Aug 19 2013

Bac Ha market, Lao Cai

Published by at 1:45 am under Uncategorized


Bac Ha, in the northeast corner of Vietnam’s Lao Cai district, is home to one of the most lively ethnic minority markets in Vietnam. Every Sunday, from the early hours, the town comes to life as hundreds of Flower Hmong flood the small town.

Setting up: we beat the hordes.

Setting up: we beat the hordes.

Get there at 06:30 to watch the market come to life as vendors set up stalls, but an extra hour in bed won’t hurt — 07:30 to 09:30 is a good time to go, when it’ll be lively but the tourist buses won’t have arrived yet.

Just a couple of chickens to sell.

Just a couple of chickens to sell.

The market is spread over a large area, roughly divided as lifestock, food, handicrafts, equipment and clothing — with plenty else thrown in.

A bit early for rice wine.

A bit early for rice wine, even for me.

The livestock market is at the back. You’ll first come to a paved area where pigs, poultry, puppies and kittens are available for inspection, negotiation and purchase.

Walk up the slope, past the handicrafts stalls, or the steps to reach the buffalo sales area where men crowd around the animals, wads of dong in hand.

Discussing the merits of the stock.

Discussing the merits of the stock.

The food section is the largest part of the market and here shoppers can buy everyday essentials, such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices.

It gets messier.

It gets messier.

You may not want to buy anything yourself in this section, but it’s interesting to see what your usual shopper will be picking up here.

I fancy Thai.

I fancy Thai.

Stop for a break at one of the drinks stalls — do watch out for over-charging — or grab a deep-fried banana or rice cake for on-the-go.

Yes, we're coming.

Yes, we’re coming.

Or enjoy a bowl of noodle soup, even if some bits in it may be from parts of a cow you’re not overly familiar with.

No time for squimishness.

No time for squimishness.

You won’t want for souvenirs. If the hawkers on the street don’t catch you, there are plenty of stalls in the market.

Never fear: souvenirs are available.

Never fear: souvenirs are available.

Men can even get a haircut and a shave — in case they want a break from all that haggling over a pig.

Passive salesmen.

Passive salesmen.

And of course, everywhere you look are photo opportunities, with the beautiful Flower Hmong dresses standing out even on a wet day.

All dressed up... now where?

All dressed up… now where?

The market starts to wind down from mid-morning, but you’ll still find activity as late as lunchtime. Day trips are available from Sapa or travel under your own steam to arrive the day before and beat the crowds.

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Bac Ha market, Lao Cai”

  1. chrison 22 Aug 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Market starts at 6.30????, here in Central VN the noisy motorbikes are roaring from 3.30am, ( one neighbour cooks food to sell there ), by 5am the markets are bustling, most have breakfast before 6am.

  2. Sarah Turneron 23 Aug 2013 at 2:57 am

    Sure, of course some markets – particularly wholesale markets like Long Bien in Hanoi – open from the early hours, but this article was specifically about Bac Ha market and I was there at 6.30am and although some trading was going on a lot of stalls were still setting up. It didn’t get lively until later in the morning.

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