Bac Ha Market

Bac Ha Market

August 02, 2023

Most people have explored the many markets of Vietnam, but not many have made their way North to Bac Ha Markets near Sapa. It is known as the most colourful markets in Vietnam, and once you visit, you will see why. The markets are not only a place of trade but also a place of gathering for the locals in the area.

Taking place only once a week on a Sunday, the markets are as much a part of Sapa as the beautiful mountains.

One of our guides, Manh wanted to share his experience of his first visit to Bac Ha Market.

I had the opportunity to go to Bac Ha market when I was a student in University. I still remember it well, it was a cold and foggy morning as our class arrived in Bac Ha town. Not much was open, so we went to a local noodle shop, having a hot bowl of steaming Phở placed in front of you when you are cold is like giving water to someone in the desert. Coming from Saigon, I was not used to the cold and the Pho gave me the energy I needed to explore these amazing markets.

As I sat observing all the local ethnic minority groups arriving at the markets, it was like I was at a parade. There was so much colour and activity, with people carrying things on their buffaloes, bikes and heads. There were hugs and greetings as the gossip started to spill as it had been a week since they last met.

What amazed me was the variety of things on sale at the markets, there were everyday household items from brooms and baskets through to fruit and vegetables.  The animal section was the biggest shock as families had brought their buffaloes, pigs and cows to sell, putting together makeshift pens for the day.

I spent a solid 3 hours walking and exploring the markets when my nose detected the aromas coming from all the food stalls. There was such a fantastic array of foods on offer but the "five color sticky rice" seemed like the most fitting choice with all the colours around me. Wanting to find out more I spoke to Mae, who told me her family had been making the sticky rice for generations.

The sticky rice is cooked with 5 types of glutinous rice dyed with natural colours; the red is from spiny bitter gourd, yellow from turmeric, green from grapefruit peel, purple/black from magenta plant and white is the colour of natural glutinous rice. The dish is based on the theory of the five elements of Vietnam; red for fire, yellow for earth, green for trees, black for water and white for metal, when the 5 colours converge, it will bring happiness and fulfillment. I'm sure they were referring to a deeper 'happiness and fulfilment' but in my case, eating the sticky rice after all that walking definitely made me happy and full!

My search for dessert came up with a variety of corn dishes. I managed to squeeze in a sticky corn steamed cake and a pureed corn which were both delicious. I was told I had to try the homemade corn wine, which was delicious and as promised by the vendor definitely warmed me up from the inside.

My day ended with me bringing home a bag full of local treasures and promises to my newfound friends that I will return in the not too distant future.