Bac Ha

The main reason for venturing to Bac Ha, a small town built on a desolate highland plain northeast of Lao Cai, is the century-old Sunday morning market,one of the largest in the Northwest. Ethnic-minority villagers such as the Dao and the Flower H'mong (related to the H'mong but wearing brighter and more elaborate clothing) come from miles around to buy, sell, and trade everything from horses and dogs to medicinal herbs and beautiful handmade tapestries. The market has become a firmly established part of the tourist trail in the north and the influx of day-trippers from Sapa has certainly changed the character of the market. Nevertheless, despite there being an increasing range of handicrafts for sale, it retains much of its authenticity. A highlight of the market is the lovely, high-pitched songs performed by Flower H'mong singers. If the market manager hasn't been able to arrange singers for that day, he plays a cassette of their songs over the public address system. The market gets going at about 9 am, but early birds can be seen setting up their stands and sipping pho (noodle soup) for breakfast as the sun comes up. A 3- to 6-km (2- to 4-mile) walk up the road past the Sao Mai Hotel (turn left at the fork) brings you to some ethnic-minority villages where residents will be more than happy to see you.

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