Vietnam has some stunning scenery to explore, of that you’re probably already aware. But for me, one of the ESSENTIAL spots to visit for some truly breathtaking vistas is the Ma Pi Leng Pass, in the far north of Vietnam.
The very best way to get to see this stunner is to take a tour of the Ha Giang Loop, the now legendary northern Vietnam route best done on the back of a motorbike.
The Ma Pi Leng Pass is in the far northern leg of that loop, so will probably take a starring role on your second or third day (Ha Giang Loop tours typically run over 3-4 days, but seriously, if you’ve got the time, make it longer!).
The Ma Pi Leng Pass is only about 20km long, but may take you a while to pass through since you’ll be stopping every few meters to take yet another pic! Seriously, this place is an absolute must-see (and check out more of our own thoughts of Ma Pi Leng Pass when we did a 3-day Ha Giang Loop tour).
The Pass is actually located on Happiness Road, which connects Ha Giang city, Dong Van district (the far northern point of any loop tour), and Meo Vac town. Check out the map below for a more pinpoint location…
While not hugely lengthy, Ma Pi Leng Pass is largely known as the “king” of Vietnam mountain passes. Just the sheer volume of workers (think: thousands) needed to carve this amazing pass through extremely rocky mountainsides in a mind-blowing 11 months (some Vietnamese refer to this engineering feat as Vietnam’s own Great Wall of China equivalent!) will automatically rank this pass as one of the mountain roads you have to ride!
What to watch out for on the Ma Pi Leng Pass
Originally, the Ma Li Leng pass was made just wide enough for pedestrians and perhaps a cart; it has been widened since, so cars and motorbikes can safely navigate it…however, the road is still rather narrow at points, especially when driving around corners, so please be careful!
Be aware that on one side of the road (depends in which direction you are coming!), you have a steep drop into the stunning Nho Que river, while on the other side you have huge mountain cliffs rising up into the clouds and mist. It’s truly a stunning view, but watch out for that drop, I’ve seen a couple of videos where tourists have come a cropper and almost dropped down into the depths of the river below. Hairy stuff at times, so be careful!
The road itself is a very decent drive (I drove it in 2019 and it was fine – but maybe things will change by the time you get there), with some great places to stop for some photo ops. There is even a great new hotel/pitstop along the way that has only just opened (but looks like it might already have to close). Towards the northern end of the Ma Pi Leng Pass there is also an impressive memorial to the fallen heroes who made the road, definitely worth a stop. Perhaps this memorial area will also expand in the future, it looks like it could do with a nice little cafe serving up some cafe sua da!
The Ma Pi Leng Pass is a definite must-add to your motorbike adventure in Vietnam (even without the motorbike it’s still a stunner!). The rugged mountain terrain, spectacular drop into the Nho Que river, and pure beauty of northern Vietnam will have you coming back to this neck of the woods again and again!
In the meantime, enjoy more pics and the video below for a true taste of this beautiful mountain pass…