Almost every day of the week, somewhere in the area around Sapa the local hill tribes will be gathering for their weekly market. As well as providing the opportunity to buy and sell anything from vegetables to buffalo, these are also important social occasions. Those who live in the region’s more isolated villages have the chance to meet friends and family, exchange news, eat, and even indulge in some of the locally brewed spirits – which can be up to 55% proof!
On Tuesday you can visit Coc Ly Market, a small gathering of the Flower Hmong, Black Zao, Nung and Tay minorities. Among the goods for sale you’ll find vegetables, livestock and local textiles, all the subject of some lively bargaining. We also recommend a boat ride along the Chay River followed by a short walk to the Tay minority village of Trung Do, although in July and August the boat ride is often not possible due to high river water levels.
Wednesday is market day in the hamlet of Cao Son, in the Muong Khuong District of Lao Cai Province. An early start is a must to reach this market, but we think it’s worth it. The trip takes you through beautiful scenery ranging from tea plantations to pine forests, and on arrival you’ll find a bustling market packed with buyers and sellers from all the main communities who live in this area, including Flower H’Mong, Phu La, Dao and Tu Di.
Relatively inaccessible until recently due to its remote location, the small Sin Cheng Market in Si Ma Cai District is arguably the most unspoilt of the markets in this area, and so comes highly recommended by Selective Asia. What it lacks in size is certainly made up for by the stunning rural location close to the Chinese border, along with the extremely photogenic display of traditional costumes from the White H’mong, Flower H’mong, Black Dao, Tay and Giay who live in the area. This is also one of the best places to gain a true sense of the importance of the social role of these markets, as young and old take the opportunity to catch up on all of the local news and gossip.
An option for Thursday is a trip to the small Lung Khau Nhin Market, travelling via the Tram Ton pass, which at 1900 metres is Vietnam’s highest. This tiny market is another of the most traditional in this area, and a variety of minority tribes people gather to sell their wares. Expect to meet the friendly and hospitable Tai Lu, Tai Laos, White Tai, and H’mong amongst others. After exploring the market, you’ll have the chance to visit the Black Dao village of Sin Lung Chai.
The alternative to Lung Khau Nhin is the Thursday market at Tam Duong Dat, which is usually attended by a very photogenic mix of White H’mong, Flower H’mong, Lu, Phu La, Black Zao and Giay – often sporting their traditional dress. Once again, visiting this market involves crossing the Tram Ton pass, offering beautiful views on a clear day. The market has a very authentic feel, and serves as a centre for those who live in the many small villages in this area.
One of Vietnam’s most interesting markets, the small but unique gathering at Can Cau takes place every Saturday. Groups such as the Flower H’mong, Black Zao, Tay and Phu La come from near and far to trade and socialise with each other, and with their neighbours from across the Chinese border. The Flower H’mong in particular are known for their elaborate costumes, which ensure the market is always a riot of colour. Keen photographers will enjoy the chance to capture the picturesque scenes of local life, as well as the beauty of the surrounding landscapes.
Saturday is the day of Sapa’s famous ‘ Love Market’. In the past this was where boys and girls from the surrounding valleys would have come in search of partners, and whilst it’s not really the genuine article anymore, it’s well worth a visit. Young Red Dzao and Black H’mong girls still arrive every weekend to sing songs, although mostly for the tourists it has to be said!
Finally, the week ends with perhaps the most famous of all the markets of this region, held at Bac Ha, around 3 hours from Sapa. This huge gathering of minority people offers everything, from local produce to some of the intricate textiles and handicrafts for which the area is so well known. You can also see many other interesting facets of local life, such as the practise of traditional medicine. This area has a particularly large Flower H’mong community, so called due to the bright and striking colours of their traditional costumes.
Sapa’s markets is an amazing place that you should not miss on your itinerary to Vietnam. Why not take a trip to a market during your trip to Sapa and totally enjoy the true local with the beauty side in this highlight land of Vietnam, you will never regret it.