Colorful market in north western part of Vietnam near the Chinese border!
Location: Bac Ha, Lao Cai Province, Vietnam
Getting There: Bac Ha is 315 kilometers north west of Hanoi and 65 Kilometers east of Lao Cai, or 80 kilometers north east of Sa Pa
Transport: Local bus to Lao Cai from Hanoi then minibus to Bac Ha. Or overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and mini bus to Bac Ha. Or bus from Sa Pa
Times: Starts setting up Saturday night and then gets going Sunday mornings starting early (by 6:00am) and keeps going into mid afternoon
In October 2017, I took a trip to Northern Vietnam near the Chinese border for a chance to see the rice terraces as to see golden yellow colors before or during the harvest for the year. As I am always on the lookout to see the local markets, I went to Bac Ha on Saturday night so I would have the chance to see the colorful weekly market which takes place on Sunday mornings. I had been to this market once before, almost 12 years previously, on my first visit to Vietnam. I was worried that it had changed since so much of Vietnam has changed in that time, but I have to say, other than more of the locals talking on cell phones, the market was pretty much as I remembered it from years earlier.
I arrived to Bac Ha in the early afternoon from Hanoi via 2 different buses, a minivan, and a Xe Om (motorcycle taxi). I started on a tourist bus from the old quarter of Hanoi around 7:30am. After a couple of toilet stops I was dropped off at the bus company office in Lao Cai. The bus was carrying on to Sa Pa towards the west, but I wanted to head east. I asked at the bus office how to get to Bac Ha and the girl with limited English said to walk 200 meters and I would find a bus. I was stopped by a Xe Om and told him I wanted a bus to Bac Ha. After negotiating over price, he brought me and my bag to a bus station where all the buses to Bac Ha originated. After waiting for the van to fill up, we departed. Driving around town for 30 min picking up and dropping off, we turned off, on the same corner where I had first met the Xe Om towards Bac Ha! After a couple of hours and a 3 year old who was scared of me at first, but eventually warmed to me and fell asleep across my lap as we arrived.
I stayed at a really nice home stay called Bac Ha Lake View which was about a 3 minute walk to the market and a 5 minute walk from where the bus dropped me off. I wandered in the afternoon and early evening around town as the market was setting up for the next day.
I was worried the morning market would be cancelled because it had rained all night but when I arrived about 6:30am it was just starting to gain steam. Most stalls had been set up, ladies were displaying their wares on tarps under umbrellas, anticipating the rain that was to come. Everything you can imagine and more was being sold. One open section was home to all the fresh fruit and vegetables that were brought in from the countryside by the Flower H’mong, Tay and other hill tribes of the region. Many of the products I recognized but many I had no clue what they were or how they were used. Another section housed all the items for the tourists. The busloads of people from Sa Pa started arriving about 9am and the market took on a different feel, and I was so happy I had arrived early. A third section on the edge and top of a small hill was where all the live stock was being sold. There were water buffalos, cows, pigs, chickens, goats, horses, etc. And then another section that housed all the food that the locals were consuming.
Nobody seemed to mind having their photos taken. I assume they are used to this since every weekend hoards of tourists arrive, all with cameras in hand.