The mud. Everywhere. It made hiking on steep mountain paths quite an adventure. Never mind that the locals were having no problem whatsoever in smooth plastic sandals.
All the men were really, really lazy. Maybe they worked really hard in the harvest season, but we mostly saw them sitting around doing nothing but offering motobike taxis while the women ran the shops, lead the tours, cared for the animals, and hawked homespun bags and bracelets.
This seems consistent with how people in Hanoi behave, however. It may just be a Vietnamese thing. According to Erin it was like this in India too -- maybe it's a 2nd/3rd world thing.
Nearly all the local tribes knew the following English phrases: "Hello", "What your name?", "Where you from?", and finally "You buy from me?". Other than this last phrase, uttered often, the locals were absolutely lovely.
On a 5 hour trek, the tour group of maybe 4 westerners would be joined by about 2 local tribeswomen in traditional dress for the entire hike. They would help you not slip, chat a little, giggle at you when you fell, and were all-in-all quite jovial.
But were they just being friendly to make a sale? After two held Erin's hands for an entire 4 hours through the roughest footing she put it well: "I don't care if I'm overpaying for stuff. These two little girls just spent 4 hours keeping me from falling on my ass. I am totally buying something from them".
Many farm animals abounded: Hogs, roosters, chickens, water buffalo, ducks, etc.
90% of the tiniest ramshackle huts had television and some motorbikes. With all the tourists that run through there it's not so much a surprise, really.
We spent one night in a "homestay" at one of the villages. One of the huts advertised Karaoke. Karaoke in what was supposed to be a "remote, authentic H'mong village".
So it was fantastically beautiful and the locals were extremely kind and covered in beautiful traditional dress. But I couldn't help but feel that, in a tiny way, we were being had.
That being said, the hiker and nature-lover in me absolutely loved it. Worth going for sure.