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.
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.
The market is spread over a large area, roughly divided as lifestock, food, handicrafts, equipment and clothing — with plenty else thrown in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You won’t want for souvenirs. If the hawkers on the street don’t catch you, there are plenty of stalls in the market.
Men can even get a haircut and a shave — in case they want a break from all that haggling over a pig.
And of course, everywhere you look are photo opportunities, with the beautiful Flower Hmong dresses standing out even on a wet day.
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.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 3rd October, 2014.