Professional travel photographer Tim Draper has shot images for 24 Rough Guides guidebooks, visiting far-flung corners of the world. Here he shares some of his stunning shots taken in northern Laos, where he spent time with the Akha people.

I‘d been trudging steadily uphill through dense jungle in heavy rain for over seven hours when I caught my first glimpse of the Akha people. Despite the treacherous conditions the young man approached at speed, dressed almost entirely in black, carrying an old style flint-lock rifle which looked handmade.

A short distance behind him a young woman followed, also dressed in black, but with the addition of an elaborately decorated coin-covered headdress. She carried an impossible amount of firewood upon her back. I stopped to watch them nimbly side-step around me on the narrow trail and accelerate up the hill with effortless grace.

Since first encountering the Akha on a Rough Guides photoshoot 14 years ago I’ve returned many times to stay in the same villages hidden in the hills of northern and western Laos. I’ve watched on as traditional costumes are replaced by t-shirts and witnessed whole villages give in, pack up and move down to the road far below. Here are a few of my favourite portraits.

Akha children in western Laos

Akha tribeswomen and children

Akha girls in traditional handmade clothes

Young Akha girl in western Laos

Traditional Akha village in the hills of Phongsali Province

Akha mother and daughter

An impressive headpiece on an Akha tribeswoman

A young Akha girl giggles as she has her photograph taken

A young Akha girl wearing traditional clothes

A young Akha tribeswoman in traditional clothing

An older Akha tribeswoman

Men construct a spirit swing in northern Laos

Akha mother and children

Akha woman in traditional dress

An Akha child carries his sibling on his back

Akha children on spirit swing


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