Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shopping for love in Vietnam's mountains

Once a year, with his wife's blessing, Lau Minh Pao gets to have a guilt-free tryst with his ex.

Their rendezvous' have played out more like strolls down memory lane than salacious flings, but they are part of a treasured tradition in this mountainous corner of northern Vietnam that may challenge some more linear concepts of love.

"In the past, we were lovers, but we couldn't get married because we were far apart," Pao simply as he waited for his date on a dark night in the village of Khau Vai in Ha Giang province.

Ethnic Hmong wait for their lovers

Now when they meet, he said, "we pour our hearts out about the time when we were in love." They are not alone.

For two days each year, on the 26th and 27th of the third month of the lunar calendar, the tiny village of Khau Vai, strung along a saddle in the lush hills near China, is transformed into a "love market."

For nearly a hundred years, the Khau Vai love market (Ha Giang province) as been known as a lovers' rendezvous. This is no ordinary farmer's market. Flirting, courting and, hopefully, canoodling are the order of the day. Hundreds of members of Giay, Nung, Tay, Dzao, San Chi, Lo Lo and Hmong hill tribes trek in from across the mountainous districts of the Dong Van Plateau and as far away as nearby Cao Bang province, some travel days to attend 

Ethnic San Chi girls giggle while attending the "love market" in Khau Vai village, Ha Giang province, Vietnam

Legend has it the market dates back to 1919. Legend has it an ethnic Giay girl from Ha Giang province fell in love with an ethnic Nung boy from the neighboring province of Cao Bang.The girl was so beautiful that her tribe did not want to let her marry a man from another tribe and a bloody conflict ensued between the two tribes. Watching tragedy unfold before them, the two lovers sorrowfully decided to part ways to avoid further bloodshed and to restore peace.

But to keep their love alive they made a secret pact to meet once a year on the 27th day of the third lunar month in Khau Vai. Thereafter, the hill village became known as a meeting place for all of those in love. 

Young, dreamy singles trek to Khau Vai in hopes of finding a first love. Wayward lovers come to escape their families. Older generations might hope to bump into an old flame. Married men and women often return to the love market to rendezvous with former lovers, and they are allowed to meet again without jealousy from their spouses during this one event of the year. 


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