Vietnam travel photography – the mountain markets

Markets are a source of life, and in its most authentic meaning, people shop at markets for essential ingredients to sustain living. Markets are among the best places for travel photography in Vietnam. Especially this helps to bring out the local culture. And the markets in the mountains of Vietnam are the most colorful versions of the kind. These markets are great inspirations for travel photography in Vietnam.

Wandering in a mountain market of northern Vietnam is a must for any travel photography lover. It fulfills one’s collection of Vietnam travel images. These markets are where the locals find rendezvous, apart from buying and selling. And it’s where one would be dressed in the best traditional costumes in hope of finding a lover.

In this article, I will be listing out the different mountain markets in northern Vietnam for your travel photography.

Market photography highlights

Travel photography in the mountain markets of Vietnam

Ladies selling rice liquor

Vietnam travel photography – market in Ha Giang province

Can Cau market

Mrs. Lo Thi Mai woke up from 4:30 am, her 2 year-old son is still asleep. Today is Saturday and she’s heading for the weekly market of Can Cau – a great market for Vietnam travel photography. She is a farmer, making a living from growing corn and distilling corn liquor. And Can Cau market is one of her best selling places. Her home is 1.5 hour by motorbike from Can Cau market. Her husband loads up 02 cans of liquor onto his scooter. After finishing, the couple quickly have some breakfast. Then, Lo Thi Mai puts on her most well-kept set of colorful traditional H’mong dress. She keeps this dress for the market sessions only. Then, they went to the market.

The two are among many sellers at Can Cau market. And people like them bring along probably all what they make or grow at home that can be sold. 

Market travel photography in Can Cau
H’mong mother and child

Scenes at Can Cau market market

From the break of dawn, immerse yourself in the enchanting atmosphere: A captivating scene unfolds as a group of individuals marvels at a buffalo, accompanied by the grunts of nearby pigs. Venture further, and you’ll encounter a vibrant row of embroidery shops adorned with colorful costumes, illuminating a charming corner of the market. Wisps of smoke rise from small food stalls, where people gather around steaming bowls of noodles.

Men often gather in convivial groups, sharing moments next to bottles and cups filled with rice liquor. Alongside, stalls offer an array of essential items such as cellphones, radios, torches, bags – practically everything needed for life in the mountains. The market presents an abundance of visually striking activities, making it a haven for photographers. For those passionate about travel photography in Vietnam, this is an idyllic setting to capture an array images.

Bac Ha market – the Sunday booming flower

This is another great place for travel photography in Vietnam. Bac Ha market takes place right in the heart of Bac Ha town, accessible on foot if you’re staying in town.

The market is only on every Sunday. This is when the whole town center brightens with colors of a thousand traditional dresses. While the market is as colorful as Can Cau market, there’s often a crowd of travelers coming in with their big camera. So yes, expect it to be more touristic than other market. But well, it’s in downtown, eventually. Still, there are many opportunities to shoot, you just have to work a bit more on separating your subject.

Both of Can Cau and Bac Ha market are in Lao Cai province. It takes around 4.5 hours to drive from Hanoi to Lao Cai. From here, Bac Ha is about 2 hours away and then another 1 hour drive north will get you to Can Cau. They both are what you cannot miss on your Vietnam travel photography trip.

Vietnam travel photography – market in Ha Giang province

Vietnam travel photography in Ha Giang
Sa Phin market – the cow section

Ha Giang is the northernmost province of Vietnam to the north. The land is home to some of the country’s most mysterious landscape. The combination of Karst formations and caterous valleys here is probably the most striking in the whole country. While there’s a city of the same name, most of the people living along the mountain ranges. There are some 20 minority groups in Ha Giang, making a living from agriculture along with forestry.

After all, this is simply something you can’t afford skipping if you’re looking for some great travel photography in Vietnam.

Sa Phin market


The market is about an hour of extremely scenic, smooth drive from Dong Van town – being the center of Dong Van district. Along the way, don’t miss capturing the small paved roads winding their way along the hillsides. There’s something that this region is famous for: Rocks. Everywhere there are   formations. And it is mind boggling to think about how life finds away in such a barren looking land. Yet, life thrives. People grow corn along the rocky cliff and build their houses out of earth.

Sa Phin market meets once a week, like most mountain market. However, you need to contact to see when the next market session will be, as it doesn’t happen on a fixed day. The locals use the lunar calendar to time the market. This market is located right in front of the former H’mong king’s house.

H'mong king house in Dong Van
H’mong king’s house

Sa Phin market is not centrally located. It’s quite a distance from nearby communities in terms of walking. While people manage to get here on scooters, a lot of ethnic people have to be on foot to get here. Any this can easily be several hours. Despite of the fact that scooter is among the most popular vehicle in Vietnam, life can be of a different extreme somewhere else. And it happens here in Ha Giang.


Most of the market participants are the H’mong, or black H’mong to be exact. The H’mong people had had a long history BC, when they struggled in their battles in what is nowadays China. Different failures got them divided and scattered around the surrounding regions. Some 300 years ago they began reaching Vietnam. And you can see the H’mong in most, if not all, mountainous provinces in northern Vietnam.

Among the travel photography highlights is the authenticity of Sa Phin market. Here, the H’mong are seen in their traditional dress, which is black pants and shirt for man and colorful skirt with white blouse for women. The products are things they grow at home: Corn, apples, herbal medicines, piggies. The whole chaos is so interesting and photogenic at the same time. 

The market meets from early morning. So you might want to consider arriving at around 6:00 or so to capture it in the best light possible. And it’s easier to compose your shots when the market is a bit less crowded. Given that there are lots of local food stalls, but I’m not sure any of those food taste too fantastic for you. So you might want to pack along some food. Vietnam travel photography tour to Sa Phin market

Travel photography scenes

While each section of the market offers something for your travel photography. Things that might interest you would be:

  • Photograph the locals bringing their piggies from home to the market for sale. These piggies are tied to robe, and the owner might end of walking a dozen piggies from home to get here. You might need a wide angle lens to capture the whole scene.
  • Photography the cooking section with rising smokes. Usually the local men will be inviting you a cup of moonshine as a gesture of friendliness. One is probably enough for you, in case you find it hard to say no. But there’s no offensive!
  • Photography the cow section: A part of the road in front of the H’mong king’s house is for trading cows.
  • Photography inside the H’mong king’s house: During the French colonial time in Vietnam, the H’mong was given their autonomy. Then, it was legal for them to grow and traded opium. The autonomous region would of course paid tax to the French. The house near which the market takes place was one of the houses of the former H’mong king. This autonomy ended when the Vietnamese found independance from the French.

At Momentlives, we bring you a great sense of mountain markets photography on some of our tours. Check out HERE and join us! 

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