Bac Ha Market – The Flower Hmong in Vietnam

posted in: Photography, Tribals, Vietnam | 4

Famous Ethnic Market – Bac Ha Market

In Northern Vietnam on the Vietnamese/Chinese border is a town called Lao Cai which happens to be in Lao Cai Province. On the Chinese side is Hekou in Yunnan Province, both towns are separated by a river which forms a natural border between the two countries. From Lao Cai you can travel east or west to enter the tribal areas to visit Hill tribe towns and villages. I cycled from the quite modern and touristy Sapa which lies to the West and is overshadowed by Fansipan Peak (3143 m), the highest mountain in the area and the entire Indochina Peninsula which is lovingly referred to by north Vietnamese as the ‘Roof of Indochina’, all the way down to Lao Cai and back up to the east to Bac Ha, a small undeveloped town which holds an exciting Indigenous market one day a week.

flower hmong girl bac ha market
Flower H’mong girl at Bac Ha Market
Bac Ha market is already quite famous and inquisitive visitors can take tours from Hanoi or travel on coaches from Sapa. The problem with that is it seems to be such a rush from what I could gather. I arrived in town the day before and was up and at em’ by 7 am which is the done thing if you want to catch it at its best. The coaches that arrived all the way from Sapa arrived about 11 am when the whole thing had already peaked and was slowly winding down. Shame for them!
My Marawuti Mountain Bike
The Extraordinary thing about Bac Ha Market is the Minority Group which frequents it. The Flower H’mong or Flowery H’mong are an extremely distinctive tribe due to their flamboyantly coloured dress. Their tribal attire is something very special, so colourful it makes the extravagantly coloured tail feathers of a peacock look drab. The intricately embroidered geometric designs are bold and contrast greatly with the Black H’mong whose tribal costume consists mainly of black due to the garments being dyed with Indigo.

The difference between seeing the Indigenous peoples at Bac Ha Market to seeing them in Sapa is that there is a more genuine authentic feel to it. In Sapa you can see a number of different minority groups but tourism is the key trade there these days and I didn’t feel too comfortable watching huge groups of Hmong, Dao and Tay touting for business, flocking around tour groups like bees around a honeycomb trying to entice them to their villages for a guided tour. As an independent traveller I cycled to those villages and didn’t get any hassle. At Bac Ha Market you won’t get accosted by the Flower H’mong although some will try to peddle their beautiful textiles other than that you are left to your own devices.
Flower H’mong Girl Selling Ethnic Bags
Bac Ha Market itself is, as is normally the case with these things is very vibrant, busy, colourful, exciting, and above all else a place to be amazed by the cultural diversity that this small globe of ours has to offer but who knows how long for! The place is teeming with the Flower H’mong or Hmong, so don’t forget your sun glasses if your thinking about a visit, not only to protect your eyes from that tropical sun but also from the bright finery that these peoples wear.
Flowery Umbrellas at the Dog Section
There is a wide variety of produce and goods at the Bac Ha Market, you can take traditional breakfast of noodle soup at one of the many food stalls that also sell other snacks and refreshments not mentioning the rice wine, hic. There is an abundance of tribal textiles for sale which are not solely for tourists but predominantly for the local peoples. Pleated skirts and headscarves, shoulder bags and hats plus some beautiful wall hangings decorated with intricate geometric designs and vivid colours.
Tribal Textiles
Sections at the Bac Ha Market include an area towards the back of the market where the land opens up a bit away from the main part where dogs are being bartered over. Onwards from that you can see horses being taken for a test ride by characters who look and act not too dissimilar to Genghis Khan just setting out on one of his Mongol Invasions. Around this area also the Cattle Market section can be found where lots of Water Buffalo, big and small are being pondered over by eager traders quite literally hoping to get a piece of the meat for a reasonable price.
Cattle Market Section at Bac Ha Market
Another hugely interesting facet to the Bac Ha Market is the fresh string tobacco that is available. It’s a case of try before you buy and of course everybody loves a freebie so it’s not unusual to see the men stopping at a smokers stall for a quick toke on a mighty bamboo hookah or water pipe which are very fashionable still all over northern Vietnam and not only with the ethnic groups. People seem to have no qualms about loading up a complimentary pipe from the pile of tobacco at a stall, lighting her up, having a good puff and then moving on to mooch or mingle around the market in search of other delights.
Fresh String Tobacco Stall
Bac Ha Market Complimentary Smoke
H’mong Man and Flower H’mong Woman With Waterpipe
And as with all these tribal markets such as Bac Ha Market the women and men tend to carry their shopping in bamboo baskets that are draped over their backs, here though I have seen the traditional shoulders straps made of twined buffalo hair and if they haven’t got a bamboo basket over their backs it could be a child.
Baby Carrier
colorful flower hmong women with bamboo baskets
Flower Hmong with Bamboo Baskets
And last but not least as we wind up this little trip around Bac Ha market, a couple of Indigenous faces to bring this post to a closure. I love the characters at these places, full of humor and high spirits, there faces are full of stories, they’re very interesting people whom I’m sure could to teach us a thing or two if only we had the ears with which to listen……
flower hmong lady portrait bac ha market

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4 Responses

  1. Senad R

    Excellent photoreportage!

  2. Antony

    Thanks Senad for the comments, like the new look of your blog and the silky water pictures are beautiful (along with all the others of course).

  3. Gary O'Connor

    awesome as usual. nice writing (typos aside :-)) and great photogramaphystuff.
    Hope you're well fella. where are you going to be in August / Sept?

  4. Antony

    Cheers for the positive response Gaz, glad you like the piece, I do aim to please..

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