We woke up early on Sunday morning, but probably later than every other person within a fifty-mile radius of Tam Sơn. Today, you see, was market day. And groups from all around Ha Giang would be pouring into town to sell, buy, eat, and socialize.
Our day started with delicious crepes for breakfast at the Quản Bạ homestay. In the short time we’d spent with them, we felt already like we were part of the family, and saying goodbye was honestly sad. We took some pictures, and then were on our way to Tam Sơn, just a couple kilometers down the road.
We found the market in a state of exuberant chaos. The first thing that caught our eye was the colorful attire of the people, in particular the ladies. The dusty market street might as well have been a catwalk. I wouldn’t have been shocked to see fashion designers sitting along the sidewalk, taking notes. And this would have been the only fashion show in the world where the models step off the catwalk, and lop the head off a chicken.
Don’t quote us on this, but we figured there must have been well over a dozen ethnic minorities represented at the market, just based on the different outfits we saw. Members of a particular group seemed to stick together, whether sitting down for lunch or joining forces for haggling. Our guide, Chu Chu, pointed out the guys asking for rice wine samples. We saw them go from stand to stand, asking for a taste at each. Later in the day, we saw these same guys stumbling around, blissfully drunk.
Jürgen and I were, of course, an attraction as well. While some foreigners do find their way here, it’s rare enough to be startling. For those who had arrived from the more far-flung regions of Ha Giang, ours might very well have been the first Caucasian faces they’d ever seen. We were subject to many greetings, much staring, and more than a few incognito smart phone pictures.
Ah yes, smart phones. It doesn’t matter how remote the place, everyone in the world has a smart phone, even the rural people of Northwestern Vietnam, who likely spend their days tending buffaloes and harvesting rice. One of the biggest activities at this market was selling SIM cards and phone repair. We saw younger people patiently explaining to the elderly how their new phones work, and everyone was taking pictures and probably posting them on Facebook.
But apart from the intrusion of modern technology, this market was about as traditional as it gets. Makeshift stands were set up around a more traditional market hall, and people were selling everything under the sun, from clothes and hats, to live puppies and piglets. Groups were gathered around steaming pots of pho, and everyone seemed to be having fun. There was definitely a festival atmosphere to the proceedings.
Things started to calm down around 10am, which almost came as a relief to us. We took pictures at a more relaxed pace, and then rejoined Chu Chu at the motorbikes. This Sunday had just begun, and already we were exhausted. A lot remained to be seen, though… and we motored off to the north.
Location of Chợ Tam Sơn