Bac Ha Market Day

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

April 1st, 2021

Today we’re wrapping up our virtual visit to Vietnam with a stop at the Bac Ha market, located far north near the border with China. People of the Flower Hmong hill tribe live in and around Bac Ha. Seeing their traditional dress, with rows and rows of infinite color, was a highlight of the day.

Tomorrow we’re back on the magic carpet, approaching 365 daily posts. I’ll be bringing the carpet in for a landing soon with five more posts to go.

Until then,
Kelly

Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.

***

After a memorable two days in Sa Pa, Vietnam exploring the Saturday market and the surrounding countryside, we spent Sunday at 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.

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

The Bac Ha market is more remote, yet larger than the Sa Pa market with a wider variety of things for sale, including  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 definition of “carnivore.” You can by just about anything at the Bac Ha market — horses, pigs, chickens, dogs… even an ox for $2,000 USD.

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

The horses and oxen 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, and so many animals.

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

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.

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Handmade brooms

Handmade brooms

Hand embroidery

Hand embroidery

Women of the Flower Hmong Hill Tribe

Women of the Flower Hmong Hill Tribe

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.

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

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 did buy one with a different pattern.

Flower Hmong traditional dress

Flower Hmong traditional dress

Flower Hmong modern skirt and pattern

Flower Hmong modern skirt and pattern

After a bit more shopping we entered the bustling food market where everyone was gathered at communal tables, catching up on community news and enjoying each other’s company.

Bac Ha lunch stop

Bac Ha lunch stop

Bac Ha lunch stop

Bac Ha lunch stop

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 Den Mau temple and gazed across the Red River — the border between Vietnam and China.

Den Mau Temple

Den Mau Temple

China, across the river

China, across the river

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 café on the remote border between two worlds.

The best coffee

The best coffee

Little did we know, a conversation at this café 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 more than a week of their vacation in the hospital with Dengue Fever. When we arrived home from our trip, J came down with the same symptoms. The ER was unable to diagnose the illness, but after doing some research and remembering this conversation we soon realized he had Dengue too, from the only two mosquito bites he had gotten, in Saigon, on the last day of our vacation. Welcome home!

24 comments

  • A whole year of memories and travel! Remarkable sights you’ve seen, Kelly. This one is so full of life 🙂 🙂

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  • The designs of the traditional dresses are fascinating, they seem to have caught your attention for good reason. Seeing the border river with China, I wondered if like the Rio Grande it was crossed illegally, and in which direction?

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    • Surely there must be/have been illegal crossings throughout all of time. And depending on the politics and economics, probably in changing directions. It seemed amicable when we were there — people walking and pushing their bikes across the bridge in both directions without incident. In any case, an interesting question of history!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Such a wonderfully evocative set of photographs, so colourful and so full of life. Really captures the spirit of Asian markets.

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  • Cheers to your joy for travel. I haven’t visited anywhere in SE Asia. Maybe someday … but what a lousy ending. How long did it last?

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  • The fabrics are amazing, but the daily tools (brooms, the coffee apparatus, and some kind of sieve/ladle/pronged thingy!) are even cooler. Yikes to the Dengue fever!

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    • Confession: I left out the daily special they were scooping up with the cool tools. It was a greenish stew that looked very unappetizing. 🙂 Yeah, Dengue was no fun. A strange thing for J to experience. I’ve never seen him like that and we went straight to the ER. It was Halloween afternoon. What a memory!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Wonderful photos, wonderful colors, wonderful story. What a year you have given us. Your magic carpet has been truly magical every day. 🙏💕

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  • Loving these Viet Nam visits! Southeast Asia is on our short list for sure – so it’s fun to look at these evocative images and dream of future travels! We have been fortunate to have escaped dengue so far (knock wood) but it is so prominent here in Mexico during the rainy months and know many that have been knocked down by its nastiness.

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    • Beauty! Great to hear from you! Great choice putting Vietnam on your short list. So much to see! Happy to know you’ve enjoyed the posts. I didn’t realize Dengue is so prevalent where you are. Yes, touch wood and steer clear! It’s a bizarre ailment. Hope you all had a great weekend. ♥

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  • The colourful dresses are so pretty. Once machine made dresses come out, the market would get tough for the hand made dress makers though.

    I notice how happy everyone appears to be, like the boys on the first photo and the ladies selling food out of those wicker baskets. Not something very usual in a busy market.

    Sad to have got dengue to end such a lovely trip, it’s always a risk during the rainy seasons.

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    • True, Deb — everyone seemed happy and was very friendly during our time there. All the women are there to sell so they do come after you as a tourist, but they do it in a fun way, smiling and curious about where you’re from. Not bothersome as in other places. Yeah, Dengue was a real bummer! And something to always be aware of. Apparently, it gets worse if you get it twice. There’s supposedly a vaccine in the works. That would be life changing for so many. Hope you had a great weekend!

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  • Another wonderful trip down into my memory banks. I think Bac Ha is just about my fave place in Vietnam. In front of me on the coffee table right now is a beautiful hand-woven piece I bought there, from a Red Dao woman. I wanted her pants too lol, and have a mild regret now that I didn’t go looking for a pair I could buy.
    Alison

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    • Agreed, Bac Ha is a very special place. Funny — Jay had a pair of pants made while we were there! They were done overnight, made to measure. The women are incredible seamstresses in the many things they create. Hope you had a nice weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Would love to go there for the noise, the color, the animals and the people! How cool that you were able to take so many photos. Sometimes tourists are not welcome.

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  • My favorites this time, Kelly, were the laughing women, so obviously having a good time. –Curt

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