One of Sapa’s primary attractions is the abundance of captivating local markets that are organized between the various communities and ethnicities of the district. These colourful and exotic markets rise with the sun, bringing with them a wide array of goods. People from the different ethnic groups come together to sell their own produce or buy supplies for the coming week, as well as take part in social and community activities. For travellers they represent an excellent opportunity for souvenir shopping, as well as meeting local people and having authentic cultural experiences with them.
As the markets all take place on different days of the week, it is worth finding out which one you are most interested in in advance and planning your visit accordingly.
Monday: Ban Phiet Market
At Ban Phiet, the majority of the stalls belong to people of the H’mong ethnicity, specifically the White H’mong. Like all the markets, it starts at crack of dawn and although it is comparatively small, you will be amazed by the lively atmosphere, colours, smells and friendly banter.
Tuesday: Coc Ly Market
Located in a picturesque location near the Chay River, Coc Ly Market attracts local people from all over the surrounding areas. Here you can meet people from various ethnicities, such as the Flower H’mong, Phu La, Black Dao and Nung, all identifiable by their unique clothing.
At first glance the market may seem like a whirlwind of chaos and activity, but on closer inspection you will come to realize that it is actually very well organized. The market is divided into four areas, each offering a different category of goods. The textile section is of particular interest to travellers, as it’s here you can buy the traditional ethnic garments as a keep-sake. The remaining three areas are split into produce, livestock and food/drink, where you’ll want to try some of the mouth-watering local dishes.
Wednesday: Cao Son Market
This remote market is located in Moung Khoung District, just north of Lao Cai. Like the rest of the markets, Cao Son serves many functions, from trading produce to engaging in social activities and gossip. Due to its remote location, this market sees few foreign visitors, so you’ll be sure to get a real feel for the culture here, and don’t be surprised if the locals take an interest.
The crowds will belong to the H’mong, Phu La, Dao and Han ethnic groups, all dressed in their finest traditional outfits. If you are keen on sampling some local food, you can sit down with the locals for a steaming hot bowl of Thang Co.
Thursday: Lung Khau Nhin Market
Lung Khau Nhin lies further north than the other markets, being located just 20km away from the Chinese border. Nestled among forests and mountains, it comes alive every Thursday starting in the early hours of the morning. The majority of the traders here are of the H’mong, Nung, Man and Kin ethnic groups and its remoteness mean that it is the least touristic of the markets in Sapa. The products traded here consist almost entirely of fresh produce and livestock.
Friday: Chau Market
Chau market is another excellent example of the preservation of local traditions and customs of the area. This weekly market doesn’t only serve as a place to buy and sell goods, but is akin to a celebration or small festival that the locals use to meet and socialize with friends from other villages.
Saturday: Can Cau Market
Can Cau market’s claim to fame is derived from being the largest water buffalo market in the north-west of Vietnam. Held every Saturday in the town of Si Ma Cai, locals from miles around bring their finest buffaloes for inspection and sale. The market highlights the central role the buffalo play in daily life, being powerful and hardy animals that can serve many different purposes on the farm.
Thus, buffalo trading is a highly lucrative business, and the animals are highly regarded. All deals are made verbally, and watching the traders inspect the animals is a fascinating experience.
Sunday: Bac Ha, Sapa and Muong Hum Markets
Bac Ha Market, held every Sunday, is the biggest and most exciting market and event of the whole week. People from the Flow H’mong, Phu La, Black Dzao, Tay and Nung ethnicities travel to Bac Ha to sell every type of goods imaginable. Anything from fresh produce, to food, medicinal plants, clothes and jewellery can be found and purchased here.
Seventh Picture Description: Locals socializing amidst their buffaloes.
On top of this, Bac Ha Market is famous for horse trading, which turns into something of an event. The jovial atmosphere of the market is sure to charm you, and the sounds of people greeting friends and family, joking and catching up on recent events make it feel more like a festival than your typical market.