Another top highlight filled with beautiful scenery occurs every Sunday fifty miles away from Sapa in the town of Bac Ha, which hosts the biggest market near the mountainous highlands and the Chinese border. It is the largest and most colorful market in the area and attracts large number of villagers from the surrounding hill tribes. This market is not designed for tourists, although obviously tourists visit, but rather for the locals to have the opportunity to trade and barter for food, animals, clothes, household goods, and as I discovered while rounding a corner, the pungent fumes of alcohol…corn whiskey…a Bac Ha specialty. Our guide asked me if I wanted to try a shot, and after licking my lips and giving the thumbs up (which I have discovered is a universal signal of asking someone for a local libation) the hunt was on for a properly aged sample, preferably longer than an hour. The guide must not have liked the looks of the various large gray plastic jugs which looked like they previously had held gasoline, because although walking past a number of opportunities, he ultimately decided to soberly keep walking. Oh well, “he who hesitates”…blah, blah, blah. [Vietnamese “moonshine” tastings would have to wait until we reached HaLong Bay and the Mekong Delta, and yes, it was an aquired taste; how long? probably years!] Many different ethnic groups such as the Flower H’Mong, Black Dao, and Nung minorities gather to buy and sell local products that cannot be found elsewhere. The livestock section is not for the feignt of tourists’ hearts, so little time was spent in that area. I hope the pictures below from Bac Ha do justice to this colorful experience. Each tribe has its own unique color combination that once familiar with them all, make the assorted tribe members easily recognizable at any distance. With a little help from our guide, we three were getting very good in distinguishing whom belonged to what tribe. On the return trip to Sapa we stopped by a bridge which connected Vietnam to China. Beside the thrill of actually seeing China without walking on her soil, my main memory was buying what I thought was vanilla custard from a street vendor and enjoying it thoroughly until Peg told me later with a hint of devilishness in her voice that what I had consumed was the always present master of all food disguises, t-o-u-f-o-o. Fortunately I lived to now tell the tale. There were lots of other highlights during our brief stay, including visiting and climbing to the top of the famous Silver waterfall and a boat trip on the Chay river; everything was fun and marvelous.
For me, more than any other place we visited in Vietnam, Sapa and her surrounding territories represents more of an experience rather than a destination. The region totally embraced us with sensory delights found in few other places in this world. The high mountains, low valleys, rivers, waterfalls, and terraced rice paddies provided magnificent landscapes that provided a steady flow of sensuality. If given the opportunity, I would happily revisit this area of Vietnam just to experience once again its palpable presence.