This blog about the wonderful Sa Phin markets will be short. These vibrant markets are held every six days, falling on the Chinese Lunar calendar day of the Monkey or the tiger so the actual market day changes week by week. Many of the ethnic markets in China follow this same pattern so it can make it hard to plan your travel to coincide with them.
The market aisles were a riot of colour. The women were all wearing their traditional clothes - the H'mong women in their darker colours - but the stars of the market fashions were all the young LoLo girls who were wearing long sleeved blouses made from fabric hung with long loose sequins which sparkled every time they moved. Most of the older men were wearing black linen suits with black French style berets. The younger men were all wearing western clothes, though very few of the girls of a similar age were. The women all had coloured scarves twisted or tied around their heads. Most were all wearing a square of embroidered or braided fabric which hung from the waist over the back of their skirts. These fabric pieces - all on sale appeared to be machine made - were wrapped with long wide cummerbunds, the ties of which hung down from their waists.
We got many shy smiles from the women and lots of offers of rice wine from the men. I got a lot of giggles from a group of young girls when I bought a couple of pieces of the fabric squares. The stalls selling the traditional clothing were very busy and money was constantly changing hands. All of the ethnic markets we have ever attended appear to have one thing in common - the women mainly handle the business by buying and selling whilst the men maintain relationships over beer, rice wine and bamboo pipes. Sa Phin was no different - the majority of the men were already quite drunk by the time we got there. We also visited the animal market but most of the animals had already been sold - only lots of little pigs were left. Most were on the ends of hand held ropes as their sellers waited in hope for a sale. A quarter of the market area was comprised of dozens of tiny tables surrounded by stools where people were enjoying bowls of noodle soup before they began the long walk home.
The market is held in a small square which fronts the old Palace of King Hmong. This wooden courtyard house was built with the consent of the French colonial rulers in 1902 to house the Vuong Family whose head proclaimed himself 'King of the Meo'. The house is now a museum and the rooms are still furnished with some of their simple furniture. We explored the house but it was very small - hardly what we would consider 'palace size'!
The town itself is set amidst the karsts and is surrounded by rice and corn fields. It was a very pretty spot. After a couple of hours wandering and just sitting for a while watching the activity we left the market passing by a row of women selling bruised and damaged fruit which was probably the strongest indication we saw all morning that many families who attended the market were very poor. Thinking how lucky we were to be born in Australia we trudged up the hill towards the main road and our waiting car...