Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sa House - A Unique Experience

Sa House - Bac Ha Vietnam

We arrived in Bac Ha Saturday morning and left the bus from Lao Cai at the central square.  We were staying outside of the town at "Sa House".  I had spoken with Mr. Sa before we left Thailand and he said to call him upon our arrival and he would come get us.  Unfortunately my wife's phone did not work in Vietnam - no problem - I wandered over to a small pharmacy and managed to communicate with the young woman to call Mr. Sa.  She refused my offer to pay her for the call.  Five minutes later, Mr. Sa arrived on his motorbike.  Duang left him and I started walking up the hill to his place. He then returned to pick me up.

In planning our trip, I wanted to stay in Bac Ha - my plan was to arrive in Bac Ha on Saturday morning, go directly to the Can Cau Saturday Market, spend the night, and go early Sunday morning to the Bac Ha Sunday Market.  I ended up selecting and making reservations at Sa House.  I made arrangements through an Internet discount lodging site and the cost was $9 USD a night.

When we travel our priorities for lodging are: Safety, cleanliness, and hot water.  The overall objective in our travels is to meet and experience parts of the daily life of the local people. We enjoy learning and witnessing other cultures.  As such, we do not seek luxury Western style accommodations.  Why travel to exotic locations to only pay premium prices to insulate, as well as isolate, yourself from the local environment?  Our philosophy has served us very well especially here in southeast Asia.  We have stayed in many $20-$50 a night hotels that we would return to and in some cases we have returned to them.  However $9 a night was to be a new experience ... a fantastic experience.

Dormitory Building of Sa House
Sa House is about 1.5 KM outside of Bac Ha's center and is located in a very small village.  Sa House is more like a homestay than a hotel.  There are two buildings for guests along with Mr. Sa's family home. One building is dormitory style accommodation.  Duang and I stayed in the building pictured above.  The window of our room is shown just left of the stairway.  We had to share a separate bathroom and a separate shower room with the other guests of our building. Everything was very clean and had a very rustic charm - down to our homemade bed with mosquito net.  There were no glass windows or air conditioning.  Open windows and a fan mounted atop a wall kept us quite comfortable.  We never experienced an issue with showering or using the bathroom.  Below our building was a bathroom building with four or five toilet rooms - flush sit down toilets.

Sa House Cook House
We ended up having our meals at the Sa House - cooked by Mr. Sa's wife and his brother in a separate cook house with a large wood fired oven.  As is typical with Duang, she jumped in to help - washing and prepping the vegetables, fresh from the family garden, in the outside scullery.

Our Host - The Incomparable Mr. Sa
I spent the remainder of the afternoon, conversing with the other guests and the incomparable Mr. Sa.  One of the benefits of staying at the Sa House is that the rooms are too small to stay in for other than sleeping.  There are also no televisions.  Guests end up sitting outside under the cover of Mr. Sa's home - the second story of his house creating a nice large patio where tables and chairs are set up to make a nice area to dine, drink, and socialize.  The other guests were quite an eclectic group - a young man from Barcelona on a one year Sabbatical from his job at a hotel, a young woman, a former restaurant manager, from Singapore on a three month journey,  a young unmarried couple from New Zealand, and an older Italian couple along with their Vietnamese guide.  It was great way to spend time eating fresh fruit and soft drinks learning more about local life and his life from Mr. Sa.

Mr. Sa who had arranged our transportation earlier in the morning to the Can Cau Market, arranged transportation to take us to our hotel in Sapa late afternoon the next day.  He is very resourceful and helpful.

On a board attached to the wall of his home, Mr. Sa wrote the menu and price for the evening's meal.  There were six or seven items if I recall correctly.  I do remember thinking as I read the menu that there was food that I would be happy to choose and eat.  All the guests except for the Italians sat at a community table along with Mr. Sa.  I was shocked that we were being served every single item listed on the posted menu - family style!  The food was excellent and around $6.80.  Mr. Sa broke out some specialty that the area is known for ... corn liquor, Vietnam's White Lightning.  The Hmong people of the Bac Ha area are famous for their version of the potent beverage.  The liquor that Mr. Sa served lived up to its reputation - was very powerful.  Mr. Sa also served some plum wine that he made.  It was very good tasting but also strong.  I asked Mr. Sa about if he had added something to it.  He admitted that he had fortified it with ... corn liquor!

After dinner, we and the others at our table, walked down into town.  Someone had heard that there was going to be a party.   We arrived to witness the tail end of a celebration in the center of time - local people as well as a few tourists dancing to Hmong music around a small fire.  The fire burned out and the party was over.  We hiked back up the hill to Sa House and everyone was back in their rooms by 10:00 to rest for the opportunities the next day would over.

Early Sunday morning I was woken by a thunderstorm - up close and personal.  The rain poured out of the sky outside of our window but did not enter our room due to the long overhang of the roof.  The rain and thunder above the tile roof above the open ceiling of our room was an interesting if not disconcerting experience. Fortunately the storm quickly moved on and the sky cleared up - it was obvious that weather was not going to affect the Sunday Market - much to my relief.

I went down to the patio for my breakfast,  Mr. Sa's four year old daughter came to my table.  I cheerfully said "Good morning!" she mimicked me and replied "Good Morning".  I then gave her a long and drawn out lyrical "Good Morning"  she returned my greeting once again and finished with some Vietnamese or perhaps Hmong words.  Out of the corner of my eye and like a bolt of lightning, I saw a hand come down from above to firmly strike her on her bottom.  Her mother was bringing me my breakfast and had heard what she said. Later I asked her 12 year old brother what she had said. He embarrassingly told me "I can not tell you.  It very bad"  I could not help but laugh.  The little girl ran to the threshold of the door to the family home where she laid down for next half hour - sulking and suffering in silence.  Upon our return from the market, everything was OK and we were friends once again.  It was nice to see that precocious four year olds are the same every where and reassuring to see that some parents hold and discipline their children when they cross boundaries of proper behavior.

Upon our return from the market, I wanted a small lunch - nothing large or complicated.  I actually wanted a sandwich on a baguette - the wonderful breads available in Vietnam.  I had enjoyed the sesame chicken from the previous night's meal.  I asked Mr. Sa if it was possible to have a chicken sandwich with any leftover chicken from last night.  He would not hear of it.  He said that they would make a fresh sesame chicken sandwich.  A short time later he presented me with a delicious chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and cucumber fresh from the family garden. Price?  I was charged roughly $1.40.

Our van arrived at the agreed upon time in the late afternoon to take us to Sapa for the next segment of our visit to the Tonkinese Alps of Northwest Vietnam.

After saying heartfelt goodbyes to Mr. Sa, and his family, we boarded the van and left - happy and grateful for our experiences at Sa House.

I think that I read somewhere that the US government requires some type of relationship disclosure about things that you write on the Internet that could be interpreted as an endorsement of a business.

I think that they really have much better and much more important thing to worry and deal with.  However there is no sense in risking getting into difficulties when you can spend a little, if reluctantly, time and effort to avert it.

I have written many times that I write about what I have seen and experienced. I do not have any business relationship nor do I receive any compensation for what I write in my blogs.  My wife and I are just ordinary people who travel.  After we return home, I share our experiences and photographs.

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