Sunday 23 October 2011


OK, I'm seriously behind on this blog... This is from last June, close to Sa Pa in North Vietnam.

Chúc sức khỏe!

Sa Pa (or Sapa) is fairly touristy, known for the rice terraces and colourfully dressed ethnic minorities. But the vast majority of tourists stay a few days only, and never venture far from the town. I stayed longer and one of the things I did was a 'homestay' with a Red Dao family about 30km (20mi) south of Sapa. They are guided hikes (guide mandatory), in this case to a remote village, where you stay at a local family's home. The guide had a hard time finding the place, evidently never having been there before. He also kept moaning about the lack of night life.

The house was a farm of a Red Dao family. Think one big room, mud floor, wooden partitions. Chickens roaming around. One entire extended family (3 generations, including an infant and two toddlers).

Initially, I felt very uncomfortable, thinking I was taking their best bed (I didn't). Matters did not improve when my guide used their kitchen to make a meal just for us, using our own ingredients.

But after our dinner, the landlord killed a chicken - evidently a party was in order. And I was invited. I could not decline (though my guide stupidly decided to seek out the non-existent local night-life). And I am happy I didn't - I was really made to feel welcome, and had a really great time.

I ate little of the meal (one dinner is generally enough for me). But I could not decline the rượu (rice brandy). Which was served at incredible speed. Fill all glasses. Double handed handshake, say 'chúc sức khỏe' (wishing good health), clink, and bottoms up. Refill and repeat. When I started to try and slow down, they insisted - it'd make me sleep well. I explained in my best Vietnamese that with a little, I'd sleep well, but too much and I wouldn't sleep at all. Which luckily did the trick. I could take the tempo down to a sip per round, rather than bottoms up.

All of this ended at 8, when the entire family watched a Vietnamese soap opera on TV (the fruits of running a home stay?). At 9, everyone was in bed. Except the landlord who decided to repair his motorcycle. Lots of clinking sounds, but I have my doubts as to the results.

The alarm clock (rooster) went off a 4:30, and by 5:15 everyone was in the fields, working. Except for the landlord, who looked a bit worse for wear.

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