An unforgettable trip to Sapa PART 3

Sapa, Day 3:

When we wake up that morning, we are surprised to see Sang with 3 big dark circles on her forehead. We have seen a few people wearing these marks before but forgot to ask what it was or meant. She explains that she was sick last night. She had a strong headache and a sore throat so she went to get a buffalo horn and with a heating suction process, sucked the pain out of her head. It is a traditional painkiller method, that’s what leaves these marks that stay for at least a week. She feels better now and seem to have regained her energy. I would be curious to try out this method but don’t really want to walk around with brown circles tattooed on my head…


The family of the homestay is nice, but don’t speak a word of english, so it’s hard to communicate. Sang was making most of the conversation anyway, she likes to chat!

After breakfast, we go for a short walk to a Red Dzao village. I am still curious about the mangrove Sang mentioned on the first day but I start to sense that I had misunderstood her. For fact, when I ask her she replies: “yes, we will walk on the main road”…. I thought mangroves in the mountains was strange…

In the village we pass a few local people. The red Dzao have a different traditional outfit. Women shave their eyebrows and one centimeter of the hair around their face, and cover their head with a red cap. Sang explains that once, a woman of this tribe cooked for her husband and a hair fell in his plate. As he ate but choked on the hair and died. Since then, a married Red Dzao woman should shave all facial hair to avoid such situation again.


On the way back we stop by a nice waterfall and enjoy the view. Then we walk back to the homestay for lunch before heading back to Mai’s house. Sang has organised for her husband to pick us up with 2 motorbikes and drive us to Lao Chai. Now we understand why she asked us earlier how much we weight…


She makes me hop on the motorbike behind her husband and she hops just behind me, while Adrien is on the other bike with the driver and our backpack.

We drive like this for 40 minutes. It is very cold and foggy. My face is frozen with the wind. The road is windy and quite bumpy too: I move a little bit forward on the bike with every bump and I have not much to hold on to. The middle place is not the best one the motorbike! I can hear Adrien laughing at me every time his driver overtakes us… But finally we make it all back, frozen but in one piece.

Mai’s house is right next to her parents where many people are already gathered for the celebration of the death of ancestors that will take place tonight and tomorrow. We chill for a while on her terrace and watch how people come and go around the house. Sang leaves us here, but we will see her again tomorrow.

In the evening, Mai comes back from the funeral. She looks tired but says she managed to get a little bit of sleep (and a lot of rice alcohol as well…). After dinner, she invites us to go with her for a while to the “party” but she says “don’t stay too long, it is dangerous… and don’t drink!”. We don’t really understand but I am almost a little afraid now. I imagine people are gathered and enjoy a few beers, I can’t imagine what can be dangerous…

We walk to the parent’s house in the dark and what we find there is beyond what we imagined: there is about 70 people there from all age, all dressed in traditional Hmong clothes, and everyone carries around a bottle of water and a small glass. At first we think: “well that’s soft… they are partying with water!”. But very soon we understand that pretty much everyone in there is completely drunk, and that the water bottles in fact contain rice alcohol!


We start to watch amazed how they all drink shots after shots. They seem to make a game out of it: one person drinks, then choose another person that has no choice but drink a shot as well, then they shake hands and the chosen person has to go get someone else to drink with and so on.

We are the only foreigners here. At first, people seem curious and shy of approaching us. We’ve already lost Mai. The place is big, dark and crowded. Some men play traditional instruments which just adds to the already strange atmosphere but everyone seems very happy! There is a lot of laughing and drinking. We feel a little out place…

Suddenly, someone taps on my shoulder. As I turn around I recognise a familiar face smiling at me and I am pulled in an awkward hug. It’s Mimi! The older lady who walked with us on the first day!

She gives me a shot glass and fills it up: I have been chosen to drink with her. I try to refuse several time but as we understand it, it is very rude to refuse a drink, so I explain that it will be the first and last one. I turn around and see Adrien with a glass in his hand too! Another lady chose him as well. One two thee and drink! The alcohol is strong! Mimi is happy and shakes my hand. She gives me the bottle and shows me the inside of the house, pointing at people. It is too late, the game has started and now both of us have to find another victim to drink with us. I think it makes people laugh to see us there and now that we have a bottle in our hands they don’t see so shy any more. I look at Adrien and tell him this seem dangerous indeed…

But we don’t want to be rude also it is intimidating. So we play the game and find people to drink with us. One two three and drink! The second shot doesn’t taste any better! But it’s done, now we can hand over the bottles and we are free again!

Only now that people have seen us drinking, we suddenly feel like we have become an attraction. Next thing we know, we have a new shot glass in our hands, a bigger one this time made of bamboo. Trying to say no seems useless at this point. I am not sure how we’ll get out of this situation. After every shot I try to spot Adrien and tell him this is the last one but I already have a new one in my hand. The rhythm is intense! Some of these people have been here since 4pm and I don’t know how they are still standing. The whole thing looks like a party of teenagers who want to get waisted!

I spot Mai in a corner of the room. Because she is back from a funeral and she is the host of this celebration, everyone wants to drink with her!

Someone is pulling on my arm and I see Mimi again. She is arms in with another lady and says: “Lisa, Lisa” and starts laughing. Quickly I understand that the lady’s name is Lisa too. She is so happy to meet someone else that shares the same name that she starts hugging me. She speaks a little English, she used to be a guide for tourists as well. She is very nice and starts to me more about the celebration today. The last time they had this celebration was 25 years ago!


Adrien is not to far from my sight, but I see he is trapped in the drinking game. Lucky for me I have Hmong Lisa who is keeping me safe from the drinks!

After a while, Mai comes back and suggest we leave before it is too late (which I agree with!), but Adrien has been dragged to the other side of the room!

Mai tells me to go wait for her in the street for and adds “Go, go… I will find Adrien”. The situation is so surreal and funny I have to laugh. I wait for 5 minutes until Adrien and Mai join me. He is laughing too… Later that night he tells me, that while he was handing away a bottle of Happy Water to someone else, Mai told him “okay, Lisa is safe now! You come with me!”

We head back to the house. Mai is also going to sleep. She advised us to lock the doors tonight… to many drunk people around she says…

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