Bac Ha

Bắc Hà is a town in north-western Vietnam, on the border with the town of Hekou in Yunnan, China. The main reason to visit this town is its colorful Sunday market. Many travellers place Bắc Hà on their itinerary when they visit Sa Pa.

Bắc Hà Sunday market

Get in

Travelling from Hanoi to Lào Cai

By train

Bắc Hà can be reached by a nine-hour train journey from Hanoi to Lào Cai (pronounced lao kai), followed by a separate transfer to Bắc Hà.

Vietnam Rail operates some of the carriages in the train, but others are operated by private companies (Fanxipan Express, Friendly, Ratraco, Tulico, Victoria Hotels, and many others). Some of these cars are significantly nicer than the standard cars. You may need to arrange with a travel agency to get tickets on these tourist cars, but any traveller can purchase tickets for the Vietnam Rail cars at the Hanoi train station. Warning: several of these cars are not significantly better than standard Vietnamese sleeping cars, but are still substantially more expensive. Pumpkin second class is actually a Vietnam Rail car booked through this company. Even Pumpkin first class only has a squat toilet (although a sign above the toilet door says "Western-style toilet"!).

Prices vary according to both the type of seat purchased and the season during which you are travelling. Dates around Vietnamese holidays are particularly expensive and tickets cannot be assumed available for same day travel, so book ahead if possible. Travellers are strongly recommended to purchase a berth in a soft or hard sleeper car, though the trip in soft-seat class is not intolerable.

The Victoria Hotel train has a dining car serving good, surprisingly affordable noodles (10,000 dong) and rice porridge (10,000 dong), but other trains such as Fanxipan do not. On the latter train a packet of biscuits, a banana and a bottle of water are provided as part of the cost of the ticket (October 2013), and it is possible to purchase pot noodles and snacks on board. However, you may prefer to purchase your own hot food, snacks and drinks from vendors in the grounds of the railway station. There are toilets on the train but no showers.

It is recommended that you book a return ticket when you buy your outward journey, as picking up tickets in Lào Cai is harder than in Hanoi. The staff do not speak as much English, and they possibly only sell tickets for travel on the same day, so sleepers may already be sold out unless you go first thing in the morning. Pay attention to the time of your return train. Trains leaving Lào Cai around 20:00 will arrive in Hanoi at around 05:00. If you are planning to stay in a hotel or hostel that does not have a 24-hour reception and do not make prior arrangements when you return to Hanoi at an early hour, you may find yourself sitting outside your hotel waiting a few hours for the reception desk to open.

By bus

Sleeper buses run direct from Hanoi to Lào Cai for around USD15–20. Ask at the local tourist office, a reputable tour agency, or your hotel or hostel regarding tickets. These buses are reasonably modern, the beds are small and recline back, typically in three single or two double rows. The bus will make stops for bathroom breaks and snacks, and once in Lào Cai city. If you are a light sleeper the journey could be uncomfortable with many sharp twists and turns, and some claim that the mountain roads are dangerous, although there is no evidence of accidents on the route. The bus stop is near the lake area.

Travelling from Lào Cai or Sa Pa to Bắc Hà

Conducted coach tour

Many people visit Bắc Hà as part of a trip to Sa Pa. If you are thinking of doing the same, it is worth planning your travel so that you arrive in or leave from Lào Cai on a Sunday, as Bắc Hà is nearer to Lào Cai than Sa Pa. Your hotel in Sa Pa may be able to arrange for someone to meet you at the Lào Cai train station and put you on a coach tour conducted by a local guide (USD15 in October 2013) that will take you to the Bắc Hà Sunday market; a village inhabited by the Flower H'mong; and the border between Lào Cai and Hekou, a small town in Yunnan, China; and then bring you to Sa Pa (or the reverse if you are leaving Sa Pa and catching the train from Lào Cai).

Tours from Sa Pa which take in the Bắc Hà Sunday market, and often the stops mentioned above or others, leave Sa Pa at 07:00 and return around 16:00 or 17:00. These cost USD10–12.

By bus

Buses leave from Lào Cai for Bắc Hà at 06:30, 07:30 and 13:00 daily, take roughly two hours and cost 70,000 dong. Beware of a common scam: bus conductors may try to charge you USD10 or at least 100,000 dong for the bus ride. There will be no argument if you walk to the bus station which is 300 metres southwest of Lào Cai railway station down Phan Đình Phùng, and purchase a ticket there. Buses returning to Lào Cai leave Bắc Hà at 17:30 and 0:00.

By motorcycle

It is possible to ride a motorbike to Bắc Hà from Lào Cai (63 km) or even Sa Pa (110 km). However, the road is not great at parts and can be very dusty in the dry season. Travellers have reported that a tarmac road is in the process of being built. When it is complete, motorcycle trips will be a good deal more pleasant.

Get around

Colorful fabric handicrafts on sale at the Sunday market
Meat displayed on wooden tables in the market

Bắc Hà is small, so most things within the town are within walking distance.

See

Buy

See the description of the Bắc Hà Sunday market in the "See" section above.

Eat

Restaurant Sunday Boulevard

There are a number of restaurants in the main square in the centre of town, and a few on quieter side streets.

Sleep

In general, there's no reason to stay overnight in Bắc Hà unless you have arrived on Saturday afternoon and wish to visit the Sunday market the next day, or your onward journey from Bắc Hà is on the following Monday.

Go next

Can Cau Market
This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, September 05, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.