Although I didn’t have a lot time to explore Hanoi, still I decided to get away from the city and head towards the mountains. On Sapa O’Chau’s website, I saw that they organise trips to weekly markets of the ethnic minorities so I signed up to visit the Lung Khau Nhin market, the only one available on the day I arrived (Thursday) at Lao Cai (pronounced as Lao Gai) province.
From what I researched and understand from my guide, a lady from the Black H’mong (pronounced as Mong) tribe called CO (pronounced as Ger), who by the way speaks brilliant English, there is one market on each day of the week, well almost. Below is a summary of some of the bigger markets:
Sunday – Bac Ha Market (most famous and biggest)
Monday – Phong Hai Market
Tuesday – Coc Ly Market
Wednesday – Cao Son Market
Thursday – Lung Khau Nhin Market
Saturday – Can Cau Market
I arrived in Sapa on the overnight train from Hanoi and took a 1.5 hours’ drive to the Lung Khau Nhin market after having some breakfast. Since the market is in a remote region, we drove past some stunning landscapes along the way.
For those who are prone to motion sickness, beware! The road can get pretty windy at some point because… it’s the mountains!
As we got nearer to our destination we saw people walking towards the market, some with the signature bamboo baskets the ethnic minorities carry on their back (to put their shopping and umbrellas). I understand that some of them ride their motorbikes to the market while others will walk for about an hour to get there!
Lung Khau Nhin market is a relatively small and simple market for about 5 tribes of the ethnic minorities living nearby, including the Flower H’mong, Black Dao (pronounced as zao) and three others which I only managed to get the pronunciations of. It is probably just about 50 metres long with little stalls and people selling almost everything; fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, soup, wok, mobile phones, tobacco, seedlings for plants, clothes, shoes, bags, daily necessities like shampoo, soap, etc. There are even stalls selling little gadgets from China like radios, headlamps, toys, etc. like a stall in Singapore’s pasar malam (night market).
There was even a man squatting at the start of the market selling his piggy.
CO tried to point out the different tribes to me by what they wear; they looked somewhat similar if you ask me.
As we were just strolling through the market, a lady carrying a bucket started talking to CO and I was later told that she was selling sticky rice.
“Do you want to try?” CO asked. I think she then tried to ask the lady whether I could just pinch a little but I guess the negotiation failed. In the end, I got this whole lot for 5,000 VND (about US$0.25). I didn’t mind paying for it but it was A LOT of sticky rice! I actually gave some to the kids running around the market – build rapport *wink*!
At first I tried some without the peanut and it tasted bland, just rice, VERY sticky rice. But after CO told me to eat with the peanut, it tasted better.
I asked the lady selling the sticky rice if I could take a picture of her (with CO translating of course). I think she was a bit shy but agreed. Just when I held up my camera, her friend (I think) with her child quickly jumped in for the shot.
Other than shopping, some ethnic minorities also come here for their meals. A small section of the market was demarcated for the food stalls, which I understand works on a first-come-first-serve basis for the hawkers. Come early to “chope” the space and cook away!
Just across the road from the market, there are boys and men playing pool which apparently is quite popular among the ethnic minority youngsters. The girls are not allowed to play with the boys because they are required to be (or appear to be) hardworking and demure – still a very conservative society you see.
The weekly markets also provide opportunities for the young and single men and women (or boys and girls since they usually are only in their teens) to meet, socialise and get to know their future partners.
You see, the weekly markets are not only important because they allow the residents nearby (even if they need to walk for 1 hour to get there) to do their shopping for daily necessities and socialising, they are also revenue-generating events for them, once a week. I can imagine how excited they are or they can be to have the opportunity to do something other than working in the fields all day long 7 days a week. It will definitely be something I look forward to if I were them.
If anyone is going to Sapa or Lao Cai, I recommend visiting one of the markets. Lung Khau Nhin market is not a very popular market for tourists but that suits me just fine. I was one of the few (5 I think) tourists in the whole place which was fantastic!
Have you been to any ethnic minority markets? Did you like them? Click here to check out my one-night stay at an Ethnic Minority’s home.