Coc Ly Market
We nearly didn’t make it to Coc Ly market in the mountains above Lao Cai near the Chinese border in N.Vietnam. The road was unsurfaced, uphill and potholed, and to make matters worse it had rained the night before . Our jeep slithered about on the sticky red mud struggling to hold its traction and kept getting stuck, but Nguyen, our Vietnamese driver, was skilled and patient, and eventually we made it.
Damn the Dam!
Then, In 2011 the Chinese dammed the river to produce hydroelectric power just downriver from the marketplace, and submerged the area dislocating the not only the market but also many of the locals, a story repeated many times over in S.E.Asia. In recent years there has been a flurry of dam building projects, mainly Chinese driven, with conflicts of interests playing out and with many negative repercussions particularly affecting the poorest people, many of them from ethnic minorities.
Many of the traditional Hmong designs have signature patterns which symbolise aspects of their life.Baby carriers are beautiful and often heavily decorated with beading.
The area where the men sell their homemade ‘happy water’ as Chô calls it is always a good place to find a friendly face and they’re always generous with their samples!Love how this man’s craggy teeth have learnt to fit perfectly together over the years!
The medicine men or women are always popular, selling hope of cures for every ailment imaginable in the form of what seems to the Western eye like weird and unlikely medicaments. The healing and selling process starts with an often elaborate explanation of the wonders of what the medicine promises to do.The medicine man plying his trade. Nguyen, our driver, sits in the middle of the three and listens intently.
Roots, needles, potions and lotions all in the armament of the medicine lady. Mind you, if I can sit like that when I’m her age I’m having some!
The Hmong grow sticky rice and sometimes sweeten it for use in cakes and flavoured snacks. Chô bought one of his son’s favourites, a sweet rice coloured bright purple and wrapped in banana leaf:
I came across one small boy having a quick haircut at the market. He didn’t look too happy about it.
This was a lovely Flower Hmong family we stopped and chatted to. The little girl in the orange top had no shoes, and was munching on a giant cucumber.Big sister helps steer a course through the muddy market.
A sight you often see in rural Vietnam, is people, usually men, enjoying a long slow smoke of homegrown tobacco using a traditional bamboo water pipe known as a ‘dieu cay’ or ‘bong’ in English. Markets in these communities are about so much more than a simple exchange of goods, they’re also a place to eat, drink, relax, catch up, ‘network’, reinforce community ties, have a haircut! They play a pivotal role in the survival of traditional communities, they are their life blood which is why it’s such a shame when they are threatened or lost by developments such as the dam.
As we started to leave, we met a family heading home with their young child sitting at the front of the bike with the shopping, and I couldn’t help wondering whether she would still be bringing her own children to markets like Coc Ly, dressed in all their finery, as her ancestors have done for hundreds of years before.
Photos ©Clare Rowntree – Please do not reproduce without consent