For a moment I stood motionless amidst the unimaginable chaos. Hordes of people were moving around in all directions, crisscrossing paths, in and out of the small alleys. Accents from all over the world murmured of endless huddles with screaming barkers and hawkers. The aroma of highland coffee, the sweet scent of flowers and the intense mix of spices permeate in the thin air. I did not know where to begin. I froze in the myriad of colors and exotic finds. It is a huge moving canvass of Vietnam’s diverse culture. It is Bac Ha Ethnic Market.
Bac Ha is a small district in the province of Lao Cai, 414 kilometers away from the capital city of Hanoi. While the extreme north of Vietnam is known to be the homeland of a diverse groups of indigenous people, Bac Ha is mostly populated by the variegated Flower H’mong. They are a distinct sub-group of southern China’s Miao ethnics who migrated into Vietnam sometime in the 18th century.
The Flower H’mongs or the H’mong Lenh take its name from its colorful traditional dress called pa nadau or the flower cloth. Intricate floral and geometric patterns are embroidered into layers of colorful silk and hemmed in by tiny beads. Etched metal bangles, earrings and chokers complete the ensemble. This complex adornment makes them the most decorated among the H’mongs.
What draws the domestic and international tourists to Bac Ha is its Sunday Market when most of the ethnic Flower H’mongs come to the town center in their full regalia for a day of trading and social gathering. Not just one or some but all of them come in their traditional clothes. They do not dress up for the tourists’ spectacle but this is just how it has been since the olden days. With more tourists coming in on Sundays, the market has become livelier with the additions of lowlander entrepreneurs and more restaurants.
On this day, herds of cattle, a wide mix of herbs and spices, fresh vegetables, exotic insects and an array of unique handicrafts fill the valley market. After the busy business matters, they usually gather for a sumptuous boodle fight, a little of alcohol, ethnic music and traditional healing. Children run around and just like all the teenagers around the world, you’ll see them flirting.
Packaged tours to Bac Ha also include a visit in nearby ethnic villages where you can see rice wine distilleries and farms. It also gives the tourists and opportunity to observe their ways of life like farming, raising hogs and cattle, weaving and all sorts ordinary.
The kaleidoscopic colors and dizzying patterns, the exotic smell of spices, the amazing handicrafts and how it all looked like an everyday life was a time warp experience. Bac Ha is the best ethnic market in all of Vietnam and a good immersion into its community of diverse culture and traditions.
HOW TO GET THERE
By Private Tour
Arrange a private tour with your travel agent in Hanoi or you may coordinate this with your hotel in Sapa as an added activity.
Private day tours include transportation, lunch and a quick visit to the Chinese.
Take a bus from Lao Cai station to Bac Ha.
Drop off in the town center.
Walk eastward to the market.
Bac Ha comes to life only on Sundays.
Other than the Ethnic Market (which ends around mid-afternoon), there’s nothing much to see in Bac Ha. This means a day trip is fine.
Should you wish to stay for few days, you may also do trekking and visiting plum farms.
Betwixt and between the arthritic 40 and a horrendous body mass index of positive 30, escapism and yummyeology are my real-life double post-graduate degrees conferred with the highest honors.
I lived nearly half of my life in fancy suitcases, jetsetting between reality and fantasy... read more