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“Perfect, authentic day in Sapa”

Ethos - Spirit of the Community
Ranked #1 of 53 Outdoor Activities in Sapa
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: ETHOS are an ethical Social Enterprise that strive to offer experiential adventures. Our aim is to facilitate conscientious travelers in creating unique adventures whilst supporting local minority tribal people in helping themselves. The experiences are made by you and enhanced by our team of local guides who will use their vast knowledge and skills to support you in finding something special in the Sapa area.
Useful Information: Activities for older children, Activities for young children, Lockers / storage, Wheelchair access, Food available for purchase, Bathroom facilities
SAN MATEO
Level 3 Contributor
18 reviews
7 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 34 helpful votes
“Perfect, authentic day in Sapa”
Reviewed December 6, 2013

We contacted Phil on Wednesday (based on TA Reviews), hoping for a tour for 6 of us (3 adults, 3 kids ages 12, 12 and 9) that would feel more authentic than the "conga line" of tourists walking around Cat Cat (which we learned is owned by a corporation….), where we would really get a glimpse of life for the Hmong in the villages. Phil was great about communication, despite being in Laos for a day, and answered all questions promptly.
We arranged for a day trekking with a Hmong guide who would bring us to the market and then her home for a home-cooked meal. Sounded like what we were hoping for - but we got SO MUCH more than that. The day started with Phil pulling up on his motorcycle with a traditionally dressed Black Hmong woman on the back of his bike. He introduced us to the fabulous Ker, explained our day again, confirmed everything with Ker and us, gave my kids some assignments for the day (learn 3 Hmong words, help cook spring rolls, play a Hmong instrument), and left us in Ker's very capable hands.
First of all, her English is impeccable. There were almost no words she didn't understand, and her accent was so tiny that we had no trouble understanding her. She brought us first to the market where we shopped for the day's food, then we drove to the entrance to the walk to the village. Along the way, we saw village life going on all about us - from the woman running after the water buffalo trying to eat the crops, to the kids getting out of school and running home for lunch, to the villagers working around their homes. The scenery was magical, and we took some incredible pictures. After trekking a while, we started on the steep ascent to Ker's house, stopping at the bottom of her village to visit her grandmother-in-law (a village shaman). By the time we reached Ker's house, we were exhausted and hungry! We watched (my son helped) the family make some dinner, and met some of the neighborhood men as well, who came to join us for lunch. Ker did a great job translating for us, and we sat down to an elaborate, delicious meal, complete with chicken, pork, vegetables, rice, and LOTS of rice wine.
The whole family, including her husband, mother-in-law, children, and various other relatives were incredibly friendly and welcoming.
After lunch, the kids and some of the men (and Ker when she wasn't finishing up in the house) played with the little "hacky" that we had brought with us (the little feather-kicking thing so popular in parts of Vietnam) for a while, and all seemed to have a great time.
We said our goodbyes to the family, then walked with Ker to a nearby cave, and then out to where the truck met us to bring us back to our hotel in Sapa. Phil met us back at the hotel to debrief with us, and we tried to relay what a fabulous day it was.
A couple of things made this day particularly great: 1) we didn't see other foreigners walking around (just one group, and they looked very jealous that we had Ker with us), so we felt like we were there to observe and learn - not that the village was there for tourism. Huge difference than our walk through CatCat. 2) Ker was a perfect guide - didn't pepper us with a million facts, but instead let us ask her whatever questions we had about H'mong life - and her answers were thoughtful, honest, and interesting. We learned SO MUCH more this way, than had we been put through a typical shpiel that we could read on Wikipedia! 3) The food! Delicious, amazing, etc - not a meal we will forget!
Huge thanks to Phil and to Ker for a perfect day. All three kids and all three grownups agreed that our day with Ker and her family was one of our best in Vietnam!

Visited December 2013
Helpful?
6 Thank jlmmom
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Phil H, Owner at Ethos - Spirit of the Community, responded to this review, December 9, 2013
Thanks for the great review on behalf of Ker and all of the team here at ETHOS Adventures. It means a lot and we greatly appreciate that you all enjoyed your day so much.

We are strong believers that travel is about learning how to see world in a new way. Judging by the way your kids responded to my little challenges, you all learned a lot and Ker was very complimentary of your approach to the whole day. In fact Ker's daughter has asked loads of times when you guys are coming back.

When done well, tourism can be a real help to local communities, providing income, positive cultural exchanges and a financial incentive to protect their natural environment. Thanks to all of you for being a bit part of the sustainable development of this area.
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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English first
Alameda, California
1 review
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
“Fantastic experience!”
Reviewed December 5, 2013

Phil encouraged me to do a home visit. I was DEEPLY suspicious that it would be a horribly awkward experience. Phil said it would be "brilliant". Ok, deep breath, let's give it a go. Our guide Mimi was wonderful, a very sweet girl. We went on a walk to the "Love Waterfall", as my father isn't up for anything too strenuous, and then visited with a woman in her home after shopping at the market. She had 3 girls that she was raising as a single mother, and I was really made to feel comfortable and welcome from the first moment we arrived. I had the opportunity to help prepare the meal, Mimi cooked, I don't know, 5 different things, more? Over an open fire, in maybe an hour. I can't do that in my modern kitchen. The woman is a machine when she's working! And everything was fantastic! But that's just surface stuff, we all eat food, all the time, so what.

What made this visit special was the opportunity to hear about this persons life experience, which was so very different than my own. I'm a father with a 6 year old girl myself, so I really enjoyed playing with the girls, since I was missing my own daughter. That may not resonate with all (that and the runny noses might make one nervous) but to me that was also a very special part of the experience. I also drank "happy water", and I'm relieved to report that I still have my eyesight.

I suggest you ask for Mimi, actually, I know she guides groups throughout the Sapa area, so I would encourage anyone shopping, anywhere, to see if she's an option as a guide, because she's great.

Oh, and the last thing I'd say is be a sport and buy a few things and leave a little something for the family you visit. We found out later that another couple hadn't really contributed at all. Its clearly not a requirement or even asked for or looked for. But keep in mind, you're sitting in a room and looking at everything the family you're visiting likely has. A little tip of some sort won't make you feel bad about yourself, so give a little, you'll be helping a family who could really use the help.

Thanks for reading, I hope you do this, it was a highlight of our trip. OH, and as an aside, Phil and Hoa at the H'mong Sapa Hotel are great, so if you're looking for a place to stay . . . !

Visited November 2013
Helpful?
4 Thank Spencer_Knight
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Hanoi, Vietnam
Level 1 Contributor
3 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
“Superbly run tours”
Reviewed November 24, 2013

We stayed at H'Mong Sapa Hotel after making a last minute decision to visit the town to avoid some bad weather that was threatening coastal vietnam, On arrival at the hotel we had nothing planned and not much idea what Sapa had to offer. Phil and Hoa, managers of the hotel, explained to us that they also operated Ethos Adventures in Sapa. After a quick chat about what was available Hoa immediately went about organising a trek around the H'Mong farming villages with Chai, a local English speaking H'Mong girl. The tour was great, Chai took us through a number of farms and schools and helped us communicate with the local children and farmers. The tour finished with a visit to Chai's sister's house where we drank rice wine with her brother in law. Although Chai's family spoke no English, it was an amazing experience to see how these people live. I'd highly recommend anyone visiting Sapa to stay at the H'Mong Sapa hotel and use Phil and Hoa's breadth of knowledge of the local area to get the most out of your time in this beautiful town through Ethos Adventures.

Visited November 2013
Helpful?
5 Thank Ryan K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Wollongong, Australia
Level 4 Contributor
36 reviews
11 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 25 helpful votes
“A truly authentic experience”
Reviewed November 8, 2013

Don't worry about booking tours before you come as it is best to make up your mind once you arrive. We had pre organised a tour with a separate company prior to arrival which was terrific but typical of the majority of trekking tours run from Sapa town. Ethos - a new tour company run from the Sapa H'mong hotel deliver truly authentic experiences.

We had an amazing time meeting a local H'mong family as part of our experience with Ethos. The day started out with buying ingredients from the local market and then we joined in with the preparation and cooking of the meal in their home. This was such a special day spent with our guide Chai, her sister-in-law Do and other members of their family.

We wish we'd had more time to take in some of the other experiences offered by Ethos!

Both the hotel and Ethos aim to give back to the local community, this sentiment and action resonate deeply with us!

Visited November 2013
Helpful?
6 Thank FleurMilli
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London, United Kingdom
Level 1 Contributor
3 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
“A truly unforgettable experience!”
Reviewed November 4, 2013

This tour was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our travels.

We went with our guides to an isolated market town with relatively low foreign footfall. We were able to interact with several of the ethnic groups with greater intimacy than we had previously experienced on other treks in the region. We also had the chance to plant rice with a Hmong family who quickly became our friends.

Our direct interaction with the local people was a great experience and we left with the overriding feeling that our visit was an ethical and environmentally-friendly one :)

Visited June 2013
Helpful?
6 Thank Tom M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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