Visiting the Water Buffalo market on Saturday morning in Bac Ha, Vietnam is quite the eye opening experience.
You can easily do this the day before you visit the Traditional Bac Ha Market on Sunday.
Here is An Adventurous 3 Day Itinerary for Bac Ha that you can use.
I’ll give you the run down on how to do this and what to expect.
HOW TO GET TO BAC HA?
The easiest way to get to Bac Ha is via a public bus from Lao Cai train station. If you’re travelling from Sapa, I’ve got a detailed post here on “How to get from Sapa to Bac Ha by public bus”. The minibus departs every hour. Just ask around when you get to the train station and people are so friendly and will help you find it. It costs 90,000 VND from Lao Cai to Bac Ha and takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes. It will drop you at Bac Ha Temple. That’s also where it will depart again to Lao Cai.
WHAT IS THE BUFFALO MARKET?
The Buffalo market has been going on for years and is one of the largest in the north west of Vietnam. It’s held near the lake of Bac Ha. There are Water Buffalo, Horses, Cows, Ducks, Roosters and Chickens for sale.
Local people come from far away villages to sell their buffalo and walk for hours to get here.
It used to be on Sunday mornings when the famous Sunday ethnic market is on but the buffalo’s were getting in the way of all the tourist buses so they changed it to a Saturday morning. So you won’t see any buffalo’s on Sunday now.
Buffalo’s can sell for between 30 million VND ($1900 AUD, $1200 USD) to around 60 million VND ($3750 AUD, $2500 USD). Albino Water Buffalo’s are some of the most expensive.
MAP OF THE MARKET
On Friday afternoon and night, if your accommodation is near the Buffalo Market you’ll hear and see Buffalo being led along the road outside your hotel.
I stayed in Bac Ha Boutique Homestay which is a 1 minute walk to the market. It’s just around the corner so when I was having dinner I saw many Water Buffalo and horses being led to the market.
WARNING – ANIMAL WELFARE
I just want to warn people about what you’ll see at this market so you’re prepared. At the entrance to the market I saw two people chopping up Water Buffalo. Heads, legs and insides were everywhere. Saws were being used on legs. And it was quite confronting. You will also see chickens crammed into cages and being handled roughly. I would definitely NOT take children to this market. You will see animal cruelty and animal welfare issues. If you aren’t able to understand and accept that the world is different in other places, and some people don’t have access to the education about animal exploitation, please don’t go to this market.
SATURDAY MORNING – MARKET DAY
On Saturday morning the market begins around 6am. At 7am is when it really ramps up and there are a large number of people and animals. It starts winding down around 11am.
Majority of people there were men, and a handful of women dressed in their traditional clothes.
As a solo female traveller I felt very safe wandering around. Just dress modest and conservative and you should be fine. There was a handful of other tourists walking through the market too. But a fraction compared to the Sunday market.
Buyers walk through the market looking at Buffalo and deciding if they want to buy them. When they do, it’s a negotiation between the seller and one or more buyers. They also have a “Buffalo Scale” where people can weigh the Buffalo and get the correct weight.
Please don’t take photos of children and ask people before you take their photo.
Keep an eye where you step because as you can imagine there is poo around. Don’t wear your nice clothes.
Spend a couple of nights in Bac Ha to get the entire experience of this village. I arrived on a Friday around midday and left around 10am on a Sunday because the traditional Sunday market was full of tourists and it was hectic.