In somewhat typical fashion, I have intentions for this to be the beginnings of a project, which really means I hope to make it back to the area soon to find some more frames. Tentative plans to head up to Vietnam’s final frontier, Ha Giang, this month were foiled by very busy schedules, but hopefully a bit later this year I’ll make it happen…

These images come from in and around Sa Pa, a small tourist town set amongst majestic mountain scenery and inhabited mostly by ethnic minority tribes, such as the Hmong and Dzao, both of which even have their own subdivisions designated by the colors they wear. Anyway, I was in the area working on a commercial project, but luckily got outside a number of times to take in the grandeur. Below are a selection of frames, that are hopefully the initial stages of a future project.

 

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

The north of Vietnam near the Chinese border has nothing if not stunning, grand landscapes that two-dimensional images can barely do justice.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Youth stand on an unfinished structure overhanging the terraced rice paddies below.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

An ethnic minority market in the small mud-laden village of Hmong Hum, about 2 hours drive over the rugged mountain roads from the town of Sa Pa.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Loose tobacco, known as thuoc lao, is sold in bulk and inhaled via what is essentially a bong made of bamboo.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

In the center of the market, a small spat erupts between young men.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

I’m not sure if the spilled rice was the cause or the effect of the fight, but in any case, in very Vietnamese fashion, it caused a scene that drew a crowd of onlookers.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Buffalo are an essential part of the existence in the north, much like many other areas of the country. Children of not so many years are often the ones given charge of the large, powerful creatures.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Terraced rice fields define much of the landscape here.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

On a high remote hillside, a father and son become one.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

At the park in the center of the town of Sa Pa, young Hmong girls are more concerned with play than with selling the handmade trinkets that generally constructs their days.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Even as they grow older, both manufacturing and selling these traditional items to tourists will become their primary career. Formal education seems to have very little necessity or means of support in this rugged landscape. However, these girls are often nearly fluent in several popular languages, and can offer a rebuttal to almost any tourist who gives an excuse for not buying from them.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

The slightly more aged youth picked up an unfinished bottle of beer, and before consuming it himself, took liberties to share it with his younger friend as the smaller boy’s father looked on.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

At another local minority market called Coc Ly, makeshift barber shops are set up each day. Needing little more than a mirror and chair, these can also be found in nearly everywhere in the country.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Age in three parts: On another high hillside, a teenaged girl and her family prepare hemp stalks for sale. These bundles can be seen drying all along the mountainous roads.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Perhaps not so many years pass on before the time to bear your own children is at hand. In these environs, the work needed for survival is non-stop, and new generations are of course welcome additions to the able hands and bodies.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

Even well into age, the grind of life must continue. Walking sometimes up to several hours to buy or sell goods is, and may always be, the way of life in these parts.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

The large animals that are a staple of daily life, also appear to be commodities after they’ve expired, though while they’re still in bodily form, they are taken care of as well as possible.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

In another corner of the small market, an improvised photo studio provides captured moments and existences, which are often luxury items in this part of the country.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

A fairly frantic monkey is caged behind a rustic restaurant that greets tourists at the end of a river boat trip.

Under Great Northern Skies: Sa Pa, Vietnam. Lying in the high hills on the border of Vietnam and China, grand landscapes are home to several different ethnic minority groups. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

And finally, agriculture, stunning natural beauty and hard work are the defining characteristics in this corner of the world.

A few additional images are found in the archived gallery.