Late in the afternoon we arrived in the small town of Bac Ha which is the home of the “most colorful” open market in Southeast Asia. Why it’s in this town, I don’t know. We are in a remote region of northwest Vietnam, almost within spitting distance of the Chinese border. There is not much here, some homes, a couple of eating establishments, and a brown lake the color of sewage. The market is open each Sunday morning and is the desire of photographers from all over.


We check into our hotel and make the trek up two flights to our room. There is no elevator to be found. Once in the room, my first order of business is to get the AC on. I turn on the remote to lower the air temperature. Nothing. This is not good. I then notice the slot to insert our room key which turns on the electricity in the room. I insert the key and again, I turn on the remote anticipating cooler air. Nothing again. The room is stuffy, I’m tired, and now I’m getting cranky. Kas, wanting to rid herself of my crankiness, volunteers to walk down the two flights of stairs to talk with the hotel manager. How she was going to do this, I had no idea. She knows one word of Vietnamese (Pho) and the hotel manager knows less English.

She came back a few moments later and said, “you have to sit down for this.” So, I sat. I was cranky but an order is an order.  It turns out that there is no electricity until 5:00. I suppose this is one way to deal with peak electricity rates. No, she says. There is no electricity in the entire town until 5:00. We are in a complete blackout. This is their daily ritual. It’s almost 5:00 so surely I can wait the few minutes until the electricity is turned on. 5:00 comes and goes with no electricity. 5:10 – nope. 5:20 – zip. 5:30 – forget about it. It must be that the person responsible for turning on the electricity overslept his afternoon nap. He swore his alarm did not go off. Of course not, there is no electricity! At 5:42, we are human again.


Dinner was included. What could we expect from a hotel dinner in a remote town on the edge of nowhere? The three of us settled in, a bit leery about our future. Then our first course arrived, corn and minced chicken soup (I think it was chicken, it tasted like chicken). Mild and surprisingly tasty. Then spring rolls arrived. They are lightly fried in a wok.  They were much better than they looked. Then, dish after dish was delivered, enough food to feed a dozen.  Shrimp with a tangy Yu-Xaing like sauce. Quite good and the shrimp was the star until the chicken (at least I hope it was chicken) with lemongrass arrived. We lost track after our 8th course. Each was out of this world. An amazing dinner in such a place.

Beyond full, we fell out into the street for a walk. We checked out the pre-market festivities and enjoyed the cooler air. Upon returning to the hotel, our hotel manager invited us for a drink of local plum wine. This is not your grandmother’s plum wine. It has some real kick. He kept saying it was 100%. I thought  he was saying that it was 100% plum. But, after a sip or two, I realized he meant 100 proof.  A few shots later, our evening was over.

The Market

The next morning was unbelievable. We walked to the market and had a ball photographing everything in sight. We started with a walk among the water buffalo. There must have been 50 of these creatures up for sale, each one in tow by its owner. At one point I was in the middle of 10 buffalo jostling for position. The things I do to bring you interesting photos.

These two Water Buffalo were about to face-off until this local “Water Buffalo Whisperer” calmed them down.

Each buffalo was handled by its owner, sometimes with a gentle touch.

In the middle of chaos, sometimes one can feel lost.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this guy.

As we walked through the different areas of the market we bumped into interesting looking locals, some dressed in their local “minority” colors.

I kept trying to photograph his face – he kept looking away. I waited many moments until he dropped his guard. It was well worth the wait,

There were hundreds and hundreds of locals dressed in colors.

When I saw these two, I knew it would make a good photo. When I shot it, I was sure.

The locals smoke tobacco using a long bong-like wooden contraption.

As I walked away, I looked back and found all these people doing what they do.

I hope you enjoyed our visit to Bac Ha as much as we did. The marketplace was better than advertised.

As always, it’s all about the light!