To Vietnamese, especially mountainous ethnic minority groups, the weekly or monthly local markets are not just trading places that people buy and sell things. They’re also the places reflecting the whole community that once you go there, you can understand one third of local lifestyle. We call these weekly or monthly markets fairs and the fairs are the one of the reasons to make the motorbike tours in Vietnam more interesting
Local people in North Vietnam, who has mountainous nature in their veins, come to these fairs, bring along their diligence, results of their own hard works. The agricultural produces, handicraft products made from forestal materials, from meticulousness and the heart of rustic people here, who have to live in substandard living condition. This is also the reason to meet the demand of the female riders who love motorcycle touring in Vietnam and doing shopping local production.
Fairs are normally held periodically, most commonly, once a week depending on the different villages or regions so during around 1 week doing motorbike tours around North Vietnam, you’ll at least see one or two markets. Y Ty fair is on Saturday; Muong Hum (Lao Cai) and Don Van fair are always held on Sunday; Lung Phin, Sa Phin, Pho Bang, Pho Cao in Dong Van, Ha Giang province all have a strange custom, they are held on a specific zodiac sign animal day, which means every six days ( people also call them “Backward” fairs due to the fact that the next fair day will be 1 day backward from the previous fair day; for example, this week fair is on Wednesday then next week’s will be on Tuesday)
There is a great variety of the goods being sold at the fairs. Vendors have different kinds of local products and necessitous offer. People can find everything they need there, from mountainous piglets to puppies, from cattle to poultry, from rice, corn to all kinds of veggie such as sprout, spinach, parsley,…. Many kinds of rare herbs are also available.
If you want some clothes with new styles, some unique patterned fabric, highlands fair is the place to come. All clothes and fabric here are handicraft products. You can even see the embroidery made in front of your eyes. The colorful and unique patterns can’t be found any where else in the world will make things you bought here perfect souvenirs.
One of the most popular unspoken rules in Vietnam is that: Don’t forget to try cooked dishes you can find at the fairs. Local cuisines you taste at the fairs is much more original than those in fancy restaurants.
There are many corned dishes here. Corned pork is one of the most famous dishes in Lao Cai. The pork is marinated in basil, jack-fruit leaves, betel leaves, chili which are all crushed and added with rice wine then put in a jar for 2 weeks. The taste of hot, salty, sour, a little sweet comes along with the unique smell will make you feel like a party is going on in you mouth. Besides from that, once you tasted smoked buffalo meat which was cooked in an exclusive way, it will make your mouth watery whenever you think about it.
You can prove yourself a daredevil if you have enough guts to try some dishes that can give you a shiver if you know the recipes: Nam Pia is a signature cuisine of Thai ethnic group in Son La. The dish contains herbivore’s stomach, blood, intestines, heart, liver, lungs, they will be stewed with the fluids inside the small intestine of the pigs. Don’t be scared so quickly, the fluids only taste bitter a little at first but then leave the sweet and rich taste after being swallowed. This dish can be served as a soup and comes really handy in being a hangover cure.
Wandering around these fairs, one thing and easily found is people gathering up around a steaming pot of stew called “thang co”. This dish is regarded as the typical dish of Hmong culinary culture. It contains ox’s or horse’s tendons, cartilage, fat and some parts of bones chopped then stewed in.
hours with blood. Some special herbs and spices will be added to spice up those basic ingredients. “Thang co” has an unforgettable smell that many “cowards” (regarded by local people) have run away from. “Thang co” has to be served boiling hot and gets along really well with some shots of mountainous bourbon. One mouthful of “thang co” followed by a sip of mountainous bourbon in highlands winter give you an indescribably wonderful feeling.
Those above are only some of many dishes that retained in subconscious of countless tourists who have been here. You will be surprised by the variety of goods in a highland fair. Other than clothes, food, there are a whole lot things you can find. Spectacular quality knives, sculpture works, ethnic musical instruments, cooking utensils and more than that, electronic devices. And you know what, they even have beauty salons there. Want to try a hair cut?
Once you set foot to a highlands fair, you can easily be mesmerized by the colorfulness. This corner, the yellow of banana bunches, the red of hot chili; other corner, brocades with different style of patterns of different ethnic groups; at far distant is farming tools, electronic devices…..Each ethnic group has their own special features and you can see they bring that beauty along when they come to these fairs; people are immersed in the colorful brocade, girls from ethnic groups such as Nung, Dao, Lo Lo, La Chi, H’mong… dress up in their own traditional costume which give you a sense of illusory colorfulness of ethnic costumes and bring to the fair a joyful atmosphere.
There is no exaggeration when saying at highland fairs, commodities are much fewer than people. Because to them, fair is not a trading point, it’s also a social gathering point. People come here also to hang out and meet up with friends after days of hard work, young boys and young girls met and fell in love while working in the fields then ask each other out to come to the fairs like their prom day. Coming to any fair, we can see many steaming boiling “thang co” pot, people gather around and gloat with a warm cup of “bourbon”. People bring their home made food and eat together, get drunk together on friendships, on love, on the chill of highland cold. “One round with each story shared”. People come here as a place to communicate, to make friends and to confide.
Girls going to fairs with their most beautiful dresses, they have prepared for a long time before. Everyone wants to dress up the best when coming here. Fancy dresses, charming smiles, sounds of skilled pan-pipes, beautiful singing voices are what people bring to highland fairs. Highland fairs have played a role of being a match maker for many couples to become husbands and wives. They came, drank together, danced together, sang together and get drunk on love and sounds of panpipes. And by that way, highland fairs become nostalgia, become a yearning desire to everyone especially ones with youthfulness.
Once you come explore highlands, especially in North Vietnam you must visit the fairs. Local people preserve their fairs like maintaining the breath of their inherently simple life. People’s lives have changed a lot nowadays, therefore fairs have change along but the traditional beauty, the cultural identity will forever endure, the unique features of highland fair will forever be there.
In short, the markets are the best places to learn about the culture, tradition and daily life of the local people in Vietnam, that’s the reason why during our Vietnam motorcycle tours, we usually choose to stop at markets for visiting, picturing…