To wind down a pretty busy summer and fall, I thought I’d fit in a  little trip to the northern mountains of Vietnam right before a trip to Japan and US, because well, it doesn’t take much to convince me to head up to this amazing part of the world! So I set off with my brother and friend and colleague based in Hanoi, Tim Barker, on a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, Vietnam’s border city with China, and then grabbed a minibus for the final leg up to Sapa and beyond. Besides being perfect timing for myself my travel mates, it was also rice harvesting season, which I think you’ll see below, is dream season for photographers coming to this neck of the country.

Construction of a new hotel in Sapa, Vietnam (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

After a long overnight train where not a lot of sleep took place, and a minibus up the mountain with still trying to open eyes, this was the first view of Sapa from our hotel, construction of one of the many new hotels going up at the moment. Not bad eh? But trust me, things get a lot better…

A visitor takes in the view of one of the many grand valleys around Sapa, northern Vietnam (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

As soon as we arrived in Sapa, we found ourselves a set of wheels and headed out to explore.  The sky was blue and bellowing with large clouds, the air was crisp and cool, and I was ready to really put my new Sony A7 to work on it’s first big outing. I brought along my Canon 5D III as well, but at least for work like this, I found the A7 to be everything I thought it would be, and the Canon stayed mostly in the room or in my bag. One of the first places we stopped to take in even had a model waiting there for me, wearing an appropriate color shirt. How perfect! Anytime a landscape has a bit of humanity, points go up for me, but I’ll include a few proper, non-human landscapes below as well, just for good measure.

A landscape near Sapa, Vietnam (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Light, fog, smoke, mountains, how could I not snap a few ‘scapes

Ethnic minority children play and sunbathe in on the grounds of a church just outside Sapa, Vietnam. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Continuing to drive wherever the road or sights took us, somehow we found ourselves on a church grounds, yet on a Friday, only inhabited by small kids, in varying degrees of dress, laying in the sun and running about, with not an adult to be seen anywhere (they’re all out working the fields as you see below). It seemed like a prequel to Lord Of The Flies for a minute, but they looked like they were having fun, and didn’t pay much mind to three foreigners walking around with cameras.

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

I found another group swimming, and then figured out why they’re all laying on the ground naked…Drying off, duh! The feeling of such freedom left me nostalgic for something that may have never existed in my childhood, but felt like it should have anyway…

A boy dries himself in the sun after a swim near Sapa, northern Vietnam (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

I really couldn’t decide between these two, so I’m happy to open up the floor to any thoughts? Just drop your vote and a why in the comments below, if you’d be so kind!

A boy dries himself in the sun after a swim near Sapa, northern Vietnam (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

A man carries rice through a rice paddy near Sapa, northern Vietnam. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Exploring on, we saw a hive of activity down in the fields, parked our bikes, and made a slow and muddy descent to get closer to the action.

A woman rest momentarily while harvesting rice near Sapa, northern Vietnam. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

I continued to shoot until the light was gone, but being perhaps a bit too trigger happy, they weren’t all keepers, so for the sake of brevity, let’s end day 1 here!

A girl looks on as an ethnic minority woman with baby in tow, works to harvest rice near Sapa, northern Vietnam. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Day 2 saw me enjoy a late morning wake up call, but in the afternoon we met up with Tewfic El Sawy, a photographer friend based in NYC who runs The Travel Photographer blog. He was leading a photo tour through northern Vietnam, and was kind enough to let us tag along for a few hours. Unfortunately though this time, his guide led us to Cat Cat village just outside of  Sapa, which unless you love completely commercialized villages, should be avoided at all costs. An hour or so here didn’t yield any frames, or even much to raise the lens too, so we convinced the guide to take us a bit farther down the road to her village, called Sin Chai, where we were assured there would be no tourists or things for sale! She was right, and a few images jumped out at me here.

An ethnic minority woman with baby in tow, takes a brief rest while harvesting rice near Sapa, northern Vietnam. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

A Hmong man works in his small garden near Sapa, northern Vietnam (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

After a few days in Sapa town, we had to get out further abroad into the countryside, to get away from the tourist scene and to see what else could be found. The next stop was Muong Hum, a very sleep one horse town, but the site of a popular market every Sunday. We arrived there on Saturday afternoon, but with basically nothing to do in the town itself, we went exploring a bit, checking out the way we would travel the next day to Y Ty. Of course we found more rice harvesting, and of course I couldn’t resist to shoot it a bit more!

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

There were few other non-rice related activities going on around, but not much, so when I saw this scene as we were crossing the bridge, I had to take a quick detour and make a few frames. Nothing like a natural (and free) bike wash!

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Returning back to Muong Hum at dusk to the only restaurant in town for a cold beer, I found this scene in progress in the kitchen. We had just had lunch here a few hours prior, and noticed a pig caged up near the bathroom. It was curious at the time, but I guess it was soon very apparent why he was there…

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

The next morning Tim and I were up just before the sun to see what the market would bring us. It was quiet at first as the vendors arrived and began to set up, but wasn’t long before the action was in full swing.

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

After the early morning market session, we packed up the bikes again and headed back toward Y Ty, where we would spend the next night. I had heard great things about it, so we were pretty excited, and sure enough, it didn’t disappoint, and I think one of my favorite images from this trip was captured here.

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

I started out with a landscape, where there was at least one buffalo living and breathing in the frame, but down the road just a bit farther, I saw a group working on the edge of the rice paddy, and had to carefully follow the narrow green paths, without falling into the wet mud (which I did successfully!) to get close enough to shoot.

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

While the adults were busy with work, there were a number of kids with nothing more to do than enjoy their youth it seemed, probably knowing that their working life will begin soon enough…

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

And finally, what is probably my favorite shot from this trip. I’m a sucker for smoking shots of all flavors, so when this scene began to unfold in front of me, and I was right there camera in hand, I got pretty excited, and even more so when I got back and edited it a bit! This one will be printed large to hang in my house sometime soon I believe…

There are a few more images in the archived gallery, and part II will follow directly after, so be sure to check back in a few days if you enjoyed this images. Until then, thanks for looking!