The Colorful Diversity of Bac Ha Market

with 41 Comments

 

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!

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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!

Moving on.

 

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This is not her pet

 

 

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.

 

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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)!

 

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Read all about my travels to Vietnam!

 
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Enjoyed this post? Please pin it!

 

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Do you love local markets as much as I do? Any faves?

 

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  • Karla Ramos

    What a beautiful chaotic market that is! I love how the women are dressed so well, amusing indeed. I’m just sad over the dog/cat meat trade but otherwise I love seeing the very culture of Asian countries as reflected in their daily lives, even in the market! Been to HCMC but keeping tabs on this post on my next trip to VN!

  • This is so entertaining! I love how a lot of Asian countries offer these kind of markets especially Vietnam! cheers and safe travels to you!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Thanks Trisha! Asia is a mecca for local outdoor markets – one of the reasons why I love visiting this continent! Safe travels to you too!

  • Melody Pittman

    Very interesting story and I love the traditional dress. That baby in the backpack is adorable. I could never travel anywhere where they eat dog meat, I’m too much an animal lover but it looks like you had a good trip.

  • I’d love to explore this market and am especially interested in visiting the livestock section. I don’t know how I feel about selling the dogs for consumption though! Wonderful photos that capture the colors and sights of the market!

  • Danik Bates

    Love to get to Sapa one day. Havent experienced markets in SE ASIA yet but you are wetting my lips on this one πŸ˜€

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Danik! You have to go to local markets in SEA – they’re an experience in themselves! πŸ™‚

  • I love the colourful clothes they are wearing. The little girl is mega cute too. I always think a market is such a great insight into local life

  • Jenni Sheldon

    This market looks so interesting and colourful. I am going to Vietnam in a couple of weeks but don’t think I will be near here which is a shame

  • A colourful market indeed! I especially love the traditional dress of the women in your photos, so vibrant!

  • I seriously loved Sapa so much. I loved the local textiles, colors, and things you could buy. Thank goodness we didn’t have room in our bags otherwise I could have done some serious damage to our wallets! I ended up only leaving with a stack of bracelets from the Black Hmong family we stayed with! I have been aching to go back and experience the breathtaking views, amazing hospitality, and awesome shopping!

  • stephaniestraveldiary

    I love the markets in SE Asia. I usually want to buy some interioir pieces, but because I cant carry it with me for months, I end up not buying it. Next time I should just send it home.

    x

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I totally understand! I usually carry everything but I’ve shipped a few things also. I decide depending on the value of the merchandise versus the shipping fees but I’ve also decided on not buying stuff even though I really wanted to. I always console myself by reasoning that I’m very fortunate to simply be traveling. πŸ™‚

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    haha…..I know the feeling! The only thing that keeps me from buying too much is knowing I have to carry everything in my backpack for months on end. πŸ™‚

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I wanted to buy everything…lol! I made sure to know how dog meat was written in Vietnamese before we went. Although I don’t eat meat, I don’t mind eating chicken sometimes but in Vietnam I avoided it – I didn’t want to take any chances. πŸ˜‰

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Yes those artful pineapples are sold everywhere in Asia!

  • Clare Colley

    It reminds me of a market I visited near Hue, though there wasn’t dogs or buffalo for sale there!!! I love the dress of the women it’s so beautiful. I hate going to the tourist markets but it’s great to see every day life in the local markets πŸ™‚

  • Diana – MVMTblog

    Reading all your posts about Vietnam is getting me so pumped to go. With regards to the dog meat, I actually just watched a documentary on Unreported World about dog thieves in Vietnam – there are people who go around stealing dogs to sell to butchers. They also covered a segment on why people would eat their own dog that they raised as a pet. It’s really interesting how some butchers will raise a pet dog that they love very much but their job is to slaughter dogs all day. It was tough for me to watch, but I’d recommend it as it was very insightful.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      It’s difficult to get accustomed to when traveling in Northern Vietnam but I also found it fascinating how cultures can differ so much. I also read that there are more and more dog thieves in Vietnam as owning dogs as pets is now popular. :

  • Kristine AARSHEIM

    Now as much as I don’t wanna be rude and offend anyone’s culture, I just can’t help but feeling sad when reading about the dogs… As a person who loves dogs I think I’d have a hard time being at that market. Must have been hard for you too, considering you don’t eat meat. But then again, in my country (Norway) they eat whale and reindeer, which definitely offended a lot of Americans when I told them about it.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Kristina! It was very strange (and uncomfortable) to see but, like you said, in other parts of the world people eat all kinds of animals. It’s cultural and though I don’t eat meat, I find the most devastating part is how animals for consumption are actually treated (or I should say mistreated). This abuse applies to all livestock not just dogs. πŸ™

  • Valerie CottageMakingMommy

    This would be so fun to attend. There is nothing like handcrafted stuff.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      The H’mong have such beautiful clothing and I just love handmade stuff also!

  • Anamika Ojha

    I liked the intrinsic work on their clothing! One can get a true glimpse of culture from visiting the local markets and interacting with new faces around!

  • HollyAllie Noah

    Neat pictures! I have always wanted to visit a real market and not the recreated ones found at Disney.

  • Janine Good

    I do want to get to Vietnam at some stage! Thanks for the tip on the dog meat! I find that awful. Markets are so colourful and full of culture. I love anything like this.

  • I used to love local markets as a kid growing up in Zambia but not so much now. I see the same system applies everywhere ‘touristy pieces and home prices’ lol

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Anosa! I’ve also grown weary and try to avoid tourist-oriented markets but I still really enjoy going to authentic local markets – there’s just something so lively about them! πŸ™‚

      • That is true indeed

  • The clothing is very vibrant and I’m glad you gave that your because I don’t know if that’s a place I would ever go to but I would seriously be avoiding dog meat all the time. That horrifies me.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I was always on the look out for ‘thit cho’ so I could avoid it….lol!

  • Nicole Osburn

    That poor doggy. That makes me so sad I would spend all my money on buying dogs just so I could set them free. πŸ™ All of the baby carriers are so color full and pretty. Open markets are fun to go to, you definitely get to learn a ton about other cultures. I have only been to a open market in Yugoslavia which is more like a flea market. My dad has gone in Honduras the open market he went to was a little on the sketchy side. Always an adventure at the market.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Yes it broke my heart when I saw the dogs for sale. πŸ™
      But markets are always so entertaining! πŸ™‚

  • Wow, that would have been very confronting seeing and hearing about dog eating. I will keep this in mind if I ever visit Vitenam. I’m not a huge meat eater any way, but I would definitely struggle as I am huge dog and cat lover.

    Lennae xxx
    http://www.lennaesworld.com

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Lennae! It was very challenging for me and I felt very uncomfortable when visiting Northern Vietnam (although it was beautiful).

  • Tara

    wow, the way different people live amazes me in so many ways, and to see how they make different things is amazing too. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Yes traveling definitely opens us up to different lifestyles! πŸ™‚

  • That market looks fabulous! All the different colors are pretty amazing.

    I couldn’t eat dog (or cat) either.

  • Oyinkan Ogunleye

    I love the pink and red attire on the mannequin!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Aren’t they gorgeous!? They don’t make clothes like that anymore! :/