There is a road in SaPa that goes all the way from the mountain down to the valley. I once called it the stairway to heaven. If SaPa is the stairway to heaven, TaPhin is heaven itself! 
We left SaPa on Monday morning and arrived in TaPhin village before noon. The car dropped us off near the entrance of the village in an area known as Doi Mot, or the Commune One. We walked down the valley, crossed a river and trekked up the mountain for about 30 minutes to get to where four home-stay owners run their businesses. The scenery was breathtaking. 
We spent the whole afternoon meeting the owners, touring the homes, asking them about the challenges they are facing, inspecting the capacity and potential development of the homes, and talking to them about promotional and marketing strategies. 
We split up into three groups in the evening to stay in different homestays in Doi Mot, in order to experience what tourists experience when they stay in those homes overnight. I stayed at Ms. Ly May Lai’s house and got to meet her family and extended family who were visiting from China. I offered to help prepare the dinner and May Lai showed me how to clean the pumpkin leaves before she cooked them.
Fresh and local aren't just trends here!

The process of preparing meat is very different from what we are used to in Vancouver. Even in scratch kitchens in North America, things are not as ‘from the scratch’ as are in the village! I didn’t expect the pork and chicken to come out of beautifully sealed packages, but I was still surprised when they just grabbed them from outside, killed them in the kitchen, clean and cut them, and then cook them right away! When I told my host that my family eats rice, I was asked if we have a rice field!
Preparing dinner

Getting ready for dinner

We spent the whole evening cooking on one stove at the corner of the house. There are usually two stoves in each house in TaPhin: one for cooking and one for preparing the herbal bath. May Lai was sitting by the stove the whole time and cooking the dishes one after the other. When one dish was done, it was put into a plate and sent to the table, but no one started dinner until all the dishes were done and placed on the table. The process of preparing ten different dish on one stove and in one pot took about an hour. The whole family then gathered around the dinner table and rice and alcohol were served.

Herbal baths

Even though I was planning to have a herbal bath, I was too tired to stay up late that night. May Lai’s house has two guestrooms. Since I was the only guest that night I got the whole room to myself. The room had 7 beds in a row with red/pink flower patterned blankets. A blue mosquito net was hung on top of each bed, and there was another door at the other side of the room which opened to the washroom and herbal bath areas. I called it my own en-suite shower room. 
Bamboo bug!

Roosters woke me up at 4:30. This was not my first time away from home opening my eyes in an unfamiliar environment, but it sure was the most authentic one. Outside the glassless window chicks and piglets were playing; the sound of a woman singing in the distance had added a mysterious feeling to the foggy view of the valley; and the smell of the burned bamboos in the fireplace was like no other worldly smell. Even the big bamboo bug that May Lai’s father had found outside and brought in didn’t look scary anymore! The time had slowed down letting me grasp and take in this new experience. That morning as I walked down the valley and crossed the river through the fog, I knew I was a different person; I had seen the heaven. 

Ms. May Lai and Hedieh

(Written by Hedieh Ahmari, student volunteer)