There is a market in the Ha Giang Karst Plateau which is not a trading place but instead a meeting venue of couples who were in love but broke up in the end. It is Khau Vai market, also known as Phong Luu market, and is held on the 27th day of the third lunar month.
According to local folklore, Ba, a Nung ethnic young man and Ut, a Giay ethnic young woman, who lived in Khau Vau commune, Meo Vac district, Ha Giang province, were deeply in love but were forbidden to be together as they were from different ethnic groups.
When their families found out about the young couple's love, a violent conflict took place between the two tribes, resulting in bloodshed. To stop the fierce fight, the couple decided to part ways with tears and broken hearts. They, however, promised to meet once every year in Khau Vai mountain. When Ba and Ut passed away, locals built two temples to commemorate them. The Khau Vai market was first held in 1919 to commemorate their broken romance.
Before 1991, most of the market-goers were locals, who arrived at the market together to look for their past partners among the crowd to recall their past relationships, talk about their current life, and sing to each other.
The market has since then attracted more people from neighbouring areas, including those from Cao Bang, Bac Kan, and Tuyen Quang provinces. Since Ha Giang has grown into an attractive destination on the tourist map and the local transport system has been significantly improved, the market has become a popular attraction for visitors.
Khau Vai market in Ha Giang: A venue of broken romance (Photo: M Ly)
Taking place only once a year, the Khau Vai market is a festive day for participants who are free to meet their exes in public, taste indigenous dishes, play folk games, and enjoy folklore art performances, including the ‘coi’ melodies of the Giay and Nung ethnic peoples, and the ‘sli’ and ‘luon’ singing of Tay ethnic group.
Many couples go to the market together and then separate to find their own exes without fear of their husbands and wives getting angry or jealous as the meeting at the market is supposed to be a temporary moment and will not affect their daily lives or relationship. Returning home from the market, they fulfill their roles in the family as husbands, wives and parents.
The market is now organised within of the framework of the annual Khau Vai Culture and Tourism Week, which often lasts for three days with assorted cultural activities, in order to attract more visitors to Ha Giang province.
The social customs and beliefs of the Phong Luu - Khau Vai Market were recently recognised as a national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.