Brilliant Bac Ha Market – Vietnam’s Festival in the Mountains

It’s the sights, smells and sounds that will hit you first upon arriving at Bac Ha Market. The weekly Sunday market is a sprawled mass of vibrant, clashing colours located about 70km east of the mountain hub of Sapa Town. The vendors at Bac Ha Market are all classed as members of ethnic minorities in Vietnam and while there are 54 ethnic groups throughout the country, only a handful visit this particular Vietnamese hill tribe market.

The H’mong are by far the largest hill tribe in attendance and the market is a great opportunity for the many people from each H’mong sub-category (Red H’mong, Black H’mong, Green H’mong, Blue H’mong, White H’Mong and Flower H’mong – depending on the colour of the clothes they wear) to sell their wares between each other and to tourists.

Many companies offer Sapa Tours From Hanoi and then Sapa to Bac Ha Market, but there is also the option of a couple of local buses or an adventurous motorbike ride through the stunning mountain scenery. If you opt for the latter, you might want to start early in the morning to save time.

People of the Hmong hill tribe don’t have the same luxury transport, so they start out VERY early in the morning at around 4 am, carrying their wares on their shoulders for the 20 or 30-kilometer trek to Bac Ha Market. Tribes further away than this put in some serious effort, with some leaving on Saturday afternoon in order to make it to Bac Ha by Sunday morning.

Bac Ha Market

1. Bac Ha Market - A Local Festival

This level of dedication for a market might seem a little excessive, but to the H’mong, Bac Ha Market is more than a place to buy and sell wares. After a week of arduous farmwork or housework in their villages, Bac Ha becomes a place where local villagers can let their hair down with a day of festivities and drinking.

The Vietnamese hill tribe clothes that the H’mong and other tribes sell at Bac Ha Market are not the ones that they wear all the time, as the elaborate, beautiful patterns go to waste when the only eyes on you for most of the day belong to a herd of buffalo. Bac Ha is awash with the colours of different traditional H’mong clothing every Sunday, as a festival atmosphere descends on the place and women dress up to vie for the best outfit on a show.

Men, in comparison, meet friends and family that they only see once a week, traditionally getting drunk off rice wine and going home strapped onto a horse for safety. The weekly occasions of Bac Ha Market mean that families save money all week and go on a bit of a spree, buying necessary items as well as some treats for the kids. There is a stigma that the market is a bit of a tourist trap, but in fact, it is an essential business and social outlet for the Vietnamese hill tribes who run it.

Bac Ha Market Festival

2. Best Bac Ha Market and Sapa Tours

To help you get a closer look at the beauty of Bac Ha Market and Sapa, Incredible Asia Journeys highly recommends our 5 best tours to Sapa. With many interesting things to discover with Sapa and Bac Ha Market tours, you may get more memorable trips than ever before in the northern area of Vietnam.

Please click on the name of the tours to see the detailed information you need to know to have a wonderful trip!

Sapa Trekking & Bac Ha Market

Sapa Trekking Tour with Train

Sapa Cycling & Trekking Tour

Sapa Trekking Tour with Bus

Sapa Cycling Tour With Homestay

Best North Vietnam With Sapa Tour

3. What to Buy at Bac Ha Market?

The range of choice is staggering and most tourists walk around for an hour at least before diving into the haggling. The section that draws the most attention is the one selling Vietnamese ethnic minority clothes, and justifiably so. The eye-catching rainbow of textiles on display is immense and any item of Vietnamese hill tribe clothing makes a great souvenir for anyone back home.

There’s also the livestock section if you feel like investing in a horse, buffalo or pig, while tools, simple electronics, art, pottery, handicrafts, Vietnamese textiles, jewellery, and handbags are sold at some of the other stalls around. Food is an immensely popular priority for tourists at Bac Ha Market as the variety is large and very exotic. This is also the case for members of the visiting hill tribes, who don’t get much of a chance to try other food outside of their village.

Dog Market in Bac Ha

4. Get yourself a bargain in Bac Ha Market

The answer to the question of what to buy at Bac Ha Market is really dependent on your haggling skills. If you’re good, you’ll be leaving with more stuff, and although some stalls have signs saying that their merchandise is fixed price, bargaining is still the usual way to do business among the H’mong people. If you have a tour guide then they can help you translate, but if you’re going solo then just remember to shop around first as there are many stalls selling the same product. Be confident when haggling for a price and don’t feel pressured to buy anything when you’re crowded by 4 dazzlingly dressed ladies shouting numbers at you. "Dat qua" (“dat kwar”) is a good phrase to use, meaning ‘too expensive’, as well as ối giời ơi (“oi zoi oi”), meaning ‘oh my God’; this should brighten up the vendors’ day and you might get a slice off the price.

5. Dos and Don’ts of Bac Ha Market

- Remember that Bac Ha Market was not created for Westerners to leer at ethnic minority tribes nor should it be today.

- Give the locals space as they go about their business and show respect by giving and receiving money with both hands.

- You will probably be taking thousands of photos of all the Vietnamese hill tribe clothes so remember to ask for permission before snapping pictures of people’s faces.

- Don’t ignore people who try to sell you their wares, just politely decline and move on.

- Remember that the value of a dollar between you and a member of a Vietnamese hill tribe is wildly different.

- Haggling is good, but be lenient; a dollar more for a souvenir would make no difference to you but would help the vendor provide a lot more food for their family.

6. What to bring to Bac Ha Market?

Bac Ha Market, Sapa is largely outdoors and covers a vast area, so comfortable shoes and an umbrella for the rain or sun are good ideas. There are so many exciting photo opportunities at Bac Ha; from the artisan stitching on the Vietnamese ethnic minority clothing to babies, puppies and truly bizarre bits of ware; bringing a camera is a must. Plenty of disposable cash would be great as you have no idea how much you will buy beforehand. Remember to bring many bills of different denominations unless you want to hear the universal groan when you try to pay for a 25,000 VND bowl of pho with a 500,000 VND note.

Prepare essential things to explore Bac Ha Market 

7. Where to stay at Bac Ha Market?

For anyone wanting to stay overnight on Saturday to get the most amount of time out of Bac Ha Market, you can book a hotel or homestay in Bac Ha Town. There are a good number of homestays around the town and these are a great way to get a cheap room with friendly service, coming with free inside information from a local. This is a very small town and besides a quick look around the old palace and temple, there’s not too to do, so try to arrive fairly late on Saturday if this is where you want to stay. Sapa Town is the usual place to stay and the options for accommodation there are practically endless. 

Homestay in Bac Ha Market

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