Bac Ha mapGeneral Information

700km northeast of Lao Cai Province, Bac Ha District attracts travelers for its beautiful natural landscape and historical landmarks. The name Bac Ha deprives of the phrase ‘Pac Ha’ (which means hundred alang bunches) in Tay ethnic language. Under the French colony, this area was called Pakha. Vietnamese people pronounced it ‘Bac Ha’ and then Bac Ha became the official name of this rural district.

Along with majestic mountains, rivers and caves endowed by the Mother Nature, colorful ethnic cultures and friendly local people make Bac Ha an ideal destination for trekkers and culture lovers on a trip to Vietnam. This district is well-known for its Sunday morning ethnic market where you can see Northwestern mountainous tribes in colorful costumes trading local products and souvenirs such as jewelry, scarves, and wood carvings.

Besides Bac Ha Market, Fairy Cave, Hoang A Tuong Palace, Ban Pho Village and Bac Ha Temple are worth checking out. If you are adventurous, rent a motorbike and explore this tranquil area. The roads are winding and long and you will be rewarded with magnificent sceneries of imposing alleys dotted with small ethnic houses and emerald rice fields.

Bac Ha is referred to as a ‘White Alley’ (Cao nguyen trang) since between 1985 and 1996, poppy plants and marijuana were grown in some mountainous area such as Lang Son, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Lai Chau, and Nghe An. As the Vietnamese government prohibited growing these addictive substances, the ‘White Alley’ turns into a peaceful land of plum blossom over the hills every spring, which creates romantic scenery for this destination.

Bac Ha Weather

The best time to travel to Bac Ha is in springs (February – April) and winter (November – January). Be careful if you travel to this district in summers since heavy rains may affect your trip.

Bac Ha Weather - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Weather in Bac Ha

Some most attractive times to travel to this destination:

  • In springs, before and after Lunar New Year is the peach blossom season.
  • Festival of Earth and Water Greeting is held on the 15th day of the first lunar month every year.
  • In March, all the hills are covered by the white color of plum blossom.
  • Water pouring season in May, which turns the rice terraces into magnificent scenery
  • The traditional Bac Ha Racing Horse Festival is held in the sixth lunar month after the plum is ripe.
  • Bac Ha Market on Sunday
  • Bac Ha Temple Festival on the 7th day of the seventh lunar month
  • Harvesting season in September

Ethnic Minorities in Bac Ha

Visiting this place on a Northern Vietnam tour, you can see a lot of H’Mong people who constitute 50% of Bac Ha’s population. Besides, there are other ethnic minorities such as Tay, Dzao, Tu Zi, Nung, Phula, La Chi and Lo Lo.

Getting to Bac Ha

  • By bus: From Hanoi, you can catch a bus to Bac Ha from My Dinh Bus Station. You can buy a ticket from Hai Van at VND 250,000 dong. Buses start at 9:00 pm and arrive in Bac Ha the next morning. There are 18 buses every day.
  • By train: You buy train tickets from for Hanoi to Lao Cai which depart at about 8-9 pm from Hanoi and arrive in Lao Cai at 5 am. Then, from Lao Cai, you can catch a bus to Bac Ha from Lao Cai Bus Station at 7 am, 12 pm, 1 pm, and 2 pm. Tickets are about VND 50,000 dong.
  • From Bac Ha Bus Station, you can find a bus to Sapa if you want to visit both places but do not want to ride a motorbike yourselves.

Getting around Bac Ha

Bac Ha is relatively small so you can explore either by motorbike or on foot. You can rent a motorbike here or find a motorbike taxi (xe om) who can take you around the town. If you want to combine your Bac Ha trip with other places in Lao Cai such as Si Ma Cai, Y Ty or Sapa, it is recommended that you rent a motorbike in Hanoi and then ride here.

What to See in Bac Ha

Bac Ha Sunday Market - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Bac Ha Sunday Market

After spending time in a Sapa excursion, it will be fun to continue your ethnic exploration in Bac Ha. Trekking to ethnic tribes, interacting with the locals in their market and admiring majestic trails in the mountain’s midst are main things travelers can do here.

1. Ethnic Markets

Bac Ha Sunday Market
  • Location: In Bac Ha District, 80km from Sapa
  • Characteristics: It is absolutely regretted if you do not spend time in Bac Ha Sunday Market when coming to this district. Every Sunday, H’Mong, Red Dzao, Ha Nhi and other ethnic minorities gather here to exchange agricultural products, enjoy a cup of corn alcohol and talking to each other.
Lung Phinh Market
  • Location: Lung Phinh Commune, 12km from Bac Ha
  • Characteristics: It takes place every Sunday. If you prefer an authentic market without any commercial interference, head to Lung Phinh.
Can Cau Market
  • Location: 20km north of Bac Ha
  • Characteristics: Can Cau Market takes place every Saturday morning. You can see mainly H’Mong and Day ethnic people in this market.
Coc Ly Market
  • Location: 35km from Bac Ha
  • Characteristics: Coc Ly Market is organized every Tuesday. This market is considered as a meeting place for H’Mong, Black Dzao and Nung people. After visiting this market, you can take a boat trip along Chay River, admire the beauty of Tay and H’Mong people’s ethnic villages and take photos of spectacular waterfalls.
Sin Pheng Market
  • Location: In the center of Sin Pheng Commune, 10km from Si Ma Cai District
  • Characteristics: Despite not being as large as Bac Ha Market, you can find everything in Sin Pheng Market. Organized on Wednesday every week, this market is the most crowded at noon.

2. Hoang A Tuong Palace

Hoang A Tuong Palace - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Hoang A Tuong Palace

Built in 1914 and complete in 1921, Hoang A Tuong Palace is attached to a tumultuous history. This palace belongs to a Tay person named Hoang Yen Chao, the father of Hoang A Tuong. Prior to 1945, Bac Ha was a ‘semi-feudal, semi-colonial’ society in which the wealthy upper class, including Hoang A Tuong and Hoang Yen Chao, exploited the working class by occupying fertile lands and monopolizing the sale of essential products such as salt and foods.

This place is the combination of French and Chinese architectural style with a two-storey structure. Its long and imposing corridor reflects the glorious time bygone.

Location: In the center of Bac Ha Town

3. Fairy Cave (Dong Tien)

This is the must-see place after visiting Coc Ly Market. The surrounding Chay River and fauna system offer Fairy Cave a fascinating beauty. You have to take a boat ride along the river to visit this cave.

4. Fairy Mountain (Nui Co Tien)

Fairy Mountain - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Fairy Mountain

From the north of Si Ma Cai District to Bac Ha township and at the height of over 1,000m above the sea level, Fairy Mountain stands out as an imposing scenery. This is the heaven for adventurous tourists who love trekking, hiking and conquering a new peak.

5. Ban Pho Village

Ban Pho Village - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Ban Pho Village

Ban Pho is located at the highest point of Bac Ha District, inhabited mainly by H’Mong and Dao people. The main crop grown in this village is maize and you can only find some families grow rice. There are three traditional handicrafts in Ban Pho which are making alcohol, brocade weaving, and hammering.

6. Bac Ha Temple

Built in the 19th century, Bac Ha Temple is dedicated to Vu Van Mat, the hero who defeated Northern enemies during the reign of Emperor Le Chieu Tong (1516). Bac Ha Temple festival is organized in the 7th day of the seventh lunar month every year.

What to Eat in Bac Ha

Wandering around Bac Ha Market, you definitely have to try the following delicious dishes to experience the unique culinary culture here.

1. Men men (Rice made of corn)

Men men - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Men men

Men men is a popular dish of Northwestern mountainous ethnic tribes since corn is their main crop. To cook delicious men men, only high-quality corn is chosen, neither too old nor too young. The corn is ground into powder, and mixed with a suitable amount of water. Then, the mixture is cooked in a pan until it has a distinctive sweetness and color.

The price for a bowl of men men is cheap, for VND 10,000 dong you can enjoy this dish’s appetizing flavor and appealing smell.

2. Banh duc ngo (Plain corn flan)

Banh duc ngo - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Banh duc ngo

Similar to the regular banh duc (plain rice flan) you can try in Hanoi, Banh duc ngo is made of corn grown by Northwestern ethnic people. Banh duc ngo is cut into small pieces and served with broth, green onion, cilantro, and chili. The price for this dish ranges from VND 8,000 – 10,000 dong.

3. Pau po cu (Corn cake)

Pau po cu - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Pau po cu

This is another dish made of corn that will make your trip to Bac Ha unforgettable. Corn is ground, put into banana leaves and steamed in several hours. Pau po cu is sweet, fragrant, and sticky. Local people eat it as a snack; however, you can enjoy this cake for breakfast as well. Pau po cu can be stored for a week since it is soaked in water.

4. Banh chen (Chen cake)

Chen cake - Bac Ha Travel Guide
Chen cake

Chen cake is the combination of rice flour and corn flour. When Pau po cu is fragrant but a little bit dry and not so sticky, local people have added rice flour to make it stickier and softer. Similar to Pau po cu, Chen cake is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in hot water.

5. Xoi ngu sac (Five-color sticky rice)

Sapa Travel Guide: Five-color Sticky Rice
Five-color Sticky Rice

This is the traditional dish of Tay ethnic people. The name comes from the fact that it has five colors. These five colors represent the five elements of life in their belief: yellow is earth, green is plant, red is fire, white is metal, and purple is water.

No chemical is required to make this colorful sticky rice, only natural leaves are used. The leaves are boiled before being put into a large bowl with rice to create different colors.

6. Thang Co (a special kind of hotpot)

Thang Co is widely known as the most traditional dish of H’mong ethnic group. This food is made from beef, buffalo, pork and horse meat. However, local residents often use horse organs such as heart, liver, bone, and meat to cook this dish. All these organs are put in a big pan of water and stew in a long time. Some particular seasoning and vegetables are often served with the dish to reduce the fat taste.

7. Bac Ha sour noodles

Bac Ha sour noodles

Despite being made from the same ingredients as Hanoi noodle, Bac Ha noodle taste is particular and special.

In order to process sour noodle, the chef uses indispensable raw materials: pickles, green vegetables (lettuce, basil) finely chopped; pounding roasted sesame and peanuts; a few seals to add special flavor; and of course noodles and broth. Before tasting this food, you should add some salt because this noodle will be slightly fainter for people from other places. Sour Noodle should be served cold, so it is the good choice for summer. If you visit Bac Ha in winter, there is a little chance for you to taste it.