Sapa Homestay in a Village Untouched by Tourists
Tucked away between saturated rice terraces and a panorama of mountains is the small village of Lao Chai. Close to 1,000 Black H’mong ethnic minority reside in this village located near Sapa in Northwestern Vietnam. We made our way along dusty and occasionally muddy roads, passing gushing streams and waterfalls, and strolling through other small villages brimming with friendly locals and smiling children. After 8 exhausting yet rewarding miles (12.9 km), we came upon Lao Chai, the small village where we would rest for the night.
Trekking amongst the rice terraces and staying with locals is a popular experience to be had when visiting the mountain town of Sapa. While there are a plethora of trekking and homestay options available, we booked our Sapa homestay experience through Buffalo Tours.
Many homestays take place in the touristic village of Ta Van, but Buffalo Tours takes you off-the-beaten-path to the less frequented village of Lao Chai. Of course, it requires an 8-mile hike to get there, but it was oh-so worth it! We were greeted with warm tea and a piping hot herbal foot bath to soothe our tired bodies and achy feet.
Enjoy the View and Interact with Locals
With our feet resting in the hot bath and a breathtaking view of rice terraces and mountains set before us, we were already loving our homestay experience, and we had only been there all of 10 minutes!
If there’s one thing to which we could attribute our newfound love of Vietnam, it would have to be the people. We have never felt more welcomed in a country or been greeted with so many enthusiastic waves and smiling faces. Our homestay hosts were certainly no exception! We were treated like family as we were welcomed into their home. Their children took to us like new-found neighborhood friends, kicking around a soccer ball, playing with a yo-yo, and sharing some giggles. No real conversations took place between us and the children, but no words were ever needed.
The host mother (affectionately called Ms. Moo) spoke English very well and we were quite impressed to learn that she never received any kind of formal English lessons; she simply learned conversational skills through her interactions with foreigners.
Home-cooked is the H’mong Way
Another highlight of the evening was having the opportunity to witness Ms. Moo and her husband cooking dinner over an open fire, the traditional way of preparing meals in the H’mong villages.
There really isn’t an option to go to a local restaurant (without a far walk) or call in a delivery order to let someone else do the cooking. Even after working hard all day, it’s just a part of their routine, and it’s a great time for family togetherness.
They had quite the elaborate menu planned, even accommodating our vegetarian and non-coriander (cilantro) preferences. We dined on fresh vegetable spring rolls, fish, rice, mushrooms, squash, and other local vegetables. It was quite the feast! Between the two of us, our host family of 5, and our trekking guide, we still weren’t able to finish all that had been prepared, though we came pretty close!
Houses Made by Hand
Collectively built by the villagers themselves, their home was designed with solid structure and comfort in mind. It’s a team effort to build a new home in the village, with many people pitching in to help. We learned that it takes about a year to gather and prepare the supplies and only about 2 weeks to actually build the house. Most of the year of preparation is required for the collected wood and bamboo to soak underwater to prevent later damage from termites and cracking.
The house is designed as one big room with two levels and many different sections. We slept on two mattresses on the upper floor and found it to be rather comfortable! Though after 8-miles of hiking, we probably would’ve been fine sleeping on just about anything!
Rise and Shine
It’s a good thing we went to sleep at a decent hour, because whether you set an alarm or not, you will most likely be woken up with the sun (or even earlier), as the chickens and roosters feel that it is their civic duty to NOT let you sleep past 5 am! That’s village living for you!
All was just as well; we still managed to get (almost) 8 hours of sleep and felt well rested for another day of trekking! We were greeted with yet another gorgeous November day and spent the first hour of the morning just admiring the sun’s rays illuminating the surrounding rice terraces.
Away from the hustle, bustle, and honking in nearby towns, village life is quite peaceful. With nothing but the occasional clucking chicken, quacking duck, and grunting water buffalo to cut the silence, we thoroughly appreciated the tranquil atmosphere in Lao Chai village.
As we enjoyed a delicious breakfast thoughtfully prepared for us, we sat back and observed the harmonious life around. Everyone in the village has a ‘mission’ or a job. Whether tending to the rice terraces, guiding the water buffalo, caring for small children, or serving as the local medicine man, every person plays a role in contributing to the order of the village.
As we travel more frequently, we are continually seeking out deeper travel experiences. It’s easy to follow guidebooks and check off must-see attractions, but we’ve come to realize that in order to truly experience a destination you must interact with the locals and get to know their traditions, customs, and beliefs. It’s then that you realize what a fascinating and multifaceted world we live in!
Our Sapa trekking and homestay experience was provided compliments of Buffalo Tours, a leading travel company providing outstanding customized tours throughout Southeast Asia, and was most recently recognized at Vietnam’s Leading Tour Operator by World Travel Awards. They design expertly-crafted itineraries and tailor-made travel packages with the customer’s interests in mind and take it a step further to ensure their guests have enriching and cultural experiences during their travels. If you are planning a visit to Northern Vietnam and are interested in having a similar Sapa trekking experience, get in touch with Buffalo Tours and let them customize a trekking adventure designed to match your fitness level and desired length of tour.
We’d like to thank Buffalo Tours for this unique and cherished opportunity. As always, our write-ups are an accurate reflection of the opportunities we had.