Sunday Market in Northern Vietnam
Photo Essay by Steve Hope, Tour East Trip Designer.
There are other markets in the area, notably Can Cau Market on Saturdays (views are better) or Sin Cheng Market on Wednesdays, which receive fewer visitors, primarily due to accessibility and time, but markets in this area are for the most part quite similar, and any market frequented by the Flower H’mong is a market worth your time.
To paint broad picture, the morning starts early, often after arriving by overnight train, followed by a drive in the mountains to the town of Bac Ha.
As you walk the streets into town, water buffalo and motorbikes share the road, a smattering of small restaurants line the streets, and what becomes the ubiquitous, yet always striking, Flower H’mong embroidered traditional dress peers around every corner. The aroma of the locally brewed corn-wine is pervasive, and it’s clear many have indulged as staggering men appear to be making their way back for more – or perhaps to find home.
Interestingly, and not entirely all that surprising, drinking alcohol in the male Hmong culture is deeply rooted and socially important, so finding women sitting by barrels or plastic jugs passing out drinks is as common as the aroma would make you think.
As you approach the market, the riot of color from the Flower H’mong dress, arguably the most elaborately beautiful of the many ethnic groups in the region, and the banter of patrons and stallholders feels like a warm welcome in what visually appears to be complete bedlam. You may guess what’s on sale, almost everything, but visitors typically find the embroidery to be of most interest.
This is the meeting and trading point for the surrounding villages, and the morning Sunday Market is the day that matters most. The town has a distinguishingly different feel during the week. Agriculture and farming supplies, clothing, food, and livestock top the list of items on offer, but telecom stores, and shops for household items and children’s toys appear to be just as popular. Auctions for buffalo, cows, birds and more take place in the nearby field, pigs and other animals are peddled and then strapped to their new owners’ motorbikes, chickens and goats roam aimlessly and corn-wine is distributed copiously. The patrons, mostly Flower Hmong, but also local Vietnamese and other villagers, seem almost festive as they gossip, browse and eat their way through the market.
It’s a wonderful look at Vietnam, a much different Vietnam from the lowlands, and what follows is a short photo summary bringing to life the Bac Ha Market, the Flower H’mong people, and market life in general in the highlands of northern Vietnam.
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