Not many people know that Bac Ha market located in Sapa, has existed for over 100 years. It thrived during the French Colonial period in Vietnam but became less and less popular after Vietnam gained independence. However, the market still functions, and its patrons are mostly curious foreigners looking to learn a bit more about the H’Mong culture, and of course, locals seeking day-to-day necessities.
Where is Bac Ha Market and How to Get There
65 kilometers away from Lao Cai city center, Bac Ha market is located in Bac Ha town, Bac Ha district, Lao Cai province which is in the eastern part of the province. There are many transportation options between Bac Ha and Hanoi or Sapa.
From Hanoi to Bac Ha
It is not difficult to get to Bac Ha from Hanoi though this is just a small city. It will take at least six hours on mountainous roads, totaling about 322 kilometers. If you are worried, don’t be, the scenic surroundings around you will make your trip enjoyable. Read A Comprehensive Guide to Buying and Renting Motorbikes if you are in fond of this kind of transportation.
By Sleeper Bus
There are two sleeper buses from My Dinh bus station in Hanoi to Bac Ha daily. It will take six hours, the same amount of time as going by motorbike.
Departure Time: 7:30 PM
Ticket Price: 270,000 VND
Phone Number: 0376 20 20 20
Departure Time: 8:30 AM
Ticket Price: 320,000 VND
Phone Number: 037 223 8074 – 0989 408 366
For those who love traveling by train, you can take a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai city. The train section in this article has a lot of useful information. After arriving at Lao Cai train station, you’ll need to get to Lao Cai bus station which is 10 kilometers away. There are a lot of buses from Bac Ha bus station from the early morning to 3 PM every day.
Another way to get to Bac Ha Market is by hiring a car in Hanoi. You can contact any car service that travels the North-West route in Hanoi. The price will be approximately from 800,000 VND to 2,500,000 VND per day for a four-seater car to a 45-seater bus.
Hoang Gia Trans
Address: No. 06 A9, Giang Bien resettlement area, Long Bien ward, Hanoi
Hotline: 0963 242 987 (Mr. Tiep)
Website: Hoang Gia Trans
If you want a really simple car-hire service, Muvv is for you. Just fill in your information and payment details on the website. Then, the Muvv team will prepare everything for you in the shortest time. After that, a reliable driver will pick you up with a name board, contact your hotel at Bac Ha beforehand, and drop you directly at your hotel. Let’s check this website to book your transportation with the Muvv team.
From Sapa to Bac Ha
Bac Ha is an eastern district of Lao Cai province whereas Sapa is in a western district. The distance from Sapa to Bac Ha is 100 kilometers which takes around four hours to complete the route. Many rugged bends and steep slopes are scattered along the mountainous roads but the spectacular mountain scenery make this dangerous route worthy.
Motorbike and bus are the transportation options on this route. For bus, you need to catch a bus from Sapa to Lao Cai city first, then catch another bus from Lao Cai city to Bac Ha. Each bus ticket is around 50,000 VND.
When to visit Bac Ha Market
Locals from the Bac Ha region and nearby neighboring regions form this little market only once a week on Sundays from early morning until noon, 6 AM to 12 PM. Many elderly and young women and men from the H’Mong and Dao tribes wake up as early as 4 AM on Sundays to gather their items and set up their stalls so they can display them in an attractive way.
Bac Ha also has unique festivals celebrated on specific days during the year. It’s best if you visit Bac Ha Market during one of these festivals. Spring is the season of plum blossom and also the season of festivals as well. Say San Festival and Ruoc Dat Ruoc Nuoc Festival are held from January 2nd to 6th and January 15th on the lunar calendar in succession. During these two festivals, locals pray for a new year with favorable weather, bumper harvest, and prosperous life. In early June when the plum is ripening, Horse Racing Festival is celebrated. The last one is Bac Ha Temple Festival on July 7th of the lunar calendar.
Bac Ha Market – A Colorful Space
You can find many things here – from local handicrafts of the different tribes-people to colorful fruit and delicious dishes that are definitely worth a try. You’re out here in the mountains of Northern Vietnam, so forget about the bacon and eggs, and try some sticky rice or noodle soup instead.
Ethnic Food, Vegetable, and Herbs
Vegetables, herbs, and fruits are what you will find in abundance here. Sure you can find these anywhere, but the produce sold at Bac Ha are locally sourced which means they are fresh and non-toxic. You will find sweet potatoes, cassava, cowpea, ginseng, etc., all laid out in contrasting colors atop bamboo mats in a stunning display. Stop by each mat and ask the vendor if you can try something you have never seen before– they won’t say no.
You can also find rare food here. An elderly woman with a wrinkled yet radiant smile donning the H’Mong outfit sitting next to her aromatic cans of home-baked corn, a gentle girl arranging her fried buckwheat pie, a young man chatting with customers about his barrels full of honey wax… these are familiar sights in this unique market.
Just like the costumes of the highland people, Bac Ha cuisine also brings various colors to Vietnamese recipes. You’ve probably tried pho in Hanoi, or even in your home country, but have you ever tried red pho? I’m sure you’ve come across white sticky rice, but have you tried the blue one? Or the indigo one? Or the purple one? These are colored by local herbs and very popular in the region and definitely make for a colorful meal.
Another specialty of the region is buffalo and horse meat dishes (thang co). You can find these in the market. Have it for lunch and follow the vendor that sells hot sweet potato pie and you will be happy.
Traditional Clothes and Handicrafts
Keep an eye out for clothing and accessories sold in this market. Various items represent the various cultures and you will be able to tell them apart by the contrasting colors and patterns. If you are not sure which item belongs to which tribe, just ask and the vendor will be more than happy to share their culture with you. Every item is handmade and intricately sown – forget factory-made products. Here’s the real deal.
Run your hand over the embroidery and you will feel the love the maker of the item has for their work and culture. Bronze bracelets and earrings with sophisticated carvings also make wonderful gifts for your loved ones back home. Try not to haggle too much. Prices quoted to you may be inflated, but check twice and do not dip too low. Remember, one US dollar, may seem quite a lot when converted as it is 22,500 VND, however, to us this one dollar is nothing and to them, it could mean two meals for the day.
Cattle and Poultry
There is an area located at the end of Bac Ha market, on a high hill separate from the main market. This is where the ethnic people sell many cattle and poultry such as chicken, bird, dog, pig, buffalo, cow, and horse. You will see a variety in species, color, and size. The different cattle and poultry are sold separately as well. You will be amazed by the crowded sellers and buyers here. These people will bargain until they buy the best one.
Local Unique Lifestyle
Bac Ha market really is a show of smiles and vibrant colors. While exchanging goods may be the primary purpose, what makes Bac Ha market more special than other markets found in Vietnam, is how much joy, smiles, and laughter are exchanged. At the Bac Ha fair, there is no distance between the tribes, no language barriers or regional contrasts. Everyone comes together for one purpose – to make an honest living and bring joy to the ones around them.
People often say living in the mountains and away from developed cities is a tough life. But not to these people. All you need to do is to come, witness, and talk to them. They have a way of life that may seem hard to us, however, to them, they enjoy it and love it. It’s life as they know it and they are happy. We may be always striving for more, but with the simple life they are living, some say they already have all they need. That is something we need to learn.
If you don’t have much time to explore Bac Ha market by yourself, joining a tour is worth a try. Many tour operators offer tours to Bac Ha Market from Hanoi or from Sapa. From Sapa, these last usually one day, but you can expect the ones from Hanoi to last multiple days, and these not only visit Bac Ha Market but other cities like Sapa and Ha Giang, and offer activities like trekking and cycling. Some travel agencies even make private itineraries for you if you have a specific list of things you would like to do.
Check these operators out for tours to the market and region:
As a small locality, the hotel and guesthouses in Bac Ha are quite limited. You can still find some homestays on popular booking websites though. Or you can refer to these two following addresses and book a room there:
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