It may seem strange to recommend a visit to the mountains to go shopping but Bac Ha Sunday Market in the Northern Highlands of Vietnam is about far more than spending your money. Many overseas visitors to Vietnam enter via Hanoi Airport where they can get their Vietnam visa on arrival. Hanoi, the Capital, is an excellent starting point for a Vietnam packaged tour and many itineraries begin with looking at the city itself before heading north, for some 3 or 4 hours into the Highlands both for trekking but just for enjoying the great natural environment.
Small ethnic tribes live in these mountains and every Sunday in Bac Ha, people from the different tribes come to sell their handicrafts, their fresh produce and livestock. Most of these tribes dress in very colourful clothing made from textiles they have made in their villages. The Hmong, Dao and Tay are the main three tribes but there are more. The Market is the largest in the whole region and it is a social occasion as well as a place to trade.
You will get some great photographs though it is important to remember not to be too intrusive. The local people are hospitable but you should try to avoid pointing camera lenses in people’s faces; you would not like that yourself, would you?
The Market starts fairly early; around 7.30am with many people buying their fresh produce for the day. Locals buy fresh rather than filling a refrigerator. There are hundreds of stalls so it will take you some time to get around the whole market, and it will close mid to late afternoon. There is plenty of opportunity to buy fresh food which you can eat on the move; ‘’street food’’ is one of the top experiences in a tour in Vietnam.
It is a good opportunity to practice your bargaining skills. There will be bright cloths on sale and because many people make their own, the vendors are aiming at the tourists. This is a poor region of Vietnam so supporting these peoples rather than the modern shops in Vietnam’s cities makes sense. Even if you do not buy anything as a souvenir, you should certainly sample some food. If you sit down, you may well be offered a pipe and locally made liquor. By all means sample the local liquor but in moderation.
Bac Ha is 800 metres above sea level so have appropriate clothing because it can be misty and cool. There is plenty of opportunity to stay in the area; a homestay allows you to enjoy the company of local families and if you are close by it is easier to get to the Market as it opens and before the crowds arrive. Your Vietnam travel operator is available to answer any questions you have about this and will make suitable arrangements. Tourists have started to come in numbers but other than that life in this wonderful region has changed little for generations.