Sep 09 2012

Exploring Bac Kan province

Published by at 1:12 am under Hanoi excursions

You don’t always have to stick to the tourist trail in Vietnam; simply striking out somewhere for the hell of it can be richly rewarding. Bac Kan province is little visited by tourists, although its main point of interest, Ba Be Lake, attracts those looking for natural beauty outside of Ha Long Bay.

To us it's pretty, to them it's life

To us it’s pretty, to them it’s life.

We took a wander through the area recently and savoured the flavour of rural Vietnamese lifel. Bac Kan is an ethnic and mountainous province — one of the poorest in Vietnam. In fact in 2009 it had the highest poverty rate in the country, with an average monthly per capita income of 669,000 VND.

Not a garden shed - the Community House

Not a garden shed — the Community House.

Most of its income is from agriculture, but this is primarily small scale, household farming, rather than mass commercial production; so although the majority of households grow, breed or collect something, most of this is used for living, rather the for sale.

Corn is so important that it's given its own tent

Corn is so important that it’s given its own tent.

Corn is widespread, and can be seen hanging everywhere to dry. The corn isn’t eaten but is dried, split into kernels and then either made into paste by the householders to feed their own animals, or sold on. It sells for around 5,000 VND per kilogram.

They even make roofs out of it

They even make roofs out of it.

Ginger is a good crop for the province as it’s easy to grow and can reap good financial reward for traders. The younger roots are often exported to Japan and within Vietnam; as well as being used fresh in cooking, it’s processed for medicinal use or as an instant tea powder.

Looks like she likes ginger

Looks like she likes ginger.

Na Ri district is famous for its vermicelli — mien — noodles. The canna root that it’s made from is easy to grow and it’s then sold to local manufacturers to produce and package the noodles before they’re sold both in the province and further afield. Profit margins are low and cash flow causes problems for the smaller producers, but the noodles are good quality and in demand for special occasions and Tet.

No fancy machinery.

No fancy machinery.

Most produce, including mien, doesn’t get any further than the local markets. Quantities aren’t usually high enough to attract the interest of large companies further afield and transportation is difficult and expensive.

The market in Bac Kan town is certainly worth a visit in the early morning, as traders and farmers arrive ready to sell their goods.

A light load.

A light load.

The market sells all the goods you’ll see at wet markets elsewhere, but sprawls across a large square as well as having inside areas where most of the meat stalls can be found. Be warned — it’s hot and smelly. But the stall holders are full of laughter and smiles for outsiders, who are very few and far between.

Bac Kan town can be reached by bus from Ba Dinh bus station, via Thai Nguyen. Once in the town a few accommodation options are available. Try Thuan Ngo Hotel next to the station, which has clean and large en suite rooms for 250,000 VND to 300,000 VND, not including breakfast. From there take local buses or try to hire a motorbike — but be warned, the roads are bad and distances deceptive. Alternatively, hire a car for a day or so from Hanoi for around 2 million VND for a day trip, or more if you want to stay for a couple of days and travel around.

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Exploring Bac Kan province”

  1. chrison 11 Sep 2012 at 3:50 am

    But obviously all are not poor, TV’s, satilite TV, m/bikes and electricity? although if like here the power for the ‘poor’ is almost free.

  2. Sarah Turneron 12 Sep 2012 at 2:22 am

    Hi Chris. I haven’t travelled extensively in the rural areas of Vietnam, but have spent a fair bit of time in the northwest of the country, and been to Ha Giang (town not the villages, but travelled through many) and of course, now Bac Kan, and while by no means not everyone has one, TVs and motorbikes are very common and yes, there is electricity in most villages. But those TVs take pride of place in huts with little more than a mat on the floor. I’m also intrigued as to how they afford them – I can only imagine they save a lot and buy very cheap. But next time I’m there I’ll ask!

  3. Violetson 12 Sep 2012 at 4:49 am

    I love to get info on different places in Vietnam. I like to break up long bus journeys with a stopover or two and Travelfish has provided me with some inspiration and interesting accommodation options. Thank you for going there and thanks for reporting back.

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