After our first day of trekking through the Sapa mountains, we arrived at the house of a local ethnic minority family. This is where the local homestay will take place for us.
Co, our Sapa O’Chau guide, brought us into the house and introduced us to the owners and their beautiful children who also speak basic English. We were then brought to the balcony where we could chill and enjoy some drinks. We changed into the slippers provided (hello smelly feet!), sat there and chatted.
Co came around and showed us our bedrooms. I shared a room with the 2 American ladies but had my little bit of privacy since there’s a divider between my room and theirs. The bedroom had beds with mosquito nets, mattresses, pillows and thick blankets. No frills, just the basic necessities.
Except the balcony which had natural lighting, the whole interior of the house was dark and it appeared that the family was used to moving around in the dark. There was some light from the stove though, boiling hot water and cooking some food.
Just right next to our bedroom, there was another big stove with a huge wok and a lot of leaves in it. That’s the herbs for our medicinal bath later.
Our hosts were busy preparing dinner – in the dark – whilst we chill out. Frankly, it was so dark that it was really difficult to take any pictures. I could barely see what was going on and had to listen to all the actions going on around the house. Things were clearer (for a split second) when the camera went off.
I helped to wrap the spring rolls and the neighbour cooked them.
The light inside the house didn’t come on until the sun set. And whilst the food was still being prepared, we went for our medicinal bath. Technically it wasn’t a bath, it’s just soaking in a big wooden barrel with the water from the herb cooked AND a few of us shared the same water… I was the second in line so I guess it wasn’t that bad.
I got out of the barrel after less than 10minutes but was later told the effects would only be more visible if we soaked ourselves for at least 20 minutes. Anyhow, my “bath” was quite refreshing (just try not to think about what’s in the water after the first person went in).
[I didn’t manage to get the photos of me inside the barrel from the trekkers… boohoo….]
While waiting for dinner, we played with the kids and the puppies that have wandered inside.
Shortly after, dinner was ready and the whole table was full of food!
Only the adults were at the table. The children were having their dinner somewhere else (I couldn’t see because it was dark!)
At the dinner, we were offered rice wine and everyone took a sip. Boy, it was STRONG! The male host was really happy that Paul, the only male in our group was drinking with him. I guess it’s not often that he finds a drinking mate.
Everyone talked and laughed over dinner and it was really enjoyable. From the chatting session after dinner, we got to know that our hosts’ eldest daughter (who was married) was going to give birth that very night!
The children played with marble after dinner and 5-stones. It was so long ago since I last played 5-stones so I gave it a go. It wasn’t easy because they literally use stones and trying to pick the stones up from the uneven floor is a skill!
Everyone was tired so we went to bed pretty early. The thick blanket made sure we were kept warm but none of us got a good night’s sleep – the rooster calling at 1am in the morning and the puppies whining in the middle of the night are just 2 of the factors. I can’t really blame anyone for my lack of sleep since I’m a light sleeper. And to be honest, being a city-kid, I was having problem sleeping in such environment.
When we woke up the next morning, there wasn’t much to do so we played with the dog and checked out the family’s (pet) animals.
And…. we had breakfast – banana and crepe! The host family cooked everything – not fantastic but still delicious.
We also played with the children and the neighbour’s children.
Before leaving for our second day of trekking, I got to try on the traditional Red Dao costume. It was thick and heavy. But I thought I looked cute 🙂
The homestay may not be suitable for everyone, especially those who prefer to have a comfy bed and a nice warm bath that you can only find in a hotel. However, I would highly recommend those who want to have a “local” experience to try it out. Our hosts were friendly and warm. I appreciate that they opened up their home to tourists so that people like us see and know what their live is all about, or at least a wee bit of that.
When the rest of the world was trying to get their hands on the newest gadets, the people here at Sapa were busy working in the fields trying to make ends meet. The younger children were playing marbles with their siblings and friends, coming up with imaginary games with the used bottle caps they found, disturbing their pets or even just having a peek-a-boo session with new friends (us) they met. They have no toys, no Ipad, no TV, no computer, no x-box but they seemed so much happier (and may I add healthier) than many of the children living in our very urbanised world who have everything they wanted.
I wouldn’t say that living with the locals for just 1 night changed my life; but it did give me a different perspective. To know and see what’s happening around the world shown only on TV, magazines or newspapers is unlike going through it yourself. I know I will treasure this invaluable experience for a long long time.
Have you tried homestay in Sapa or visiting the ethnic minority market? Tell me about it.