Bac Ha is the Hilltop Mountain Town You Haven’t Heard of but Must See
About 2 hour’s drive from the better known Sapa, is the little gem of a market town Bac Ha. If spending a weekend tasting locally make rice wines, wandering expansive, eye arresting markets, and mingling with local indigenous tribes practicing lifestyle methods that span decades sounds like the experience of a lifetime then the Bac Ha weekend market is a must do during your tour to Vietnam!
The Mountain Views are Free
In the upper North West corner of Vietnam near the border to China sits the relatively undisturbed mountain gem of Bac Ha. Mass tourism has yet to touch this important market town of the indigenous Flower Hmong tribe as most tourists favor the more popular, nearby town of Sapa.
You will not find a great breadth of tourist infrastructure in town besides a few good accommodation options, some restaurants, a single spa, and some incredible trekking routes. Don’t however think of Bac Ha as mundane, the pace of life is a far cry from what you’ll doubtless experience if coming from Hanoi, with clean air, dramatically scenic backdrops, and a refreshingly cool climate as the mountain town enjoys an average yearly temperature of 19 degrees Celsius.
The Lively Markets
The most notable experience in tour in Bac Ha however exists ever Sunday within the markets. While the surrounding karst mountain ranges are home to 10 distinctly different hill tribe ethnic groups, the most represented within the Bac Ha Sunday market is the Flower Hmong. Known for their intricately hand woven textiles, and vivid style of dress, the Flower Hmong along with an array of other tribe members from the surrounding hills descend upon Bac Ha in the earliest hours of dawn to set forth a dazzling display for the senses.
While you may not be in the market to purchase livestock, the market is a photographers dream pallet of color, pattern, and shape as concoctions of famously home brewed rice wines are passed amongst local market goers. As it is also essentially the most important social event of the weekly calendar amongst the hill tribes, unlike other more often tread areas of North Vietnam at the Bac Ha weekend market you will feel little pressure to make constant purchases.
It is a very local market, and while the quality of handicrafts has been hone for generations making anything you might choose to take home a unique acquisition of practiced skill, a visit alone will leave you with many firsts. If you do plan to do some shopping and rest assured something may catch your eye, make sure you have enough cash handy as there are currently no atm’s or foreign banks in the town of Bac Ha.
However off the grid Bac Ha is, you will not be the only foreign visitor there. It is advised to go earlier in the morning as day trippers from Hanoi, or nearby Sapa will arrive sometime after 9am.
Have a Whole Weekend?
If you are not pressed for time and considering a weekend in these upper northwest remote regions of Vietnam another option to add to a circuit tour would be to visit the market town of Can Cau. Smaller then Bac Ha, with its market operating on Saturday, and perhaps somewhat less of the social event that the Bac Ha market is, Can Cau is set against a backdrop that if you enjoy mountain views is arguably a bit more impressive then Bac Ha.
With a livestock market, goods and necessities, and also frequented by the Flower Hmong tribe Can Cau is not simply an addendum to Bac Ha, it can be viewed as an experience unto itself. The nature of their being Saturday and Sunday and a short, landscape rich 45 minute drive away makes it possible to see both within a weekend if transportation arrangements are made. Can Cau also makes a nice stopover during a trek and home-stay excursion.
Jacob Sneed is an avid traveler, hobbyist photographer, and author. What began five or so years ago as a short vacation has turned into a nomadic lifestyle that has taken him to many central hubs and remote corners of the earth alike. More of his writings can be found at principejacob.wordpress.com
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