We arrived in Sapa at 4 am, but we were allowed to sleep on the bus until sunrise.
When I got off the bus around 7 am, there was a guy waiting for me with “Ana” writtten on a sheet of paper. I wasn’t sure if it was for me since it’s such a common name. When I attempted to verify by asking him, “Is this for 3 days and 2 nights homestay trekking?” I realized he didn’t speak much English. He kept nodding at everything I asked. I could have asked him if he was an alien from Mars and he would have nodded.
I followed him to a van, which then stopped at another bus station to pick up more people.
A bunch of other backpackers (who looked equally confused as I did when I got off the bus) got into the van, and we drove to a hotel.
This was where we would eat breakfast, change into our trekking clothes, and meet our guide.
I introduced myself to the group, we chatted for a bit, and ate WAY too much food (it was buffet style). Our guide came to get us around 8:30.
Of the 13 of us, 8 were Dutch, 1 was Welsh, 2 were Moroccan-French, 1 was Argentinian, and 1 was American (me lol).
We started the trek in really gorgeous rice fields. The first few hours was just amazing vista after amazing vista.
We moved really slowly. We stopped at cafes and took rests every 20-30 minutes. It was a really touristy trek– there were shops EVERYWHERE, and it was never really just us.
There were also 5 or 6 locals who followed us the whole morning. I originally thought they were friends of our guide, but I later found out that our guide had no idea who they were.
Once we got to the lunch area, they pulled out all their products: bracelets, handbags, coin purses, hats, rings… it was a lot. They demanded that we buy things from them because “we follow you all the way here.” This really bothered me. I hated that I felt forced to buy stuff that I didn’t even want.
Their business model was ridiculous, too. It was like demanding that our trekking guide buy stuff from us because we followed her around all day. But I also felt bad for feeling so annoyed; it is their livelihood, and I’m sure this is the only way they get by day-to-day.
After that ambush, it was lunch time. We ate a big restaurant (with WiFi, of course), and I had tofu, cabbage and rice. Veg options galore!
There were more people bothering us to buy their stuff throughout the entire meal. They were seriously relentless. They’d show us a bracelet, we’d say no thank you, they’d try 3 more times, we’d continue to say no thank you, then they would come back with a different item to sell. This would continue every 10 minutes.
After lunch, we stopped by a hemp clothing store. Our guide showed us how they sew the clothes, and how they make clothes shiny.
Our guide then told us a lot about the dating/marital rituals in her tribe.
She said the women get married between the ages of 15-20. There is an annual festival the week after the New Year, where everyone from the different villages meet and look for potential spouses.
Once the guy finds a girl he likes, he “kidnaps” the girl and keeps her in his family’s house for four days. The girl then returns to her family, and her family either drinks rice wine if they want her to marry the guy, or refuses to drink it if they don’t want her to marry him. And then the couple gets married. Or something like that. I don’t think I caught everything.
Our guide got married when she was 16, after 2 months of dating. She’s 22 now and has two kids: one is 3 and a half, the other is 1 and a half.
I continued to chat with our guide as we kept walking. I asked her what her husband does and she told me he’s a student. She’s worried that after he finishes studying and gets a new job, he will leave her. But also that she doesn’t care as long as she keeps house and kids.
She went on to say that before they got married, her husband was poor and people said he was not so handsome. Now that she makes decent money as a guide, everyone says how lucky she is to have married a good-looking guy. Isn’t the world wonderful???!?
She also shared the inequalities between the gender roles here: the men lay around and get drunk while the girls do all the work. Sounds a lot like Myanmar.
It started raining a little and everyone freaked out. It was only a light drizzle, but people were acting like we were in the middle of a huge storm. They were pulling out backpack covers and raincoats, and complaining left and right.
Our guide told us we could go the shorter route if we wanted, and everyone agreed to it.
We got to our homestay around 3.
I couldn’t help but compare this homestay to the one I stayed in when I trekked in Myanmar. In that homestay, there was no electricity, the bathroom was an outhouse with a squat toilet, and we had no hot water.
This homestay had hot water, a sit-down toilet, and even towels.
As a whole, Sapa trekking is just way more developed and way more touristy. I saw dozens of other homestays along the way, the restaurant we ate at for lunch had WiFi, and there were cafes everywhere on the trek.
We showered, played cards, and ate snacks until dinner time. It was nice chatting with everyone. I just love when so many nationalities get together and talk about whatever comes to mind. Everyone has such different backgrounds, different reasons for traveling, and is at different stages at their lives. There’s never a dull moment.