In talking to other backpackers, Karlee and I discovered that the type and quality of your trek and homestay in Sapa really varies, depending on the guide you choose. While other people stayed in dorm-like accommodations complete with wifi, Karlee and I kicked it old school, roughing it with Mu and her family. It was a “brilliant” experience (to throw in some Aussie terminology).
Our adventure started with Mu picking us up at our hotel decked out in her hill-tribe gear with her baby (let’s call him Mini-Mu) strapped to her back wearing snow pants (yes, snow pants). We headed through town, just us, Mu, and Mini-Mu, and made our way up the hills surrounding Sapa. I’ve been trying to think of a place I’ve found more beautiful but I honestly don’t think there is one. The corn fields, misty clouds, and particularly the rice terraces are so, so pretty. Very…shire-like. (They also grow a lot of marijuana in the region, as Mu will soon point out).
The trek took about 5 hours, stopping here and there for breaks and photo-ops before we made it to Mu’s village. Her village was adorable, all cornfields and rice terraces with the odd bamboo house thrown in here and there for good measure.
The house we stayed at consisted of two small huts where Mu, Mini-Mu, her husband, her sisters, her brother and his family, and her mother live. They have one giant pig, an entire posse of baby pigs, a number of chickens, a dog, a one-eyed cat with 5 kittens, a rooster, and lots of naked toddlers running around, all in an area smaller than my basement.
The whole homestay experience was actually rather bizarre (though greatly entertaining and quite the time).
- Within the first 5 minutes of arriving Mu had taken one of the 6 grocery bags filled with weed off the hut wall and handed us a 2 foot long water bong (alllllrighty then?). We’d heard that the hill-tribe people get you drunk off rice liquor and then try to sell you things but nobody had mentioned this…
- The house had dirt floors and they cook over a fire yet they own cellphones.
- I woke up from a nap to the sound of a pig squealing, a whacking noise, and then silence. Pretty sure we ate that pig for breakfast.
- Grandma arrived for dinner with a chicken in a basket that they left in the corner all evening. We decided we wanted our own chicken in a basket so Grandma weaved us a bamboo chicken basket the next morning while Mu educated us on the going rate for chickens.
- We slept in a proper four-post bed…in an open bamboo hut with dirt floors.
- I watched a 3-year-old peel an apricot with a machete.
- We went to bed to find a chicken in our bedroom. It pecked Karlee.
- We woke up in the middle of the night to find Grandma in a headlamp, catching said chicken in our bedroom and tossing him outside.
- Mini-Mu spent a lot of time playing with the bong filled with weed.
- We drank boiled water from rice bowls whilst sitting on the dirt floor.
- Grandma kept trying to get us high while her grandkids wove clothing around the fire. When we refused, she switched to offering us tobacco.
- Mini-Mu peed on the floor. Nobody cleaned it up.
- I witnessed a toddler walk a pig on a leash.
- When we were leaving, Mu gave us woven change purses and key chains as parting gifts. She also tried to give us an entire grocery bag full of weed for the road.
- Mu’s husband drove us part of the way back to Sapa on his motorbike. We stopped mid-way for him to gift the chicken in the basket to an old lady on the side of the road.
While there were definitely some…odd? moments, Mu truly was a sweetheart. She went above and beyond with her guiding (even sewing a hole she noticed in my shirt for me) and made it a very memorable experience. If you ever go to Sapa, go see Mu (though there’s lots of Mu’s…so make sure it’s our Mu). You won’t regret it.
I heart Sapa.