After a memorable two days in Sa Pa, Vietnam exploring the Saturday market and the surrounding countryside, we spent our final day (Sunday) in pursuit of the Bac Ha market. This market is a couple hour’s drive from Sa Pa — back down the twisting mountain road, past Lao Cai into the eastern hillside. We piled into a minivan with a handful of other tourists and set off down the hill.
The Bac Ha market is more remote, yet larger than the Sa Pa market with a wider variety of things for sale — like animals. This is a part of the world that brings you closer to the food on your plate and reminds you that not everyone has the same narrow definition of “carnivore” as we do. You can by just about anything here — horses, pigs, chickens, dogs… even an ox for $2,000 USD.
The animals hang out in the grassy field nearby and are also tended to by the sellers who congregate on the outskirts of the market. It’s noisy here — horns honking, buyers and sellers negotiating, animals crying out.
Back in the tented portion of the market, everything is for sale — a kaleidoscope of color with dolls, jewelry, pillow cases, placemats, incense, handbags, skirts, brooms and tobacco. There’s a section for housewares, a section for produce, a section for clothing and an area where people gather for lunch.
Flower Hmong, another minority hill tribe of this region of Vietnam, have a large presence at the Bac Ha market. They dress in traditional long-sleeved tops and long skirts with plaid wraps around their heads. Their ensembles are infinitely colorful with stripe after stripe of embroidery and fabric creating linear patterns from head to toe.
There seemed to be a new trend emerging among the clothing of the Flower Hmong. Older skirts are hand-sewn and embroidered while newer skirts are machine-made with hundreds of tiny pleats, and patterns and lines incorporated. You can see the difference in the two photos below. I was obsessed with the beauty of the machine-made skirt and wanted SO much to buy one of the same pattern — but no such luck. I bought one with a different pattern.
After a bit more shopping we entered the bustling food market in search of some lunch.
We did see a terrific original, hand-made kitchen gadget…
…but decided we weren’t really in the mood for the day’s special.
We returned to the minivan and piled in again for the return to Lao Cai where we would catch another night train back to Hanoi. Along the way we stopped to see a temple and gazed across the Red River — the border between Vietnam and China. Hey China!
Back at the train and bus station where our journey began, we waited for the train at a little internet cafe where I enjoyed the finest, most unpretentious, delicious single-serving Vietnamese coffee ever. The perfectly aged phin (or filter) held the coffee while the hot water drained into the glass below, which mixed with a bit of sweetened condensed milk. Not bad for a tiny cafe on the remote border between two worlds.
Little did we know… a conversation at this cafe with a young couple sitting next to us would prove enlightening a couple weeks later. They had arrived in Lao Cai from the eastern coast of Vietnam after spending two weeks of their vacation in the hospital with Dengue Fever. When we arrived home from our trip, Mr. Producer came down with the same symptoms. The ER was unable to diagnose the illness, but after doing some research and remembering this conversation we realized he had Dengue Fever too, from the only two mosquito bites he’d gotten, in Saigon, on the last day of our vacation. Welcome back! Oh, Vietnam… as Peggy Lee would say, You Give Me Fever.