mom and their 3 kids live a simple, and very welcoming home. It’s 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.
"Homestay in Sapa was one of the best experiences I've ever had"
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 to hang our clothes and shoes to dry after trekking on a rainy day.
There’s no refrigerator and no running water inside the house. Spring water 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.
"We hang out by the fire to watch Bau and momma Ly cooking, we also used the fire to dry our wet clothes and shoes from trekking in the rain"
The Black H'Mong Culture
The 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.
They plant and harvest rice to sell and eat.
Each tribe speaks their own languages. Our guide could speak H’mong, 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 tours or planting rice. They learn how to speak English so that they can work with trekking and tourism. They dress in traditional clothes, have long, beautiful hair and like to wear silver jewelry, which they also make themselves.
I also learned that the men are the 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 (yummy) Food
The food 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 markets. 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.
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.
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.
Noodles are a winner - noodles with vegetables, noddles with chicken, noodles with pork, noodles with noddles.
Vegetable spring rolls with homemade sweet chili sauce, steamed rice, veggie soup, noodles (have I've said noddles 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.