Tag Archives: sapa

Bac Ha Market

Every Sunday, throngs of people travel to Bac Ha for the Bac Ha Sunday Market. Tourists travel by bus from Sapa and Lao Cai, and locals arrive by motorbike, truck, bicycle and even foot. Some wake up before the sun rises and spend hours traveling to the market. It not only serves as a giant hub for trade and commerce, but it is also a major social event. The women spend all morning together either selling or buying goods for the week, and the men crowd together at small tables eating intestine soup and getting sloppy off of local rice wine. It’s crowded, loud, hot, hectic and smelly- just like every good market should be!

Bac Ha has your usual selection of produce, home goods and souvenirs, but it also has a huge variety of live animals! Birds, ducks, dogs, water buffalo and more are all in high abundance. You can spend a couple bucks on a carton of chickens, or drop over a thousand dollars on a water buffalo. As cool as this all sounds, Bac Ha is not for the faint hearted. The atmosphere is quite intense and a walk through the raw meat section can have even the biggest meat eaters contemplating vegetarianism. But if you are making the trip all the way up to Sapa, it would be a shame to miss the Bac Ha Market. It gives you a great lens to see into the lives of the minority people in the north, and there is a lot of great shopping…my parents and I went a little crazy picking out gifts and souvenirs! You can write about it all you want, but you’ll only get the real feel of the place by going there. Pictures will give you an idea, but definitely won’t do it justice. But it’s worth a try, right? Enjoy!

Got Chilis?

Raw meat for sale - this definitely looks sanitary....

Blood Sausage and Meat ready to eat - look appetizing to you?

 

Men eating and drinking - they probably start around 9am in the morning too!

 

Flower Hmong women selling rice wine.

Babies!!!!

Water Buffalo for sale at the Bac Ha Market - people can spend years saving up for one of these.

 

A selection of knives and tools.

 

Piles of shoes!

 

Trinkets and gifts

 

Table Runners and Wall Hangings

One last word of advice if you are heading to Bac Ha Market: everyone is going to try to rip you off! Don’t be fooled,  you can usually bargain your way down to half of the starting price. Sometimes half of the fun shopping at these markets is seeing what kind of deals you can get!

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Trekking in Sapa

After Angkor Wat, my parents and I headed to our next destination: Sapa. Located in northwest Vietnam, Sapa is a mountain town and is one of the only regions in Vietnam that has distinct seasons. It actually gets cold during the winter! With a population of approximately 36,000, the area is home to a number of ethnic minority groups. The Hmong are the largest miniority group in Sapa and make up a little over half of the population. In addition to the Hmong, there are four other minority groups that reside in Sapa (spellings vary): the Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho people.

Sapa is located in Northwest Vietnam, very close to the Chinese border.

Most of the minority groups work in the mountains growing rice and corn.  In addition to farming, the minority groups in Sapa make money by selling homemade products such as clothing, jewelery, bags, fabrics, etc to tourists. As soon as you step off the bus, you are immediately surrounded by swarms of women trying to sell you things. It was definitely a little overwhelming having people constantly trying to talk to you and sell you things, but it’s important to remember that they are just trying to make a living. However, even though begging and selling to tourists is so prominent, our tour guide explained to us that we shouldn’t buy from any of the children. By giving them money, it is only encouraging them to beg more instead of spending their time studying at school.

So the actual town of Sapa is a little hectic. Like I mentioned, you can’t walk down the street without being approached by groups of minority women. It has also become a pretty developed tourist hub, so the town is lined with hotels and restaurants that cater toward foreigners. Although the view from town is nice, Sapa is best enjoyed by trekking through the rice fields. Along with a guide, my parents and I completed a 12K trek through rice fields and the Hmong and Dao villages. Our guide took us on less traveled routes and we completed our trek without running into any other tour groups. We were able to see how the rice is grown and learned about the everyday lives of the minority peoples. The trek also provided stunning views of the mountainside in Sapa.

My father eating breakfast at our hotel

About 30 min into the trek, we made it out of the town of Sapa and entered the rice fields.

A water buffalo plowing the rice fields

Overlooking a Hmong village

View of the mountainside from a minority village

Close up of the rice fields

The "postcard" view of Sapa.

The only downside about Sapa is it’s a little inconvienent to get to. You have to take a 10 hour train ride from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then from Lao Cai it’s another 1 hr 30 min busride to get to Sapa. However, most people take the night train from Hanoi so you don’t actually lose much time traveling. There is public transportation that you can take from Lao Cai to Sapa, but honestly I think it’s worth it to pay the extra money and plan ahead of time for a private bus or van. For a few extra dollars, I think it’s definitely worth it.

The next entry will be about the Bac Ha Market which is a 3hr drive from Sapa. Crazy things for sale!!!

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