Ha Giang Province by Manuel Librodo
Ha Giang province is located in the far north of the country, and contains Vietnam’s northernmost point. It shares a 270 km long border with Yunnan province of southern China. Hence it is known as the final frontier of Vietnam. Still today, Ha Giang is the only province in the country where special permits are required for visitors. This is a standard and simple procedure, however, by the mere fact that a permit is required highlights its remoteness and sensitivity on the Chinese border. Many people in Hà Giang belong to various ethnic minorities. Aside from the Viet (or Kinh)who form 10% of the total population of the province, the others who dominate are 22 ethnic minorities, mainly the Hmong, Tày, Daoand Nung. There are two rare ethnic groups of Pupeo and Phula with population of less than 400 each and dwindling. The rich cultural mosaic of the ethnic minorities traditions and customs is what attracts the odd visitor today. That coupled with the country’s most spectacular mountain scenery makes for a remarkable journey of exploration and adventure.
Visions of Indochina had the pleasure of recording the region through the lens of renowned Bangkok based photographer Manuel Librodo. Named by Scott Kelby as one of the world’s FIVE BEST PHOTOGRAPHERS IN 2009 (that you probably haven’t heard about), Manuel, or Manny as he is known, was born and grew up in Lambunao, Iloilo Province, located in the central part of the Philippines. Manny was a full-time teacher at an international school in Bangkok where he discovered his passion for photography, and where the rest of the online world soon discovered his unique “purely ambient light” approach to glamour, fashion, and travel portraiture.
Manny holds annual photography workshops worldwide including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Toronto, Quebec, Dubai, Kuwait, Sydney, Melbourne, Egypt, Singapore, the Philippines, etc. Manny has an uncanny ability to spot ambient light on the set and render them artistically onto his photographs. This style is so unique, and his photographs so compelling, that many professional photographers the world over have flown to Bangkok to spend a weekend shooting & learning from him. His PBase galleries has seen over 23 million hits!
We enticed Manny to come across and shoot for us on assignment to Vietnam, however, unfortunately, his journey was beset with constant rain (almost non stop for a week) which limited the type of images he could take. The Ha Giang region, being so mountainous, provides spectacular vistas and mountain scenery, however, landscape photography was almost impossible to shoot due to the heavy cloud and fog cover. I think Manny was lucky to see 10 metres in front of him!
Manny’s main destination was the frontier town of Dong Van, located at the very tip of Ha Giang province. The Sunday market here is a site to behold and it is his images here that provide the highlight of his work. Although the ethnic groups are generally very shy towards having their photographs taken, Manny managed to break down barriers and record a series of lovely portraits and day to day market scenes.
Whilst Vietnam today is set on a path of mainstream tourism it only takes a little effort (or considerable effort in the case of visiting Ha Giang!) to propel oneself back into a time that we almost forgot. Due to its isolation and protective nature of ethnic customs and cultures it is unlikely Ha Giang will change or modernise anytime soon. It remains a remarkable destination and for those that have the time and inclination I cannot think of a more rewarding grass roots travel experience anywhere in Asia – just be sure to time it right and avoid the bad weather!
Manny’s work is also featured on the cover and inside the current edition of Asia Geographic Passport magazine including a Vietnam spread shot.
View more of Manny’s work from Ha Giang in our gallery below.