Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes!

After initially being underwhelmed by Hanoi after our 2000 mile and 6 week journey from Saigon we knew we needed to get back on the bikes. Riding through some of the most isolated and authentic areas of Vietnam had spoilt us in many ways, leaving us craving that adventure once again. Heading up to the amazing region of Sapa we had an unexpected highlight of our entire trip as we pulled into a tiny village and stayed with a hill tribe family in the middle of nowhere. Staying in a homestay in Vietnam is one experience that really allowed us to see so much more!

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Heading into the unknown for a two day ride up to Sapa

Riding up to Sapa we could not wait to get out of the city and back into the welcoming arms of the countryside, the freindly people and fascinating ways of life. By this point we were full of confidence and ready to head into the unknown. With nowhere booked and just a rough idea of distance, time and a few city names in our heads we started up the bikes, twisted the throttles and headed towards the city limits in the north of Hanoi. Yet another unforgettable adventure was to begin.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Riding through villages and ride paddies toward the tiny city of Yen Bai

Heading out of the city was chaotic and the air filled with fumes. Finding the right highways was a task in itself that took much longer than anticipated in a now humorous re-run of our first day on the bikes attempting to leave the swarm of Saigon. Darting down lanes in the wrong direction, ferociously beeping and performing u-turn that in England would be enough to get your licence revokes we were in full Vietnam style riding by this point…and it meant we actually found our way out into the rural countryside surrounding the city with “relative ease”.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

A few hours passed of monotonous roads, industrial sites and desolate landscapes before we began the unrelenting climb. Before we knew it we were back in the lush green surroundings we had craved since we arrived into the concrete jungle of Hanoi. The swarm of bikes had petered out and been replaced by buffalos carrying along craggy faced locals, children once again ran alongside our bikes and waved at us like we were celebrities. People working in the fields tipped their triangular bamboo hats to catch a glimpse of a westerner in person and shouted hello enthusiastically at us! This was the dream that had kept us going during our down time in Hanoi, and here it was!

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Knowing this was one of our last great adventures on the bikes in Vietnam we took our time, allowed ourselves to soak in just how amazing these scenes were and how lucky we were to be experiencing this culture and these people. Tiny villages came and went as the landscape became increasingly isolated and rural. Women wore traditional clothing and bamboo became the preferred building material over brick, this was once again the real Vietnam we craved and Staying in a homestay in Vietnam was part of this. 

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Calling in at a little village and staying in a bamboo homestay in Vietnam

The air became cooler and the sun sat lower in the sky as we began to approach the small city of Yen Bai, mearly a street full of shops and places to eat this dusty town was to be our home for the evening. However a sign caught our eye on the way in, a homestay in a village a few km along the road was being advertised. This felt like a strike of luck which would turn our solemn evening in a damp and creepy motel (as has been the case in these small cities in Vietnam) into the unforgettable cultural experience of Staying in a homestay in Vietnam. 

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

We didn’t even know the name of the place, or the village, but we took the turning at the last moment and hoped for the best, we knew staying in a homestay in Vietnam would be worth the effort. Now deep in rural life we were turning heads at every small settlement we passed, continuing until we found another sign, cutting into a village and following a dirt path weaving passed chickens, dogs and buffalo before seeing what we thought might be the place.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Of course, we were the only visitors and enquired as to their availability. One of the sons showed us around the amazing stint house made entirely of bamboo, leaves and wood. We would be sleeping in the main room on a partitioned mattress in the same room as them, the true homestay in Vietnam experience. 

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

A coal fire burned its last remaining embers and filled the room with a mysterious fog as a gang of children merrily ran passed, pausing to giggle and say hello before carrying on with their games. The matriarch of the family wandered out of the adjoining kitchen and smiled at us before enquiring as to whether we would be joining them for their evening meal through broken English. Of course we would, what an evening we were expecting!

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Having the most perfect family experience on the last night of Tet

Before evening set in one of the many sons of the family (son in laws once married are just referred to also as sons and the same with daughters in law) pointed us in the direction of the stunning Thác Bà Lake on which the village of Vu Linh sits.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Passing buffalos out for an evening stroll, traditional houses and amazing rice fields we were stopped several times by the teenagers of the village for selfies! The short walk offered us a stunning insight into the basic but happy lives the people in this village have, all sharing as a community everything they have. The lake itself was beautiful, floating houses and fishermen’s boats made for an unforgettable foreground to a wonderful sunset over the peaceful lake. 

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Heading back to the family house it was almost time for our evening meal, by this time the place was beginning to fill up with friendly faces all smiling back at us. The family had put together an impressive feast for us, even making us a whole tables worth of vegetarian options. We sat on ornate handmade mats on the floor around a low table and all tucked in, sharing what was on offer between around 13 of us.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

We tucked into the meal, discussing traditions of the tribe such as dress, social status and how the village shared everything from produce to child rearing responsibilities and despite their poverty no one family was ever allowed to go without. We were also interrogated by the intrigued locals about where we were from, our home, families and traditions. It was really quite an eye opening and wonderful discussion.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

One of the sons spoke good English and explained to us that everyone here was family, his parents sat at the head of table and were surrounded by mostly their sons, each only a year difference in age. Their one daughter who lived here, who cooked this amazing meal alongside her husband, the youngest son, was by marriage. In Vietnam daughters go to live with their husbands families and perform all the household duties whilst their husbands work in the fields and farms. Its still very traditional in these parts, the other women would eat in a different part of the house. It’s hard sometimes when in the west we have such a different culture, especially as a woman, but travelling is all about experiencing how others live and respecting their cultures.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

As the night wore on so did the amount of rice wine consumed. Not only was this the last day of Tet (Vietnamese New Year) but also many of the villages came around to greet us as visitors, as is tradition. This meant for every visitor we had to drink twice to toast both the new year and as a greeting, and this stuff is some strong homemade moonshine! I reverted at this point to taking a sip for every toast rather than full shots! One of the most special moments was when the head of the house gave us a New year gift of 1000 Dong, a note worth hardly anything in monetary terms, but for us now a precious souvenir, his wish was to grant us good luck, which can only be done by giving a gift.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Those that didn’t began playing traditional instruments, a pair of symbols used to perform religious ceremonies that each family has in their house, of course, the father of the family was an expert, us, not so much!! With cheers of “Chuc mung Na Moi”, “How Mi Do” and “Bas Ap”… I have no idea what the last two actually were or how they are spelt, but they were said an awful lot before and after drinking and are local tribal words! The first means Happy New Year in Vietnamese! Staying in a homestay in Vietnam has to be some of the most memorable and special times in this country. 

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

An unforgettable day of village life made possible by our bikes

Heading off again in the morning after a breakfast of traditional pancakes and tea we were back on our bikes and heading into the mountains that loomed in the background. I couldn’t help but consider just how enriching these bikes have been to our time in Vietnam, allowing us to delve so much deeper into the varied culture of this vast land. Staying in a homestay in Vietnam is a must do if you really want to see this country first hand as more than a tourist.

Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam. A true off the beaten track adventure made possible by our motorbikes, yen bai, Thác Bà Lake, Vu Linh, rice wine, tribe, local, off the beaten track, off the beaten path, authentic, real, travel, home stay, family, happy water, tet, vietnam new year, homestay in vietnam, bao yen bai, motorbike through vietnam, motorbike tour vietnam,

Have you ever stayed in a homestay in Vietnam?

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 Staying with a local tribal family in a bamboo house in Yen Bai, Vietnam

Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.
  • Henry Malmgren

    Thanks for providing a travel story for Vietnam that actually gets you out of the cities and into the countryside! Your homestay seems like the perfect way to get away from the hustle and bustle of Saigon and Hanoi for a while..whre did you first hear about the place?

    • Thanks, it was in these rural places where there isn’t many tourists where we fell in love with Vietnam rather than the cities. People here have such a different attitude. We were on our way to Sapa and just by chance found it for the night as we were passing through the town and went through the village instead!

  • Love it. I always enjoy getting away from the tourist spots and getting to know the places I visit. It’s great meeting the people that live there and really immersing yourself into the travel experience. Sounds like you had a great time.

    • It has to be one of the most rewarding things we have done whilst travelling, so simple but such an intense experience and really a wonderful way to get to know the culture.

  • Adria

    This sounds like an incredible experience. Did you know where you were headed for a home stay beforehand or was it serendipitous? I didn’t even know that was an option!

    • Yes it was one of the best things we’ve done, we only had a rough idea of where we would be staying, just the name of the town and then we found this place by chance!

  • Ski Trotters (SkiTrotters)

    We always try to explore off the beaten path and get in contact with the true reality of every place we visit. I thoroughly enjoyed your post!

    • It is the most rewarding when you do isn’t it, though it does take more effort!! Thank you!

  • This definitely makes me want to consider staying in a homestay when I visit Vietnam. The experience sounds priceless! It doesn’t get any better than staying with a family and learning about the culture and traditions.

    • We have now stayed in quite a few in a few different countries and they really do allow you to see the culture so much closer, to live as the people do is the ultimate way to get to know them. There are even a few available on booking website if you keep an eye out, many vary from sleeping on the floor without running water or electricity to even having wifi, it all depends on the village!

  • Melody Pittman

    You two never cease to amaze me with the adventures you are having. Vietnam looks fabulous through your eyes and I learn so much history and culture by reading your posts. My favorite part is the relationships you guys end up having with the locals. I hope you are thinking of writing a book in the near future.

    • Aww, thanks Melody! These bikes were such an amazing way to see the country in so much detail. For us interactions with locals are the most rewarding part of travelling but also some of the most difficult too. Maybe one day!! ha ha.