One thing we were both looking forward to immensely on this Big Adventure of ours is Home-stays. The chance to meet local people, spend the night with them and sample real life in Vietnam.
Sa Pa, in the North East of Vietnam is the perfect place and is fairly easily accessible via an overnight train. We arrived at 5:30am in Lao Chai with virtually no sleep as the train was a little bumpy and noisy! A surreal start while waiting for our mini bus to fill up and then we were on our way around the winding roads of the mountains while the sun rose.
We arrived at the meeting point for our trek 3 hours early so decided to pay £3 and have a room for a couple of hours sleep. Neither of us have ever slept so well in just 2 hours. We woke refreshed and ready for a days trekking!
The town of Sa Pa is well equipped for tourists with many “foot massage” services, bars, restaurants and backpack sellers. Our first day of trekking started at 9:30am with just 3 other tourists, 2 English and 1 Australian. All a great fun to chat to as we walked out of town, accompanied by an entourage of local women from nearby villages who love to walk with you, asking you everything from where you come from to how many children your sisters have. They were great fun and welcome company.
The valley is a stunning site even from Sa Pa and it just gets better. We walked through tiny villages and medieval wooden houses, meeting a wide array of locals and their children, all very friendly and curious of these crazy looking tourists in their rambling gear.
An amazing lunch of vietnamese food and a brisk afternoon walk up and down the valley through more villages lead us to our guide’s house where 3 of us stayed the night. We met almost his entire family including 6 nephews and other friends who drank rice wine with us and ate grasshoppers. The spread of food was amazing and grasshoppers are surprisingly tasty! The view from the house was absolutely breathtaking. The house was very basic and simple, the only luxury being a TV that our guide’s sister sat and watched while the men got drunk. Just another day in Vietnam.
The next day the trekking got a little more serious. Steeper inclines and declines lead us to a gorgeous waterfall that slipped down the side of the mountain. We passed through a forest of Bamboo at one point. The view from any part of the Sa Pa region is stunning. A gang of 4 girls followed us this day. Giggling all the way and bounding up and down the hillside with ease while we gingerly picked our footsteps.
We spent the night back at the hotel we started in. More fantastic Vietnamese food followed by one of the most painful but enjoyable massages I’ve ever had. It’s amazing how little English someone needs to know to hold an entertaining conversation. Especially when they get to teach you Vietnamese! Something we’re slowly picking up here and there.
The following day we trekked once more to the village of Cat Cat. A much less remote village just outside Sa Pa town that’s well equipped to serve the less ambitious tourist. It felt like more of themed attraction than an inhabited village. Although the herd of goats running through at one point reminded you that people live and work here.
Yet another stunning waterfall, of which there seems to be quite a few in this region and steep trek back to Sapa in unseasonably hot weather. We’d be told to bring Coats just in case but it was 28 degrees every day.
We had an amazing time and would highly recommend it to people who love active traveling. We learned more in 3 days than any guidebook could tell us and made a new Australian friend along the way who coincidentally ended up being our room mate on the train home. This time assisted by some cheap beers and sleeping tablets!
Back in Hanoi we chilled out for the day, editing the huge amount of photos i have. We head off to Ha Long Bay in the morning for 2 days of cruising and island hopping.