For the longest time, Khau Vai Love market has been going on in the Meo Vac district, Ha Giang province. People from the ethnic minority groups of Giay, Nung and Muong meet to eat, drink and dance and, who knows, maybe find ‘the one’.
Due to the mountainous terrain, the remoteness of villages and dwellings, as well as economic factors – finding a partner can be extremely difficult for the people in these hill regions. Having a love market is a way for everyone to meet together and find potential partners.
When is it held?
The Khau Vai Love Market is organized annually on the 26th and 27th days of the 3rd lunar month. In recent years the number of visitors has increased due to improved ease of access to the area and the growing interest of tourists.
What takes place?
The Khau Vai love market is a celebration and a time for the locals to let their hair down. Therefore, everyone will enjoy music, dancing, games, food, and drinking. It is a chance to have fun as well as to preserve the culture of the hill tribe people.
What is the Khau Vai Love Market Legend?
As with many legends, there are often several stories related to this market. As far as we know, there are two relating to Khau Vai Love Market.
Two Temples – Two Lovers
Khau Vai Market has two temples called Ong and Ba (Mr and Mrs) and the tale behind them goes like this:
There was a young boy and a young girl, each born in different areas of the Don Van Plateau who fell in love. Unfortunately, they were forbidden to marry by their families so they decided to run away from home. They came across Khau Vai and were impressed by the fertility of the land so they settled there. Many years later, local people built the two temples to honour the lovers and their efforts taming the wild area and cultivating crops.
A Tribal War
This account again tells of a young couple who fell in love. These two were from different ethnic groups. The boy was Nung and the girl was Tay and she was also extremely pretty.
The local Tay men refused to let the girl marry outside of the tribe. So, as soon as they heard of her attraction to the Nung boy there was trouble brewing.
Violent conflict broke out between the Nung and the Tay because of this. In order to prevent further bloodshed the lovers chose to part. However, each year on the 27th day of the 3rd lunar month they would meet at Khau Vai. Subsequently, this became known as a romantic meeting place for young couples.
The Modern Fairy Tale
There are many who will say that this is all legend and just a made-up fairy tale but the truth is that, this IS a time for bygone lovers to meet once again. There are many who come to the market to catch up with old flames, with those of past relationships that ‘didn’t work out’ or ‘weren’t meant to be’.
Many the case of a husband and wife coming to market together only to split up to reacquaint themselves with past lovers. Then, when all is said and done, they leave the market and make their way home together for the next year.
These couples can freely meet and reminisce about the old days without the fear of jealousy. Khau Vai Market festival is a time for festivity and happiness and quarreling over the past does not take place.
Love Destined to Fail
There are still many reasons why it may be difficult or impossible for young lovers to get married and seek the life that they wish for themselves. These could be the impracticality of moving far from the family home or old and sick relatives in the family household that need care. There are other factors such as financial difficulties and even now the divide between ethnic cultural groups.
The development of modern technology cannot overcome some of these barriers. Young ethnic people nowadays are expert users of mobile phones, SMS and social media but those old constraints can not be fully removed.
What to do at the Khau Vai Love Market?
The market and ceremonies connected to it as well as the temples take place over 3 days. Each day has a different focus.
The 1st Day
There is a ceremony to mark the New Year. At a selected hour, locals will take a bath and then don their best clothes. They will then visit the pagoda bringing with them fruits, lamps and flowers as offerings.
After the official ceremony has taken place, people will then chant and pray. They wish for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Then, festivities will begin outside the pagoda in the main yard.
The 2nd Day
On this day, there is a ceremony where boiled rice is offered to the monks at the pagoda both in the early morning and at noon.
In the afternoon of the 2nd day the locals make small piles of sand facing in eight directions in the middle, representing the universe. There are then prayers and offerings all in the hope of bringing rain for the crops.
The 3rd Day
On this day, monks wash themselves as well as the Buddha statues in the pagodas with scented water. Incense is burnt and offerings are made to give thanks to Buddha. It is the age-old custom of washing away the old year and inviting good fortune for the year to come.
This process is then repeated at home. People return to their homes and do the same thing to hope for good health and fortune for their family.
How to get to the Khau Vai Love Market?
First of all, drive into the region and drive to Meo Vac. You can drive from Dong Van (part of the Ha Giang loop) or you can drive up from Bao Lam (through Cao Bang). The area has a clear sign that says: FROM MEO VAC and you will take the route over the Ma Pi Leng Pass and down to Khau Vai. You will also see others taking the same route so you can ask whether you are on the right road.
Coming from Bao Lac is much more difficult and only really for experienced riders or those with a guide.
If you find that you do not like the smaller back roads or for any other reason you want to get on to the QL4C again quickly after visiting Khau Vai you can take the shorter alternative route (marked in pink) This will get you quickly to the 4C which you can then take to Bao Lam and then either to Ha Giang or Bao Lac.
You may enjoy the rougher less travelled road and, if so, you can continue over the Nho Que river towards Bao Lac. However, you may be heading for Ha Gang rather than Bao Lac so you could take one of the two shortcuts (marked in red) they will get you there.
Note on Alternative Routes:
These routes are not easy to find or follow and you may need to use GPS / 3G and also ask locals for directions. Of course, you will need: to have a GPS or a SIM with 3G capability or the basic Vietnamese to ask directions. Also note, the locals often tell you not to take the difficult muddy route and try to route you on the tarmac or the better road. They often don’t understand why you would want to take bad road. They often say that the route is ‘terrible’ and that you cannot make it through. You need to ask several people and then make a judgement call as to whether or not you can make it through.
What to Eat and Drink? Where to Stay?
Along with meeting and dancing comes food and drink. You will find a wide range of interesting food for sale, such as: steamed egg rolls, buckwheat cake, grilled algae and, Au Tau porridge. All of this is usually washed down with rice wine. Be careful.
Markets start early, so it is a good idea to stay in Khau Vai or Meo Vac. There are few options in Khau Vai and it is likely that they will be booked so Meo Vac is the better choice.
If you are coming from the Cao Bang area, then you may consider staying in Bao Lac or Bao Lam. However, you will have a fair distance to travel to get to market and the DT217 from Bao Lac is not the easiest drive.
There is accommodation in all of these places ranging from very basic to acceptable. There is even the ‘luxury’ option of Auberge Du Meo Vac. Bear in mind that luxury here might not mean what it does elsewhere. You are deep in the mountains and quite far from major towns.
Around market days, it will be hard to find accommodation so either prepare to stay further out and journey in or make a booking in advance.
Why should you visit Khau Vai Love Market
Well, if you don’t’ have enough reasons by now, you never will. The Khau Vai Love Market is one of the relics of the past that has remained very much intact and untouched. There are only a few other festivals throughout Vietnam that can boast this.
Taking the time and effort to get there will reward you with a glimpse into the past and shape your thinking on what it is to be from an ethnic group living high in the mountains.
Our only fears are that as time marches forward, this festival will be seen as less relevant or become so touristic that the traditional essence will be lost forever.