Bac Ha Market opens every Sundays from morning till 2pm. This is the ideal place to explore the pristine looks and characteristics of ethnic minority groups in the northwest region of Viet Nam.
Every Sunday, Bac Ha hosts the biggest fair near the mountainous highlands and the Chinese border. It is the largest and most colorful market in the area and attracts throngs of villagers from the surrounding hill tribes. Some walk several hours for the weekly opportunity to trade and barter food, animals, clothes and household goods.
80km from Sapa, Bac Ha Market is not only the place for buying and selling, but also a place for cultural and sentiment exchanging. On the market days, right from the early morning, all paths and mountain roads are full of people and horses pouring to the market. People usually sit in groups around a soup pan (“thang co”) eating and chatting.
Many different ethnic groups such as Flower H’mong, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay and Nung minorities gather to buy and sell local products that cannot be found elsewhere. The market was very crowded, local products for sale or barter are carried on horseback.
Besides the usual items like pigs, cows, chickens, and ducks, Bac Ha Market sold dogs. As dogs were available as cuts of meat, they were also available live, right next to the live pigs, chickens, and other livestock. There was a brisk trade at the market for everything from hand-embroidered skirts to all manner of 4-legged animals. The “fresh” meat section is not for the faint of heart and might steer more than a few visitors in the direction of strict vegetarianism.
Popularly known as the largest upland market in Lao Cai, Bac Ha is better known for its pristine characteristics. The market has been constructed on a concrete floor, not on a sloping hill as in the past but commercial activities here remain traditional.
At this market, one can find any item needed for the life of the ethnic minority people, from hoes and shovels to brocade, buffaloes, horses, etc. which are sold in different zones.
The largest zone in Bac Ha market is for brocade products for women, such as cloths or clothes.
The buffalo market is also bustling and the traders and buyers are mainly men. This zone is very spacious, sufficient to serve hundreds of people.
Near the buffalo market is the dog market of the Mong and Dao people and a market for poultry.
A specialty of Bac Ha market is a dish called thang co. There are over 20 stalls selling thang co in the market.
The horse meat, called thang co, is a traditional dish of the Mong ethnic group in the mountainous north-western region. Thang co has been known for years as a specialty of the Mong culture. The technique of making it is quite simple. After the animal is killed and washed, its internal parts are removed, which are later cut up. These parts are put in a big pan and fried in their own grease. Minutes later, water is added to the pan and the meat is simmered for hours.
To spice up the dish, salt and some spicy fruits including thao qua and dia dien can be added, giving to the dish an attractive aroma. Wine is always recommended for men when they eat thang co and women often eat it with com nam (rice balls) or men men (ground maize).
Traditionally, thang co is processed from horse meat but today, it is also processed from buffalo meat and pork.