Bac Ha is the third, and largest, of the North Vietnamese ethnic minority markets we went to, an explosion of colour.
Because we slept in Bac Ha, we managed to be at the market at 7:30 am, at a time the businesses were still starting up. Big advantage then is that it is not yet so busy, which proves great for taking photos, quietly. The front of the market is the area where the fresh vegetables are being sold, several rows of colourful women sitting next to or behind several stacks of colourful greens and reds and browns and oranges. Further sections sell cloths, lacquer ware and tourist stuff, and at the back of the market is the live animal section. Not just cows and water buffalo, this time, also pigs, pre-packed in bags for easy home taking, chickens and ducks, and a dog section: mostly puppies, and not for eating, I think, but for fun (although they eat dog, in Vietnam, but more as an after-thought, once the dog has died a naturel death). Needless to say, my travel companion was already devising schemes to bring all the puppies home.
After breakfast we returned to the market at around ten, now much busier with buyers and sellers, as well as with tourists. Sections outside had been cordoned off for the minivans and the busses, others for the sedans and four-wheel drives, and they were pretty full. But despite the influx of foreigners, the essence of the market didn’t change, this remains a genuine exchange of goods between local people – seemingly from more different minorities than we have seen before (more photos here). Many of whom are dressed for the occasion, or perhaps dressed as they always do, with their fabulously beautiful traditional cloths. For however long it lasts.
Bac Ha is a real weekend town. On Saturday the town comes to life, the hotels and restaurants open – there is even a hotel called the Saturday Hotel – to cater for those arriving ‘the day before’. Sunday the town floods with market people and with tourists, but by Sunday 3 pm all is over again, the vendors have gone home, the tourists back to Sapa or Hanoi, and the town gets back to sleep, for another week. On Sunday night we barely found a restaurant open. On Monday morning we were the only ones at breakfast in our hotel. So we took the bus, too, and left. For Hanoi.