The homestay experience...was absolutely grueling to get to!!! My group, my guide (Zoum, from the other day), and I went walking from the hotel to the village. The vision of the rice terraces got even closer and I took a million photos of the walk down...we were accompanied by some of the Black Hmong women with babies on their backs, goods for sale, and produce. Once we got to the trail we had difficulty on the slope...I had wrapped myself up in all kinds of layers because my Malaysian friends said it was so cold...as the day cleared up, it got hot! Oh so hot! I shed my layers pretty quickly as we walked down into the valley, stepping aside the water buffalos and their poo. The walk was difficult to say the least! After we had a break at a shack, we headed up the valley and had lunch in Lao Chai...wonderful, wonderful food! The facilities were rather expansive...I was surprised at the size of the restaurant...and I realized that this was a major business, the guided tours...that point was drilled home by the stops we had at the shops! We did get to see the indigo barrels for the Hmong clothing, drying chips for incense along the way, and, of course, the unhulled rice drying in the sun. The weather was so beautiful and the sparse bamboo patches groaned in the breeze...it was so lovely! It would've been better if I didn't feel like I was going to die of exhaustion!!! Or my heart would beat regularly again...instead of like galloping horses!!! The hills were incredibly steep...we started down and the path gave way to rice terrace walls...one girl fell off and got into the mud up to her thighs! She then had to find her shoes...poor thing! While we were climbing around...the Hmong women were helping us along, later when the path became a dirt track the women left us...thus, began the hustle to buy their wares! "No, I don't have any money" really didn't work...I already had a million pillowcases from my other village visit! We finally made it to the homestay which was a family farmhouse...it wasn't too rustic. The upstairs loft area had an array of beds, 15 maybe? And they all had mosquito nettings above. We all French fries for a snack and then some of the folks napped. Dinner was fabulous, we were all served rice wine...which I politely declined...conversation was interesting the group was 2 Danes, 3 Canadians, 1 French guy...I talked to the French guy a bit...that became embarrassing as I looked down at my neck pouch and saw tampons sticking out...classic! So much for being the cool American... After dinner the music started...along with some weird Thai video to go along with it...yes, the family we were staying with had a HUGE tv....so much for the authentic experience. We all started dancing in this farmhouse in Northern Vietnam to techno...other homestay guests congregated to our farmhouse to party it up!!! It was so much fun!!! I met some more Malaysians...sweet people! Our guides were toasted on rice wine and dancing like crazy!!! The next morning we had crepes with a chocolate sauce...delicious! We walked up the valley again through a bamboo forest (breath-taking!!), the trail was muddy and the Hmong women helped us again (different ethnic group). We also went at slower pace with shacks along the way to get us out of the sun. We peaked at the waterfalls, gorgeous, the water made grooves in the solid rock at this point...I took the opportunity to give my guide my knife, he really loved the spring action on the blade!!! I had some other giveaways that were less expensive, but he was a good guy! I almost didn't make it up that last hill...I forget how many kilometers we went exactly...I should've written that down. I stayed one more day in Sapa and was sorry to leave...it was really beautiful, green, and yet, cold. I took the night train back to Hanoi, which arrived at 5:30 am...I got ripped off one last time by the cabbies of Hanoi. I don't think there was an honest one in the bunch!!!!! More on that later.
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