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!
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