Bac Ha town, a historical capital in the region of Hmong ethnic minorities in Northern Vietnam’s mountainous Lào Cai province, reaches 1,200m above sea level. Bac Ha has historical landmarks and natural landscape that make every visitor marvel. From colorful ethnic cultures, historical sites, rivers, caves and mountains bequeathed by Mother Nature to the friendly residents, Bac Ha has a lot to offer to tourists. The district hosts an ethnic market every Sunday morning where products such as scarves, jewelry, wood carvings, and other local products are sold. It is a perfect destination for fun and adventure.
Bac Ha is one place in Vietnam where horses are greatly idolized. Horses have great significance in the lives of the residents. They are raised for transportation, meat and racing purposes. The people around Tay, Nung and H’Mong are renowned for hosting horse-racing festivals every spring. Young people spend most of their leisure time practicing horse racing so that they can excel during the racing season to bring glory back home.
Why the horse racing festival in Bac Ha is special
What makes the horse racing festival in Bac Ha special is the bravery of the horse riders and the difficulty they face on the track. The participants of the race ride their horses without the harness and pedals. They only use a rectangular linen cloth on horseback with two crampons attached to the horse’ jaw. They control the horses using only their arms and the extensive skills and experience acquired from practice. They have to keep their balance on horseback by knowing how to sit next to their horse’ shoulders and be able to jump with the horse’s rhythm. If they happen to lose balance, they need to know how to fall off the horse without getting hurt.
Selecting the horses fit for the race
Bac Ha has many horses; it even trades them on markets every Sunday. In preparation for the festival, the horsemen have to select their horses carefully, train them and take good care of them. Fine horses are chosen throughout the district. A good horse fit for the race should be strongly built and upright, with a thick, smooth mane and good white teeth. The selection process is rigorous until they come up with the required number that will compete in the race.
It is that time when the atmosphere around the racecourse is bustling with noise and excitement. Since it’s a special day, everyone has left their daily work to join the others in celebrating, either by cheering, racing or betting on the riders. You’d think it’s a football champions’ league being held.
Once the gun is shot in the air for the race to begin, the cheering crowd goes into a frenzy. On approaching the finish line, the riders will jump down from off their horses, fire five shots in succession, pick up a red ball and hop back on their horses to return to the starting point. The rider with the fastest horse will then be crowned the winner.
Although horse racing is not a professional activity in Bac Ha, it still signifies the unparalleled culture of the region. This traditional festival takes place in June every year. The festival is meant to celebrate the local culture of the inhabitants of the area and preserve their traditional values. It has become an attraction for the locals and tourists. As a visitor, you are sure to join in the excitement as you dance along to the traditional tunes, enjoy festival cuisines and shop at the farm produce markets in the area. There are plenty of eco-tourism programs taking place at this time too.