Bac Ha by Back Roads

I’ll cut the suspense. This post will mention getting lost and a broken pedal. De ja vu.

I was in Sapa a full week. The street sellers have worked out that even with poor english, poor quality merchandise and poor prices, you can sell stuff using persistence. It was doing my head in, and with my pedal repair kit still in transit (5 day shipping ordered on the 13 August, and today is 29th)  I decided to do a side trip to Bac Ha.

Step one: The name is cool. The ‘c’ gets swallowed, the ‘Bac’ goes up in tone and the ‘Ha’ goes down. Try saying it without sounding like a chicken. You can’t.

Step Two: One thing happens in Bac Ha. A market on a Sunday. The rest of the week, its a quiet little country town. But the market is huge.

Step Three: Its 90km from Sapa. The first 25km out of Sapa is downhill, but the last 25km is climbs around 900m. Probably needed more than a late start to the day to get there, but so be it.

Step Four: There is an alternative road to get there. You probably down want to take it. . . As far as I can tell, I just got dud directions from a helpful lady. Yes, the road she pointed me down got to Bac Ha, it also is 18km further, most of it is horrible gravel with wheel ruts over a foot deep in some places and it throws in a bonus mountain pass.

I was hoping to arrive at around 6. I got in around 9. I made it back onto the paved road at the very end of dusk and then road / walked the last 9km up to town. I’d been unable to ride a large amount of the moutain pass due to the crap road surface, cramps and just a lack of energy.

But. There is always the up side to these adventures. Foremost, when you see people dressed up in traditional clothing around Sa Pa you do question it a little. Is it legitimate or if its just for tourists? On the back road, there were women working away in corn fields wearing the brightly coloured skirts of the Flower Hmong people, and people loitering at the occasional store in the traditional kit. It is indeed legitimate. They had their Sunday best on at the Markets the following day, but they really do live in that stuff.

Secondly. Its not every day that you get to see a petrol tanker almost driven off an embankment. I couldn’t tell how long it’d been there. The cab still had stuff in it and the two guys hanging around had a jerry can on the back of the bike, but I think they might have been optimistic if they thought there was still fuel in there. Spot the tanker in the far off shot.

The markets themselves were as colourful as they promised to be. In Sa Pa the predominant population is Black Hmong. They use a lot of Indigo dyes so most of their clothing is blue to black with embroidery on top. In Bac Ha the Flower Hmong love their colour and then top it off with additional bling and tassles. Sections of the markets glowed in the orange and pink tones of their fabrics.

The shoppers were a mix of international tourists, Vietnamese tourists and a fair majority of local populations shopping for material, thread and outfits. On top of that there was the livestock trade and the meat and vegie markets.

By 4 in the afternoon the markets had died out. The food stalls served their final bowls and the occasional guy slept of too much rice wine in the gutter. Bac Ha was a sleepy country town again.

I stayed two nights, back in Lao Cai tonight. Tomorrow, I’m getting a bus up the hill to Sapa. Stuff doing that twice.

I’m learning some things about getting lost. It coincides with three events. Firstly, I skip lunch because I think I’ll get it a bit later, then there is nothing. Second, my bike computer decides to take a short vacation so I can’t tell how far I’ve come. Third, my camera gives up so I can’t take any photos for bragging rights about how tough it was. At least in the future it’ll be easier to tell when I’m lost.


About shuttrjames

I`m riding a bike through SE Asia. i come from a country where we only speak english, have good maps and no hills. Here. I am in trouble! Follow me to get lost in the back roads of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. james
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1 Response to Bac Ha by Back Roads

  1. Aurian says:

    Hands up if you tried to say it and, indeed, sounded like a chicken….

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