Ta Van is a village located not too far from Sapa. Compare with the downtown of Sapa which is very much of a tourist-aimed site recently, Tavan, on the other hand, is still well preserved and offers a truly authentic experience of the ethnic minority lifestyle. It is well-known for the beautiful rice terraces, the serene atmosphere, impressive trekking routes offering plenty of breathtaking views and the diversity of local ethnic cultures.
Choose to go by train over the bus
Sapa now is very reachable by night bus and train. The bus is the most recommended one as the best way of saving your time and money. and it will drop you right in the center of the town. However, for someone that has an old-style like me, or prefers a different experience than just a night bus, you can try going by train. It is not the best way as it is double expensive and will not bring you to Sapa directly but just Lao Cai train station which is located 35km away from Sapa. From there, you need to take a van to go to Sapa and it takes about 1 hour more riding up the mountain to get the town. Speaking as a person who has tried both ways, I have to say that going by train is still much interesting than the night bus despite the inconvenience caused.
I visited Sapa once before, and this time, it seemed that the whole town was under construction. Leaving behind busy and chaotic streets, without hesitation, I took a taxi and headed to Ta Van Village right away. I had come a long way to look for a nice place to chillax, not a whole construction site to be more stressful.
After about 20 minutes more by taxi, I finally got Ta Van. It was an extremely foggy day, drizzling, wet and dirty. Seem not a good start at all.
The Homestay is the first reward.
I booked a rooftop room in Phori House. The homestay is very well known with travelers for its mixture of modern and authenticity. Do you know the feeling that you stay in a house full of local vibes with everything is kept as real as possible while having all the necessary. The tranquility is definitely the best thing here. Feel like it is worth a trip just to sit there under the eaves, take a sip of hot tea while admiring the rain. I could spend the whole trip to just stay in the homestay to enjoy its unique style.
The booking info of the homestay is here: Phori House - By the Creek
However, it would be a regret to not go out and explore what the village has to offer. Fortunately, I made 3 little girls my friends. They helped me out when I was wondering where my homestay was. There were three Black H’mong girls who were selling souvenirs right there approaching me and then brought me to the homestay. I thought they were trying to sell me things. But it turned out to end up with us being friends.
Being offered a tailor-made trekking tour
These three little girls offered me a tailor-made trekking tour for the following day, which was undoubtedly the best tour ever. I had never taken a private tour that has 3 adorable and knowledgable guides like that. The tour was nearly free and the tip was paid with snacks. And instead of touring me around with the common route which they had always done with travelers, not bamboo forest, not waterfall, they brought me...their home, as a special offer for a new friend. xD.
My homestay was located in the center of the village - the place that already embraced modernity. But 3 little girls’ houses were far away, deep in the jungle where the local lifestyle and the minority’s culture were still very much alive. They came to my homestay at 8 am to pick me up and started a 3-hour trekking tour heading to their home.
The red bridge in Lao Chai which they thought I would love to take a photo with. ^^
We crossed Lao Chai first because they wanted me to have a good photo with the bridge over there. And from there, we changed to a rough mountain pass. They asked me if I could walk a lot so that they could make the tour longer for me to explore more on foot. I didn't really know what they meant by “make the tour longer”, so I agreed until my legs were shaking and I eventually realized that my physical condition was definitely not better than those 13, 14-year-old girls, even much worse. However, I appreciated that they brought me to that mountain route because the view was breathtaking and the experience was absolutely awesome.
I love how they took me through villages inhabited by Red Dao, Black H’mong and Dzay people, climbing up mountains, crossing the forest, etc. We walked on slippery and muddy pathways, passed by amazing rice terraces which had not been cultivated yet. Imagine how stunning it would be when the rice turns golden and ready for the harvest. We talked a lot on the way, they shared with me their culture and I shared mine. They loved my story of traveling around the world just as much as I loved the way they shared with me their tradition in the view of kids.
When I asked them why they didn't wear the beautiful and colorful costume like the kids in Sapa town. They said that those kids were Hmong Hoa people while they were Black Hmong. They also told me the differences between these two ethnic groups and their traditional costumes. Not to mention that normally people here in the village didn’t dress up beautifully like people in the town, because they still needed to work, farm, etc.. and that costume was for special occasions only.
I suddenly thought of the good-looking kids in the town that always followed tourists to ask for tips, and felt like these three little kids were so much sincere, plain and innocent. They were helping family by selling things to tourist but they didn't ask me to buy a thing since the moment we met. They stuck with me for the stories of the urban life I had told them and wanted to tour me around without asking for money just to hear some more. How adorable.
When in the homestay, the houses and the view around were somewhat similar to other villages in Vietnam, but the further I went, the more authentic experience and the richer cultural identity I could feel. The locals lived in cottages which were very basic dwellings surrounded by rice terraces and hilly mountains. Hmong kids were running around the house and get themselves spattered with mud. They looked innocent and happy with what they had. The dogs were barking loudly all the way we go and the kids running to us to keep the dogs away from us. I couldn't help but enjoy the vibes so much. Like being brought into very real local life to have an insight of the indigenous culture.
It was so interesting to learn about their culture while trekking and observing the breathtaking view. They told me a custom of Hmong people that the man was allowed to kidnap a woman if he wanted to make her his wife. And the woman would be locked in the man’s house for 3 days before being released to go home. Then the woman can decide to be his wife, otherwise, reject him by giving him a shirt. However, rejecting a man could ruin her life with bad talk of people and the previous kidnapping would make it harder for her to marry someone else later on.
Speaking of marriage, when I ask them not to let themself being kidnapped, ask them to study harder, to be well educated and have a better life, they told me that they would not have a chance to go to high school. They would just finish middle school and then drop out as their parents couldn’t afford the tuition fees and they need more labor for farming. I asked what they would do then, they said they would sell things for tourists, and farm to support family, and ... get married. Yes. They were talking about marriage at the age of 14 and said that it was a normal thing here. I was weighed down by the thought of these little girls were going to get married about a year later.
Khu’s house and her siblings
I visited Khu’s house - one of the three. The house located deeply in the jungle. I met her mom and her siblings. Khu toured me inside and out, told me what these things were for. I could feel the poverty as there was almost nothing valuable in the house. The kids surrounded me, smiled with me even though they didn't understand what I said, as they had their own language, Hmong language, and they were too little to learn Vietnamese. They made a heart from the grass and gave to me as a gift. Aw. My heart was melted.
Peach blossoms were blooming all the way going to the house of the other girls. I passed by their places but didn't have time to go inside as I was late for the check out time.
After more than 3 hours of trekking, they brought me to the initial place - my homestay. They didn't ask me for anything, but I took them to the store and asked them to take anything they want. They hesitated and just took a snack, then I bought three big packages of snacks for each of them and some things more for the kids at home. They were so happy. And so was I.
The place that I'm definitely gonna come back
Not like any tour that I had taken, this tailor-made trekking tour was far more than what I had expected and definitely my greatest experience so far. It was so real, so authentic and a lot of fun. The picturesque views, the fascinating stories told by the kids, the nice ethnic people I met,... sure that I will not forget all that anytime soon.
It was so hard for me to say goodbye to them. I love this place so much and I made a promise to come back here in the rice harvest. And the 3 little girls will still be my tour guides. They also gave me their words that they will not marry so soon, at least until I come back.
Let's see each other again!
Ta Van Village: