Custom & Culture
Sapa Love market
Every Saturday, the picturesque mountain village of Sa Pa comes alive with shoppers who know what they want: love. They travel from near and far to size up the goods of the day, hoping something will tickle their fancy.
Tall or short, sweet or sultry, they are all on the market, looking for love. Love markets (cho tinh) take place in the northern mountain provinces of Lao Cai, Ha Giang and Son La. A rare opportunity to mix, mingle and find a match, they are often a not-to-be-missed social event. For many young villagers, the love fests are a vital marital resource, given that many live in villages where all the inhabitants are blood relatives.
Here’s how it goes: singles strut their stuff through the market, hoping they will be lucky enough to be asked out on a date. What follows is not as simple as dinner and a movie – amorous couples must abide by the ways and mores of their ethnic nationality.
Unlike the steady flow of sensuality at Sa Pa, some loves must stand the test of time. Khai Vau market in Ha Giang province takes place only once a year, on March 27 in the lunar calendar, a date known as Phong Luu (Prosperity Day), which gives the market its name of Cho Phong Luu (market of Prosperity). According to legend, the market’s beginnings date back to the unrequited love between a young boy and girl. They met in Meo Vac, but as they were from different tribes, were forbidden to be together.
In true Shakespearean fashion, a bitter quarrel erupted between the families, and the couple was forced to end the affair. Unable to bear the thought of never seeing each other again, they decided to meet on the same day every year in Khau Vai. Today, the site of the forbidden rendezvous is home to the love market.
The market is not just for marriage hopefuls. In this rural area, it is also the social event of the year, where old friends meet up and new ones are made. No matter their age, everyone looks forward to the chance to chat over sticky rice, grilled cassava or rice dumplings.
The dancing and singing continue into the early hours, often persuading men and women into each other’s arms. That first magical night, some are lucky enough to leave the market with their new partners and walk hand in hand through the forest. But others are simply nervous: tomorrow is the big day, after all. Many have waited months for the chance to find their soul mate. The day of the Market of Prosperity is alive with different moods: happiness at meeting old friends, anxiety as others wait to meet someone new.
Whether they find a partner or not, the happy memories of the day linger in the minds of many of these mountain people. And anyway, there is always next year. Because at this market, the goods are always ripe.