A less travelled road in a remote corner of Vietnam

A tough trek through paddy fields on precipitous ridges

I learnt the literal meaning of the term ‘take the road less travelled’ about half-way through our 12km walk to our host family’s house in Sapa, Vietnam. The quaint town is 350km northwest of Hanoi and borders China.

After a windy five-hour taxi ride, our queasy group was eager to jump out to get some fresh air. We were greeted by Pham whom we’d contacted through a travel website. We opted to walk to her house (which was agreed upon via email before meeting), so we were locked into a tough trek through the vast mountainside, all the way there, just for the night.

We discovered quickly though, that this walk was not for the faint hearted.

We also learnt that the women in Vietnam were fearless, as Pham created new paths through shrubs while fending off stray dogs with fallen branches.

While Pham hastily hopped from one foot to another avoiding slippery mud and sharp rocks, we treaded cautiously trying not to roll ankles, and to ensure a safe space between ourselves, and the nearby roaming buffalo.

We arrived hours later to Pham’s modest two-storey house, which overlooked the town’s charming countryside and rice paddy fields, a sight which we thoroughly enjoyed from the balcony. However our view quickly changed when we were called down to watch a duck being sacrificed, which ended up on our plates a few hours later.

According to Pham, sacrificing animals is an old cultural tradition in Vietnam, carried out to protect visitors from evil spirits and illness. Smile and nod.

Dinner was a delicious home-cooked meal of meats, spices and vegetables that had simmered over an indoor fire for several hours. We practically inhaled it after depleting all fuel sources on the walk there.

IMG_3810If we weren’t already spoiled enough, Pham made sure that we felt right at home when she handed us each one of Sapa’s finest local beers.

Throughout the night we discussed culture, beliefs and religion. We learnt truths of the rugged everyday life of the Vietnamese people.

If you are seeking a legitimate cultural experience, I highly recommend home stay visits in Sapa. It is important however, to remember to do so with an open mind and accept that you may not agree with everything that is said and done, but to respect it.

It is all part of the exciting, unpredictable and life-changing experience.

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