A weary bus ride up a windy road on a Saturday afternoon was finally close to its end, as we were creeping up into the small town of Bac Ha, Vietnam. It felt tiny and yet full of hotels – I certainly did not get any sense of character of its own. I wasn’t sure whether I would have good time there.

But once a new week started afresh on Sunday, the town changed its face. Suddenly people from all over Northern Vietnam crowded the streets; tourists and locals alike had arrived for the traditional Sunday market. Despite the tourists, the market is still a very local affair with villagers from the neighbouring H’Mong community taking up most of the stalls. The market is divided into quite a few sections for you to ponder, so there is plenty to explore.
The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 8 The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 20

Fresh local produce

Local villagers selling various types of vegetables and herbs flank the entrance to the market. I found it fascinating to look at all these different vegetables and roots, some of which I had never seen before. The ones I had seen before looked so lush and natural, but I would have been keen to try some of these herbs. 

The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 18 The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 1

My favourite: the handicrafts

For someone who loves scarves, it was the best decision ever to come to this market. The scarves, made by the local H’mong people who live in Northern Vietnam, were incredibly intricate, and beautiful in colour. You can also find various sizes of bags, jewellery, the traditional cuff-style of clothing, dresses, skirts, tablecloths and runners. You could get lost in the amount of handicrafts that this market is bursting with.

The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 14The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 12The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 3

Meat fest

If you’re squeamish, then this part of the market is probably not for you. I’ve definitely seen bloody meat before, and even hanging carcasses, but this was at another level. Spines and bones hanging out with the heads still around. Entrails and legs with so much meat being flayed off… During my trip through Vietnam, a local guide had told me that his people don’t waste a single part of the animal. After seeing this wide display of meat at the market, I saw what he meant.

The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 2

The animals…

This was probably my least favourite section of the whole market. All I remember hearing as I walked over there was pigs squealing while being stuffed into small bags and dogs barking while being pulled on their leashes. This upset me more than the mountains of meat and bones I had just walked past. If you are likely to be disturbed by this, I would try walking straight past this section and instead head up to the top of the market where you can get a great view and have fun with some water buffalo. I just had to accept that selling live animals and the treatment of them was just part of the local way.

The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 4The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 9The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 7

Let’s not forget the food

Of course the best part of any local market is the food, which is sold ready to eat. You can sit down and enjoy a Vietnamese coffee and other drinks while stuffing your face with deep fried pancakes, banana-filled deep fried dumplings, flavoured rice eaten with various spices, pho, meat skewers and probably heaps of other delicious food stuffs I didn’t find.

The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 10 The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 13 The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 16

How to get here

Visiting Bac Ha is an easy trip to do from Sapa or even Hanoi in Northern Vietnam, but on the offered tours you are with many others. I’d advise you to do the trek to town on your own on Saturday, to get the best out of the experience. However it’s a long way from Hanoi and hotels raise their prices to match the influx of tourists for the market, so a tour is the cheaper option. Remember to bargain with the local H’Mong ladies, they know how to sell!

The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 5 The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 6 The Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam - Liv Clarke 19

If you are planning a trip through Vietnam, make sure to add this market to your list. Or have you been here already? Let us know your opinion in the comments.

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*This is a guest post by Olivia Clarke, who blogs about her travels here.
All photos by Olivia Clarke