One of the activities you can do when visiting Sapa, Vietnam, is to immerse yourself in the local culture by staying with a local family for one or more days. The homestay experience is like a personalized version of staying in a bed & breakfast, though likely it’s more rustic and allow you to see what life in the local village among the ethnic minority group is like.
When we were planning for the trip to Sapa, Kristi and I considered doing the homestay. However, since we only had one night that we could stay in Sapa (the other two nights during the trip were to be spent on the train rides between Hanoi and Sapa), we decided to just stay at a hotel. We did see a Travel Channel program where the host Samantha Brown went to one of the villages near Sapa and stayed with a local family. She got to experience helping the host family with a chore, plowing the rice fields with the buffalo-powered plows, and then relaxing in an herbal bath and having dinner with the host family. That looked like a wonderful cultural experience to try when you have a chance.
When we walked through one of the villages, we saw a couple of homes that had a sign saying that they welcome homestay guests. It looked like this had become a cottage industry — kind of like ‘agriturismo’ in Italy — which I think is pretty nice for the local families to supplement their household incomes while at the same time showing their culture to the guests. One thing to beware, however, is when you try to set up one of these stays through travel agencies. You may want to find out how much of the proceeds actually goes to the host family, as supposed to being skimmed by the travel agency. I read in travel forums that sometimes the family got taken advantage of by the travel agency and you end up making the travel agency richer without helping the welfare of the hosts.
The photo below was taken as we’re about to enter one of the villages. You can see a typical scenery in the village with the small homes off the main street.