Bac Ha ethnic market, under the sign of authenticity
- on Mar 6, 2020       By: BN
Renowned as the largest market in the mountainous regions of the North, Bac Ha is also one of the favourites of travellers keen to discover a high place for cultural exchanges of ethnic groups and full of authenticity.
At an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 metres, Bac Ha town has a mild climate all year round with an average annual temperature of around 25 ° C. To get there, be prepared for a stark contrast to one side of the winding roads and steep slopes characteristic of the relief of the North West, and on the other, rice terraces like a huge picturesque rug covering the slopes.
Held on Sunday, the Bac Ha market is a meeting place of local minorities as well as 14 ethnic groups populating the surroundings, many of which are the Hmong, Dao, Tay and Nung. At dawn, we meet the Hmong or Dao in their traditional multi-coloured costumes that set off on horseback, on foot or on a motorcycle, transporting goods to the market. They all hasten to flock there from all over as the place comes to life very early. Those who reside further disembark even the day before.
Seen at the top, vividly flowered with traditional clothes and also products of all kinds, the market looks like a splendid garden where so many colours and typical mountain flavours mixed together. To capture such a scene, imagine the 14 minorities living around Bac Ha, each with their own character, just waiting for this opportunity to display their best clothing of the week.
Previously, the Bac Ha market was completely open-air on a hill. It is now installed in a location including some concrete areas. The place consists of four demarcated sections for the sale of pets; household products and agricultural utensils (ploughs, hoes, shovels, knives); brocades and accessories and for catering.
Particularly noteworthy are the brocade stalls, which are undoubtedly the most popular corner for ethnic women and tourists alike, with its wide variety of clothes, accessories, fabrics and pretty cane hoods. In a mountain of embroidery products at the Bac Ha market, take your time to find those made by local artisans, normally for a month, even months, instead of its Chinese counterparts.
For mountain men, the weekly market is a reason to gather around a pan of local steaming soup of "thang co" which can’t be enjoyed without the glasses of corn alcohol. These are two popular specialities which, for two hundred years, have been part of the life of the community of several ethnic groups in North Vietnam.
Originally, "thang co" is a traditional Hmong soup, which is initially made from horse viscera accompanied by local spices. From one region to another, this dish also has variations by preparing with the viscera of other animals such as goat, buffalo or beef. According to the elders of the village, it is at the Bac Ha market that we find the best "thang co". If its recipe seems simple enough, the dish certainly requires cooking tips to be able to fully enjoy it. To eat a bowl of "thang co", just stop at any of the twenty or so stalls in the market that attract many locals and visitors alike.
Location: Bac Ha village, Bac Ha district, Lao Cai province
How to go to Bac Ha market?
By bus or train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (300km), and then by bus or motorbike to Bac Ha (76km or 2h drive)
What to eat?
Thang co, 7-colour sticky rice, corn alcohol, pork, plum.
Where to visit?
- The Hoang A Tuong palace, built between 1914 - 1921, stands on a quiet hill surrounded by mountains. It’s a beautiful building of Euro-Asian inspiration which is worth the detour.
- The Bac Ha temple, recognised as a national cultural historic monument in 2003. The Bac Ha temple festival is usually held on the 7th day of the seventh lunar month, where numerous folk performances and presentations take place (Mua Xoe - traditional dance of the Tay, the cockfighting, tug of war)
Other interests: the "Pho" village of the Hmong to visit the famous corn alcohol factories, the Trung Do temple, the spring horse race in Bac Ha, the feast of worship of the earth and water genies of the Tay.
Surrounded by magnificent wilderness, the Bac Ha mountain market is a memorable stopover during your stay crossing the mountainous regions in Vietnam. Well beyond a place of exchange, it is a must to discover the cultural diversity of the provinces in the North West which has been nourished by its ethnic groups over the centuries.