If you’re like me and love the buzzing atmosphere of local markets then you’re going to enjoy this post! Bac Ha Market is located in Northwestern Vietnam (near Sa Pa); it’s the biggest market frequented by minority groups living in that region.
Most of the women are from the Flower H’Mong (also known as Red H’Mong). What distinguishes these women from other H’mong groups is their unmistakable color-drenched and extravagantly embroidered traditional clothing. They’re absolutely beautiful! Women from the Black H’Mong group can also be seen with their heads wrapped in fluorescent tartan scarves (of which I bought two). What’s fascinating and at the same time unbelievable is that they still do dress this way; this isn’t a tourist trap.
Welcome to Bac Ha Market!
The market is roughly divided into two sections. One section is undeniably targeted at tourists with clean-cut stalls and items displayed in a fancy manner to attract tourist dollars. Most (but not all) of the items are locally-made and locally-sourced so it’s a good place to buy some souvenirs or gifts. Only thing is that prices reflect the setting (though they are in no way exorbitant); bargaining is expected and, as usual, be kind and have fun!
The other sections spread out around the aisles of tourist wares are destined for local consumption. The market contains some ruffled chickens crammed into woven baskets, the inevitable sour-smelling raw meat section, colorful fruits and vegetables displayed on tarps on the ground and a whole section where you can have a seat on small wooden benches to savor a hot soup (with some unrecognizable animal parts). Not being a meat eater, I had no problems skipping lunch!
If you make your way to the end of the market just follow a small dirt path leading up to where livestock is sold. It was very amusing to see the elegantly dressed and petite Flower H’Mong women bartering over hefty, mud-encrusted buffalo!
As you wonder around the livestock auction of sorts, you’ll notice another type of auction taking place down below.
The selling of dogs.
Those selling dogs for consumption at Bac Ha Market are for the most part the Black H’Mong women. They don’t eat dog meat themselves but recognize the demand among other Vietnamese. Surprisingly, dog meat is the most expensive meat in Vietnam. It’s fair to say that not all Vietnamese eat dog meat; it’s mostly popular in Northern Vietnam. When I asked a few why they ate it, they unanimously replied that it was very flavorful and extremely delectable (I didn’t think they would eat it if it wasn’t) but, even more importantly, that eating dog meat brings good fortune.
I also asked with a curious naivety if they would eat their own dog and the answer was usually preceded by a chuckle and a firm no. Having domestic dogs is more and more fashionable in Vietnam so owners wouldn’t dream of eating their beloved pets (not sure this is the norm in more rural areas). I was told by one young guy that dog meat is only consumed at the end of the lunar month; it isn’t served at any other time during the month fearing bad luck. Oh and another benefit of eating dog meat is that it presumably increases libido in men. Go figure.
During my time in Northern Vietnam, I cringed each time I saw a roadside menu announcing dog meat (or cat which is less consumed but considered more of a delicacy); or worse when I saw cooked dogs hanging from hooks at food stalls in Hanoi. Coming from the Western hemisphere where eating dog is considered taboo, it’s definitely hard to come to terms with this type of cultural practice so widely accepted in other countries (including Mexico and certain regions in Africa).
Fyi: If you want to avoid eating dog meat in Vietnam then stay away from thit cho – you’re welcome!
Walking towards a makeshift lake is the bird market. Vietnamese (and other Asian nationals) absolutely love owning tiny caged birds. They treat them like prized possessions (they can actually be quite expensive). Vietnamese are very superstitious and the birds are believed to bring good fortune (I guess it’s better than eating dog meat). Here you’ll find an array of birdcages just waiting for their next feathered friend to call home.
Bac Ha Market is definitely worth a visit. You’ll get to witness local life on so many different levels; there’s so much going on you won’t know where to divert your eyes next. From the locals busy purchasing all sorts of goods to the vibrantly dressed Flower H’Mong women carrying their babies on their backs to the young girls clustered in colorful groups giggling at foreigners – it’s certainly a sight to see.
If you enjoy perusing local markets then you’ll absolutely love this one (just make sure to wander away from the tourist section)!
Read all about my travels to Vietnam!
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Do you love local markets as much as I do? Any faves?