Exploring Bac Ha: Unveiling the Hidden Charms of Vietnam’s Northwest

Nestled amidst the majestic mountains of the Northwest region, Bac Ha is a small town that exudes a tranquil charm, distinct from the bustling energy of Sapa or Ha Giang. This unassuming town, however, captivates the hearts of numerous travelers with its authentic and understated allure. A weekend getaway to Bac Ha is a worthwhile detour, offering a delightful escape to a world of verdant mountains, winding rivers, enchanting caves, historical remnants, and vibrant ethnic villages.

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A Glimpse into Bac Ha’s History

Originally derived from the Tay ethnic language, the name “Pạc ha” translates to “a hundred thatch boots.” During the colonial era, the French pronounced it as “Pakha,” which eventually transformed into “Bac Ha” in Vietnamese, a name that persists to this day. Aptly nicknamed the “White plateau” of the Northwest region, Bac Ha owes its moniker to the vast valleys adorned with blooming plum blossoms that paint a picturesque landscape in spring. Prior to the 1980s, the mountainous lands of North Vietnam, including Lang Son, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, and Lai Chau, were renowned for their opium fields. However, the plum trees gradually replaced the poppies, adorning the meadows and gardens with their exquisite flowers since 1993.

Location: Bac Ha lies to the east of Lao Cai, approximately 70 kilometers from the capital city of Lao Cai and 300 kilometers from Hanoi.

How to Reach Bac Ha from Hanoi?

To reach Bac Ha from Hanoi, travelers can take the same route as the Hanoi-Sapa journey, opting for either a bus or train ride.

Best Time to Visit Bac Ha

  • Spring: This season marks the blooming of plum blossoms, creating a captivating spectacle before and after the Lunar New Year.
  • Bac Ha Ethnic Market: A visit to the Bac Ha ethnic market is highly recommended, where vibrant colors and unique cultural experiences await.
  • Horse Races: Held annually in early June, these races coincide with the ripening of plums.
  • Feast of Worship: Taking place on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, this festival pays homage to the gods of Earth and Water.
  • Bac Ha Temple Festival: Celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, this festival is a vibrant display of traditional festivities.
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Top Attractions in Bac Ha

Bac Ha Ethnic Markets

One cannot miss the weekly markets in Bac Ha, which offer an immersive experience into the heart of the town. Delight in the scents, flavors, and unique atmosphere as you explore the bustling market. On Sundays, the Bac Ha market becomes a vibrant gathering place for merchants donning colorful traditional costumes. It serves as a meeting point for ten different ethnic groups residing in the region and its surroundings. The market awakens early in the morning as men and women meticulously arrange their goods for display. Divided into four sections, the market showcases household products, brocades, animals, and local dishes. Embark on a journey through overflowing stalls filled with a wide array of items, ranging from farming tools to buffalo, horse, clothing, and local specialties from neighboring tribes. Don’t forget to savor the delectable dishes available in the gastronomic hall, which buzzes with activity throughout the day.

If you happen to visit Bac Ha on a Tuesday, make your way to the Coc Ly market, located about 40 kilometers from Lao Cai city. This market promises an immersive cultural experience, allowing you to delve into the local culture of the Hmong people.

Hoang A Tuong Residence

The Hoang A Tuong Residence stands as a testament to Bac Ha’s history. This grand building, which took eight years to construct (1914-1921), spans an impressive four thousand square meters. The architectural style is a captivating blend of French influences from the 17th and 18th centuries, intertwined with the traditional stilt houses of the Tay ethnic group. Surrounded by majestic mountains, the serene hill on which the residence sits offers picturesque views of the lush countryside. A visit to this beautiful place ensures an unforgettable journey, with visitors immersing themselves in a mystical atmosphere where nature and architectural harmony intertwine.

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Valley of Flowers Thai Giang Pho

Just a short distance of fewer than two kilometers from Bac Ha’s center lies the Thai Giang Pho valley, a haven that beckons travelers with its mesmerizing scents and vibrant colors. Flower enthusiasts will find themselves captivated by the gardens brimming with an abundance of local and exotic flowers, each more beautiful than the last. Marvel at the countless orchids that bloom year-round, or wander through the fragrant lavender fields for a sensory delight. For those enchanted by the pink-purple hues of buckwheat, visit Po Cho 2 in Lau Thi Ngai commune, Airport 2 in Thai Giang Pho commune, and La Di Thang in Ta Van Chu commune. These locations offer ideal spots for exploration, particularly during significant festivities such as the celebration on April 30 and the horse races held in early June.

Ban Pho (Pho Village)

Situated four kilometers from Bac Ha, the Hmong village of Pho invites visitors to savor its renowned corn alcohol, a specialty known for its unique flavor. Take the opportunity to visit a local family and experience a warm and friendly exchange. Upon arrival, be greeted by the pleasant aroma of corn permeating the air. Here, according to traditional Hmong methods, corn alcohol is meticulously crafted—a sought-after commodity that can be found at the weekly Bac Ha and Can Cau markets.

Ban Pho (Pho Village)

Hang Tien (Fairy Cave)

Embark on a journey along the Chay River, a boat ride of approximately six kilometers, to immerse yourself in the heart of pristine forests. Cradled by a temperate climate and surrounded by steep cliffs, towering trees, and babbling streams, this serene setting unveils the enchanting realm of Hang Tien, the Fairy Cave. After a 200-meter walk, you will find yourself within the cave’s captivating interior, characterized by intricate rock formations spanning multiple levels. Legend has it that fairies once roamed these ethereal chambers, unwilling to leave due to the bewitching beauty that encapsulates the surroundings. Witness the magical allure of Hang Tien with your own eyes and create cherished memories.

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Bac Ha Temple & Where to Stay in Bac Ha?

The Bac Ha Temple, dating back to the 19th century, is dedicated to the Vu brothers, Vu Van Uyen and Vu Van Mat, who played a vital role in ensuring regional stability during their time. The temple’s annual festival, held on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, pays homage to these Vu heroes and serves as a vibrant hub for traditional festivities filled with liveliness and joy.

Bac Ha offers a range of accommodation options, with approximately 50 establishments, including 23 hotels. Additionally, visitors can opt to stay with locals in villages such as Pho, Na Lo (Ta Chai), Trung Do (Bao Nhai), Na Hoi Tay, and Na Hoi Nung.

Bac Ha Gastronomy

Don’t miss the opportunity to savor the local culinary delights of Bac Ha. Indulge in dishes such as “Pho chua,” “Thang co” soup, sticky rice with seven colors from the Nung Din ethnic group, and the young sticky rice unique to Bac Ha. Contrasting with the Pho found in Hanoi, Bac Ha’s version embodies the essence of mountainous Vietnamese cuisine, seasoned with pork, aromatic herbs, and peanuts. This cold dish stands out with its brown noodles and slightly tangy sauce. Another notable specialty is the “Thang co” soup, a popular dish prevalent in the northern mountainous regions, including Ha Giang, Sapa, and Lang Son.