Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bac Ha Market

SUNDAY, 23rd October

After a great night's sleep, we woke up well aware that we had hiked a very long way  yesterday. It was a great shame there was no time to enjoy the indoor pool or the massages on offer at our hotel, but the hot shower was one of those with fabulous pressure and an enormous shower head... aaah.

Even though it was only one flight down, we opted for the lift, rather than the stairs when we went down for breakfast. The buffet was extravagant with so much to choose from. Lovely.
We had to be checked out and ready by 8am for the minibus to pick us up for the long drive to Bac Ha for the Sunday market. As our minibus made its way slowly past all the people on foot we realised how very picturesque the township of Sapa really is. We must return again with time to simply explore the many shops and cafes... this quick trip is only scraping the surface of what is on offer.

Every Sunday, Bac Ha hosts the biggest fair near the mountainous highlands and the Chinese border. It is the largest and most colourful 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 socialising.

It was a scenic drive, winding slowly through the mountains. We passed a truck that had rolled and gone off the road in the middle of one small village, but no-one was around so it must have happened a while back. It was mid morning by the time we arrived, and our guide told us to meet him outside the designated restaurant in 90 minutes then left us to fend for ourselves.
The first thing you notice is the gorgeous colourful costunes worn by the local ladies... all those patterns are hand embroidered!

The second thing we noticed was that though tourists are not in short supply, we are not the focus. Most locals paid little attention to us, rather choosing to focus on their own business and the short Sunday-sized window of opportunity.
Stall holders were helpful but not at all pushy and it was great to wander around choosing our purchases without being harassed. We bought skirts for the girls (Jordan, Bailey and Caelyn), bags, umbrellas, fans...

Items on sale in the market include water buffalos, pigs, horses, chickens, ducks and other livestock. This water buffalo was calmly being led through the market and we wanted to see the animals, so we sought out our APTravel guide, but he couldn’t tell us where the other animals were... and yet they are a main attraction of the Bac Ha market!! As far as guides go he was pretty useless, all he did was organize us for lunch - other than that he didn’t do anything much...

No thanks to him, we did find the horse market, though...

The horses all looked healthy and well cared for.

This is normal life for this family, but uniquely picturesque for us.
In the food section of the market and pungent fumes of alcohol accosted your senses of smell, from corn whiskey, a Bac Ha specialty. The potent moonshine is decanted by vendors from large white plastic jugs to used bottled water containers. Apparently the menfolk like to get plastered on moonshine at this weekly market.

Katie reckons she'll taste it next time. As for me, I have no desire to swallow rocket fuel!

There are many adorable babies everywhere you look.

These food stalls were very busy. The smell and smoke from their braziers was pretty suffocating, so we had a very quick walk through and didn't linger. The cuts of meat looked unrecognisable and we really didn't want to know...

Lunch was a predictable set menu meal, sitting with others from our tour group. We had to buy our own drinks, so I ordered a Coke and Katie ordered a Tiger Beer. The can of Coke came out without either a glass or a straw, and the bottle of beer was plonked down five minutes later without a bottle opener... needless to say, we shared the Coke!  Not very entrepreneurial, considering the profits they make on the drinks!

Then we boarded the minibus again for the long drive back to Lao Cai to catch the night train back to Hanoi. Along the way we stopped at a village for a good look around.

We visited a couple of homes. Every bit of clear ground in front of the houses were used for drying rice.
I imagine the blue tarps make for easy handling.

Then we walked through the first house. This is the kitchen...

Inside the house it was incredibly dark... there are no windows and the mud walls are 40cm deep. I took these photos by pointing my camera and hoping for the best.

The floors are packed dirt.

This grindstone was tucked into a corner of the living area.

The mezanine was used for storage.

Ignoring the hoards of people wandering through his home, this man was wiring together a rat trap.

   This is a pig sty

and here are the piglets. Our guide told me they would eat pork at every meal.

This pony was stabled in a tiny space that would have the RSPCA up in arms.

He was standing in a pile of manure that had to be seen to be believed.

At the second house we poked our nose in was also really dark after the bright sunshine outside, so I just took a photo like before. To my surprise I saw this girl standing in the kitchen on the display of my camera!

She was roasting corn kernels... her eyes must have been accustomed to the darkness because she could obviously see what she was doing even though we couldn't. (...maybe not so well after my flash exploded in her face... sorry!)

This had power and a few mod cons and newspaper wallpaper.

  This served as the family altar.

This gorgeous little tot is wearing the costume of the Flower H'mong people.

Then we spotted this lady, presumably her mother, looking fabulous in her Flower H'mong clothing.

These children were sitting watching the stream of foreigners trooping through their home
Like all the children we saw, they were pretty grubby

but very interested when this man produced some lollies.

I supposed they are used to having people stare and take photos of them. I trust the compensation paid to the villagers is well worth the inconvenience of opening up their homes for us to see.

I don't know what herb this is drying.

The blue barrel is for water storage, and this lady will carry water in those big buckets back to her house.

I imagine these buildings are very cold in winter.

  Timber feed trough.

  Pig sty.

Harvesting the last of this year's crop in the distance.

En route we stopped off at the Chinese border crossing.
On the other side of the river is China
That A-frame gate marks the entrance to China.
This gate is the entrance to Vietnam.

This little temple is right next to the border crossing.

We arrived at Lao Cai at about 4pm and were told to sit and wait here at this cafe across the square from the train station. It was a long boring wait... although I did get to see the second half of the All Blacks trouncing the French in the final of the Rugby World Cup on the telly you can see under the stairs.
These two girls are Canadians teaching English in a kindergarten in Hanoi called Mapleberry. Their friend is Scottish. They did the home-stay option, so they trekked both days and said it was great. There are more and more home-stay lodges being built to cater for the growing tourist trade. Apparently how much interaction there is with the family varies enormously. Up here these three were served the meal, then pretty much left to themselves... compared to the girls from Australia who enjoyed the homestay down on the Mekong. They said their evening was spent thoroughly enjoying the company and hospitality of their host family.

Finally at about 7:30 we were handed our tickets and escorted across the tracks to our waiting train and settled in for our third and final overnight train trip.

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