Travel Tips: Shopping in Sapa’s Highland Markets

Nga Do
If you also like watching your loved ones’ faces light up as you hand them a gift, you might be wondering what to buy when traveling in Sapa.

When I travel, I love spending time wandering and seeking local goods to bring home and gift to people I care about. If you also like watching your loved ones’ faces light up as you hand them a gift, you might be wondering what to buy when traveling in Sapa. This article will give you ideas about presents made by the native people in the northern mountains of Vietnam, some specialties to try here, and markets you should visit. 

The Unique Sapa Brocade 

Brocade is a traditional craftsmanship good of Sapa. The brocade fabrics are handmade by the ethnic people living in the northwestern mountains. Originally, this good was used in daily life. However, with the development of tourism, visitors have a chance to see it and maybe bring home a colorful skirt or handbag. With more and more access to tourism and travelers, visitors bring home these fabrics for friends and themselves. Creating and selling brocade goods has therefore become popular in Sapa.

To make a colorful brocade fabric, local ethnic women must work very hard on the elaborate design. They have to collect the material from the forest, such as linen and cotton. The colors are made with natural ingredients as well. For example, yellow is made from turmeric, black is made from a local leaf, red and brown are made from the rind of local trees, and blue is created from indigo leaves.

When going to Sapa, a brocade bag, clutch, scarf, or a vivid skirt is a unique Vietnamese gift to bring home.

Travel Tips: Shopping in Sapa’s Highland Markets
Photo by Truth'soutthere
Where to Buy Brocade Items in Sapa

#1 - Ta Phin village

This place is said to have the most beautiful brocade goods in Sapa. Many brocade items that you see in shops in Hanoi or Saigon are bought from this village.

Location: Ta Chai Village, Ta Phin Commune – (15 kilometers to the east of Sapa)

#2 - Sapa Lve Market

Traditionally, the single Dao and Mong people in Sapa will come to this market on Saturday evenings to find their “other half”. The locals bring products to sell here, including brocade. So if you are in Sapa on Saturday, you should pay a visit to Sapa Love Market (cho tinh Sapa) to explore the culture while doing some shopping.

Location: In the center of Sapa
Opening hours: 12 AM – 12 PM – Only on Saturday

#3 - Bac Ha market

In the bustling market, besides food, you can also find many other beautiful brocade items. Read more about our guide to Bac Ha Market here.

Address: Bac Ha Ward, Lao Cai

If you are in a rush and don’t have much time to visit the market, you can go to these trustworthy shops to buy brocade. Here are some suggestions:

#4 - Pho Nui: Address: 013 Cau May, Sapa

#5 - Hue Skill Sapa: Address: 024 Cau May, Sapa

#6 - Lan Rung Sapa: Address: 029A Cau May, Sapa

Sapa Nom Nom  – Best food in Sapa

These specialties are something you shouldn’t miss when in Sapa. From the variety of food to the wine, you will be sure to find good dishes that can make a food traveler feel happy. Here is what you should try and bring home:

Armpit Pork (Lon cap nach): The Mong people raise a small pig in order to make special pork here, which weighs about 5-6 kilograms. Instead of keeping the pigs in a cage, they let them walk around. That’s why the meat is firmer and tastes better. The pork’s skin is crispy and the meat is juicy. Such a dish is perfect to eat on a windy day.

Docynia Indica Wine (Ruou tao meo): Docynia indicia wine is an exclusive beverage of Sapa. Hoang Lien Son Mountain is home to the Docynia indica tree. Docynia indca flowers blossom at the end of spring and the fruit ripens when Autumn arrives. Locals pick and ferment the fruit to make wine. It tastes like juice when you take a sip however, you may get drunk if you don’t pay attention to how many drinks you’ve had. The local folks believe that when a single man and woman drink wine in the same glass, they have a crush on each other and will fall in love. This is a good reason to buy some of this wine for your loved one, isn’t it? 😉

Plums and Pearls – Man and Le

Sapa has a cool climate, which is perfect for planting fruit trees that can’t survive the tropical heat. Among them, pearls and plums are great gifts from nature to buy in Sapa. The fruit is grown organically in the local garden along the flank of the mountain. You will instantly feel the fresh flesh upon the first bite. The sweet and sour taste also makes it hard to resist having more. The best time to buy plums and pearls is around May.

Markets in Sapa 

Sapa Market – Cho tinh Sapa

Sapa market and Sapa Love Market are both unique features of Sapa. This is where ethnic people bring their goods to trade. It is also a place for the single souls of the village to find each other, they will sing love songs, the men will blow a flute or khen (a kind of flute made of bamboo) to attract the girls. Since long ago, when the sun is ready to go down, people go to the market to enjoy the approaching night. You can hear the rising voices of singers and talkers. When the couples finally find each other, they will exchange a gift to make a commitment to love. The “normal” market is held every day while the love market is on every Saturday evening.

Bac Ha Market

This market is famous for being the biggest market in Lao Cai province. Though it is not exactly in Sapa, you should still try to visit to be amazed by seeing many local people wearing the colorful traditional clothes. Ethnic villagers usually come to this market to shop for anything, from utensils to food and clothing.

As I mentioned above, the women love going to the market for brocade goods. You can expect to find a beautiful skirt and bag at a reasonable price (don’t forget to bargain a little bit- it’s the market rules). Also, the brocade tapestries are a good decorative gift to bring home. Meanwhile, the men usually go there to gather with friends, drinking the forest wine and eating thang co (a traditional food of Sapa made of horse meat and its organs). If you are on a food mission, thang co is an exotic food that’s worth a try.

Travel Tips: Shopping in Sapa’s Highland Markets 4
Photo by Truth'soutthere
Muong Hum market

This spontaneous market has a romantic location, next to a flowing stream in a valley, it’s surrounded by mountains that extend as far as the clouds. On the weekend, this market makes for a relaxed day to watch people trade goods while enjoying the view. This is where people of many different ethnicities such as Ha Nhi, H’mong, Hoa, Dao, Han, and Giay meet with each other to trade goods or to just make friends. You should pay a visit to Muong Hum if you want to learn more about the culture of people in the northern regions of Vietnam. 

I hope this article gives you some ideas about what to buy in Sapa and where to go to experience local lives. Wish you have a perfect trip to Sapa from Hanoi.

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