Whenever a foreigner visitor is introduced about “Cho Tinh” or “Love Market” as it literally translated, he/she is often struck with a lot of questions: “What exactly is sold in this market?” “Do they sell LOVE?” “How can LOVE be traded in a market?”

Actually, why it is called “Love market” is that besides the purchase and sale of provisions, livestock, and other necessary commodities, LOVE MARKET is the ideal dating place of many ethnic girls and boys, the place where emotions and love can be shared between the beloved ones. For its popularity, LOVE MARKET is recognized as an important cultural feature of the highlanders.

Those who really want to enjoy LOVE MARKET are recommended to go to the highlands of Lao Cai, Khau Vai and Sapa to be exact, where the market has always been a custom since the ancient time. Participating in the activity are different ethnic groups including Mong, Dao, Tay, Giay, etc., who have to walk about 12 hours from their villages in Muong Hoa Valley downtown to be part of the biggest trade fair, and also to find their soul-mates. Because of the long, and quite tiring journey, these ethnic people often travel from the previous day – Saturday, and spend the night in the town to wait for the busy Sunday.

Even though all the actual selling and purchasing activities only take place on Sunday, Saturday night is the most animating. The old enjoy happy moments with their friends, whereas the young take the chance to get acquainted with the opposite sex. They, male and female, are eager to participate in a number of traditional activities, i.e. singing, dancing, playing tug, pan-pipes, etc. After the night, many couples become closer, and both look forward to the next fair to meet each other again. Many of the couples can end up in happy weddings in the spring that comes next.

Then it is the actual market on Sunday.

There are two famous LOVE MARKETs, namely Sapa and Khau Vai love market.

Sapa Love Market

Sapa is a well-known tourist attraction for not only Vietnamese but also people from all over the world. This small town lies in a valley where it is cool all year round. Sapa is especially romantic and attractive in winter with the occasional beautiful snowflakes on its flower fields.

Sapa LOVE MARKET of the H’Mong and Red Dao minority people takes place every Saturday night. When the sun goes down, the streets of Sapa are colored with the red bandanas, the colorful embroidered patterns on the women’s clothes together with all the silver rings, buttons and coins they wear on every part of their bodies. Having their most beautiful dress on, these girls are trying to look for their Mr. Right.

On their way, whenever seeing a stranger, they cover their faces gently, but continue softly singing a romantic song in their ethnic languages. Boys and girls cluster together in groups of five to ten. Looking and smiling at each other, they sit side by side in the dim yellow light and sing and talk through the night. When they have met their soul mate, they exchange gifts and make plans to see each other again the following week.

Khau Vai love market

Khau Vai commune, the northernmost province of Ha Giang located in Meo Vac district, is home to ethnic minority groups of Giay, Nung and Muong. Each year, there is a market session on lunar March 26th, but it is not a farming produce trading market but a Love Market. The activities in Khau Vai Love Market has a lot in common with the one in Sapa.

The different is that Khau Vai Love Market is for various ethnic minority groups from four mountainous districts in Dong Van Plateau and ethnic minority groups in communes adjacent to Bao Lam and Bao Loc districts of Cao Bang province.

In the market area, there are two temples called Ong and Ba (God. and Goddess.). A story tells that, once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl born in two different places of the Dong Van Plateau. The boy's surname was Linh and the girl's surname was Loc. They loved each other very much despite the obstacle from the deep streams and high rocky mountains. Because their families objected to their marriage, they together came to Khau Vai, a prosperous land with rich plants which they could live on. Although they did not have a child but they lived happily until they died. In honor of their merits in cultivating the wild land into a rich land, the local people built the two temples to worship them.

Therefore, on every lunar March 26th and 27th, Khau Vai attracts couples of different ages, including those who seek their partners for the first time. However, most of them are those who love each other very much but cannot wed together because of many different reasons.

There is another local myth about a young couple from different tribes who fell in love with each other. The girls belonged to the Giay group and the boy belonged to the Nung group. The girl was so beautiful that her tribe did not want to let her get married with a man from another tribe. Consequently, violent conflict arose between the two tribes. One day, the boy witnessed an aggressive fight between the tribes as a result of their love. To stop the bloodshed, the lovers sorrowfully decided to say goodbye. However, they made plans to meet once a year on that day, lunar March 26th.The place where they used to meet is Khau Vai, which thereafter became a meeting place for all of those in love.

It can be said that the beauty of love is a basic factor to keep the existence of Khau Vai Love Market for such a long time.With the assistance of Ha Giang Culture and Information Department, Meo Vac district and Khau Vai commune authorities hold the traditional Love Market of Khau Vai in order to promote cultural identity of ethnic minority groups in the locality.

The Love Market festival is held on lunar March 26th and 27th with the participation of a large number of locals. The festival features food and drink culture, song performances and folk games. Ethnic costumes, jewelry, ethnic musical instruments and culture and art publications are on display at the market, reflecting activities of the local people.

“Love Market” is a cultural activity which has a long history and is still significant in the modern life of the minority people. The Love Market is an attractive place for visitors who are keen on exploring traditional cultures. Although there has been many changes to today Love Market in comparison with the original one, Love Market still remains one typical custom of the ethnic minority peoples that is really worth preserving.