The Meo Vac Market Ha Giang cattle market, held every Sunday in Ha Giang province, is unique in the northern mountainous region of Vietnam.
The market is not only where the locals living in the karst plateau trade cattle, it is also a gathering place for the Mong ethnic minority.
Visitors to the region are always encouraged to go to the Meo Vac cattle market to experience this unique local ethnic cultural event. Market goers must start early in the morning. Those selling cattle have to wake up the earliest, usually around midnight, to walk their cows to market.
Many walk dozens of miles, climb mountains and cross streams to get there, yet they never appear to be tired and are always smiling and cheerful. In addition to cattle, there are also dogs, goats and pigs for sale at the market. Despite being tied up, a few chubby pigs are still able to run around while the goats lie near their owner’s feet and dogs wag their tails to greet passers-by. The first sellers start to arrive around 5 am.
The echoes of the clop, clop, clop of cattle hooves can be heard throughout the forests and mountains as they make their way to the market. Visitors can see the traditional costumes of the local Mong people at the market; the men wear long black dresses while the women dress in their best, most colourful costumes and their children run alongside them. There are food shops selling traditional Thang co (stewed meat soup) and fragrant maize wine near the area reserved for selling cattle. Most Mong men insist on sampling the wine before leaving at the end of the day.
Many people do not actually sell their cows, dogs or pigs at the market; they just bring them there for show. However, there is a lot of livestock for sale, sometimes whole herds of up to a thousand cattle. The cows stand patiently side by side, waiting to be sold to people from lowland areas, sometimes as far away as Vinh Phuc, Ninh Binh or Nam Dinh provinces. The Mong people are well-known for taking very good care of their cattle.
The winters on the karst plateau are very cold and there is often hoarfrost, but they still manage to raise many strong, healthy cows. The average cow sells for about VND5-8 million, while the larger ones may fetch as much as VND20 million. For an ethnic family, a cow is truly a great asset. After selling a cow, the owner can often be seen checking his cash carefully and counting it with pride, yet he is always ready to spend some of his hard earned money on a bowl of Thang co soup and a few cups of maize wine as a reward for raising such a good animal.