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You are here:      Home News The backbone of a community
The backbone of a community

Cho phien vung caoA cultural activity deeply rooted in tradition connecting the physical and spiritual heart of a nation.

The phrase “Pho thi” – (street market) is an essential part and cornerstone of Vietnamese life. Traditionally the market would appear first, and then street would grow grow up around the market place. However, looking back a thousand years ago one would see markets not in buildings but rather they would be situated next to a rice field, near the beach or in the forest. People loved to gather together with own kind and form their own community. Maybe its because of the traditional fear of the sea that there was no record in history about the adventures to discover strange new lands, but the there are many writings about wars to protest the country. In spite of the slow and often painfully long progress Vietnamese people overcame and conquered the land and sea, establishing their homeland and built communities and market places. Since the Le Nguyen period until now, the roads were narrow, and there often went on foot and by waterway. That was the reason why there were only a few big commercial centers like Hoi An and Cua Dai or Van Don Business port, which first appeared during the Tran dynasty. In life, markets come and go depending on the demand of the people, and the market would always resemble something of the local identity and custom. The picture one gets of a Vietnamese market has always been a multi- colored picture, contributing to a distinct identity of a rice cultivating civilization.


From the very first establishment of a market place until now it has always seemed a strange concept. It is the place for meeting, chatting, and even arguing, fighting, teasing as well as flirting with each other.

In life today, modern trade centers, shopping centers, malls, and super markets are brightly lit with all the mod-cons of today. It’s a very different from the markets in the rural market, people come to buy things, chat and listen to the latest gossip as well as study about folk tales and legends. Not many people remember, “Hat xam” (one kind of sad song, sung by strolling blind musician) of the Northern area of Vietnam. However, ten years ago, “Hat xam” was very popular and was landed down from mouth-to-mouth by an unfortunate man or women in the market place. People from everywhere go to market to sell rice, vegetables, cattle and flows, farming tools, house hold stuff, and of course, visit the local food chop. The old people have a saying: “Smart men find future wives in the crowded market, and smart girls find future husbands in the military”.

However, it is also the place to deal with the material and spiritual aspects of life. Markets in urban areas frightened people because of the sometimes fierce haggling and sometimes dishonest seller’s. Most people like to go to the seller whom they have a good relationship with and trust. Visiting the rural market, a stranger might be surprised by the “Hat xam”, or the ways of flirting as well as the profound joking. There the also many kinds of snacks you can try as you shop in market. Women in the past enjoyed the crab vermicelli soup and the men enjoyed boiled pig’s trotters, pig’s head and local wine.

In the lowland area it’s women who usually go to the market, while in the highlands, the market is a place for every one of all ages. They often come in search of beautiful cloth to make their traditional clothes. On a dyke in the North, or in a rove paddy field in the Central or the South, we can see the common images of women wearing short jackets, “ao ba ba” –a loose-fitting blouse. In the highlands, each market-day is a colorful mosaic, you can find the Lo Lo people (ethnic people) dressed in the bright colored skirts, tied together with a floral-embroiled belt. For people in the highlands, going to the market it not only to buy things but also to show off the nice skirts, to have a drink with friends, to flirt secretly and share a love song. Even though modern life in the urban area to disappear like “Buoi” market, “Mo” market in Thang Long area. People in the East, North and West still try to keep the local markets going, like in Bao Lac, Dong Van, Pho Cao, Y Ty, Can Cau. There are also numerous markets in the highlands, some very difficult to find, nestled deep in the immense forests. Some markets have special days set aside each year to open the market. Khau Vai market has an opening ceremony twice a year. Nam Dinh province is famous for the Vieng market that has an opening celebration at New Year, where they specialize in selling plants. The Vo Cuong yin-yang market in Bac Ninh province celebrates their opening day at night on the 4th, and early evening of the 5th of January, according to the market to buy are paper votive objects, incense, betel and area, candle, and of course black chicken, which is indispensable as an offering to the gods. For a country that has experience many difficulties it has still successfully kept the 56 ethnic people living together in relative peace and harmony and created many interesting ways for them to buy sell and exchange.

Markets in the lowland are usually set up at the entrance of the village, on the dyke or some other convenient site for shoppers to come. Markets in mountainous area are held in the valley, near river areas are near the river the river bank or on a floating market. It is an unforgettable experience when you visit Cai Rang, Phong Dien market in the South West. The water ways form like a spider’s web, with thousands of different sized boats working their trade up and down the canals. All boats follow the high tide to buy and exchange things then deliver stuff to people in other places. Sometimes, you can find everything in the one market and only thing in some certain markets, for example, the U Minh forest market, which no longer exists, but the used to sell only honey. Other markets have spring up that are famous for selling specific things like market at the foot of That Son mountain in An Giang province, or the floral market in Luc Yen, Yen Bai. Going to the romantic, fantasy like city of Dalat and seeing the flower night market is a must come to Hanoi, it’s an amazing experience to go early in the morning to Nghi Tam flower market. It will take your breath away when; you see the endless array of flowers for sale.

Everyone should experience the Vietnamese local market, to get even a small insight into the life of the rich and diverse culture. Watch the interaction between buyer and seller, explore the amazing variety and enjoy the beautiful Vietnamese people going about their daily business.

Cho Dong bang Cho Noi Cho phien vung cao

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