Only On Sunday

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  , Hà Giang,
Sunday, May 20, 2012

5/20 Sapa to Bac Ha (110 km each way)

Bac Ha is a mountain town 120 km from Sapa known for its colorful Sunday market where northwest Vietnam hill tribe people come to buy and sell. We signed up at the tourist office for the "tour" to Bad Ha Sunday market for $15 pp including lunch. We piled in the van with 14 others for the three hour journey. The route there was through amazingly lush mountainous countryside of quaint villages, along rocky rivers, and through rice terraces. 

Some 900m above sea level, Bac Ha is noticeably warmer than Sapa (1650m) It was overcast when we arrived but the mountain clouds move fast and we had a mix of sun and clouds during our time there. 

Our tour guide pointed in the direction of the market and said 'meet here at 12 if you want lunch'. That was the extent of the guiding. We were on our own.
The market was bustling with the colorful Red Flower H'mong ethnic women, dressed in elaborate red and white blouses, skirts, leggings, and head dresses. The men wear subdued dark indigo blue or blackish duds.

The low bluff behind the market is where water buffalo and a few cattle are bought and sold. A distant riverside pasture has a few horses for sale. Below the bluff, live pigs, dogs, chickens and other small animals are available. The center of the market has awning to protect diners from the sun and rain in the quick changing mountain weather. Strange organs and sausages are displayed to tempt market diners. The market also has the usual assortment of hand-made tools, factory made clothes and toys, medicinal herbs, garden fresh vegetables and the like. Corn whiskey, sold from large white plastic jugs, is a Bac Ha specialty. Also there are plenty stalls selling local handicrafts to the tourists.

Dave saw one farmer elbow deep in water buffalo rectum. He kept it there for a long time before sliding it slowly out. I think the farmer was just checking his balls. Another customer for a plowshare ground the sharp edge of a rocke into one of the tools to check its hardness before he bought it. Another woman could hardly contain her joy as she inspected a little puppy before setting him down and engaged in lighthearted disinterested banter with the puppy's owner. Lots of smiles and friendly negotiations.

There were many other tourists who arrived in vans similar to ours at the same time. The local tourist authority must mandate the itinerary and stopping times because every tour van went the same places at the same times. In order to get out of sync with the 100 other tourists, we would have needed to go independently. All the vans inexplicably stopped in the uninteresting Lao Cai for 35 minutes each way.. One way at hotel for toilet stop and pick up additional people and on the return a pause to in front of at small uninteresting temple to stretch our leg on a piece of grass that looks over the river border crossing to China.  

Lunch covered by our tour operator was greasy tasteless affair at a dive diner. The folks on tours that didn't cover lunch at least had the option to pick their own poison. 

Our group reconvened at one and fell in line with other vans to drive a few km up the road to Ban Pho village where we visited several wooden Flower H'mong houses. In one, a wood fire kept an alcohol distillery going. The people used to sleep with their animals but the government forbids it now and the animals are kept in separated pens. A few marijuana plants grew in their garden along with corn and other vegetables.

The Black H'mong people grow marijuana mainly for the hemp with which they weave their clothes. We watched them back in Sapa preparing it in balls as they walk or sit and chat with the other women.  

In Lao Cai we were let out to stare at China across the river for 35 minutes, a 
colossal waste of time.

At 5 pm we arrived back in Sapa where it had been raining all afternoon. The woman running our hotel was surprised that we good weather at Bac Ha. It was another great day.
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