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English Translation: Vincent Lê Hoàng Long

Finding a soul mate in the modern world is already not an easy task.   Living in the high mountains, completely isolated from the outside world, how can we find our other half?    “Love market” is the answer.

There are three such Love Markets in Northern Vietnam:

Sapa Love Market in Lao Cai, Khau Vai Love Market in Ha Giang and  Moc Chau Love Market in Son La. This article is devoted to the Moc Chau Love Market where the authentic and genuine cultures of the people in the highlands are still preserved.

In case you’re wondering about the meaning of this “love market,” let’s be clear that it’s not a place to buy or sell love, but rather it is a distinct courtship tradition of the ethnic H’Mong to find their life partner.

If you appreciate culture, people, nature and photography, you should definitely come to this corner of the world to experience things that you will unlikely to find in Western culture.   Moc Chau’s vast plateau and mystical landscape define its picturesque scenery, even more poetic with blossoms in the Spring and late Autumn.

Attending Moc Chau’s Love Market is a wonderful opportunity to observe how the ethnic minorities celebrate their traditional festival in colorful costumes.   All visitors are welcome to participate in the festivities that include food, drinks, dance, and joyful musical spectacles.   For those seeking a unique cultural experience involving nature and local customs, this will be an unforgettable experience.

About 200 km from Hanoi, Moc Chau Plateau lies to the north of Son La province, the region is famous for its tea production and also supplies dairy products to many other parts of the country.  However, its Love Market is the real attraction that draws pilgrims and visitors to this remote place on an annual basis.

This event takes place on September 1.  It is the only time of the year when the Love Market is officially open in Moc Chau.   This date also coincides with the New Year Day for the H’Mong people.    Many months leading to this event, boys and girls from remote villages with age ranging from 15 to 17 prepare their best-looking attire, and practice their dance moves hoping to impress their potential match.

The boys practice playing the “Khen” (trumpets made of 7 or 8 long bamboo tubes forming a music box), or find another way to showcase their talents to attract a suitable partner.

Even though it is called a market, there is absolutely no buying or selling of anything among the participants.  The market simply facilitates a way for the Highland people to meet and express their interest to the one that they may want to spend the rest of their life with by exchanging looks, gazing into each other eyes, displaying gestures of affection according to customary courting traditions.

At the Moc Chau Love Market, we get to witness dance rituals, listen to the serenading sounds of Khen, and see many couples flirting with each other in a sincere, down to earth and unique manner.  If a boy takes a liking to a girl, he will approach her and display flirtatious teasing while following her around the market.  Some will show their talent by playing the Khen in their individual styles.   If the girl fancies the suitor, she will bashfully dance to the sound of his Khen, responding to his seduction in her own charming way.   Once the interest is established, a canyon or a waterfall would serve as a quiet place for the couple to talk and get to know each other.   Couples have been known to demonstrate their fondness for each other by holding hands, exchanging mementos, and promising to meet again next year before returning home to their respective families.

Many people dress up in traditional H’Mong attire to attend the festival even though they are not of the H’Mong ethnicity.  They eagerly anticipate this special day because of its unique original custom where the power of love and its pure intentions, completely untainted by the materials of the modern world, can be found.

The most anticipated nights are on August 31 and September 1.   On these two nights, musical cabarets and laughter blending with the sounds of waterfalls can be heard echoing through the mountainous countryside.   Although people will often arrive much earlier to experience the thrills of waiting for this cultural spectacle, willing to sleep anywhere: under a tree, on the steps, on large boulders, etc.

Many loving relationships that started at Moc Chau’s Love Market have lasted a lifetime.   Potential soul mates would exchange gifts in the first meeting and promise to meet each other again the next year.  The 12 months apart serves as a test to the strength of their commitment.   If the interest remains, they would return to the Love Market with the same gifts in the following year to solidify their love for each other.

Many people in today’s modern world would probably say:

“Why complicate matters and make both parties suffer by making them wait a full year without contact by tradition.  Why couldn’t they just ask for each other’s address or simply follow the other person home to find out where the other person lives.  This way, it would help them to stay in touch from time to time.   In this day and age even just a phone call would suffice.  Why suffer the agony of being apart for the whole year, with the risk of losing your love interest for eternity?    This is precisely the reason the Moc Chau Love Market has become a fascinating and mesmerizing custom for visitors and everyone who appreciate love in such unique and earthy form.

Not everyone who met at the love market became husband and wife.   However, many have remained friends and continue to meet during the festival, providing support and comfort for each other throughout their lives.

Of course, there have been cases where those who fell in love at first sight, but cannot find their love interest upon returning to the love market the following year.  There are also some who are already happily married with families, continue to return every year in the hopes of meeting their first love to revisit old memory lanes, and simply to find out if the other person is as blessed and happy as they are.

It’s quite remarkable that while the festival is extremely crowded, there are no disputes and bickering between the participants.   When night falls, each go their own separate ways, then meet up with their family in the morning to return to their village together.    Never questioning each other about what they did last night, or who they met and where.

For those husbands and wives who met each other at the love market, they return together each year to reminisce and enjoy the festive atmosphere.  During the two key nights of the festival, it is customary for the husbands to get completely drunk (not doing so would be viewed as not being sincere), and then the wives would put the husbands on horses and take them home.

The Moc Chau Love Market is the beginning of the pursuit of love, pure and innocent.    A meeting place to exchange affections, and make a solemn promise for a life together by the next courtship season.