Ha Giang: Vietnam's Remotest Province

by Ben Mckechnie November. 29, 2016 2032 views

This week's theme is The Human Element. I can't wait to see what the PhotoBlog community come up with for this!

Wherever I can, I try to include a human element in my landscape photography. Having people in the shot, when done well, provides a sense of scale for the viewer. And, like Tiffany talked about, a sense of the ephemeral. A fleeting moment, frozen and preserved. I also just love shooting people. 


Vietnam's Ha Giang province is seriously remote. Viewed on a map, it protrudes into China’s Yunnan province like a nosy neighbor spying over the top of a garden fence. It’s the least visited of Vietnam’s provinces, having been the last to open to tourists. Having heard it described by more than a few sources as 'Vietnam’s final frontier of travel', I just knew visiting there was a challenge with my name on it. 

Here are three shots - which include human elements - that I took in this remarkable region. 


Farming by water buffalo in Northern Vietnam

I was up early to take photos in one of the best hours of the day for light - and to get a cool head start on a very long hike. The farmers were up early to get their hardest work done before the valley was breached by the sun. We were all up and out to beat the same adversary.

My motorcycle guide - Mr Kang - took a break against a safety barrier. Getting here required me to get a restricted area permit on top of my Vietnamese tourist visa. Being right on the border with China, it's in a sensitive military area. Seriously remote, and seriously beautiful.

Members of a hill tribe family made their way through a field of crops. Ha Giang province is poor in both its economy and infrastructure. The day to day struggles of the people are growing rice and corn for their families, communities and to sell at local markets. It exports delicious peaches, persimmons, and plums. Visitor numbers are in the low thousands each year -- for now.


Here are some bonus shots I took in the same location. They don't fit the weekly theme because they're straight-up travel portraits (and a landscape), but I hope you like them!

Seven kilometres into hiking the Ma Pi Leng Pass, I noticed these girls walking up ahead. Whenever I stopped to take pictures, they would stop to wait for me. I worked out they wanted to have a picture taken and see themselves. They may look deadpan, but giggled when they saw the picture!

The beads of sweat on this woman’s brow are from working the steep terraced mountainsides that make up the topography of Vietnam’s Ha Giang province. Women are responsible for the crops while the men raise pigs, goats and chickens. For now, life is as it must have been for centuries.

I've never made so many adults smile and yet so many small children burst into tears (sometimes at the same time) as I did in Ha Giang. Many locals seem to have rarely seen a foreigner. The area is just so new to tourism and so chronically under-visited. Tourism in its fledgling stage began in the late 2000s.

Traveling here jaded me slightly for the journey back through far more touristed central and south Vietnam, throughout which a solitary sentence repeated in my head. It grew louder and louder as the distance increased. "Take me back to Ha Giang".


For those who are interested, the pinpoint marks the top corner of a small triangle in which these photos were taken:


So, what are you waiting for... time to start thinking about your weekly theme entry. Get inspiration by checking out the other entries so far here. Happy shooting!

Join the conversation
There are 18 comments , add yours!
Baptria 3 years, 11 months ago

Great set!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Finata Mandasari 3 years, 11 months ago

wow.. good job ben!! both picture and story are amazing, really!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Finata Mandasari 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks very much. I hope you feel inspired to visit Vietnam!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Heidi Karlsson 3 years, 11 months ago

#1 with a human element indeed. Really liked this one. :)

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Heidi Karlsson 3 years, 11 months ago

Yes, I think this one is most fitting for the weekly theme. Glad you liked it!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Arun Tp 3 years, 11 months ago

beautiful place.

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Arun Tp 3 years, 11 months ago

Photos don't do it justice. It's like a land somebody conjured up in a dream.

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Helen Hooker 3 years, 11 months ago

What an amazing place - your photos really make me want to go there!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Helen Hooker 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks Helen. The absence of other tourists creates a sense of exploration. I recommend a visit before the hordes arrive!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ram Ya 3 years, 12 months ago

Wonderful post, Ben!
Photographing humans is indeed a great storytelling tool.

Thanks for taking us all with you to the final frontier of Vietnam.

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Ram Ya 3 years, 11 months ago

Glad you enjoy it, Ram. Looking forward to hitting the road again!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess 3 years, 12 months ago

Brilliant images & excellent reportage.....Bravo!

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Jay Boggess 3 years, 12 months ago

Much appreciated, Jay! Hope you'll be entering this week's weekly theme.

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Ben Mckechnie 3 years, 12 months ago

My pleasure, Ben....
I'll see what I can find to enter....

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil 3 years, 12 months ago

Your pictures always make me feel like going to travel again. Great work Ben.

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Antonio Gil 3 years, 12 months ago

If my pictures convince anyone to go traveling, I'll be very happy indeed. Thanks Antonio!

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
Shivani 3 years, 12 months ago

Love the descriptions provided with the pictures

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
Ben Mckechnie Replied to Shivani 3 years, 12 months ago

Thanks, glad you do!

3 years, 12 months ago Edited
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