In a nutshell
Bac Ha is truly a little gem and is hidden away from most tourists who decide not to venture to the absolutely stunning and rugged karst mountain range. This town is found in the north-western part of Vietnam and is close to the Chinese border, 700 metres above sea level.
Why go to Bac Ha
We found Bac Ha one of the most authentic places in the whole country, which hasn’t been destroyed by too much tourism and still has its roots which everyone can see.
The town is home to around 10 local tribes and this is part of the reason why the markets are some of the most colourful in Southeast Asia. The main tribe is called the Flower H’mong, who we certainly didn’t miss and is certainly an attraction in itself.
We also recommend going on one of the various trekking trips, where you can hike into the mountains and surroundings as well as explore the waterfalls that are found around the town.
Bac Ha has a very relaxed feeling and is just a great place to chill, either at your place or going to one of the spas. Also, there are an adequate number of restaurants that serve delicious Asian and European foods.
When to go to Bac Ha
Because Bac Ha is quite high up, the weather is generally cool through the year with rain being common during the wet season. We advise you to visit the town in the dry months as you are a lot more likely to be accompanied by warm and dry weather.
We went to Bac Ha in the dry season and were glad that we brought some warm clothes with us like jackets and trousers as it does get cold at night.
If you are planning on hiking then bring the necessary equipment like boots as there is next to nothing at the markets.
Where to stay in Bac Ha
Being a small town, we didn’t expect much of choice in terms of accommodation and we were right. Yet, there are more than enough to select from including budget and mid range options with prices starting as low as USD10 with the best of them offering large rooms, pretty décor, TV and air con.
If you decide to go for one of the more expensive options in the peak season months then do book advance as we met some people that had trouble with availability. The prices are lower in the off peak season during the wet season but even in the dry period prices aren’t expensive.
Where to eat in Bac Ha
We found the cheapest food at the local markets, where you can try meals and snacks, though we didn’t know what everything was but that was half the fun and was only VND30,000.
The main concentration of restaurants are found near the main square in the centre of the town, which offer a few different cuisines including European and Asian dishes with prices only slightly differing.
The main hotels are another option as they have restaurants attached to them with some having a good range of local and international meals.
Getting around in Bac Ha
Luckily Bac Ha is small enough to easily walk around, which is a pleasant stroll anyway. There are bicycles that you can rent and at very cheap prices, which is a good alternative. Some people even choose to visit the town by motorbike from neighbouring Sapa or Lao Cai, though there was a place just opening up in town offering bikes.
Getting in and out of Bac Ha
The main way of getting in and out of Bac Ha is by bus. There are no direct buses from Hanoi – you will have to change at Lao Cai. Check Grouptour for instance – they offer connections via Lao Cai. The total ticket will cost you under USD20 and the travel time without the time for the layovey is 7 hours followed by three hours from Lao Cai to Bac Ha. Or you can opt only for Lao Cai–Bac Ha stretch if you are already in the area (3 hours, USD8).
There are also minibuses from Sapa which is indeed convenient as Bac Ha makes for a great next destination after you've visited Sapa. It is also about 3 hours away and costs USD8 (113 km). We recommend to book this trip in advance as there are not too many departures per day.
Getting back to Hanoi, you will also need to connect via Lao Cai. Remember that Lao Cai is served by trains as well which are arguably the best way to get to/from the area. Train takes about 8 hours to travel between Lao Cai and Hanoi (and vice versa) with comfy commercial carriages like Violette, Pumpkin or Oriental Express among the others available on this route. Expect your tickets cost about USD10-20 for a seat in an ordinary Vietnam Railways carriage and up to USD160 for a luxurious 1 class sleeper like Victoria Express.
Safety in Bac Ha
We heard no bad reports about Bac Ha and we would be very surprised to hear any negative goings-on in the town due to its very relaxed nature. The only minor detail we came across is there was a bit of a scam regarding the buses, where the conductor will ask you to pay USD10 if you are in a group together. Don’t confuse this as an individual price but as a group combined and it should be roughly USD2-3 per person from Lao Cai.