One of the highlights in Meo Vac is the Sunday markets. I have heard a lot of markets in Vietnam that should be visited, especially near Sapa. And often you can read that buses full of tourists arrive to watch the spectacle.
Well – this is not the case in Meo Vac. It is the largest market in the region, and you can see people from villages of the surrounding area arriving in Meo Vac the day before. Many of them actually walking for miles. So the night before can be a bit busier with the karaoke bars full, and the cafes having more visitors. And most importantly, you will only see a few tourists during market day.
The market starts around 6am in the morning around the indoor market area, where the road around it is full with vendors selling anything from cloth, rice, kitchen items to corn wine (in large containers). Some vendors cut down bamboo when required – an activity they make look so easy. You will see surprisingly quite a few stalls selling mobile phones – from rather old ones to modern looking smart phones.
In the northern section is one of the most interesting part of the market – the livestock section. Here you can see little piglet, goats, chicken, ducks and even puppies sold along the street. And along the little dirt path you can reach the cattle market. Here locals are inspecting water buffaloes or cattle on offer. Careful when walking onto the market – the animals do not care where to empty their bladder or drop their belongings.
This is just fascinating to watch, how the various parts of the animals are checked before a sale is completed. Here you will get treated to some interesting views. Locals walking a piglet with a lead, men carrying a couple of chicken holding their feet, motorbikes passing where the chicken are hanging with their feet down the handle, or having to share a cage at the back of the bike with a dog. It is anything but boring, and you could spend ages just watching the people here. This is a real market – no souvenirs for tourists, just goods the locals need for their daily life on offer. Some might find some scene disturbing though, as you might see ducks and chicken herded in tiny cages, and puppies openly sold. I have no problem with that, as this is how it is done in this country. I do not think it is the business of a tourist to complain about it. If you have a problem with such a sight – better stay away from a local market or even food places.
Another area to explore is the indoor market has also a complete different feel. The smaller area you enter from the main entrance has the usual stalls with vegetables on offer, but the main hall is completely transformed. In one area you see quite a few food stalls, with the fireplaces all lid to cook the soup or grill the meat – making it a great sight, but also very smokey inside. It is a nice place to have breakfast, though some of the chicken look too thin. But it is cheap, good, and a different way to have breakfast. The rest of the hall is full with stalls selling more vegetables, rice and other goods. It can become a bit crowded if it starts to rain outside. But again, with all the noise from chats and bargaining and the smell of the food the indoor market just feels so lively, especially considering that it looks rather dead the remaining 6 days of the week. So a stroll through it is also a nice option.
And if you are bored from all the items on sale you can watch the locals from the various minority villages around the busy street wearing their traditional clothes – the men often wearing a black jacket and trousers while the women were colourful skirts, shirts and scarves, and some of them carrying a large basket to store the items bought. it is so colourful – and actually beautiful. Something you might not see very often. And seeing all these colourful outfits you can’t help but think that the market might be an important day for them. You can see most of them smiling, laughing, chatting away. Kids are gathering around the stalls selling toys or little jewellery. Adults sitting together drinking beer and corn wine (for breakfast obviously!!!). The whole market has such a relaxed atmosphere to it despite all the craziness around you.
So if you have the chance to be in Meo Vac for the Sunday market – do not miss it. There are smaller markets in other villages, but I loved the busy and relaxed atmosphere – and seeing such large livestock section is very interesting, especially for city boys like myself.
If you visit it, do not come too late. I would aim to get there between 7 and 8am, as it gets a little less busy after 10am, as people start heading back to their homes (and they walk for miles – I overtook some of them on my way to Yen Minh after riding the bike for an hour or so).
Take your time, do not rush, and take in every sight. it really is worthwhile, as you might see such markets every day – especially when heading back to the more touristy areas. The market is just another example while it is worth while to visit the off-the-beaten trail.