Caked in gold, silver and holographic metallic’s, wearing neon pink, canary yellow and lime green, the girls flirt in full flare skirts coordinated with beads, sashes, aprons and head scarfs. It was like watching a group of women going out for a night on the town, only it was 7am…
AT – DONG – VAN – MARKET – IN – THE – MOUNTAINS – OF – VIETNAM.
“Why do the women dress head to toe in sequins, clashing colours and floral fabrics?” I asked, “Easy” Dao laughed. Sometimes the most simple questions result in the most obvious answers. “Too attract the men”.
Dong Van is the second most Northerly town of Vietnam after Lung Cu, located in the outrageously beautiful, rugged and mountainous Province of Ha Giang. The market is renowned for it’s cultural diversity but extremely difficult to access for the regular tourist or backpacker due to its steep, long, time consuming hair pin roads. Those that do take the grueling sick inducing mini buses, private cars or motorbike adventure are rewarded for their efforts, as every Sunday you can witness a spectacular sparkling spectacle of Hmong fashion.
One of the busiest markets I have ever seen (and I have been to a few) from 7am it was near or less manic. The sharp sweet stench of rice wine wafted through the air. Men were sat around catching up, playing cards and getting drunk for breakfast. While Birds, buffalo, cats, pigs, dogs and ducks were being bustled and bagged from one hand to the next.
Don Van market beckons ethnic groups living roughly within a 25km radius of the town. This primarily consists of White Hmong, Black Dao and Tay people living high and secluded up in the mountains. By either walking, biking and busing, Hmong girls and boys, young and old all gather at the market every Sunday for socializing, selling and showing off. Hoards of female friends huddled together patrol the aisles arm in arm decorated like a cross between a christmas tree and Secret Garden Party’s best in show. I was both hugely envious and ecstatically happy to be there.
The White Hmong who popularize this area are not like the handmade maidens of their fellow constituents the Flower Hmong of Bac Ha market, Black Hmong of Sapa or Red Hmong from Pa Co and Dien Bein Phu. No, they are the tribal version of Primarni fast fashion, high impact, quick turn around kinda gals who prefer to spend their spare time sparkling in the sun, not cross stitching and sewing on a Sunday. Life’s too short for some.
The market had a big segment dedicated to supplementing ones sartorial stash. So I did. After scouring the selection and befriending a stall holder (not that hard when your wallet comes out) I subsequently bought the whole sparkly shebang for future reference. This included a white, pink, green and yellow pleated skirt decorated and fringed with beads, 2 front and back green and black panel sequin aprons, decorative White Hmong back panel, multi-colored sequin sash, gold love heart sequin jacket and two head scarfs (much like the outfit seen in the last picture above).
By 9:30 am we jumped back on the bikes and drove the further 20km along the breath taking, jaw dropping Ma Pi Leng Pass from Dong Van market to Meo Vac market with high hopes of more tribal spotting.
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How to get there
I road by motorbike from Quan Ba, but in Ha Giang you can organize a motorbike tour with Jonny Nam Tran from Rocky Plateau. I didn’t ride with him on this occasion but accidently bumped into him in Dong Vang. He was with with some other super fun British gals who had booked with him after reading my previous blog on Ha Giang. Jonny is super experienced with the area, knowledgeable, easy to talk to and speaks fluent English (He grew up in San Francisco) and Vietnamese.
Going by local transport I have no idea because I drove my bike, but I nearly got run down by plently of local looking mini buses along the way. You can probably ask in any local town guest house or hotel by looking at a map from Ha Giang to Dong Van.
Orgnised tours of North Vietnam ethnic and cultural markets, ten a penny from Hanoi, Google it.
Where to Stay
YOU MUST HAVE A PERMIT! You can get this from the local police station in Ha Giang or ask a hotel to do it for you. It costs 230.000vnd and everyone asks for it , along with your passport.
There are plenty of hotels and guest houses on the one main road through Dong Van town, expect to pay 200.000vnd ($10) per night for a double room. No single occupancy EVER seems to apply.
What else is there to do?
- Visit Lung Cu to see the Lo Lo Red and the world biggest flag (apparently).
- YOU MUST Drive the Ma Pi Leng Pass to Meo Vac.
- Take advantage of the Youtube karoke and rice wine in the old market at night.
- There is a night market once a month to co-inside with the Full Moon read more about it here
- SEQUINS, MOUNTAINS AND MOTORBIKES: THE BEST OF HA GIANG IN A WEEKEND http://hauteculturefashion.com/2015/02/07/motorbiking-in-ha-giang/