The night was really cold, no more than 10 degrees Celsius, but that was not really a problem. Mama Chu gave us really heavy warm blankets and we also had each other for some body heat. The next morning we were woken up by the typical morning village sounds straight after sunrise, cocks crowing like mad, dogs barking like crazy, pigs grunting and squealing and chickens clucking stupidly around. We stayed in bed for the next couple of hours, eyes firmly closed trying to get some more sleep despite animal farm raging just outside the thin wooden walls.
We got out of the bed when it was no longer a point pretending we were asleep. We had already been wide awake for the past hour so it was just about time we got out of the bed, washed up and got some breakfast before going trekking.
Much to our surprise, we saw a couple of strangers sitting on the porch. It was Sonia and Victor, two friends from Spain who had just arrived to Sapa and met Mama Chu earlier that morning and were expecting to join us for trekking and homestay for one night.
This was not really a problem, the guest room could easily accommodate up to six guests, though it reminded us that this really is a business for Mama Chu whose main interest is naturally to maximise occupancy of the guest room.
Shortly after we got up our lovely host prepared delicious breakfast (scrambled eggs, vegetables, pork, rice) and would not let us leave the table until all the food was gone.
15 mile hike
What followed was nearly 8 hours of exhausting trekking around a mountain constantly going up and down the trail leading through rice fields, dense forest, local hilltribe villages like Black Hmong and Red Dzao, as well as small settlements with no electricity scattered around the mountains. The trek offered some real insight into the conditions locals live in.
Unfortunately, the terraced rice fields, which are the main tourist attraction in Sapa, were barren because we arrived all the rice was harvested so we could not take that special postcard perfect photographs of lush, vibrant green rice fields. But we still had an awesome day of trekking and this way we have a reason to come back to Vietnam another time.
The dreaded shower
We returned back after sunset totally exhausted craving some of that delicious home cooked meal from Mama Chu’s kitchen.
But first we had to take a shower. As I already hinted earlier, house bathroom was located in the latrine, which was really nothing more than 4 walls of wooden planks topped with a roof. The planks had small gaps between them here and there so it was not that difficult for an outsider to catch a glimpse of someone in a compromising position when going about their private business.
Inside the latrine was a squat toilet and a huge plastic barrel filled to the brim with fresh cold mountain water used both for flushing the toilet and to be poured over one’s body in lieu of shower. The whole logistics, standing in a mini bathtub and pouring a bucketful of fresh (read cold) water over various parts of your body called for a two man job, ideal for a couple although not exactly my idea of a couple showering together.
By the time we finished showering, drying and changed to dry clothes, the dinner was almost ready. Mama Chu did not disappoint, dinner was delicious. After dinner she served a few shots of locally made rice alcohol.
The atmosphere was really nice and friendly with everyone joking and laughing. However, it suddenly turned very awkward when Chi brought in selection of homemade purses and bags for us to buy. We were not exactly sure what was going on and for a moment got a bit suspicious that our lady host plied us with booze on purpose to make us more agreeable. We politely declined their offers as we were not really in the market for new purses or Hmong handbags nor we had any more space in our backpacks.
When Mama Chu realized that this was going nowhere, Chi took her wares away and we continued talking and joking.
The evening gradually came to an end just before 10.00pm. Mama Chu’s husband was still unwell and Chi and her two brothers were supposed to go to school the next morning. We were all really tired anyway, it had been a really long day.
Iffy plans for the last trek
On our second and final morning we were woken up again by animal farm sounds, this time combined with Victor’s snoring but we stayed in bed for another hour or so before it was time to get up for breakfast.
There was a slight confusion during breakfast as to the plans for the day. We expected to go for a short trek, around 3 hours, then return to the house, grab our bags and head back to Sapa via taxi. Mama Chu somehow expected us to leave with all our stuff which we could leave in a local shop next to a main road and then go trekking for 3 hours before we’d return to the shop, pick up our bags and take a taxi to town.
The idea of leaving our valuables with a random shopkeeper was not very appealing so after much discussion Mama Chu relented and agreed to follow our version.
So we all set off and went for a 3 hour walk across rice fields slowly descending down to the valley where we were treated to a delicious sugar cane before we slowly made our way back to her house. It was just after 12.00pm when we arrived back with just enough time to change, say our final goodbyes to everyone, and take those last minute commemorative group photos before grabbing our possessions and going back to valley to catch a taxi.
Shortly after we arrived back to Sapa, we could only say goodbye to Victor and Sonia and after a quick lunch we caught a local bus to Lao Cai where we’d wait for a night train back to Hanoi.
If you have missed the first part of our adventure in Sapa and want to find out how to organise Sapa homestay on your own click here.