A H’Mong-ous trek – Sapa, Vietnam

Back to basics with the H’Mong tribe

Sapa town square

You wouldn’t believe the last 48 hours of my life. I say this most days since I’ve been backpacking but the last few days have been extraordinary. So much so, I’m writing this post before the other hundred I have to catch up on to take you where I am in the world right now. Having left Allan in Hanoi, Jaimie, Pheobe and I caught a surprisingly pleasant night bus to Sapa, a small mountainous town in north west Vietnam said to experience four seasons in a matter of hours. Even though our pick-up was 30 minutes early leaving us no choice but to grab a doner kebab at the side of the road for dinner and then in true Vietnamese style, we were left waiting for our bus at the side of the road for over two hours, unable to move in fear of it leaving without us. 

Cat Cat Village a few kilometres from Sapa

Anyhow, we arrived in Sapa at around 7am and headed for what was to be my last Vietnamese coffee (sob sob) before finding ourselves a guesthouse called Sapa Cosy 2 which happened to be super cosy. We spent the day walking the 7km round trip to Cat Cat village home to the H’Mong tribe. The region surrounding Sapa is home to three main ethnic minority groups; the Red Dzeo, Tay and H’Mong, which like a lot of villages around Sapa (and the town itself) has become hugely touristy with local people following you with the same old “buy from me” bribe.

Snacks and hot chocolate – a perfect night in Sapa

I didn’t like this at all and was glad to find a quiet Italian restaurant called The Lizard and enjoy a glass of mulled wine and some pumpkin soup by the fire, especially as a storm had hit cutting out the towns power supply. Luckily it returned in time for us to enjoy a night in with blankets, hot chocolate and our favourite – peanut butter Oreos (oh and a coconut cake from Baguette et Chocolat which was slightly disappointing).

Women of the H’Mong tribe in and around Sapa

We had arranged a two day trek with a lady called Song after I read Bobbi’s blog post about a trip with her. I was adamant I didn’t want to do an organised tour as I wanted to experience the real lives of tribal people and I was a little hesitant about going with one of the mamma’s who pester you as you get off the bus so I put my faith in a fellow blogger.

Luscious valley river

As promised, Song was waiting for us in the main square at 9am. I had already had my morning chicken noodle soup from the market but Song needed to get us dinner so we headed back there before starting our trek. Song was extremely kind and asked us what we wanted for dinner and carried two days worth of food for us on her back.

Beautiful rice paddies around Sapa

We trekked for three hours through some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen before stopping for lunch on top of a mountain overlooking the valley, our home for the night. Song was more than happy to answer any questions we had about her people, the H’Mong tribe and her life in Y Linh Ho village.

Y Linh Ho village.

Two older ladies from the neighbouring village had followed us and we assumed they were helping Song but unfortunately like a lot of people in Vietnam they were only trying to sell us stuff. I ended up buying a cheap bracelet to reward their efforts of trekking up a mountain at the old age of 70-80 something.

Two ladies who trekked with us for a chance to make money

From then on it was just us girls and Song enjoying the countryside whilst chatting away. After two hours we reached Song’s house where she lived with her husband and two young children Bo aged 7 and Who aged 8. I munched on a well-earned bag of sticky rice and peanuts before going to play with local children in the village whilst Song made a start on dinner.

Song cooking dinner in her kitchen

Dinner was incredible, better than any restaurant. To think Song prepared it all on the floor of her hut with just a few basic ingredients and utensils was astonishing. Exhausted after our trek we went to bed before her children who were watching a Tom and Jerry DVD on the TV!

Watching Tom and Jerry with Song’s two children

It was an eye opener to see how Song and the other villagers live with no shower, no toilet and no mattress. Despite all this her home felt like a home and we didn’t feel at all dirty, just thankful for our lives back home. The H’Mong people live a simple life but are incredibly hard working, with women taking turns to farm, sew, sell in the market and some, like Song offer home-stays. Originating from China, the H’Mong people do not class themselves as Vietnamese, they have a different language and wear tribal clothes and jewellery.

Me dressed up in Song’s clothes

Children play out in the countryside (we saw many playing on cliff ledges, playing with raw meat and some even playing with barbed wire!) but all blissfully happy without a care in the world. One thing I thought was funny is that families refrain from naming their cats and dogs but instead name their buffaloes!

Children playing on ledges

My constant questions and Song’s willingness to answer meant I learnt so much about the H’Mong people and the impact tourism has had on the region (I always like to ask about this). She said they see it as a good thing but I beg to differ.

Us girls at the end of our trek

After a horrendous nights sleep with three of us squeezed into a wooden bed, the loudest thunderstorm I’ve ever heard and constant noise from dogs and chickens, I woke to a delicious breakfast of rice, noodles and stir-fried morning glory. Song had even bought us some instant coffee after we expressed our love of coffee the previous day. There was enough food to feed the five thousand and we felt obliged not to waste any (great excuse if you ask me!) as the H’Mong people eat everything to survive. For example, we had pineapple and banana baguettes for lunch because that’s all there was that day.

Breakfast at Sapa market

It was lucky we had filled up on breakfast as we ended up trekking up and down mountains covering at least 15km judging by the road markers we past. It was such an adventure and we didn’t pass a single tourist all day. During the last 5km we could see that Song was struggling in the blistering heat as much as we were so we departed early to enable her to take a short cut home. Once in town we headed back to the market for another bowl of hearty noodle soup with less than an hour to spare before what was to be one of the worse night buses to Laos.

If you’d like to do a trek and homestay with Song, she’d be more than happy to have you. Just give her a call on 01656687491. All the money goes straight to her and her family instead of some hotel/tour operator. 

Living life, loving travel,

H x



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