Our friend, Xuv (pronounced Sue), has a Homestay in Ta Van and she has been wanting us to stay there for a while so we made it an event and invited the students. There was a total of about 16 of us that went so it was very fun!
Ta Van is about 10km away from Sapa on a paved/rocky road. You can take a taxi to Ta Van from Sapa for about 200,000 dong. Many of the local treks go through Ta Van. Ta Van is the village next to Lao Chai.
Homestays are popular in this area. If travelers want to go trekking for more than a day, they can stay in a homestay in the local countryside rather than coming back to Sapa. The downside of the popular homestay is that they are becoming more commercial. Many people see the money in the “homestay” experience so many homestays are popping up that are pretty much hotels. I prefer having the real homestay experience and staying in someone’s home which is what Xuv’s homestay provides. The experience of staying here can give someone a glimpse of how the Hmong live in this area.
Xuv’s homestay is above the main street of Ta Van. It is about a 25 minute walk if you walk from the main area of Ta Van, but there is a short cut straight up the mountain behind Ta Van School. It is a very steep slope and if it had recently rained, it is very slippery and dirty! The short cut is about 8 mins if you are in shape. The homestay is surrounded by rice terraces. The porch of the homestay has a pretty good view of the rice terraced mountains across the valley. There is plenty of wild life around the house, such as ducks, pigs, birds, and water buffalos.
The homestay consists of a main room which didn’t have any furniture because everyone sits outside, but off the main room is Xuv’s bedroom with her family, then on the opposite wall is a door in to the kitchen. The main room has stairs that go up to the loft where there are seven beds for boarders. The kitchen is quite big. One side of the room is where she prepares and cooks the food, then the other side was where they clean the dishes. On the opposite side of the kitchen is the big room for the boarders. The room has 8 beds: two double beds and 6 twin beds. The twin beds seemed a bit wider than the regular twin size bed in the US. Each bed had a sheet, a pillow, and a very heavy comforter. I ended up sleeping on top of the comforter because it was too humid for a cover. The comforter would have been very cozy if it were Winter. The temperature wasn’t too hot. It was probably about 65-70 degrees in the room while everyone was sleeping. Each of the beds had their own mosquito netting and there were large curtains between each bed that you could let down if you wanted privacy.
Xuv is a really good cook. It was nice to finally have some Hmong food, though she also cooks Vietnamese as well. We were saying that she should open up a cafe because we enjoyed her cooking so much! For dinner, we had two chicken dishes that were similar, just different vegetables. That slight variation gave the dishes their own distinct taste. Then a plate of green beans, a plate of cabbage, a tofu and tomato dish, french fries, and steamed rice. I think the french fries were thrown in because of my kids. They were really great, and she added a bit of garlic to them. For breakfast, we had purple sticky rice with peanuts and some fried banana cakes with local honey. Many of our students helped out making food with Xuv. Xuv’s kitchen, like all Hmong kitchens, is extremely dark. Even in the middle of the day, I am looking for a light switch because I can’t see anything. There are no windows; if there are any, they are closed. I guess keeping the rooms dark keep the house quite cool, but I think the darkness would be very difficult to get use to.
In the evening, we set up our outdoor movie viewing area on Xuv’s porch. We thought we would entertain the local kids and let them watch Lego Movie, but then after that, we watched Nacho Libre. We thought Nacho Libre would be for the adults, but wow, the local kids thought Nacho Libre was hysterical! They loved all the wrestling in it. Just hearing all their giggles was completely worth it!
The movies got over at about 11:30pm. We all set out to our own beds. It was pretty quiet outside, but I was fearing that I would be listening to pigs all night, but surprisingly they stopped all their noises at about midnight. I obviously didn’t sleep very well. I was worrying that Kate would wake up and start crying so I was on edge to continually make sure she was comfortable while she slept next to me. Then I was also worried that the boys would wake up early and roam around outside the room (and get lost). All was quiet until about 3:30am when a lone rooster decided to crow. He would crow every few minutes until about 5am, then it was the ducks!! Wow, I never knew ducks were so loud!! The neighbors have about 15 ducks and they were just to the South of our room.
Thankfully some of the students woke up early so I got up so that gave me an excuse to wake up as well. I enjoyed sitting on Xuv’s porch and enjoying the morning sunshine. The sun comes up here early at about 5am. Slowly more and more people came on to the porch as they woke up. It was fun talking with everyone and learning more about them.
The kids enjoyed getting dirty and playing with all of the animals around. Xuv’s boys and my boys were having such a great time.
Xuv also had a few things to keep the students interested. She dressed up the girls in Hmong clothes so they could take pictures in the rice terraces. She also gave us a Batik demonstration and the girl would wanted to could design their own batik pattern with beeswax, then dye their pattern in a barrel of indigo water.