Bac Ha is a district belonged the Northeast of Lao Cai which owns many beautiful landscapes with bold nature and history. Besides the spectaculars gifted by the nature such as majestic mountains, rivers and caves, kindly people, this place is also a convergence of colorful ethnic cultures, private specialties of the Northwest area. All create special appeal to hold foot of visitors when they come to Bac Ha.
If you have never been to Bac Ha in Vietnam Adventure Tours, many visitors will wonder what point of time should come to this “White Plateau”, right? Far East Tour will share with you some special timelines to help you arrange for yourself a trip to here.
- In spring, before and after Lunar New Year is the plum blossom season.
- Bac Ha horse racing Festival as usual is held in early June each year after plums are already ripe.
- Land procession water procession Festival is in 15 January each year.
- Bac Ha market occurs on Sunday per week. (Read more about the Love Market in Sapa town).
- Bac Ha temple Festival is in 7 July every year.
Bac Ha is far about 70 kilometers from Lao Cai on the way of reverse to Yen Bai and about 300 kilometers from Ha Noi. You can catch directly coach from Ha Noi having beds from My Dinh Station. Now Hai Van coach brand is exploiting passenger transport in this route.
If you only travel this place, let choose plan of renting motorbike in Bac Ha to be convenient and reduce fees. Besides, if you want to combine travelling to several other places for example Y Ty, Lao Cai, Sa Pa or the nearest place of Si Ma Cai, you should bring motorcycle from Hanoi to take the initiative in movement. If you bring the motorbike, you can send it through cars to Bac Ha, to Lao Cai (more choices) or send it through trains to Lao Cai (cheaper compared with send by car).
Hotels and guesthouses in Bac Ha
Sao Mai hotel is pretty big in the town center
The whole Bac Ha town has about 20 accommodation facilities serving for visitors so you can be totally peace of mind when coming here. There are many choices for you from popularly guesthouses to superior hotels (of course can be not compared with other tourist areas).
The own special point at the upland market of Bac Ha is when coming here you will be enjoyed Thang Co dish – a typical dish of the Northwest high mountain. Thang Co never lessen in the pan as well as wine never dry in the bottle. Specialty wine of the Mong in Pho village is well known for delicious favor and very typical. When completely purchasing horses, pigs, buffaloes, cows, the ethnic man in Bac Ha with friends gather around Thang Co dish tables, next to the fragrant cups of corn wine, the foamy golden beers.
2. Hoang A Tuong Villa
Being started building in 1914 but until 1921, H’mong King’s villa had been completed. The palace’s owner were father and son of Hoang Yen Chao, Hoang A Tuong. Hoang A Tuong was also a head of the territory in Bac Ha until Lao Cai was liberated. So, it has been also famous for the name of Hoang A Tuong’s palace besides the name of H’mong King’s villa.
According to the legend, Hoang A Tuong Villa was built according to fengshui directed by a Chinese diviner. The palace was located on a wide hill in administrative unit of Bac Ha, now is Bac Ha town’s center. Behind and two sides of this villa are mountains, there were a winding stream and a mountain with the shape of “mother carry baby” in front of.
The villa was on “leaning on mountain stamping on water” stable position with the desire to be noble lineage, the next generations of glory. H’mong King’s villa area already reached the sophisticated design qualification, emerged with huge scale in remote high and majesty mountain area of Bac Ha.
H’mong King Villa’s architectural structure is pretty special when being compared with other villas in Vietnam at that time. The palace was both living place of father and son Hoang Yen Chao, Hoang A Tuong and working place as well as having function of a protected fortress. The total palace had rectangular uninterrupted closed architecture, with total acreage of 4,000 square meters. It had protective fences, four sides of wall had loophole like fortress together with guarding soldiers.
Villa was designed by a French and a Chinese architect. Therefore, villa’s architecture was blended between French architecture in 17-18 century and Eastern architecture. In which, the highlight point is the Western architecture shown in the details such as laurels embossed on the doors, symbol of happiness and prosperity; door railing figure out domed, elegant columns, railing, stair round, tiled hallway.
The inside structure of palace is pretty beautiful. Through the main gate, inner palace has a large yard, it used to be the place happened main activities of head of territory’s family. The main house is in the bottom of yard including two floors with an area of 420 square meters, normally used to be the meeting place of the family.
Moreover, the villa also consists of other items such as two sub-blocks of house in two sides, each row has two floors lower than the main one, includes three compartments with an area of 300 square meters. That is place of living of Hoang A Tuong, Hoang Yen Chao’s wives. Besides there are two aid rows of house with two floors which has more simple architecture, used to be living place for soldiers, porters and lackeys. The Hoang’s palace was built by limestone, sands, molasses of local area, iron, steel which were sent from Hanoi and Lao Cai.
H’mong King’s villa is a construction combined between the French’s ancient architecture and Eastern architecture but more outstanding is Western architecture, created an own beauty for villa. Now, it has been become an indispensable travel place for visitors every time when visiting Bac Ha highland.
3. Pho Village
This place produces corn wine which brings fame for Bac Ha, Pho village is the Mong’s village, it is about 4 kilometers far from Bac Ha.
There are more than 500 households in Pho village, all of them can make wine and brew very delicious, no special secret. Yellow corn, white corn is also fine, boiled and cooled then sprinkled yeast, incubated for 3 days then put in the timber, put on the pan and cooked in a bain-marie. Pho village’s corn wine is often 42-45 alcoholic strength, can burn fire. At the initially drinking, you feel pungent, then find sweet voice, soft lips.
Maybe the unique secret of Pho village’s people is water source gotten from Hang De stream with the own typical climate of this land. Delicious corn wine eaten with smoked buffalo meat in festival of the Mong is also an opportunity in order to Pho village’s people dedicate their wine to heaven and earth.
4. Tien Cave landscape
Moving on Chay River to upstream about 6 kilometers, from Bao Nhai commune’s center (Bac Ha town) boat will take you through Trung Do ancient citadel. Chay River flows here then chokes to create a deep quite line which flows creeping between two banks of the erect rocky wall.
Two sides are primary forests covering sightseeing a fresh and cool climate. Small stream lines are pouring down from above like a range of vaporous silk and sprinkling as flying rain. Water flow is seemed as a skillful carver are carvering into the cliff to create the floating lotus pedestal, diversified shape of stalactites. That is an elephant keeping head down to drink water, here is an eagle taking off to fly up… and all gather into a wonderful natural bath. Here is Tien (Fairy) stream.
Passing through Fairy stream about 200 meters, you will see a large cave that can contains hundreds of people. It seems to be a spectacular maze gifted by the nature which stratify are, layers creating natural fences. Going back up about 500 meters is tiny dripping water line which creates many stalactites like ancient towers with rare light coming in sparkling as phosphorescent lights. Sometimes you have to put yourself in cliffs, cling to roots to the way to heaven, actually visitors feel themselves experienced the visit to Fairy cave. After visiting time, you are bathed in sunlight of the island of flowers which is a small island full of fragrant grass, wave consoles near rocky edge.
Fairy cave is attached to the “Three fairies” legend; the oral transmission that once upon a time there were three fairies allowed to visit the Earth by their King, they found that this place was very beautiful, they did not want to come back home. Out of time, the Jade Emperor did not see daughters coming back, he was very angry and command to thunder genie down to punish. Three fairies sneaked in a cave which was higher compared with water surface about 200 meters because they did not obey the decree. Thunder genie was angry so trampled on a corner of mountain where three fairies were sneaking. Three fairies knew that they could not escape the decree so threw themselves into the stream to commit suicide. Their cadavers drifted to downstream where Bao Nai commune’s center lies nowadays. They were raised and set up shrine named Ba Co temple by villagers. The legend is very sacred. Once upon a time, there was a Nung girl came to Fairy cave, she saw that there were three fairy cups but did not know who set in there.
Many travelers visit, bath in fairy stream, wallow in light of early morning on the island of flowers and pray that three fairy bless beauty, toughness and wealth. Here is actually a small copy of Halong Bay, Fairy cave is waiting visitors.
5. Bac Ha temple
Bac Ha temple was built from the late 19 century to worship two brothers of Vu Van Uyen and Vu Van Mat – native people in Gia Loc, Hai Duong. Once upon a time, they went to Ngoc Uyen cave (now is Bac Ha area) to set up military base and stabilized life of people in a wide frontier area.
History books recorded that: “seventh Tu Duc dynasty (1855) ordained “Bầu masters” (brothers of Vu Van Uyen and Vu Van Mat) to be National Duke managing supervising Bac Ha, made this area become rich, populous”. The Nguyen’s history wrote: “The Le’s supremacy “floats” was thanks to the strength of the Vu brothers who had merit of fighting with enemy, from that time, the border was peace, people were are at peace.” The Nguyen dynasty also adored Bầu masters’ hallowed spirit to be captain of the army keeping and commanding Tuyen Quang.
The first year of Gia Long, the King reviewed merit of people in country, Duke Vu Van Mat was rated in list of meritorious people of Le Trung Hung period. In order to remember the hero who had the merit with this territory, villagers together built this temple to remember the hero yearly who had desert with country, stabilized northwest border of our motherland.
Bac Ha temple has deep historical meaning and takes affect on political life, cultural and social culture of all ethnic groups in Lao Cai province in the late 19th century and begin 20th century.
The main festival of Bac Ha temple is held on 7 July every year right in Bac Ha town in order to remember Vu Van Uyen’s death anniversary who had the merit in pacifying enemy to made people peace of mind, occupy and rule over unchallenged northwest area in 16th – 17th century. From then on, temple is place to villagers and visitors set hopes on person who had the desert with people and country.
Delicious dishes in Bac Ha
Bac Ha corn wine
Pho Village’s corn wine also known as Bac Ha corn wine is a delicious special wine of the Mong in Pho Village, Bac Ha plateau, Lao Cai. Along with Tao Meo wine and San Lung wine, Pho village’s corn wine is Lao Cai’s alcohol names. Pho village’s wine has clear color as spring water, when you just start drinking, you will hear the fragrant favor, then is pleasant feeling.
Corn wine here makes people drunk in a long time but does not make people foolish and the feeling is still fresh. Corn wine is cooked by water gotten from Hang De stream. Pho village’s corn wine owns passionate, sexy flavor, when drinking it is not intense and not sour.
Corn used for cooking Pho village’s wine is not grown in field or valley, they are planted in the high and deserted mountain, especially yellow corn grown in Lung Phinh commune (Bac Ha) will make very delicious fragrant wine. This kind of corn produce solid and yellow corncob, productivity is not high but soft and buttery grain which is very nutritious. After harvest, corncob is kept unchanged, dried and preserved to cook wine in turn.
The secret making the difference fof Pho village’s wine compared with others is the Mong will grin these grains as flour then mix with the first wine water plus with hot water, knead it chopped then hold it into a handful, put in straw and dry in a little sunlight and cloud place until handful of dry yeasts turn into white as dumplings, next, put in panniers, place it on smoking-self, preserve to use slowly.
The H’mong here think that drinking Pho village wine in the morning will help you have more strength, like there is a God supporting you do farm work all day without being tired. If you drink in the evening with friends, wine likes an invisible rope linking closed love, in everyone’s mind it will overflow great words, say new things, deep meaning and eager but can’t say if without wine.
2. Ginger meat of Nung Din people
Every year, when Lunar New Year comes, Nung Din people will kill pigs to welcome spring. Whether big or small pigs, every household also prepare meat to process many dishes in Lunar New Year. Besides meat is used to make cake-filling, the Nung Din also do ginger meat ‘Nung Din language called Nut Sinh’. This dish is very simple, simply processed very unique taste. This dish has been a familiar food of this ethnic for a long time.
In order to do ginger meat, the Nung Din utilize all kinds of bones such as spine, rib and fresh head which are not washed through water, bring to shred then wash a large of amount of crashed and squeezed ginger. Then, mix all chopped bone, ginger, salt together, squeeze it well- kneaded.
They also add a little wine just enough when they squeeze it to preserve and keep joyful of food. Meat is put in type of glazed jar, then pour water into (not to run out of water on rims of jar) keep the temperature to avoid discoloration of food. Then, tightly close mouth of jar and tied by nylon, put it out depending on the meal only when use. The Nung Din eat ginger meat in two ways that are steam or cook. If steaming, you can add a little water, pepper, herb, the dish will more fragrant. If cooking, you can add amount of water corresponding to amount of food, ripe boil, add some spices for example seasoning, pepper or celery. If old people or children can’t eat bone, they also mix rice with this gravy very delicious. Anyone who has ever enjoyed Nut Sinh dish of the Nung will not forget its flavor because the sweetness of meat and bone blends with the salinity of salt, the spicy of old ginger, floating corn wine’s fragrant.
3. Salted pork
Pork has been a popular and familiar dish for a long time of Vietnamese people and this is also a kind of food that can process many many dishes. In the delicious dishes made from pork, salt pork is one of the delicious dishes in cuisine list of Lao Cai highlanders. The processing of salt pork is very simple with spices available in the garden. Spices of salt pork include cinnamon leaf, jack fruit leaf, betel leaf together with fresh pepper, alpinia, glutinous- rice wine. All kind of leaves are dried and crushed, pork sliced into medium pieces then pour glutinous- rice wine marinate with salt very salty and mix the dried spices, then put it in pot or jar, keeping about from one to two week is can use.
When use salt pork, you can roast or grill depending on taste of each family. When eat it, we have different feeling. The spicy of alpinia and pepper, flavor of cinnamon, acrid of jack fruit leaf and betel leaf. Simultaneously, a typical taste of salt pork is acerbity mix saltiness of salt, piece of meat brittle and brawny. Salt port reduces the greasy and cloying of meat. We can regain the sense of taste when we eat too many other dishes but have not delicious feeling. Salt pork is highlanders’ popular dish, especially the Tay in Bao Yen. Although it is a simple dish, upland people welcome distinguished guests as a traditional dish and express their sincere feeling for visitors.
4. Seven colors steamed glutinous rice of Nung Din people
Seven-color-steamed glutinous rice is a traditional dish in festivals and Tet of Nung Din ethnic in Lao Cai. Nung Din woman with skillful hands have passed the process of cooking this dish from this generation to other generation. Seven colors of steamed glutinous (pink, scarlet, vermilion, blue, green yellow, green, yellow) are often made from kind of trees (Cam Hoa tree, yellow flower tree, crocus tree…).
Rice used for cooking steamed glutinous rice are big and long sticky rice grains. Before cooking, upland fields’ rice are soaked in water about 12 hours, then put color into and continue soak about 3 hours. After that, rice are washed again then each color is separated in a corner of the cooking pot and cook about 1.5-2 hours. To keep the color fresh, not put salt in rice.
Seven-color-steamed glutinous rice of Nung Din ethnic besides cuisine value, it also has deep spiritual meaning. According to legend, once upon a time, when enemies violated border of our country, the Nung Din lived in the frontier stood up against the enemy. In war occurred from Lunar January from July that year, there were many people dead to protect the frontier.
Today, just on 1st July lunar, the Nung Din kowtow to celebrate the victory. In this festival, they always cook seven-color-steamed glutinous rice. Every color usually corresponds to a month and every month corresponds to the progress against enemy. For example: green is color of spring, vermilion is symbol of the blood of the heroes who dead, yellow is represented for the pain of separated, scarlet color is on behalf of the glorious victory of the Nung Din …
5. Bac Ha “hậu” plum
In the northern border provinces of our country, plum trees appear everywhere. Plum in Lao Cai, Lang Son is pink, Bac Ha plum has green cover, each kind of plum has also its own flavor, different color, but general kinds of plum grown in Bac Ha land are still the best delicious and beautiful.
From lunar January, Bac Ha valley with an area of 30 square kilometers is covered by plum flowers, Bac Ha as in the legend. Through Cong Troi, people and horse float like drift in white cloud. Different with Lang Son plum which has red cover when ripe, Bac Ha plum does not change color of cover, watch carefully just realize that plum changes into light yellow when harvested. Look like unripe fruit but when split, plum is yellow.
Bac Ha plum is different from other types of plums that plum grain is eaily separated. Moreover, sweetness of plum makes eaters fell that a piece of plum is still in mouth after swallowing the last piece for quite a long time. Perhaps that is reason why it is named “hậu” plum.
6. Bird-foot mushroom in Bac Ha market
This type of mushroom is also called digitate-slab mushroom which is a unique product in Bac Ha (Lao Cai). It not only has high nutritional value but also is a precious medicine. The sweetness of mushroom makes eaters difficult to forget this highland taste. The appearance of this mushroom type is easy to recognize, no stem, fan-shaped hat- cockleshell, diameter is from 1 to 3 centimeters and covered by a fluffy layer which is gray white, hat edge slightly rolls into. The flesh of mushroom is white, underneath face are layers of mushroom which turn white when young and pink when old.
Heavy mushroom baskets are brought to market, separated into a line by the H’mong girls. Mushrooms are put in baskets or shown on the pieces of cloth, spread on lawn. No need to accurately measure, the girls measure each full bowl and sell with cheap price: 2,000 VND a bowl. Comparing with other vegetables in market, bird-foot mushroom is always sold out fastest. Mushroom is bought to fry or cook with meat. Enjoying the sweetness of mushroom, eater will have unforgettable memory about Bac Ha. Besides using as food, bird-foot mushroom has also other benefits, listed as the precious medicine. It is a subject of research on biological experiment, such as physiology and genetic.
Festivals in Bac Ha town
1. Bac Ha horse-race Festival
2. Land procession, water procession festival of Tay people in Bac Ha
Land procession, water procession festival of the Tay – Bac Ha occurs on 15th January yearly to petition Land Mother, Water Mother for always fertile land, pray for water source never dry and villagers have a filled life all year.
From early morning, villagers already appoint a group of people including: sorcerer, drums team, gongs team, trumpets team and sisters, girls (who are laborious persons and have peaceful and healthy family life…) climb up the Pho village’s mountain peak where there is the most clean water source and pick up The Land soul, Water soul back to attend festival. Picking-up group is led by sorcerer. Sorcerer is ambassador to communicate with the genie.
He hands Tet tree – symbol of rising – go to place which occur festival. Next is palanquin water procession and kowtow tray. Water are contained in 2 bamboo tube, symbolize for father tube, mother tube. Next is palanquin land procession – soul of land mother is put on top of high holy mountain. Then kowtow trays to dedicate to the genie.
Offering includes a tray of fruits, inside each fruit also comprise types of seeds carefully made by the middle-aged women and girls, five-color steamed glutinous rice trays, boiled chicken, fruit… are quintessential products of crop – producing result of villagers in year. Gongs and drums team move at two sides of sorcerer to play to help the sorcerer communicate with the genie. The place of holding festival is village’s wide field.
When processioning group come to this place, big three drum fanfares played, through 9 layers of cloud as announce to 9-floor-Heaven and Earth: Today villagers open the festival. Sorcerer performs praying rituals. Then, he blows water and does miracles to dismiss bad things, devil, not give returning disturb villagers. Then, he tosses gods’ buds (corn, rice) for villagers.
People who join in the festival, try to gather some rice grains and corn grains to bring back home to do mascot, so their household will have more corn seeds, more rice flowers in the next crop. After above ritual, it’s time for everyone to enter playing part with skilled dancing performance of boys and girls. When dancing performance finish, it’s time for traditional games such as tug, push stick, cockfighting, buffalo fighting (by banana and bamboo), tossing Con… start. Although it is a festival of the Tay, other ethnics also attend very fun.
3. Ta Chai “Xòe” dancing – Bac Ha
Be same as many other regions, the Tay in Ta Chai commune (Bac Ha district) hold the festival to worship God of agriculture (the genie is in charge of managing upland fields), simultaneously this is the occasion for the villagers to hang out.
In early every morning of 15th January (Lunar calendar), when the sun rises is the time that everyone happily join the festival together, at the same time in the paddy fields, drums and gongs (a traditional instrument of the people here) together resonate the sounds throughout the whole mountainous area along with the warm atmosphere of spring season. In the festival day, the ritual part is quite simple.
In a spacious place, they build up a Tet tree (most of the parts are made out of bamboo with a red paper circle stuck in the top represent the sun). At the bottom of the Tet tree are the offerings from the people dedicating to the saints, praying for a new lucky agricultural season, houses are full of rice, barns are full of pigs and chickens…
After all the rituals, organizer will play on the gong officially starting the festival. The sounds of drums and gongs like urging people to join in the festival. A dancing circle of women and girls, each one leaves the crowd and join together this circle. Drumbeats disappear all embarrassment and timidity, attract people into the friend-circle dancing. Hands in hands, eyes in eyes, the circle is bigger and bigger and then becomes two, and then three circles, dancing from one style to another and last for days of the festival.
Ta Chai dancing has many different movements describing the Tay’s daily activities in this region. From gathering, greeting, social meeting to emotional exchanging, the next dances are couple dancing, quadruple dancing (sympathy), shoulders touching (confessing love)… and the last is goodbye dancing.
Along with tasty fruits and glamorous flowers of Bac Ha land, Ta Chai dancing is being performed over the whole country, getting attentions of fans and gaining many awards. The innocent, charming dancing is looked like people and nature here inviting friends near and far to come and join to broaden the circle of hands.
4. “Say sán Bac Ha” festival (Gầu tào Festival)
Every time Tet comes, all mountains are covered by plum blossom, peach blossom, at the same time, Bac Ha highland people will hold spring festivals to pray for luck and full harvest. “Say sán” is a colorful festival of folk culture of the highland people. This festival usually occur from 2nd to 6th lunar January according to area where mostly concentrate the Mong, the Tay and the Nung. The venue for festival is located in the sacred and convenient place for people to participate in folk games, such as pan-pipe dance, martial dance, tug, push sticks … People come to the festival for both getting fun in the early spring, wishing luck and to meet friends, wish each other by passionate corn wine cups.