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Fascinating Cultural Colors Of Si Ma Cai

By Expert Author: Careca Mongolana

Less than 30 km north of the white plateau Bac Ha is the border land Si Ma Cai, the road is like a silk band placed around the hillside bring us to the land of holy horse and explore the very special culture.

The first characteristic of Si Ma Cai is the weekend market, not only it is where people exchange goods, but it also has an important role in the spiritual life of the people here. The market opens only once a week on Sundays, from morning until afternoon, the place is where buying and selling activities take place, sometimes market goers bring along only 1 chicken, a geese, a small pig followed by a dog or some food, fruits and vegetables as well as some pieces of sugar canes or just a bird cage...Young Hmong girls dress in colourful clothes with side spreading umbrelas in hands. The market is also a chance for women of Si Ma Cai to show off their skills of sewing, emproidery through their brocade products. After selling their stuff they buy the items they need and enjoy the food sold at the market. The market day is where fellowship is exchanged, give a handshake and then touch the cups over smelled pot of Thang Co and share their feelings.

Sunset, when the sun is going down on the purple side of the mountains, somewhere can be heard the sound of buffalo bell rings when the animals are going home, it's time to see drunken men laid on the horse backs for the women to bring home, it's a scene frequently seen after a market session.

If Bac Ha is famous for specialty wine Ban Pho, Si Ma Cai is well known of Man Than, Sin Cheng wines which are ranked for names. Si Ma Cai alcohol is cooked by traditional techniques over generations of Hmong people make up the most exquisite in taste of wine here. Coming to Si Ma Cai everybody wants to enjoy the dishes made from black chicken, called by local people as "OK". This chicken is easily distinguishable by the black hair, the whole skin, meat and bones are black, usually chicken are raised in the wild nature on the hillside so very delicious. Smoked pork is also a specialty of Si Ma Cai. This meat can be stored for a long time, prepared with hot cabbage pickle is really delicious. Si Ma Cai also attract diners by the delicious cuisine imbued with national identity such as five coloured sticky rice, soya been soup...

For Hmong people in Si Ma Cai, mentioning the ancient architecture the house is also a culture still retained values, the houses were plastered with soil suitable with the characteristic of climate and topography here. The walls of the houses in Si Ma Cai is made meticulously. According to traditions, in October, November of Lunar calendar, after the harvest season finishes Hmong people would embark on building their houses. Earth houses in Si Ma Cai has unique architectural designs, the columns are made from wood with tiled roofs, walls made of earth so the summers are cooler, winters are warm. When the work starts the whole village come to help or change the labour, this is the spirit of solidarity and community cohesion. Earth houses are vere long lasting thanks to careful building process. As the place is not far from Sapa, more and more people visit Sa Ma Cai as part of their Sapa tours.

Traditional festivals
The ethnic groups in Si Ma Cai has many festivals reflecting ethnic identity of its own such as Gau Tao, going to rice fields and forest worshipping. In particular, forest worshiping festival represents spiritual consciousness and sense of respect and protection of nature. Forest worshipping ritual in early spring is one of the important rituals and it is very carefully prepared. According to the ritual, 3 days after the ceremony people are not allowed to break land, use knife, hoes, shovels to dig or cut any tree, if not the violation will be punished very severely. This thought comes from the notion that forest god is very sacred and will bless, protect people with bright heart and protect the nature. Coming to Si Ma Cai today, in the centre of the district is the forest with green trees called "Forbidden Forest", this is where the festival takes place in forest offerings at the beginning of the year.

The Hmong people in Si Ma Cai also have the Gau Tao festival also very characteristic, usually held after the traditional Tet. The festivals often have the singing exchange songs between men and women. In this festival the boys often express the martial spirit through martial arts games. The festival is held on the flat field in the villages and hamlets.

Weddings here follow the traditional customs over centuries. According to the custom of dragging wife of Hmong people, 3 days after the girl is pulled to family of the boy, the boy's family representative will come the the girl's family and propose a marriage. If the girl's parents refuse to meet it means a refusal to the proposal. When coming to the girl's family, the boy family will bring a bottle of wine, a pack of tobacco and pour wine themselves, prepare tobacco for every member of the girl family. Engagement set by the girl family usually include a pair of chicken, one male and one female, wine. The wedding ceremony prepared by the boy family include: cash (depending on the family), one pig and an umbrella, this is customary characteristics of the Hmong in Si Ma Cai kept to this day.

Time passes time, Si Ma Cai moves itself to catch up with new lifestyle, but the people and the land here still retain the culture imbued with its own nuances.

To visit Sapa travellers can catch overnight trains to Sapa from Hanoi, from train station in Lao Cai there are buses to Si Ma Cai, about 150 km.

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