Day six off the tourist trail: Bac Ha to Sapa
Day six of our northern Vietnam road trip begins right in Bac Ha, as we are in town specifically for the day’s colorful market. Even though we are up early, there is too much to see in the time we have before the market starts to close down. After the market we have another beautiful drive through terraced hillsides before arriving at our (luxurious!) hotel in Sapa.
Awash in color at the Bac Ha market
On my original itinerary, almost every day started with the line If on Sunday, visit the colorful market of the X, Y, and Z people (with ethnic groups X, Y, and Z varying depending on where we were). Of course, that same itinerary had us back in Hanoi on Sunday.
Naturally, I told my travel agent that this wasn’t acceptable and that she needed to add a few days to the earlier part of the itinerary to make sure we were in Bac Ha or one of the other towns with a large Sunday market on a Sunday.
So here we are in Bac Ha on Sunday morning.
Bac Ha is the largest market in this part of northern Vietnam. While not completely off the tourist trail (a surprising number of visitors from Sapa make the three-hour bus trip here just for the market), its colorful mix of Flower Hmong, Black Dao, Tay, Nung, and other minority groups make it a must stop on a longer northern Vietnam road trip.
Despite having risen with the sun, I feel that I lingered too long over breakfast. The market begins early here and, once we are out on the street, I discover that many of those bringing cattle to the market have arrived already.
So we head toward the market ourselves, becoming part of a stream of people headed through the heart of the city to the market.
If you live in this part of northern Vietnam, the weekly market is both the place to do your shopping and the social event of the week. With most people living in rather isolated villages, people are here to socialize at least as much as to shop.
(Actually, the women do most of the buying and selling while the men eat, socialize, and otherwise entertain themselves.)
It seems that everything one could need – food, clothing, household goods, machinery, and livestock – is for sale somewhere in this sprawling market.
There is also food for sale at the market, both restaurant-style meals and street food of all types.
By noon the market is already winding down. And that is a sign that it is time for us to start off on the last leg of our northern Vietnam road trip.
Magical terraces along the road to Sapa
The drive to Sapa is as beautiful as any thus far.
Along the way we see rushing streams and intricate terraces that twist and turn as they curl up the hillsides.
Although the mountains here are not as dramatic as those farther north, the terraced fields may be even more beautiful because they are mostly green.
Unlike the terraces farther north, where the rice harvest was just ending and the fields were largely barren and brown, the harvest was completed some time ago here. Just enough time has passed for the rice that was lost during the harvest to sprout and turn the terraces a soft green.
From the green hillsides we are slowly absorbed into the long line of barely-moving traffic trying to enter Sapa. It is as slow going as anywhere we have been, but much less scenic!
At last we get to the heart of town and to our luxurious hotel.
We have one more day left on our northern Vietnam road trip, a day we will spend exploring in and around Sapa. However, right now it feels as if we are at the end of our journey.
Off the tourist trail in northern Vietnam