A spontaneous visit to backward markets Ha Giang
Taken by @Anh Duc
"Travelling to Ha Giang without visiting one of the backward markets there is a missing of culture discovery", said Mr. Liem, Lila Inn owner.
I came to meet my friend who stayed at his hostel & heard about those backward markets by chance. It was last week, exactly the day the nearest backward market was hold. Without any hesitation, I & my friend decided to give it a visit to have a change to observe ethnic people life. So excited!!
It's 100 km distance to Pho Cao Market. The road view is amazing. The weather was perfect sunny.
After all, thanks to Lila Inn's hostel owner, who took us there & explained almost everything about this special type of flea market which is only available in Ha Giang loop, a unique hill tribe market of ethnic people in the world. This market's called “Backward markets”. Funny strange name? I'll explain in the next passage.
Before you do Ha Giang loop, read this and note down "Backward Markets Ha Giang" or "Chợ lùi" carefully so you won’t miss it out.
What is BACKWARD MARKETS HA GIANG?
First of all, I want to talk about the name: "Backward Markets" Ha Giang are called "Chợ Lùi" in Vietnamese. This name's not familiar to English speakers, neither Vietnamese are. Of course, nobody goes backward in this market. "Backward" here is its backward date on the Lunar calendar, based on the name of 12 zodiac animals in order: Mouse, Buffalo,Tiger, Cat, Dragon, Snake, horse, Goat, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, Pig.
Each specific market will be hold on 2 dates (with 6 days distance) from 12 zodiac dates on Lunar Calendar.
Therefore, It’s meeting by session, once every 6 days.
Let's look at the actual schedule of Backward markets Ha Giang below
Lung Phin Backward Market: hold on Tiger & Monkey date: FRI, 20/09/2019 (Monkey day) on calendar.
Next 6 days will be THU (Tiger day), 26/09/2019.
Sa Phin Backward Market: hold on Snake & Pig date: MON, 23/09/2019 (Pig day) on calendar.
Next 6 days, it will be opened again on SUN, 29/09/2019 (Snake day)
Pho Bang Backward Market: hold on Mouse & Horse date: MON (Horse date), 30/09/2019.
Next 6 days, it'll be opened on SUN (Mouse day), 06/10/2019
Pho Cao Backward Market: hold on Dragon & Dog date: SAT, 28/09/2019 (Dragon date) and again in the NEXT 6 DAYS.
Well, I'm sure now you understood the point "Backward" of backward markets Ha Giang. With this formula, you can easily calculate the market session when you visit Ha Giang Province.
Why are Backward markets Ha Giang special?
"Backward markets” is actually just the name that people from Southern named for. On highlands, ethnic people still call it flea market. For H’Mong people in Dong Van, people schedule the market day in their own way - not counting Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, not using Gregorian calendar but it’s based on the lunar calendar. More correctly, they follow the 12 Chinese zodiac animals.
If you've been Portobello Road Market in London; Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California; Marché aux Puces in Paris, France or El Rastro in Madrid, Spain, you may know the term "Flea market. Any of those sell animals, cattle or poultry? Absolutely not.
For a long time, Flea market has become an indispensable cultural activity in the life of highlands people in Ha Giang. In addition to the purpose of trading, exchanging goods, the flea market's also a cultural exchange place for ethnic minorities. Who has once visited the flea market in Meo Vac, Dong Van, Quan Ba, Hoang Su Phi, Xin Man... of Ha Giang could not forget the special features of the markets.
Visiting Dong Van Plateau, Dong Van ancient town to understand culture of local ethnic minority people, to join in the noisy atmosphere, to hear Mong syrinx and drink corn wine; and then to listen to the stories from a farmer selling rustic tobacco or a bamboo seller… or to look at the smoke from “horse’s stomach’ hot pot on the roofs.
More inf About Backward markets & others in Ha Giang
Heritage of Backward Markets Ha Giang
All those flea market have been formed after a long time, have been established over a hundred years, after many generations, and became a type of market that cultural researchers named them “backward markets”. Backward Markets Ha Giang is a place to retains a lot of the ancient culture of ethnic groups of the Northern mountainous area.
In the past, every hill tribe market was held on a fixed day, but it does not use our Gregorian calendar, it has sessions time.
There are some hill tribe ones opening once a year such as Khau Vai market, Son Vi love market, or fixed on the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th every month on the Lunar calendar as Tung Vai market.
Other free Flea Markets beside Backward Markets Ha Giang
Other special markets are held backwards during the week in which the gap between each session is 6 days.
Lately, due to the effect of weekly schedules, some markets in the center where workers or combatants work are held on Saturday, Sunday. Cow market sells chickens, dogs and pigs.
Particularly, there are border markets where H’ Mong people from two sides of the border joining. The places seem unique when one session is held in Vietnam and then in China or there is a cross-border market. The combatants in two countries have to work in the market.
Moreover, it has “market in market” which sells unique products. Have you ever heard “cow market” in Meo Vac? This market sells all kinds of cattle: cow, goat, pig, dog, chicken.
For local people, cows are as important as their blood, that’s why they named cow market.
Chill out at flea market
Chill out at market is a hobby of everyone from all over Vietnam countryside. There are not any church, pagoda, communal houses where people meet up or meeting at any time like in delta or cities; in highland and mountainous area, houses, families are not gathered, they live far away from each other, the distance would take a day, or few days to reach their neighbors, so market is the only place to meet up.
Called market but the main thing happens here is not shopping, not exchange money, it is to meet people, to talk, to share life’ stories, to be drunk, making friends, enjoin music, on the other side flea market is like a fair. Men always bring “khen” (pan-pipe), a distinctive musical to play and dance at markets, children and women wear beautiful colorful, everyone happy.
People living on mountains live far away from each other, they could see each other, they could hear the other voices from the other sides of the mountains, the distance would take a whole day or even few days to meet up. Living on mountains which cover by lime stone, rock and rock, no electric, no water, no facilities, no doctors, but LOVE and friendship.
Strangers could be invited and welcome at any party, any meal, that’s why the most difficult word to say is “good bye”, they stand up to say good bye then sit down then stand up over and over again because they know until next week or in 6 days’ time they will have change to meet again.
Eating in the backward markets Ha Giang
Market's the place to relax, so food's mostly for fun. Farmers cultivate self-sufficient, spent days to reach the market but sometimes salt or lamp is what they need to take home. Their cuisine is characterized by the high mountain border style. Anyone got home would have the same feeling and wonder why this buckwheat cakes, these cups of corn wine are not as delicious as at the market anymore?
Why eating horse’s stomach hot pot (thang co) in city is tasteless, comparing to the one they had at the market which always delicious?
There are lots of guys who bring nothing to sell, apparently don't want to buy anything and just going to see the market. In the crowded, bustling market in front of king’s palace, people bought everything. Many people just gathered around drinking corn wine. There is no chair no table; it was just a piece of timber put on bricks to sit. Sitting on it to drink until noon, men got drunk all sleep right on the side of the road while their wives sitting idly next to them waiting them to wake up.
How to schedule for backward markets Ha Giang?
Recently, when watching some forums, normally who had planned up a trip to Ha Giang only think go straight to the top Lung Cu, Dong Van, Mapileng pass, very few paid attention to the backward markets.
As mentioned above, it's a destination to feel the life and breath of ethnic people. Skip it, you lose 30% success of the journey, despite the beauty of the road, Lung Cu flagpole, minutes of soul drop along the Nho Que river, beautiful villages, flowers field... might satisfy you.