The first time we went to the Sunday Bac Ha Market was in 2009. In 2015, the market is in the same area of town, but the hugest difference is that there is a much larger Vietnamese presence at the market now. You may think, of course there is a Vietnamese presence–this is Vietnam–, but what I mean is that in 2009, this market was more of a Hmong market. Most of the merchants covering the whole area of the market were Hmong. Now, it has completely turned around. There is only a little section of the market where you will see Hmong selling their local textiles. The bulk of the market is now Vietnamese merchants selling machine-made souvenirs that are made to look Hmong or Dao.
In 2009, this market was one of the most fascinating places I had ever been (along with the Can Cau Market)–such a variety of amazingly COLORFUL handicrafts, clothes, baby carriers, scraps of material, and even more interesting were the vintage pieces that came with a story! Sadly, all of that is gone! Even this year, I found the small Hmong area lacking from what it was in the past; now all the Hmong are selling are the updated, printed skirts the Flower Hmong are now wearing, a few new baby carriers, and some Flower Hmong shirts. I think the reason of this change is the increase in tourism. Bac Ha wasn’t as huge a tourist sight in 2009 as it has now become! The Vietnamese merchants noticed this gain in tourism and followed. It feels like the Vietnamese have much more power over the market than the Hmong because the Vietnamese have much nicer accommodations to sell their wares, whereas the Hmong are selling under an umbrella on a tarp. The market has now catered to the tourist rather than the local community.
If it is your first time to the Sunday market, I’m sure you will love it. Seeing all the different things here is quite neat. If you come to the market on a day other than Sunday, it is not very interesting; it is very small. You will mostly find casual, every day clothes and shoes for sell, and maybe a few people selling some souvenirs, vegetables, and food.
I made a map below to show where the different sections of the Sunday market. There is a vegetable, meat, and Hmong section. There are two areas where they sell animals. If you walk up the stairs next to the meat section, you will find the water buffalos, and if you walk down Na Co Street, you will find horses and birds for sell. The rest of the area surrounding these sections is packed with Vietnamese sellers.
The market opens early. I was at the market at 6am and the vegetable and meat sections were very active. The Vietnamese are starting to put up their wares at this time, and I only saw two Hmong sellers in their area. When I returned at 9:30am, the whole market was set up and packed with people.
The MEAT section.
This section can be interesting to some people, or revolting to others. I think it is fascinating seeing all the cuts of meat laid out, including all the organs. This section isn’t exactly a very sanitary place so there is plenty of dirt and flies on much of the meat, but they do their best at keeping it clean.
The Vietnamese Souvenir Section.
There are endless rows of the same merchandise being sold by the Vietnamese venders. There are colorful table runners and wall hangings; stuffed animals made from old Hmong clothing scraps; LOTS of bags, backpacks, and purses; pillow cases galore; old Flower Hmong clothing; hats; silver jewelry; and blankets made out of old Hmong clothes scraps.
The Hmong Section. The Hmong section is on an open square. All of the Hmong set up their canopy for shade, and lay out their items for sale on a tarp. Most of the items for sale are the NEW Flower Hmong skirt. I say NEW because these skirts came out about 4 years ago. Traditionally the Flower Hmong would wear these super huge and heavy, handmade skirts, but some brilliant person created fabric that has a Hmong design on it and they made skirt out of it. On this trip, I counted maybe three women who wore the traditional skirt; the rage is to wear these new skirts. I asked most the women why they don’t wear the traditional skirts and all of them said it was because these new skirts are so light. They are not so hot in these. One woman said that she only wears the traditional skirt on special occasions now.
The other items for sale and the Flower Hmong style baby carrier, Flower Hmong leg wraps, Flower Hmong aprons; bags/purses; and material.
The Animal Section.
There are two animal sections: the area where they sell water buffalos and the area where they sell horses and birds. The place they sell the water buffalos is up the staircase next to the meat section. If you want a view of the market, this is where you should go! I love water buffalo so it is always cool to see them up close. If you pay the owner, he may let you get on one if you really want to!
To get to the area where they sell horses and birds, you need to walk down Na Co street. You should see it down the first street on your right. I was surprised at how many bird were being sold. Song birds are really popular in Vietnam. If you are able to tame your bird, it can be very valuable and be sold for a lot of money. They also sell bird cages here. The horse area only had about 5 horses when we were there and they were sad and thin.
The Vegetable Section.
If you start walking down Vu Van Mat Street, you will start seeing women sitting on the curb with their fresh produce in front of them. It is largely green vegetables, but you can find some fruit as well. The closer you walk toward the market, the more produce venders you will find all along the steps up to the main market area.
Here are a few other interesting photos I took from the market: