It’s called a market, but amusingly, Khau Vai Love Market has no buyers or sellers. Yet, this market event persists, coexisting with the people of Meo Vac town in the highlands of Ha Giang. Among the distinctive markets in the rugged Northeast, Khau Vai Love Market has consistently drawn the attention of all who venture here. So, what makes this market unique? Let’s explore it together.
Situated on a hill in the Khau Vai commune, Meo Vac town, Ha Giang, Khau Vai Love Market is one of the oldest markets in the region, with over 100 years of history. Unlike the weekly Meo Vac Market held every Sunday, the Khau Vai Love Market gathers for only one day each year.
Adding to its honor, Khau Vai Love Market is recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage, serving as a magnetic point of attraction for those visiting the country’s northernmost region. Furthermore, the existence of this unique market contributes to the vibrancy, liveliness, and preservation of the distinctive cultural traits of the residents.
To reach Khau Vai Love Market, you can use various modes of transportation. The market is located in Khau Vai commune, about 200km from the central city of Ha Giang. Therefore, you should allocate considerable time for your journey to participate in this unique market event. The most common means of transportation are motorcycles and cars. You can follow the route: Ha Giang City – Tam Son – Yen Minh – Sung La Crossroad, Pho Bang – Sa Phin Crossroad – Lung Cu – Lung Cu Flagpole – Dong Van Ancient Town – Ma Pi Leng Pass – Meo Vac.
Typically, festivals in the mountainous Northeast region are organized in spring. This is when one agricultural season concludes, and people become more leisurely. Therefore, they often contain festivals, mainly to pray for good fortune, favorable weather, and prosperity for the upcoming year. Khau Vai Love Market follows the same pattern. Hence, the ethnic communities around the Meo Vac district and the Dong Van Karst plateau usually express their sentiments through poetic lines:
“Waiting for you after the cold season
Waiting for you beyond the peach blossom season
Crossing Ma Pi Leng Peak
I seek the path to Khau Vai Love Market.”
According to tradition, on the 27th day of the lunar month, people gather for Khau Vai Love Market. This tradition has persisted for over 100 years since its inception in 1919. Initially, Khau Vai Love Market only convened on a single day, the 27th day of the lunar month. However, in recent times, with a focus on promoting local culture, Khau Vai Love Market has been extended to three days, allowing visitors to explore and experience the unique charm of Ha Giang.
In the highland regions, there are many mythical tales to be discovered. The Khau Vai Love Market’s legend tells the story of Ba, a young Nung man, and Ut, a Giay girl. Their love story is filled with hardships and challenges, as they can only meet in the rocky terrain and earthen embankments of Khau Vai commune. Their love was forbidden due to strict traditional beliefs within their respective lineages. When their love affair was discovered, they faced fierce opposition.
With no other option, Ba took Ut up the slopes of Khau Vai mountain to protect their love. This act inadvertently intensified the deep-seated conflict between their two families. Unable to bear witnessing the tragedy that was befalling them, the young couple tearfully parted ways. Since then, they made a pact to meet each other every year on the day they said goodbye, which falls on the 27th day of the lunar month. This day, marking the 27th day of the lunar month when the young couple separated, became an annual rendezvous. After the passing of both lovers, the local community collectively established shrines for Ba and Ut. Since 1919, they have organized this unique love market on the 27th day of the lunar month, as if to continue the unfinished love story from years past.
According to tradition, Khau Vai Love Market has become a place where people seek each other after a year or several years of separation. Before 1991, those who attended the market were mainly individuals facing obstacles in their love lives, unable to be together due to religious constraints, and more. Now, as each person has their destiny, on this day, they come here to share their feelings and narrate stories of their individual lives. It’s an opportunity for them to reminisce about past emotions and the longing caused by distance. Here, they sit down and share countless stories of joy and sorrow in life, whispering to each other under the gaze of the mountain rocks.
A distinctive feature of Khau Vai Love Market is that many couples come together, but both partners go their separate ways upon arrival. The wife meets her past love, while the husband encounters an old flame. Surprisingly, there is no jealousy or blame. Both show respect for each other and their past loves. For them, it’s a sacred act, a duty, and a responsibility to their partner’s spiritual life. However, everything unfolds within the confines of the market day; after that day, the “door of the heart” must close, and there is no right to reminisce or regret.
If, in the past, those who came to the market were mainly ethnic people living around the Meo Vac district, from 1992 onwards, people from surrounding areas began to visit Khau Vai more frequently, including residents from Cao Bang, Bac Kan, and Tuyen Quang. Visitors are predominantly couples from Tay, Nung, and Giay ethnic groups from various communes such as Nam Ban, Tat Nga, Niem Son, Lung Pu, Son Vi, Thuong Phung, or other districts such as Bao Lac, and Cao Bang.
Khau Vai Love Market is divided into the Rituals (Le) and the Festival (Hoi). During the Rituals, people collectively offer tributes to the shrines of Mr. and Mrs., recalling their roots and the pioneers who cultivated and built the Khau Vai village. During the ceremony, the village elders take on the role of ritual leaders, offering incense to seek permission for the festival.
People participate in unique activities in the Festival section, such as bird singing contests, cultural exchanges, artistic performances, and various exciting folk games. In this part, groups of five to seven young men and women gather to sing passionately and enchantingly. The Giay and Nung ethnic groups sing Coi, while the Tay people sing Sli, weaving a charming atmosphere with songs revolving around themes of nostalgia and love.
Khau Vai Love Market is a unique event where buying and selling seem insignificant. Here, they exchange emotions, convey sincere blessings to each other, and allow young men and women to meet and get acquainted. In this journey, when going alone, one might return with a companion. If you have the chance to explore Ha Giang, be sure to visit this extraordinary market.