Ha Giang Loop

Ha Giang Loop

Probably everyone who has backpacked in Vietnam and done the Ha Giang Loop would tell you that this had been the most beautiful part of their travel in the country. Four-day, 400km loop in the north of Vietnam surprises you with spectacular landscapes and takes you to remote villages nestled in the valleys. If you are going to Vietnam and have sufficient time in hand, then you cannot afford to miss this life-changing experience. This bike ride around Northern Vietnam would turn out to be one of the best things you have ever done. 

What is All This Hype About?

I came to know about this loop through a group of travellers I met at Sapa. They could not stop raving about their experience at the Ha Giang loop. What is all this hype about?, I remember thinking. Nevertheless, the description was alluring and I decided to head to Ha Giang directly from Sapa. Though it is meant to be a four-day circuit, I decided to do it in Three days, in order to save some time. However, on the very first day, I was certain that I was going to take full four days to make the most of this incredible journey.

The ride is thrilling. The roads twist and turn around the mountains and you are always in midst of spectacular views. It appears like someone randomly placed these mountains around you. But Ha Giang loop is not only about magnificent landscapes and thrilling rides. During the process, you end up forming small groups thus forming special bond with co-travellers. Spending, every night at a different mountain village and interacting with the locals will definitely turn this into an experience of a lifetime.

Is it Safe?

Ha Giang loop is extremely popular. Therefore, there will be plenty of travellers doing it. So, It is perfectly safe. Moreover, tourism is one of the major source of incomes for the villagers. Hence, the place is tourist friendly.

When it comes to riding, it is not all that difficult. Of course, that does not mean that you can ride carelessly. Like in any riding experience, you need to be careful of your own safety. Avoid speeding and stick to the route. Make sure to sound the horn at every turn. If there are trucks or speeding vehicles following you,  pull over and let them go.

How Many Days Do I Do The Loop In?

You could do the loop in two, three or four days. Most people do the Ha Giang loop in four days for a reason. This journey is not only about riding from one end to another like on a racetrack. The true essence of Ha Giang loop is realised only when you spend quality time absorbing the beauty and serenity that dwells in these region, by experiencing the mountain village lifestyle and interacting with locals and travellers. With full four days, you can do the entire loop with enough time spent at the village you are staying at and also enjoy a relaxed ride of not more than 100km per day. You will thus have enough time to stop at various viewpoints. Believe me, you will not regret this decision.

In case you are short on time, I would recommend a rushed three-day tour but not any less.

When is the best time to go there?

Though many would discourage you to travel to South East Asia during rainy season, on the contrary, I would highly recommend you to do this trip in late July or August. The entire landscape turns green and it is truly a mesmerising view. However, make sure to check the weather. It definitely will not rain everyday unless there is a storm. Late September to End November is also a great time to do the loop.

How And Where To Start?

To begin the loop, you need to get to the town of Ha Giang, which is about 300 km north of Hanoi. You can also reach here directly from Sapa. There are several day or overnight sleeper buses running between these cities. At Ha Giang, find yourself a hostel. Bong Hostel is where I stayed. Many also recommend Hostel Jasmine who arrange guided tour.

Many do like to ride along with a guide but I personally feel that riding on your own gives you freedom to do the loop on your own pace. Personally, I enjoy exploring places on my own. The unexpected always turns out to be memorable.

You can rent the bikes at the hostel you are in or in any other hostel. Bong hostel for example will rent out bikes even for those not staying at the hostel. You could choose a semi automatic or a motorbike with manual transmission depending on your comfort level. A semi automatic would cost you around 150K VND per day. An Automatic (Not recommended) would cost around 200K per day. You could opt for an insurance coverage at a cost of 100K VND per day. Other bikes with manual transmission (Yamaha YB 125 CC, Honda XR 150CC etc.) may cost anywhere from 350K to 600K and come with a higher insurance coverage cost.

If you need some help with riding, the hostel would give you all the instructions needed and will allow enough time for you to get comfortable with the bike you are riding. Also, you could leave your heavy backpacks and other luggage at the hostel you are renting the bike at.

At Bong hostel, the hostel staff will ensure that everyone leaves at around 11 AM and they will guide all bikers upto the beginning of the route. This also helps you to form small groups among the people leaving from the hostel. Doing this four-day loop without making any friends along the way would be, I guess, a bit dull.

The Route and Attractions

Day 1 – Ha Giang –> Yên Minh (100 km)

The first stretch of the Ha Giang loop almost immediately introduces you to the spectacular landscape that you are going to spend the next four days in. Stop at the Heaven’s gate to embrace the view. Continue to Quán Ba for lunch. You can take a deviation after Quan Ba to visit the Lung Khuy cave. Back on track, at the bridge, you could choose to take the shorter route (20Km) or the longer route (40Km) to Yen Minh. Spend the night at Yen Minh. Take a walk along the village to observe the locals being busy with their day-to-day activities.

Day 2 - Yên Minh –> Lung Cu –> Dong Van (90km)

It is advisable to start around 8:30 AM so that you can spend a lot of time exploring the surprises the route holds. Make sure to take the road towards Lung Cu or Dong Van as at Yen Minh, there is a deviation also towards Meo Vac. Take a short deviation at Xa Phin to visit the King’s Palace. Next, head north towards Lung Cu. Along the way you will reach a point that borders with China. There is normally a guard stationed there to stop people from crossing the border. On the China side, there are watchtowers with camera. At Lung Cu, walk up to the flag post to get an  interesting view. Eat at one of the local restaurants at the town below the hill that serve excellent fried noodles.

You could also ride to the northern most point of Vietnam by following the road behind the flag post. As the road ends, climb up the hill on your right to reach the China border that has a watchtower with camera. Careful though, a minefield separates Vietnam from China. Do not cross the field!

Ride back on the same road until you find a left deviation to Dong Van. After settling down at Dong Van hostel/Homestay, take a walk to the market and town centre. There are some good bars and restaurants close to the market, worth exploring.

Day 3 – Dong Van –> Du Gia (90 km)

The route to Meo Vac is one of the most scenic stretches of the loop. Take a deviation to ride on the Ma Pi Leng pass, which is popularly known as the Skywalk. Back on track; stop at various other viewpoints along the way before reaching Du Gia. Also, make sure to buy some fresh cucumbers and fruits (like peaches, pears etc) that the villagers sell by the road. They are fresh and relatively inexpensive. Pick a hostel or homestay you want to stay at and take an adventurous road trip to the waterfall near Du Gia. This small waterfall is an amazing place to dive.

Day 4 – Du Gia –> Ha Giang (120Km)

The last day of Ha Giang loop mostly involves a ride back to Ha Giang. You could choose to stop at Lung Tam to view some hemp weaving. If you do not want to stay another night at Ha Giang, you could plan to reach the town by 3 PM so that you can catch an evening or night bus to Hanoi or Halong bay.

The gas stations are available only in the cities. So, ensure to fill up your tank every morning, before you leave.

Where Do I Stay?

There are plenty of options to stay at, in all these towns. There is no real need to book anything in advance. You could reach the town you plan to stay at and pick a place. Normally, a dorm bed would cost you around 70-90K VND. Here are a few recommendations based on my experience.

Yên Minh  – Ha Anh Homestay (Highly recommended)

Dong Van  – CND Hostel (Party Hostel – Loud music till midnight). At town centre, you can find a lot of homestays with interesting design. 

Du Già – Backpacker Garden Homestay

My Experience

As I have already mentioned above, within a few minutes into the Ha Giang loop, I had changed my mind and planned to extend my trip to four days. This truly is one the best experiences I have had in Vietnam.

The views were no doubt spectacular but I am often driven towards human interaction. Ha Giang loop is the best place to bond with Co-travellers. I enjoyed my ride with a Canadian couple and two British guys. Along the way, I also met a lot of other travellers. The family dinners are also a great occasion to bond with other guests. The family dinner at Yen Minh homestay was particularly my favourite. The hosts got fresh vegetables from the market and began cooking for their unexpectedly high number of guests that night.

There was one evening in Du Gia where a bunch of us sat discussing about various western philosophies and life in general, while it was raining heavily outside. I equally enjoyed my interaction with the hostel owners who discussed about their challenges of living in a small town and maintaining the business. From them, I learnt more about the Hmong tribe who live in the mountains and visit the towns once in a while to trade their products (Vegetables or Artefacts) for something they need. The genuine smile of the villagers remains imprinted in my mind forever.

The ride to the waterfall was adventurous with its steep climb and unpaved roads. At the waterfall, we met Thien, a village boy who was motivating all the travellers to dive. 

Therefore, all in all, this Ha Giang loop is undoubtedly one of the most exciting things I have ever done in my life. Just like the magnificent views, the interactions with Co-travellers and the locals remain as a fond memory to cherish. Honestly, I cannot wait to go back to these places!

My Film on Ha Giang Loop:

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