by Trung Hieu
|The real thing: Westerners meet Mong and Dao people who are proud of their own national costumes and languages. Everything from brocade to farm tools are sold at the market. — Photos baolaocai.vn
The Can Cau market is not as spacious as the markets found in Sa Pa Town or Bac Ha District, but it attracts people from all over due to the cultural diversity of the ethnic groups residing in the border region of Si Ma Cai District.
The Can Cau market in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai is located some 80 kilometres from Lao Cai City, and is only a small bazaar, with the tents erected only on market day, which falls on every Saturday.
It has captivated numerous tourists because of the existing folklore in the area and the uniqueness of the local residents.
The market day starts from early morning, so when we arrived at 7am, it was already very crowded.
We could even see some beautiful scenery of green fields wet with early dew and a few rooftops hidden under the far away forest cover.
The market is divided into different sections that can be easily recognised. The nightingale market is located separately. This area is dedicated to bird enthusiasts, and although it is perched on a faraway hill, it is quite busy, with many buyers and sellers.
During the fair, hundreds of young men from the villages around the region carry their nightingale cages to the market for sale.
In the early morning mist of this borderland region, the bird market stands out on the hill next to the buffalo market.
|Nightingales for sale: A Mong man displays his birds to potential buyers.
The bird cages are covered with a colourful cloth hung on tree branches around the hill. Young men from different ethnic groups, including the Mong, Dao and Giay, as well as the Kinh majority from the low lands care passionately for their robins, talking about the experience of taking care of and training birds.
Giang Seo Van, who lives in Si Ma Cai District, had already bought a nightingale. He said he usually attended all market days.
"Even if I do not buy or sell birds, I come here to meet people who have the same hobby, go sightseeing, and hear the nightingales singing," he said.
He also revealed that the price of a nightingale depended on its singing voice and ranged from VND100,000 to more than VND1 million (US$40).
"While visiting Can Cau, travellers should not forget to visit the bird market," he said with a broad smile.
Many different birds are sold at the market, including nightingales and robins.
Each species has its own beauty; some are beloved because they have a nice appearance, such as a canary or a jenny wren. Others have been selected because of their good singing voice, such as odors and robins.
|Centre of attraction: The Can Cau market draws ethnic minority vendors from all over the northern mountain region. The event is held every Saturday.
The market sells different items, from vegetables, herbs, and spices, to household appliances, but another interesting section is the nook where cattle, mainly buffalo, are sold. This is a bustling spot as the buffalos are brought by people from all over to be sold to numerous traders from other provinces. The local residents often use cattle for farming, so the animals for sale must be the strongest ones.
After trading, both the seller and the buyer invite each other to share some food.
Another busy and interesting section of the market, which also attracts many people, is the cuisine area. This is where the people from remote villages meet and enjoy thang co together. This is a special dish cooked by the Mong people from horse meat and the animal's insides.
Many visitors stop by to try a bowl of hot horse meat, fragrant with lemon leaves, and horse bone broth, or sip a cup of maize wine and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the market.
The fair is also used for selling agricultural products, such as cucumbers, peppers and onions, as well as farming tools, such as knives and hoes – products that are simple, but have immense practical use in the local residents' lives.
Tired after exploring the market, my friends and I headed to the dining area to enjoy sour noodle soup and some cups of home-brew wine.
"Given its unique culture, the Can Cau market is not only a major attraction for the locals, but also visitors from other parts of the country, who are lured by the vibrant colours of the traditional costumes of the Mong women, the brocade stalls, and especially the delicious aroma of the local cuisine," said Nguyen Tuyet Nhung, a tourist from Ha Noi. — VNS