When I was entering Vietnam I expected to see a country bearing the marks of the war, even after all these years. My expectations were soon fading out, at least partially: despite the people are poor, they learned a lot from their past and are now decided to build a new, better future for themselves.
One of the regions where you can really experience the willpower of the locals is Sapa. I heard a lot of stories about this unique area in the Noeth of Vietnam, where the norm is having a homestay with the locals. As a result, I was determined to enjoy this experience and learn how locals live.
When I arrived by bus in Sapa, lots of smiling women greeted me. They were asking everyone if we had accommodation, they were offering hand-made souvenirs and guided tours.
Normally, I would never accept a stranger’s offer for accommodation, but these girls seemed honest. Their look – they were dressed in traditional costumes, which seemed to be hand-made – and their enthusiasm, as well as the fact they were accompanied by kids, made me feel rather comfortable around them.
My attention was grabbed by two young girls, who looked to be around 15 years old, dressed in black robes, lined with bright colors. They had pink scarves on their heads and big smiles. They approached me, asking if I had accommodation. They were offering a three day homestay and trekking for $40, which was more than affordable. I asked them if they work with a company and they said no.
Later on, I found there were many businesses in the area which offered homestay experiences for tourists at much higher prices. For a week, some companies would charge as much as $100, while paying the locals only $10!
My girls, Hong and Jo, were from Hmong tribe and they were running their own “business”, trying to support their families. They were opening their home for tourists, trying to share their traditions with them. As it was afternoon, it was enough time to go to the girl’s home, deep inside the Sapa hills.
On the road, we saw lots of local women, selling all types of fruits. I bought papaya, peaches and plums, which were very fresh and delicious.
As we walked, the scenery changed: the buildings left room for rice and hemp plantations. Hong and her sister told me they used hemp to make their clothes. They also told me how they produced their own indigo dye at home, in large barrels.
When we eventually reached the girl’s home I was already evening and I was very hungry. The house was a traditional Hmong home, made from wood, on a concrete slab. It had three rooms, two for sleeping and one for everyday activities. The bathroom was outside, in the garden. Around the house there were several puppies and pigs, as well as chickens.
The mother of the house greeted me, smiling. She didn’t knew English, but it was obvious she was happy to see me and receive me in her house. On the stove there was a big wok filled with something that smelled heavenly.
After Hong showed me around, we sat down to eat. The meal consisted of steamed rice, fried fish and a delicious pork, served with sweet chili sauce. Or course, spring rolls were present.
After we ate and talked about their simple, yet rich life, we all went to bed.
The next day, we had noodles and coffee before we trekked to Lao Chai and Y Linh Ho villages. We visited the local school and helped made lunch with a local family, friends of Jo’s. In the afternoon, the mother and grandmother of the family showed me how to make a traditional robe. Well, part of it.
In the evening, we returned home, ate and went to sleep.
On the third and last day in Sapa, Hong took me to the rice fields, where the locals were gathering the crops. Then we trekked to another village, home of Dao people, another ethnic tribe of Sapa. The women wear large red headpieces and I had the honor to be fully dressed in their traditional costume. I loved it, by the way!
We returned to Hong’s place, where I received gifts from the mother, then Hong took me back to the city, at the bus stop.
The entire experience was amazing! It showed me that Vietnamese people are determined to keep their traditions alive and build themselves a better life. They work hard to earn money, opening their houses and hearts to strangers. They also work hard to put food on the table. They grow their own food, make their own clothes and carry their water from miles away. They use home-made tools to work the land.
All in one, they have a simple lifestyle.
Joining them for couple of days teaches you the beauty of life, showing you that one can smile from the bottom of their heart, even if they don’t have WiFi.