Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘mountains’

Looping the loop (day 4 in Ha Giang)


For most of this trip to Ha Giang province, in the mountains of northern Vietnam, I was concentrating on taking landscape pictures, something I don’t do that often. It was a nice change of pace for me; when I’m shooting portraits or street scenes in Hanoi, I’ll often take a lot of pictures of the same person or scene, hoping to find the right expression, angle or moment. Landscape photography is a slower, more considered process, and requires a different mindset. I should do more of it. But there’s more to Ha Giang than landscapes. Early in the morning of my last day on the road, I visited the tiny market village of Du Tien, near Du Gia, and had the chance to shift gears and go back to taking people pictures. I always enjoy wandering around markets in Vietnam, and elsewhere in south-east Asia, and I wish I’d taken in more on this trip. This market was mostly made up of stalls selling clothes, fabric and household goods, and was populated by people from a number of different ethnic minority groups.












After leaving the market, we embarked on the final leg of the journey, from Du Gia back to Ha Giang City. The low cloud of the morning gave way to hazy sunshine as the day progressed.






I remember approaching Ha Giang City again, the loop almost complete, watching the distance to our final destination gradually counting down on the roadsigns, and wishing that this wasn’t the end and that the journey could continue for longer. I was feeling nostalgic about the trip, and it wasn’t even over yet. As I mentioned in the first of these Ha Giang posts, I’d wanted to visit this beautiful province for years; I’m so glad I finally made it up there, and am looking forward to a return visit in the spring.


Borderland (day 3 in Ha Giang)


My third day in Ha Giang province, and we spent the morning driving from Dong Van to Lung Cu and back. Lung Cu is the northernmost point of Vietnam and is best known for its mountain-top flag tower, a none too subtle symbol of national pride just a few kilometers from the border with China. The morning was cloudy but dry, so for the first time on this trip I was able to put aside my waterproof poncho and non-matching plastic over-trousers (not pictured). The sun came and went, sometimes peeking through the cloud, changing the colours of the rice terraces and mountainsides along the route.







On returning from Lung Cu, there was time for a quick lunch in Dong Van before hitting the road again in the afternoon. Next time I visit Ha Giang, I’ll spend a little longer in Dong Van, two nights rather than one, and try to be there for the Sunday market. The town has a strong Chinese flavour (unsurprising, given its location close to the border) and reminded me of Yuanyang in Yunnan province, which I visited back in 2013.

After lunch back in the town, we set off for Du Gia, via the Ma Pi Leng pass. This high-altitude mountain road follows the Nho Que river from Dong Van to Meo Vac. Many people say it’s the most beautiful spot in all of Vietnam, and I’m not going to argue. It’s fully deserving of every superlative you can throw its way – truly stunning, awe-inspiring, breath-taking. Having just heard, the previous day, the result of the U.S. election, I needed this reminder that there is plenty of goodness in the world. I began to entertain thoughts of waiting out the next four years up in the mountains of Ha Giang, and leaving the rest of the world to it.










Late in the afternoon, the road went higher and the cloud came lower. The heavy mist and black, volcanic rock, along with the mostly empty road, made for an eerie, unearthly atmosphere. I wish I’d taken more pictures along this stretch, but we were keen to reach our destination before it got dark, and time was against us. But it’s good sometimes to leave some pictures untaken. I have those images in my head still, and I can try to get them on camera another time.


That’s all from me for 2016. Thank you to everyone who’s been following the blog, and best wishes for the new year.