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[Photos] Under the Great Northern Sky: Life in Vietnam’s Pastoral Provinces

In my travels, I don’t think I’ve ever found a nation like Vietnam, whose landscapes differ so vastly from north to south. I imagine the great hills and sharp peaks of the north as the scaly, rugged head of a dragon and its body winding down majestic panoramas of the country’s coastline, ending in a collection of watery tails in the Mekong Delta.

These images, captured on several excursions in the region over the years, offer a look into the lives and land of Vietnam’s great north. Busy city streets are nowhere to be found. Instead, bikes barely more durable than scooters ply their way up and down the pastoral slopes on imperfect trails. Trucks maneuver their way through endless twists and turns as the roads ascend and fall, all at a snail’s pace compared to the clip of city life.

Of course, the faces I encountered were measurably different, too. The features and language of the Kinh, Vietnam’s largest ethnic group, are familiar to those who have spent most of their time in the country’s urban areas. Here, however, the country’s many ethnic minorities continue to practice their own culture and speak their own languages.

These hills hold great intrigue for me, offering sights and scenes not found anywhere else in the country. I will surely make my way back again soon, when I hear the dragon beckoning me and my lens away from the city and toward the great northern skies.

A man gets a haircut at a portable barber shop in Coc Ly Market, Bac Ha, Lao Cai Province.

A reservoir is used for both play and chores near Mai Chau, Hoa Binh Province.

Boys play as they tend their buffalo near Ta Van, Lao Cai Province.

A man carries freshly harvested rice outside of Sapa, Lao Cai Province.

A father shields his son high on a hill in rural Lao Cai Province.

Young boys are wrangled back into a rural kindergarten by their teacher after they’ve wandered off, Lao Cai Province.

Men, women and children populate a rice field hanging on a cliff as the crops are harvested in Y Ty, Lao Cai Province.

Faces in the crowd of a H’mong funeral in the rural hills outside of Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai Province.

A woman prepares a pig for cooking on the floor of her restaurant kitchen in Muong Hum, Lao Cai Province.

A young girl looks on as her mother, with her younger brother in tow, works to harvest rice in Cat Cat village, Lao Cai Province.

A man smokes from a traditional thuốc lào while taking a break from the labor of rice harvest on a hill in Y Ty, Lao Cai Province.

Boys take in the sweeping views from the platform of an unfinished house outside of Sapa, Lao Cai Province.

A steady torrent of boats crowd Yen Stream as thousands of visitors return from Perfume Pagoda outside of Hanoi.

A man smokes a cigarette in rural Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai Province.

Quinn Ryan Mattingly is an American freelance photographer. He has been based in Vietnam for more than a decade. Visit his website for more photo projects.


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