The Hmong Pa Co market in Mai Chau
- on Feb 18, 2020       By: BN
If dirt roads that sometimes wet do not discourage you, go to Pa Co on Sunday to discover the cultural and social life and meeting of the Hmong in Mai Chau.
The largest in the mountainous region of Mai Chau, the Pa Co market is where the inhabitants of Hang Kia, Pa Co and Long Luong communes trade. Held on Sunday, this weekly market brings together ethnic merchants, mainly Hmong and Thai, who still practice ancestral trading customs. Nobody knows exactly the history of the Pa Co market, but it still attracts visitors by providing them with an introduction to the daily life of ethnic populations.
We used to go to the market only on foot or on horseback. Now, we also see motorcycles with two or three family members who walk the dirt roads to arrive at the meeting early in the morning. Like any other mountainous market in the North, you go there not only to shop but also to make friends. You can see the young women who find themselves with the latest skirt of their little treasure of brocades. The White, Stripped and Black Hmong are recognizable by their unique clothing custom.
No negotiation, everything is simple here. Do not hesitate to ask your question or simply observe to learn a little bit about customs that are quite different than at home. Everything goes on sale, agricultural products, pork, poultry, fabric, brocade, small agricultural equipment such as hoe, shovel... that we unpack in small markets, whether on a wooden table with a few ropes or on a simple plastic cover. One of the must-sees at Pa Co market is vole, one of the popular dishes of the region.
You can stroll in the middle of the summary stands or rows in the open air to discover local products and do not hesitate to ask questions or simply observe the chatter between old peasants.
Pa Co's market approaching Tet
At a time when the corn is well dried above the hearth, a well growing season ends, the Hmong prepare their traditional Tet. Fairly close to New Years, the biggest Hmong festival arrives towards the end of the 11th lunar month, generally one month earlier than the Lunar New Year celebrated in cities. If your visit to Mai Chau falls on December days, you will have the chance to observe the preparation of the Hmong’s Tet which has enough to brighten up the Pa Co market.
As the custom obliges, it is the occasion to make purchases for all the family, especially new clothes for the children. The fabric and clothing stalls occupy a better place of the fair during these days. Women and girls are on the lookout for displays full of shirts and dresses that are furnished in different colours, red, yellow, green, black… They come here to look for meticulously decorated brocades or multi-coloured accessories to make their own new skirt for the Tet.
It is while strolling at the Pa Co market that one discovers the traditional trades that persist in Mai Chau, namely weaving of linen, dyeing with beeswax, carpentry, forge... Let us highlight in particular an article of craft stationery which is essential for the spiritual life of ethnic populations. Made from paper mulberry, wood or thatch, this paper is glued to the working tools during the Tet festival to express the wish for good things for the new year.
Simple and quick, purchases are made.
In culinary stoppers, we do not find "thang co", a popular soup in the mountains like at Ha Giang or Lao Cai, but "banh cuon" or Vietnamese ravioli, "banh day" or traditional sticky rice cake and "com lam" or sticky rice cooked in bamboo stalks, a Mai Chau speciality.
Apart from daily food, vegetables, fruits, groceries, young bamboo, tubers, ginger, mushrooms... a product that particularly interests residents near the Tet is the rooster. Each family have to prepare pork and a rooster as it is necessary for the worship of New year Eve. The Hmong believe that the rooster crowing is the sign for the first day of a lucky new year. Everyone pays great attention to acquire a better one.
How to go to Pa Co market?
It is located in the eponymous commune, nearly 40 kilometres from Mai Chau town in the north. You can get there easily by car or motorbike by taking the national road 6.