If you’re looking for adventure and some stunning Vietnamese views, the Ha Giang Loop is a road trip second to none!
Ideally done by motorbike, a Ha Giang Loop Tour really should be on any traveler’s bucket list or Vietnam MUST DO checklist. And it doesn’t matter if you’re doing the driving or riding pillion – I did it riding pillion with a seasoned guide because I wanted to take plenty of pictures and videos – the experience is still a mind-blower!
The Ha Giang Loop is definitely an adventure, as well as a bit of a challenge – there are some tricky roads which hug mountains and demand a huge amount of respect. But the Loop is also incredibly rewarding, with part of the challenge being to keep your eyes on the road, as you will pass through some truly incredible scenery (see the pictures below).
Ideally done in three or four days, the Ha Giang Loop is a chance to see Northern Vietnam like no other. From my own personal experience, 3 days was enough (read on below for a full account), but because of the amount of driving involved, your back and ass will feel it! If you have more time, take it, you won’t regret it!
Included in this post (click on a link to jump to the relevant section):
- Preparing for the Ha Giang Loop
- 7 ESSENTIAL Travel tips for the Ha Giang Loop
- My Ha Giang Loop Tour in 3 Days
- Ha Giang Loop Map
Preparing for the Ha Giang Loop
As you might have guessed, Ha Giang Loop tours set off from the city of Ha Giang. Well I never!
Getting to Ha Giang can only be done by road – there are no air or rail options. But there are regular buses up from the major cities, and, of course, Hanoi, where the majority of Loopers will be heading from. There are plenty of cheap and cheerful options available, as well as more comfy VIP shuttles (I’ve been up twice on VIP minibuses, and the service varied greatly on each). For a full list of what’s available at the best prices, check out the 12Go website.
One thing to consider when taking the bus – it’s a good 6-hour ride (with probably just the one toilet break). So determine if you want to leave early in the morning, or perhaps take the night bus up and arrive in the wee hours. Places like QT offer a free bed for those of you arriving on a night bus and heading out the next day, well worth considering. One last thing: you can ride a motorbike to Ha Giang from Hanoi, but it’s a bit of a ride, taking approximately 8 to 10 hours. Your choice.
One of the first things to decide when you arrive in Ha Giang will be what type of bike do you really need to do the Ha Giang Loop? It totally depends on you, of course, but the best way to get the real experience is to take a manual bike (125cc seems to be the popular engine size available), especially when you’ll be riding on some extremely hilly and far from smooth roads. You could also try a semi-automatic, as they will probably have enough oomph to get you around, but I’d recommend steering clear of automatics, they just aren’t safe enough for the hill riding you’re going to experience on the Loop.
7 ESSENTIAL travel tips for the Ha Giang Loop
And before I take you off on a description of my three-day ride through heaven, I’ve created a list of the unmissable hottest tips (the ones your momma never told you about!) for the Ha Giang Loop right here:
|Take plenty of cash with you (it will be hard to find ATMs enroute). Although if you take an all-inclusive tour like the ones offered by QT, you’ll need less…
|When taking your bike out on the road, check the battery is fully charged and your tires pumped to the right pressure. Once you set off, there’s no turning back!
|If you’re driving in the off-season, bring some warm clothes with you. And if rain is forecast, take some waterproof clothing too – it’s really not much fun driving in wet clothes, or trying to get them dry overnight.
|Bring/rent protective gear, even if it makes you feel like RoboCop. Some of the roads can get treacherously slippery when wet, and you’ll be thankful for some elbow/knee protection.
|Be prepared for the unexpected coming round the next bend.
|When driving around corners, beep your horn. And listen out for horns too. It’s all about anticipation, baby!
|Some of the homestays are little more than crowded guesthouses. If you’re looking for an authentic homestay experience while on the Ha Giang Loop, bear that in mind when booking in advance. As you can read below, I didn’t enjoy the Du Gia Homestay as much as the Dong Van Hmong Homestay.
My Ha Giang Loop Tour: 3 Days in Heaven!
One thing I should point out before taking you on my heavenly journey – I did a 3-day tour of the Ha Giang Loop – you can choose to make it as long as you need, and yes, I highly recommend taking your time. The route can also be customized to your preferences, and even done the opposite way round – just ask the guys at QT for the perfect route for you, they’ll have you sorted.
Just a head’s up: if you’re looking for another motorbike adventure in the area, try the nearby Hoang Su Phi district. Expect similar scenery to the Ha Giang Loop, but with some spectacular rice terraces and tea plantations!
Day 1: Outward Bound – Heaven’s Gate & Du Gia
OK, after first wolfing down some breakfast and getting kitted out by the friendly boys at QT, we headed north on QL4C, which takes you up to Quan Ba Pass, otherwise known as Heaven’s Gate. This is rather well named, as the pass gives stunning views of the Dong Van Karst Plateau, a huge range of limestone mountains covered in virgin forest. This is a great start to any journey and will fill you full of enthusiasm for the rest of the day (or that might be down to the coffee you drink at the pitstop high above the plateau…).
OK, I confess, I didn’t actually get to see the plateau thanks to a blanket of thick fog and drizzle…but did get to see it on our homeward leg on Day 3 (see below). Be aware that the weather changes from mountain to mountain, and you have very little control of what you’ll get to see (although the guys at QT were adamant that the weather is at its best in September time)…
Once over the pass, we followed the tight, winding roads down into Quan Ba, where we stopped at a cute homestay for lunch. Great food, great people, and the perfect battery recharge.
After lunch, we headed through small villages – where we stopped to check out the local wares, and also get dressed up in the local traditional costumes and mix it with the locals for a bit of a laugh – and then through the misty, rainy clouds to the overnight destination of Du Gia. This was a beautiful route, especially the ride down into the village of Du Gia, so get the camera ready!
The Du Gia Homestay was actually part of the QT network, and although cute, was hardly the cosy, authentic stopover I envisaged. There were some 30 guests there, maybe more, and although the sleeping quarters were curtained off, it just felt a little bit too busy. But we had a great dinner, the chat with other tourists was flowing, and the Happy Water (don’t forget to practice your 1, 2, 3, Djo!) was hitting the right spots. Safe to say that a good night’s sleep was had by all.
Day 2: Through the stunning Ma Pi Leng Pass
After breakfasting in Du Gia and wandering around the immediate neighbourhood to grab some photos, we set out again on QL4C, retracing our steps for a few kilometers before heading towards Meo Vac for lunch. The weather did its upmost to make it wet and nasty for us, and just coming out of Du Gia we had to run for cover under a bus stop as a huge rainstorm hit us for six.
With the legendary views of Ma Pi Leng Pass on the schedule, I have to say I wasn’t feeling too optimistic that my Canon was going to be pulled from my backpack… but Hugh and Chris, our two guides, were fairly chipper and confident that until we’d make our way to Ma Pi Leng, the weather would hopefully change for the better.
Within a few minutes they were right, and the sun even started to peek out as we headed on the gloriously winding road to Meo Vac. Lunch was great at one of the local restaurants in Meo Vac, before we started on the road out of town and north to Ma Pi Leng.
This stretch of the Ha Giang Loop has the most amazing roads of all, hugging the side of the mountains as you overlook steep drops on your right (if you’re heading north). The Ma Pi Leng Pass is a zigzag stretch which is about 20km long, but the views from here are truly breathtaking. It’s a real struggle not to stop the bike every ten meters and take more photos…
Continuing on to Dong Van, we eventually ended up at the Dong Van Hmong Homestay, at the southern entrance to the city. Now this was what I was expecting in a homestay, with minimal home comforts being compensated for by a terrific meal, plenty of Happy Water (the gut-warming rice wine), and great Hmong hosts. An awesome place to stopover for the night.
Day 3: Lung Cu and then the Home Run
Waking up with the baying cockerels (they really are bloody everywhere, even in the middle of Saigon!), we convinced our guides to take us up to the Lung Cu Flag Tower, on Vietnam’s northern border with China, so set off fairly early.
The road up from Dong Van was again a windy adventure through the mountains, only this time we had the sun on our backs and blue skies to savor. Lung Cu was great, with the 100-odd steps to the top of the flag tower well worth the sweat! The views out across the fields and mountains – and Chinese border – were superb!
After paying our respects at a roadside funeral (and drinking a shot of Happy Water offered to us), we continued on our way down the QL4C road to Ha Giang. We did stop off at a small town for lunch, but with many kilometres to burn (heading up to Lung Cu had added a considerable chunk of time to our driving) we only made brief stops for photos and drinks.
But the drive was stunning in the sunshine, with mountains and valleys to enjoy, cute villages to pass through, and wild water buffalo to try and avoid!
However, the long drive back to Ha Giang (we arrived in the early evening but did stop near Heaven’s Gate, which we had missed due to a foggy Day 1) really killed my ass and lower back, it was a struggle…therefore, if you have the time, I can highly recommend taking another day or two to break up the ride, and to really enjoy this truly gorgeous northern corner of Vietnam.
Depending on your next step, the boys at QT will sort you out with a bus ticket or a room for the night. I had already planned to head to Ninh Binh on the night bus that same evening, so despite the amazingly hospitable staff – and beers from Mr QT (Tan) himself – I continued my Vietnam journey on the bus to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. But I’ll be back for more…
Ha Giang Loop Map
The map below will give you an idea of where you’re going in Ha Giang province, but you’ll have to scroll about a bit to find some of the smaller towns…