The area of Sapa in the North West of Vietnam is really building up quite a following these days. This is one of the poorest areas in the country and also one of the most beautiful. It has remained somewhat undiscovered for years. That is changing, due in part to the number of trekking holidays being booked these days. People head out from Hanoi, by train to Lao Cai, to explore this hilltop paradise. It is a land of terraced hillsides and ethnic tribal people that has remained unchanged for centuries. One of the big draws here is the small town of Bac Ha, famous for its ethnic minority people and its vibrantly colorful Sunday Market.
Getting there couldn’t be easier
Most make the trip from Hanoi on the overnight sleeper train. Though there are several trains each day, the most popular is the sleeper, which arrives in Lao Cai, close to the Chinese border, at around 6.00am. It’s a nine hour trip and a soft sleeper comes in at around $20.00. Buses also run from Kunming and Yunnan, inside China and in recent months a bus has started running from Halong Bay to Sapa, direct.
Travelers coming in from China, should ignore a well known scam on the Vietnam side of the border, where bogus immigration staff request the filling in of a ‘health form’. This is of course not necessary. Buses run from Lao Cai direct to Bac Ha, a two hour trip, through stunning mountain top scenery. Bac Ha is 40 miles from Lao Cai and about 60 miles from Sapa Town.
What to see and do at the Market
The Sunday market is run and frequented by about ten of the local ethnic hill-tribes. Many of these people are famed for different craft skills. Some are expert weavers, others dyers and carpernters. Their produce is varied but the standard is always high. Hill-tribes like the Black Hmong, Red Dzao, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay, Nung and Zay travel tens of miles over the mountain passes every week to bring their produce. On Sundays these mountain tracks are thick with tribes people, walking or in horse drawn buggies. The food at the market is exceptional and people making the trip should certainly try some of the local cuisine. Clothes, wine, rice and souvenirs are readily available. There is even a section where tribes people buy, sell and trade buffalo, horses dogs and cats. This is a big social occasion for many of the local people.
A market, not for tourists, that tourists love
Although the market has become a draw for holiday makers wishing to experience the hustle and bustle of a traditional market, it has managed to keep its focus, which is one of a true ethnic trading market place. The tourists are not wildly catered for, but that makes it a better experience all round. The ethnic people all dress in their traditional costumes, but this is how they dress every day, it is not for the benefit tourists.