Off the beaten track: Vietnam-Bac Ha
Settled amongst the mountains in the far north of Vietnam is Bac Ha, a small and relatively untouched hillside town that for most of the week is quiet and sleepy. On Sunday however it’s all change, the surrounding hills are home to something like 10 different hilltribes: the Flower H’mong are the most vibrant, but other groups include Dzao, Giay (Nhang), Han (Hoa), Xa Fang, Lachi, Nung, Phula, Thai and Thulao and come Sunday morning the hills are alive with the sound of markets.
We headed there from Sapa another larger hillside town but it wasn’t easy, first we had to get a very early bus to Lao Cai and then from there a local bus to Bac Ha, which takes all day. There are tour buses that do the trip but because of the distance they charge a small fortune and this puts many tourists off. Anyway the local buses are always much more interesting and the road is very scenic if not a little rough!
The Sunday morning market starts early and it’s impossible to miss, what was a dusty, quiet town square turns into a car park for local buses and throngs of Flower H’mong people stroll past the few guest houses in town on their way to sell their wares. With their baskets strapped to their backs full of fruit, vegetables and textiles it makes for a wonderful scene and we didn’t see a single piece of tourist tat anywhere. Georgie loves a market and generally I do NOT but once your there it’s such an attack on the senses that I couldn’t help myself, I sat and smoked with some serious looking men what I hoped to be tobacco… A few coughs on my part soon had them laughing and within minutes I’d managed to reduce a whole crowd of serious tobacco buyers to a fit of coughing and giggling… Time to move on!
It is a real market in every sense of the word, it has wet parts and textile parts, livestock arrives and leaves on the back of motorbikes and the buzz about the place is almost overwhelming. Everything can be bought here from puppies to rice wine and if I recommend one thing it’s to sit down and try some home made hooch… It will certainly wake you up! I tried to chat with some men about which pig was best and which ones they were after but they were busy men and I probably stank a little too much of homemade moonshine from another stall.
The market lasts all day and unless your planning on staying in Bac Ha longer to explore the mountains around it then you will have to wander around to find a local bus with spare seats going your way. For some people this may be a bit hardcore because if your not on these buses the next ones will be a week later but to be honest the locals won’t see you stranded.
What struck me most about Bac Ha was it’s authenticity, even getting there was only possible the same way the locals do and once there we were in at the deep end. It’s not a market for tourists as such although there are bargains to be had but its a great way to spend a day and really get to see how some of Vietnam’s hilltribe people live…