Panorama of Daily life in Lai Chau through Dao San market

Nga Do
Dao San, a market located in the northern mountains at an elevation of 1,500m, is not only a rendezvous for local  people to meet each other, trade agricultural products and make friends, but also an exciting destination for visitors to the province of Lai Chau.

Located around 50 kilometres from the centre of Lai Chau Province, the market gathers many people from the ethnic minority groups of Mong, Ha Nhi, Dao and Thai who come from the province’s Phong Tho District.

The two-hour drive from Lai Chau City to Dao San Market allows visitors to contemplate the stunning peaceful scenes of the province. They may pass by spectacular terraced fields, romantic bridges suspended over Nam Cung Stream that lead to pretty villages or evergreen gardens of bananas and corns.

They may also pass by the local people wearing traditional colourful costumes and calling to each other to be quick to arrive in the market on time. It seems that Dao San Market is much anticipated by the locals; they have all been anxious to prepare for their journey to the market, readying outfits and the home-made agricultural products that they will put up for sale.

If one has ever visited Sa Pa in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai, they might notice similarities in the weather condition of this area. It is a bit chilly but pleasant, even in the middle of summer. The area surrounding Dao San Market is surrounded with clouds almost all year round.

According to Vang A Lau, a commissar of Dao San border post, even the most elderly in the area do not remember when the market originated.

“It’s only known that the market used to open on the day of horned animals according to the lunar calendar. To local people, horned animals such as buffalos and goats symbolise prosperity. In recent years, it has opened every Sunday,” he said adding that the total area of the market is over 1,337 sq.m, including the area for parking and keeping the pack-horses of the local traders.

With the vivid traditional costumes of both traders and visitors, Dao San Market is a lively multi-colour picture of the area and attracts locals from all walks of life. Some young couples even bring their babies to the place to enjoy the exciting atmosphere.

Giang Thi May, a Mong woman living in Nam Loong Commune, located 50 kilometres away, said her family has always arranged time to attend every Dao San Market, no matter how busy they are.

“I don’t sell anything at the market, and many times I only buy several items like baskets or fruits that are sold abundantly in the city’s market, but I still look forward to this market because I can meet a lot of my friends there,” she said.

Plenty of local agricultural products and specialties are up for sale there, from bamboo shoots, ripe peaches, colourful aromatic cooked sticky rice, fragrant honey and temptingly crunchy fried cake to traditional products made from rattan and bamboo.

Some sellers just need a tiny space to offer their little products, like several cucumbers, a few chilies or mắc khén, an indispensable ingredient in the mountainous cuisines.

All the products for sale not only carry the mountainous taste but are also very cheap. Sellers and buyers do not have to bargain. While asking about the price, they also take the chance to ask each other about their business and family issues.

In recent years, besides the traditional products, more modern commodities have also appeared in Dao San Market as an inevitable trend of development, like washing machines, hotplates and TVs.

“As long as there are demands, there will be supplies. Many locals come here to sell their home-made products and purchase modern facilities to equip their houses,” Lau said.

To some, a visit to the market also provides them chance to enjoy a bowl of thang co (a dish made from horse meat and its organs), a typical Mong dish, and drink a cup of corn wine with their friends. The old people meet their friends and recall old memories. Young men and women gather to the melody of pan-pines and call and response songs.

The market closes when the sun sets, but no one wants to leave. Some people buy farm tools. Others buy food. Some buy nothing, but are nevertheless satisfied with the trip to Dao San Market. 

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