Sapa is a famous destination in northwest Vietnam thanks to its spectacular scenery, unique ethnic minorities' culture. One of the distinctive cultural features in Sapa is the Sapa love market which takes place every Saturday night. The market is not only the place for trading goods but also exchanging the culture. Keep reading this article and see what the market has to offer for you.
Sapa Love Market is always held every Saturday evening in a large square in front of the town’s church. The square is designed like an arena, which is high outside and low inside; therefore you can either stand outside to watch the activities at the market or go to the center to integrate with local people.
Local people living in the far mountain villages, especially the Dao ethnic group, will come to the market in the previous evening to organize some entertaining activities at the square for relaxing after hard-working days. They come here to play and chat with each other, make friends with others, those with opposite genders in particular.
Once upon a time:
For Love Market, every Saturday the local tribe's people would make their way from the mountains into Sapa town for the evening's festivities. Women would bring their handicrafts in and display them in a show of weaving or dressmaking skill. Men would bring their musical instruments. The displays and performances would ignite a spark of interest between them for later meetings, following their tribal codes. For youngsters, the girls would cover their faces gently, softly singing a romantic song in their ethnic languages whenever seeing a stranger on their way. Boys and girls would then cluster together in groups of five to ten, looking and smiling at each other, or singing and talking through the night. If their tunes ring in harmony, they exchange gifts and make plans to see each other again. Many of them might end up happily wedded in the spring that comes next.
The modern presentation:
To exploding avoid flashbulbs during a serenade, lovers nowadays hid from the tourists and the love market went underground with the growth of tourism in Sapa. At night, there are elusive sounds of leaf trumpet, lip trumpet as calling for each other beyond ranges of samu trees and big rocks. However, people still keep a representation of these very distinctive culture features here. The performances now are shown on a stage with lighting, microphone, and backdrop in the middle of the public square just near the ancient Stone Church. The market is now set up to cater to tourist needs, selling not just handicrafts and produce but also watches, toys, belts, outdoor equipment, etc
As you may know, the market is for trading: buying and selling but no one buys or sells love at the Love Market. Local people come to the market to see each other, find a person to date and express their feeling and affection.
Sapa Love Market is the place where all traditions, customs, and beliefs of Dao, H’Mong, and other ethnic groups are presented. It is the place you can not only watch and listen to the activities, but also join the activities with the friendliest, the plainest, and the most hospitable local people here.
Love Market in Sapa used to be the place to find a partner to get married, and a lot of interesting activities of ethnic people in Sapa including H’Mong and Red Dao happened. With tourism, the real love market does not take place any more. Currently, you can only see a representation of the love market.
It is called wife robbing in some places and named “Hai pu” in the Hmong language. As its right meaning, a boy kidnaps a girl to home to be his wife. Hmong boys and girls often meet each other in the “Love market”. When a boy falls in love with a girl, he asks his parents for permission to kidnap the girl to be his wife. He chooses a suitable time to rob the girl to bring to his home. He will ask his friends to help him kidnap her. After 3 days of “test living”, the girl will decide to become his wife or not. When visiting the love market in Sapa, you will have a chance to see this custom.
For the H’Mong young generation, “khen” is the means for them to express their love. The H’Mong men have taught the next generations to play “khen” and dance with “khen” as “khen” sound shows the physical and spiritual strength of the H’Mong man to the girl he loves. So, right from a young age, the H’Mong boys begin to learn how to play “khen” and dance. “Khen” is a unique musical instrument, which is never interrupted during the dance to attract the girl. At the love market, you will see local girls in beautiful clothing and local boys with flutes dancing and playing musical instruments. Through dances, the dancers and the girls know more about each other and fall in love.
The girl quietly enjoys the enchanting “khen” sound. If she understands the message that the boy wants to convey through the sound, she will requite his love with a leaf horn. Leaf horn is a very simple musical instrument. It is made from a small tough leaf. The girl folds it in half and plays. The haunting sound from the leaf horn shows the harmony of the two souls. They are hand in hand feeling the sweetness of the newly found love. This is a unique instrument of Hmong, only a leaf and insert into their mouth to get folk songs of Hmong people to confess to his partner in next far hill.
If the boy used Khen dancing to attract the girls, then singing songs is the way the girl used to get attention from the boy. Girls sang the songs hidden in the dark when a boy found them, and if they matched together, they disappeared into the forest for three days. Some of them got married after that. Most of the songs are about love, and some are about drinking, smoking opium, sleeping, or slapping rumps. Now, you can see young locals singing in the dark, but they are not looking for a partner, they are looking for you to ask for a tip afterward.
Coming to Sapa, you will be attracted by the brocade items made by the ingenuity of the indigenous people. These items such as bracelets, embroidered bags, towels, clothes are really very delicate, and eye-catching, and various in colors, patterns... they look simple, rustic, not only for making ornaments but also for important events such as the wedding.
Sapa love market is the ideal place for tourists to take photos with local people, as there are a lot of activities which Sapa people involved in. You can easily find local people, mothers carrying the babies, trying to sell items. Tourists can take pictures with them by buying their products. The photos help you never forget this beautiful land and wonderful people.
Sapa Love market sells food and drinks on the spots. When at the market, tourists have the chance to try delicious and unique dishes such as Sapa Salmon Hotpot, Barbecue In Sapa, Dishes From Pork, Thang Co, Canned Sauteed Smoked Meat Cats... Besides, the chestnuts and fruits (peaches, plums) here are really delicious. You can eat or buy them to bring home for your beloved.
Hmong men playing traditional flute
Whilst no longer having an intimate atmosphere, the Love Market provides an opportunity to learn more about Sapa culture, enjoy the cold of highlands, waiting for hot grilled potatoes, corns, grilled chicken eggs, and sipping local wine beside the burning heat of charcoal stoves.