My first attempt to meet the Co Lao, in the vicinity of Hoang Su Phi, was filled with adventure. As my friend and I drove our motorbikes towards the village, the locals laughed to see us try to advance on a path that they warned us would never take us to our destination. Determined, we decided to continue our quest, which involved driving on steep mountain paths, then through a waterfall, until the road came to a standstill! There we were, on a 30-degree slope, just 1.20 metres wide, with a storm approaching. I was left with no choice but to turn back. I struggled not to let go of the brakes out of fear that the bike would hurtle down the slope! Disappointed, we decided to abandon our expedition.
Later, and purely by chance, I ended up meeting the Co Lao when I went to Dong Van, which is in the northern highlands. Once again, the stoney paths forced me to abandon my bike and continue on foot, but this time it was worth it. I found this group to be friendly and passionate about their culture. I was lucky to meet the woman in this photo because as it turns out, she’s the only one left in the village with a full costume. The Co Lao are settled in mountainous areas, and are in fact more isolated than most other ethnic groups.