Bac Ha Market (Chợ Bắc Hà), a sprawling market in the sleepy northern highland town of Bac Ha, is the reason many visit in the first place, but you’ll have to time it right. The market only occurs on Sundays, when, like clockwork, villagers from the surrounding hillside flood the town to set up shop, bargain for goods or come to see and be seen, catching up on the latest gossip. The open-air market here is among the largest in the region attracting members of the Black Dao, Tay, Nung, Phu La and other area minority ethnic groups, but it’s the brightly-colored Flower Hmong women that make up the bulk of Bac Ha Market’s vendors; they blanket and enliven the dusty streets with their neon costumes. Under blue plastic roofs, or atop tarps draped over the hard ground, market vendors proffer clothing, building materials, yarn, herbs and medicine, dried chilies, ruou (corn wine) and even livestock such as goats, chickens and buffalo. A growing segment of the market also caters to foreign visitors with bags, bracelets, scarves, bowls, dolls and other locally-made handicrafts. Bring your bargaining skills and arrive early for the best selection.
The market opens at sunrise and breaks down around 2 p.m. If you’ve already made it to Bac Ha (usually via the train or bus stations in Lao Cai some 47 miles away), then its an easy enough amble to market by foot. Day trips also depart Sapa early for the nearly three-hour trip to Bac Ha on market days returning later in the afternoon. For the true market lover, weekend-long organized shopping sprees, often including village treks or stays, visit the smaller Saturday Can Cau Market 12 miles north of Bac Ha first before visiting Bac Ha Market on Sunday.