Northwest Vietnam

Hoa Binh - Song Da Reservoir - Mai Chau - Moc Chau - Yen Chau - Son La - Tuan Giao - Pa Khoang Lake - Dien Bien Phu - Muong Lay - Muong Te - Sin Ho - Lai Chau - Sa Pa - Lao Cai - Bac Ha - Ha Giang Province


IDD Code:( +84) 20
Long touted as the weekend alternative to Sapa, this small highland town doesn't have the same dramatic location of its more il-lustrious neighbour, butl it is calmer when Saturday comes. It fills up to choking point on Sunday morning, when visitors flood in to meet the Flower H'mong at the morning market. Compared with Sapa, tourism is still in its infancy here and during the week the town has a deserted feel. Bac Ha is a good base to explore the surrounding highlands. Around 900m above sea level, it is noticeably warmer than Sapa. There are 10 Montagnard groups that live around Bac Ha; the colouful Flower H'mong are the most visible, hut other groups include Dzao, Giay (Nhang), Han (Hoa), Xa Fang, Lachi, Nung, Phula, Thai and Thulao. One of Bac Ha's main industries is she manufacture of alcoholic home brews (rice wine, cassava wine and corn liquor). The corn hooch produced by the Flower H’mong is so potent it can ignite! Bac Ha is the only place in Vietnam where you'll find this particular moonshine; there's an entire area devoted to it at the Sunday market. Swill some down before deciding whether to buy a buffalo or cow.
The Lao Cai-Hekou crossing is popular with travellers making their way between Yunnan and northern Vietnam. The border is open daily between 7am and 5pm. China is separated from Vietnam by a road bridge and a separate rail bridge over the Red River. Pedestrians pay a toll of 3000d to cross. The border is about 3km from Lao Cai train station. This journey is easily done on a xe om (15,000d).
Sights & Activities
There are several interesting markets in and around Bac Ha, most within 20km of each other
Bac Ha Market: This lively and crowded concrete bazaai is the main market in Bac Ha proper. It draws large numbers of Flower H'mong from the surrounding hills. The women embroider elaborate floral motifs on their skirts, making a technicolour dream for photographers. Items on sale include water buffaloes, pigs,horses, dogs and chickens: hardly convenient purchases for most visitors Tourists to buying handicrafts, textiles and the local firewater. The market operates only on a Sunday. Get here early to experience it without the razzamatazz of day-trippers from Sapa,
Can Cau Market
This is one of the biggest open -air markets in the region, specialising in livestock. It's 20km north of Bac Ha and just 9km south of the Chinese border. Can Cau attracts a large number of Chinese traders, evidenced by the booming dog trade here The market is only open on Saturday
Lung Phin Market
This small market is between Can Cau market and Bac Ha town, about 12km from the fown It's less busy than other markets, and is open on Sunday. It is a good place to move onto once the tour buses arrive in Bac Ha from Sapa» and has a very real feel,
Coc Ly Market
This Tuesday market is about 35km if fromBac Ha.You can net here via a fairly good road, or by road and river; hotels in Sapa and Bac 'la can organise trips.
Villages around Bac Ha provide an opportunity to see how Montagnard people live. Ban Pho is nearest, and the villagers live simply The Flower H'mong villagers are so hospitable - some of the kindest people you'll meet in Vietnam. Ban Pho is a 7km return trip from Bac Ha. Take a loop route to get there and back. Other nearby villages include: Trieu Cai, an 8km return walk; Na Ang, a 6km teturn walk; and Na Hoi,a 4km return walk.Ask at your hotel for directions.
There are quite a lot of hotels in Ba Ha these days, but very few stand out from the pack. Room rates tend to increase weekends when tourists flock to town for the Sunday market; it can be hard to find a room. Dai Thanh Hotel (tell:880 448;r 60.000d)If you’re counting the dong as much as the dollars, this hotel continues to be one of the cheaoest in town. Rooms include hot water, TV, mozzie net and cekling fan – a real steal. Toan Thang Hotel (tell:880444;r 80.000d) Set in a sweet but solid wooden house, the rooms here are very good value. All include a fan, local TV and a hot-water bathroom. Sao Mai Hotel (tell/fax 880288;r US$10-25)Op- posite the Toan Thang. this place offers (he beds of choice for most tour groups. Avoid the shabby, cheaper rooms in the older concrete building, as life is much better in the newer wooden houses. The restaurant-bar here is one of the leading watering holes in town plus it holds regular dance shows for visiting groups in the courtyard car park Minh Quan Hotel (tell: 880 222; r 120.000-150,0000d) Most people are here tor the market, so why not enjoy a bird's-eye view of the Sunday action from this comfortable hotel? Room-include smart bathrooms and some have im mense views of the mountains; beyond.
Other places worth a look:
Tran Sin Hotel (tell: 880 240; r 100,000d) Another hotel that overlooks the market; get a balcony to follow the action. Hoang Vu Hotel (tell: 880 264, r 120,000d) Big rooms with balconies, but small views. Reliable tour information is available.
Many of the hotels have restaurants, but it you want to break out, make for the Cong Phu Restaurant (tell: 880 254; mains15,000-30,000d). No, the waiters don't look like extras out of a Bruce Lee movie, but they do offer wholesome meats. The menus are large photocopies in English, just tick the boxes and the food will arrive.
Getting There & Away
Minibuses depart from Lao Cai for Bac Ha (28,000d, two hours) around 6.30am and 1pm daily. Buses from Bac Ha leave for Lao Cai between 5.30am and 1pm. The road is well maintaines and the rural scenery sublime. Locals on motorbikes will do the Lao Cai – Bac Ha run for about US$10,or even Sapa –Bac Ha(110km) for US$15,but it’s a long way to be on the back of a bike.Sunday minibus tours from Sapa to Bac Ha start at US$10, including transport, guide and trekking to a minority village. On the way back to Sapa you can bail out in Lao Cai and catch the night train back to Hanoi. Bac Ha is about 330km (10 hours)from Hanoi. Some cafes in Hanoi offer four-day bus trips to Sapa, with a visit to Bac Ha included.