This was a reasonably flat and easy trek, after the ups and downs in Sapa. We were able to visit a Flowered H'Mong house and even tasted the local "hooch". Actually the Vietnamese don't seem to make their alcohol too strong and this one tasted of plums, that Bac Ha is famous for. Some nice panoramas to be seen when you come out of the trees.
Although Bac Ha is a predominantly Flowered H'Mong district, 90 years ago a Thay person named Hoang Yen Chao, and calling it after his sons name Hoang A Tuong, was made "Vua Meo" or King of the H'Mong while still under French administration and had this palace built around 1920. Built in a Spanish/French style using a one French and one Chinese architect, it is seriously in need of renovation and there is only a small part that is visitable, many of the rooms being closed, although it looks as though the walls and columns have been painted. The terrace has a great view to the surrounding mountains and a man-made lake that was installed just for the King and his three wives. The site was chosen apparently, using the feng-shui theory of location. Interesting fact is the mountain opposite the front of the palace is called "Mother holding her baby".
Although there was a booth that had "Entrée 10.000 VND" written on it, it was locked and apart from a woman at the souvenir room there was nobody.
Each Sunday, the sleepy town of Bac Ha comes alive with villagers converging to the market to refurnish their provisions and the women, like many of their species around the world, take the opportunity to shop and shop till they drop.
It is a chance for travelers to spot many tribes in the area. However, Bac Ha is predominately populated by the Flower H’mong. Their colorful outfit contributes to the bust of colors as they wore their Sunday best.
Stop a while beside the rice fields to see farmers hard at work. As the altitude of Bac Ha is lower than that of Sa Pa and climate less dry, rice can be harvested twice a year instead of once in the Sa Pa region.
The rice terraces are first flooded with water before planting season and cattle is prodded along to plough the fields. After which, saplings are planted and when they become taller and bigger, they may have to be replanted (giving them more space) to mature before harvesting. After harvesting, the rice will have to be dehusked before it is ready for daily consumption.
Now we know why our parents warn us never to waste rice.
If you like cows and horses, you will find no lack of them in the Bac Ha market. There is a field near the centre of town (not the market place), where many horses are left there to graze.
Look out for a local photo studio at the field and local Hmong girls decked in their best (with makeup et al) waiting to have their portraits taken.
If you follow a guided tour, the advantage is that the guide can lead you through a minority village, and visit a local house as he explains to you the lifestyle and living conditions of the villagers.
Most Hmong villagers belive in ancestral worship and you will see a small altar upon entering the mud house. On one side of the house, food such as corn is dried and stored on an elevated platform.
On the side of the house, you will see grinders, pestles and cooking utensils for making the local corn wine or for cooking for the livestock and family.
Most of these mud houses are small and dark with small windows carved out of the walls for sunlight.
Wonder what the locals eat? Walk around the market where vegetables are laid out on the ground for sale. You will probably see many villagers licking away at ice creams (even in the cold rain) and wonder when that became part of their local diet.
Around the centre of the market, traders gather their pigs for trade. The local black pigs squeal and writhe a lot, so try not to go too near them. Many of the piglets are bound to a 'pig basket' so that the traders have an easier time moving them around.
In old China, people who commited adultery would have suffered the same treatment by being bound to a pig basket (an ovalur basket encasing the entire body of the pig (or human i.e.)) and drowned in the rivers as punishment.
At the centre of the Bac Ha market , you can sit down local style and try out the local food (if you dare). Remember that living in the sanitized part of the world may not prepare your stomach for the local cuisine. Take precaution!
The women in the montain tribes embroider clothes and often these days, articles for sale like cushion covers and bed spreads. There was a range of thread available, obviously chemically rather than traditionally dyed, but all contributing to the colour.
Women in the remote montains were choosing new 'traditional' skirts, just the way women anywhere shop for clothes: holding them up, trying them on and consulting their friends.