Sa Pa and Bac Ha
Sa Pa © Konstantin Krismer
The old hill station of Sa Pa sits high on the edge of a plateau surrounded by spectacular scenery and the Hoang Lien Mountains, which boast Vietnam's highest peak, Fan Si Pan. Sa Pa functions as a market town and a gathering spot for local tribes who come into town to trade every weekend.
The market is excellent for buying handicrafts and for watching the passing parade of a fascinating blend of people. Colourful tunics of the Dao and Giay people mix with the black and blue clothing and silver ornamentation of the Black Hmong tribe, while bright red scarves cover the heads of the Red Hmong who carry large woven baskets on their backs brimming with goods.
Nearly 75 miles (140 km) from Sa Pa in a valley is the small town of Bac Ha, famous for its Sunday market. Much less touristy than Sa Pa, the market is a riot of colour and noise, a place not only for trade but also for socialising. All paths leading into town are filled with people going to market, some riding horses or water buffalo, and the square is a mix of different minorities, buying and selling, or gathered in groups around a central pot of food. The Flower Hmong are the most vivid, with richly coloured clothes of bright red, blue and pink, and skirts embroidered with delicate flowers.
The markets have become a major tourist attraction and it is important that visitors to the region are sensitive to local culture and traditions, particularly when taking photographs of people.
Address: Lao Cai sits between Sa Pa and Bac Ha.
Transport: A three to four day tour is good enough to get the feel of the Sa Pa-Bac Ha region, easily arranged at any travellers’ cafe in Hanoi. Otherwise a train runs from Hanoi to Lao Cai (approx. 10 hrs) from where bus transfers are available.
Admission: Three day, two night tours start at 140 USD.